Spot the Error: Lateral Raise
One of these photos shows a critical but common mistake on the lateral raise with regards to elbow position in the top position.
By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
Can You Spot Which One is Wrong?
About the Lateral Raise
The lateral raise is an excellent isolation (single-joint) move for the delts. During the movement, you primarily involve three muscles in the shoulder girdle — the deltoid, (mostly the middle head), the supraspinatus (a rotator-cuff muscle) and the traps (predominantly the upper traps). During the first 30 degrees of the exercise, starting with your arm by your side, the supraspinatus muscle takes on the majority of the load. The middle delt takes over from there until the arm is about 120 degrees from your side (just above horizontal). The traps then dominate if you choose to take the dumbbells overhead.
Spot the Error
If your focus is on the middle delt to give your torso that incredible V-taper, you want to focus on the 30–120 degree portion of the standard lateral raise. We often discuss starting the move with your hands a few inches away from your legs to begin stimulating the middle delt fibers, but we don’t always discuss the angle of the elbow to the hand at the top. See, often guys swing the dumbbells at the top of the move so that their hands are above their elbows, but that means a lot of tension is on the delts. It’s fine if your hands are high, but keeping your elbows virtually in line with your hands is critical to maximal fiber recruitment. PHOTO 1 is correct.
Absolutely use lighter dumbbells. If you’re dropping your elbows in order to gain momentum and throw the weights upward, they’re simply too heavy. It doesn’t take a ton of weight to accomplish your goal for this. You want there to be a peak contraction as you pause briefly, and by keeping your elbows high you can best ensure that. The move should be a strict, isolation move with a slight bend locked in your elbow. Even if you choose to take your dumbbells to 30 degrees above the horizontal plane, your elbow is still high and should never be drooping downward.
As is often the case, if you master the machine version you’ll rehearse the form often enough that when you try the free-weight version, it’ll feel comfortable. With the machine, it’s necessary to keep your entire forearm against the pad at all times so that the elbows and hands move together as a unit. Essentially when you move over to the cable or dumbbell, use the exact same movement. If you do, you won’t be dropping your elbows.