The dumbbell lateral raise is a classic isolation dumbbell shoulder exercise. It targets the lateral deltoid, and is therefore most effective for adding mass to the outer shoulders to make them broader and more "capped."
On this page, you will find out exactly how to perform this movement and learn if it is an appropriate exercise choice for you.
The video below shows proper dumbbell lateral raise technique.
Video credits: YouTube user "fatlosspro"Set Up. Fetch a pair of dumbbells that you can actually handle (most guys use entirely too much weight and then wonder why they can't feel their delts working). Then, find an clear space to perform the movement; preferably in front of a mirror so you can monitor your form. Hip-Width Stance. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.Lean Forward Slightly. Flex your knees and lean your torso forward slightly. This allows you to have the room needed to hold the dumbbells in the proper position (see next bullet).Hold Dumbbells in Front of Your Thighs. With dumbbells in hand, let your arms extend down. Hold the ends of the dumbbells in front of your thighs (they can make contact).Bend Arm Slightly. Bend your arm at the elbow joint, no more than 30°. (You will maintain this position for the entire movement.) This is the starting and ending position.Positive Repetition. Begin the movement by raising your arms up, as outlined below. Raise Arms. Raise your arms up laterally (i.e. to the sides) in a smooth arching motion until your elbows are aligned with your shoulders and your upper arms are parallel to the floor.Don't Use Momentum. Use your delts to do the lifting. It's cheating if you generate momentum by pushing through your legs or swinging your torso. Only once you've mastered the exercise is it okay to use a little momentum to use heavier weight for overloading the muscles the lateral delts to a greater extent (aka "controlled cheating"). But until then, don't do it.Elbows Above Wrists. Be sure that your elbows remain slightly higher than your wrists throughout the movement. If you allow your wrists to go above your elbows, then you'll be focusing more on the anterior deltoid than on the target muscle (lateral deltoid).Pinky-Side Up. Throughout the motion, you should be tilting your hand slightly so that the pinky-side of your hand raised higher than the thumb-side. Imagine that the dumbbell is a beer bottle and you're pouring it out with your hands.Tempo. Aim for about 1 second or less on the positive repetition.Midpoint. Once your arms are parallel to the floor, you will have reached the midpoint. Flex & Pause. Once at the midpoint, pause briefly while flexing the lateral deltoids.Tempo. Aim for a tempo of between a half-second and a full second.Negative Repetition. Finish the movement by lowering the weight back down to the starting position, in the same path as the positive rep. Tempo. Lower the weight at a controlled pace. Aim for no less than 1 second on the negative repetition.Repeat. Repeat the movement for a given number of repetitions. Dumbbell lateral raises are generally most effective with moderate reps of 8-12 or higher reps of 12-15. However, once you really get the hang of the exercise, you might find that lower rep ranges of 6-8 or even 4-6 are helpful in spurring growth.
This Exercise Is Best for Intermediate & Advanced Lifters, Not Beginners. The dumbbell lateral raise is no doubt a useful shoulder exercise. But it's important to remember that it's only an isolation movement, not a compound movement; meaning that its benefits are constrained to a specific area. And so, it only makes sense to do this exercise when you have the specialized need of targeting the outer deltoid for muscle building purposes...
...And to be quite blunt, if you're a raw beginner, you don't have any business doing this exercise because there's no reason for you to build mass on an itty-bitty part of your physique when your entire physique is lacking. Instead, your focus should be on mastering technique of major compound lifts, gaining strength as fast as possible and building a base of muscle over your entire body. You'll hit your outer delts sufficiently with big coupounds like the overhead press and bench press.
On the other hand, intermediate and advanced weight lifters are among the appropriate candidates for this exercise. If you're an intermediate or advanced weight lifter, you've developed your technique, size and strength to the point where:Your outer deltoids may actually be lagging compared to other muscles (this isn't possible for a beginner, whose entire physique is lagging).Training the outer delts is actually time effective; whereas, beginners would basically be wasting time doing this exercise because they could make much faster progress by trading an isolation movement for a compound movement.
So if it sounds like the dumbbell lateral raise may indeed be a good addition to your training regimen, then go ahead and give it a shot. Although your gains may not be immediately noticeable, I think you'll be satisfied with the longer term results.
One final point: It's important to realize that if you have naturally sloping shoulders, your potential for capped, "bowling ball-esque" outer deltoids is limited since sloping shoulders are largely a product of your genetically-determined bone structure. Obviously, this isn't some magical exercise that can alter your DNA, so it can only do so much for your shoulder aesthetics. That said, it can still make a noticeable difference and is a worthwhile investment of training time for the right person.
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