Three lateral raise mistakes that are stopping your shoulder gains

If you've not been seeing any shoulder progress recently, you may be doing this...

Man doing dumbbell lat raises
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Looking to carve out well-rounded, sculpted shoulders? Lateral raises are one of the best shoulder exercises to do, even Arnold Schwarzenegger was doing them recently during his upper workout at Golds Gym with Ronnie Coleman. Not only do they look great and help enhance the upper body frame, but strong shoulders also improve our posture as well as strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint. 

But despite the exercise itself seeming pretty straightforward it’s actually one of the most common ones to get wrong and, if you’ve been doing them for a while and still haven’t seen any progress, then you probably are too. So, next time you pick up your best dumbbells or pair of kettlebells, make sure you aren’t making these three mistakes first.

Lateral raise mistakes you need to stop doing

woman doing lateral raises

(Image credit: Getty Images)

1. You're mimicking ‘pouring a jug of water’ 

You may have heard of the ‘pouring a jug of water’ analogy to help you perform lateral raises correctly. But, according to Nick Mitchell, CEO and Founder of Ultimate Performance, this is wrong, so just put those imaginary jugs down. “A degree of internal rotation is required to hit the side deltoids, but turning your wrist down (as in pouring a jug of water) does not constitute the right type of internal rotation," he says. "To best activate the medial/rear deltoids in your shoulder you need to internally rotate at the upper arm, not the wrist. This enables you to isolate the posterior deltoid muscles much more.” 

2. Lifting too heavy

Many of us have let our egos get the better of us at times when working out, but it’s probably one of the worst mistakes you can make when it comes to lateral raises. “Many people opt for a heavy weight that looks good when you post it on Instagram, but this is actually counterproductive towards performing a good lateral raise,” says Nick. “This is because the weight is too heavy, which stops you going through a full range of motion." Instead of swinging two heavy dumbbells around poorly for eight reps, Nick suggests dropping the weight considerably and doing double the reps. Not only will you get a far greater burn, but it'll do more for your muscle development too. Plus, it’ll reduce the likelihood of you getting injured. 

3. Not extending through a full range of motion 

As mentioned above, heavy weights may give a great pump, but if you’re struggling to move them correctly you’re just hindering your progress. “What most people do, because the load is too heavy, is go through a limited range of a quarter or half rep – where the dumbbells barely go 10 inches away from your sides,” says Nick. "People also rush through their sets at breakneck speed, because the weight is too heavy, and ignore the fact that the amount of time it takes to lower the weight is a key driver of hypertrophy. When doing lateral raises properly the dumbbells move all the way from your sides until they are in a perfect horizontal line with your shoulder blades and you should feel an intense burn." Stop a quarter or halfway and you won't reap the full benefits.

So, the next time you go to do your upper body session just remember those three tips: leave your ego in the changing room, drop the weight, and make sure you go through a full range of motion. Do this and you'll soon start seeing the size you've been chasing. We've also got plenty of workouts if you're in need of some inspiration, including this 15 minute shoulder workout or this six-move dumbbell workout.

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.