How to Do Dumbbell Lateral Raise: Muscles Worked & Proper Form

Dumbbell Lateral Raise exercise

Muscles Worked in Dumbbell Lateral Raises

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Do Dumbbell Lateral Raises

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells in almost straight arms hanging by your sides.
  2. With control, lift the dumbbells out to your sides until your upper arms are horizontal.
  3. Lower the dumbbells with control.
  4. Repeat for reps.

Text and graphics from the StrengthLog app.

Introduction to the Dumbbell Lateral Raise

The dumbbell lateral raise is an isolation exercise for primarily the lateral deltoid muscles. This exercise is popular for its ability to sculpt and strengthen the shoulder muscles and is easy to perform since the only equipment you need is a pair of dumbbells.

This is an exercise where it is easy to pick a weight that is too heavy. Rather err on the lighter side, and strive for a strict form where you focus on getting a good contact with your delts.

Which Muscles Do Dumbbell Lateral Raise Work?

As indicated by the exercise’s name, the dumbbell lateral raise primarily targets the lateral deltoids. Additionally, the front deltoids also contribute to the movement, as a secondary muscle group.

Benefits of the Dumbbell Lateral Raise

  • Boulder shoulders. This exercise primarily targets the lateral deltoid muscles, which gives you that roundness of the shoulders that many lifters are striving for.
  • Enhanced athletic performance. Many sports and physical activities require strong and stable shoulders. Incorporating the dumbbell lateral raise into your training program can improve your performance in sports such as swimming, tennis, baseball, and volleyball.
  • Easy to perform. The dumbbell lateral raise requires minimal equipment, making it an ideal exercise to perform at home or in the gym. All you need is a pair of dumbbells, and then you’re good to go.

Dumbell Lateral Raise: Proper Form & Technique

Dumbbell lateral raise starting position
Dumbbell lateral raise starting position
Dumbbell lateral raise top position
Dumbbell lateral raise top position


Make sure to stand with a neutral spine and engage your core throughout the exercise. Avoid arching your back, and make sure not to rotate your shoulders forward.


Keep your elbows slightly bent throughout the movement to prevent excess strain on the joints.


Raise the dumbbells until your arms are parallel to the ground, or slightly higher if comfortable. Avoid lifting the weights above shoulder height, as this can place unnecessary stress on the shoulder joint.

Perform the exercise with a slow, controlled motion, without using momentum. This helps to engage the targeted muscles and minimize the risk of injury.

Common Mistakes in the Dumbbell Lateral Raises

  • Lifting too heavy. Picking a weight that is too heavy can result in poor form, reducing the effectiveness of the exercise and might increase the likelihood of an injury. Start with lighter weights and increase as your strength and technique improves.
  • Swinging the weights. Using body momentum to lift the dumbbells will compromise muscle engagement and might increase the risk of injury. Focus on maintaining control and using your shoulder muscles to raise and lower the weights.
  • Locking the elbows. Fully extending your arms and locking the elbows can place excessive strain on the joints. Maintain a slight bend in the elbows throughout the movement.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise Alternatives

  1. Machine Lateral Raise
  2. Cable Lateral Raise

1. Machine Lateral Raise

Machine lateral raises offer a fixed path of motion, which can help to maintain a proper form, especially for beginners. On the other hand, the dumbbell lateral offers a bigger versatility, while the predetermined movement pattern in the machine might not align with the natural range of motion in just your case.

Both exercises target the lateral deltoids, and you don’t need them both at once. Which one to choose depends on your personal preference, experience level, and available equipment.

2. Cable Lateral Raises

Cable lateral raise
Cable Lateral Raise

The cable lateral raises offer constant tension throughout the movement, which can lead to greater muscle activation. Depending on the pulley’s height setting, it can also offer a different resistance curve compared to dumbbells.

However, some lifters might feel the same as in the machine lateral raise, that the movement pattern is a bit difficult to adapt to compared to the dumbbells.

The same goes for the cable lateral raises as written above – you don’t need them both at once. Which one to choose depends on your personal preference, experience level, and available equipment.

How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do in the Dumbbell Lateral Raises?

The number of reps that you should train varies depending on your goals, this goes for all exercises.

  • For muscle growth, around 6–15 reps per set are something to aim for.
  • For strength, around 3–8 reps per set are good.

There are no clear-cut lines between these two goals, however. Training in the “muscle growth range” will still increase your strength, and training in the “strength range” will still cause your muscles to grow. It’s just a matter of what you are emphasizing.

Read More: How Many Reps to Build Muscle vs. Strength?

But specifically, the dumbbell lateral raise is not typically used as a primary strength-building exercise for the shoulders. Our recommendation is to perform bigger compound exercises, like the overhead press, for that purpose.

The lateral raise is an isolation exercise that lends itself better to moderate rep ranges and lighter weights with a controlled movement in this case.

Regarding how many sets you should do, that depends more on your training background and your capabilities. How much shoulder work are you used to doing, and how much does it take for you to stimulate growth?

It also depends on how many workouts you do per week. You can tolerate (and grow from) a higher training volume if you distribute it over more workouts.

Workouts and Training Programs that Include the Dumbbell Lateral Raise

  • StrengthLog’s 4-Day Bodybuilding Split. 4x/week. A program designed for intermediate/advanced lifters looking for a versatile training program to build muscle.
  • Zero to Hero. 4x/week. A 10-week long upper/lower training program for strength and size.
  • StrengthLog’s Shoulder Workout. This is a basic but comprehensive shoulder workout for muscle and strength gain. With five simple exercises, you will work all parts of your deltoids and increase your upper body strength.
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Workout at Home. A complete dumbbell shoulder workout for building delt size and strength in the comfort of your home.

All of the workouts and programs above, and many more, are available in our free workout log app StrengthLog.

By tracking your workouts in our app, you can easily see how many reps you did the last time you worked out, and try to improve in your next workout.

Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:

Download StrengthLog Workout Log on App Store
Download StrengthLog Workout Log on Google Play Store

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