Want to raise the bar on your upper bod fitness #goals? You might want to try lateral raises. This simple isolation exercise works your delts, upper arms, and core. You’ll feel the burn from lat raises in a few seconds flat.

Here’s how it’s done.

How to do a lateral raise

You can do a standard side lat raise with some trusty dumbbells. Go for a weight of 2 to 10 pounds each, depending on your fitness level.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides, with palms facing in.
  2. Squeeze those abs and pull your shoulders down and back. Keep your head facing forward and neck and spine neutral. If it helps you stay stable, bend your knees a little.
  3. Raise the dumbbells up and out to your sides, like you’re forming a T with your body.
  4. Once your arms reach shoulder level, raise them up just a smidge more and squeeze.
  5. Lower the dumbbells slowly, rotating them slightly downward as you go.
  6. Take it from the top for 10–12 reps. Try repeating for up to 3 sets.
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Lat raises are a relatively simple, efficient way to work your upper bod and core.

Looking for even more reasons to love the lat raise? Don’t worry, there are plenty!

  • Great for beginners. Since they don’t require a lot of weight to reap results, they’re the perfect strength training move if you’re new to working out.
  • May be better than competing exercises. A 2020 study found that lateral raises showed a higher level of muscle activation in some shoulder muscles than bench presses or dumbbell flyes. (Shoulder presses were also great for this, BTW.)
  • Improves posture. Tired of tech neck? Lat raises are an A+ exercise for better posture. Building up your shoulders, upper arms, and core will help your body keep your spine in a neutral position.

From deadlifts to the humble push-up, any exercise can cause injury if you don’t do it correctly. And the lat raise is no exception.

Here’s how to spare your muscles and get the most out of every movement:

  • Engage your core. This move’s not all about your shoulders, K? Keep your abs super engaged the whole time to avoid back strain or injury.
  • Keep your torso straight and stable. If it helps you balance, bend your knees just a little.
  • Avoid arching your back. Your spine should be straight and neutral to avoid injury.
  • Keep your shoulders down and back. This helps prevent neck injury.
  • Use steady, controlled movements. Swinging dumbbells around is never a good idea. If your weights are too heavy to keep things tight, try lighter ones. You’ll get there.
  • If you feel any pain or strain, stop. Don’t push through pain.
  • Work with an expert. If you’re new to working out, talk with a physical therapist or personal trainer to ensure you get your lat raises right.
  • If you have a shoulder injury, skip this move. Talk with a physical therapist to find a better exercise for you.

Lat raise variations can give your upper bod a well-rounded workout. A small 2020 study of 10 competitive bodybuilders suggests that mixing up your lateral raise position is great for working your outer and inner shoulder muscles, upper traps, and triceps.

1. Lat raise with machine

You might’ve seen this contraption at the gym before, and now is your chance to give it a go like a pro. First, you’ll need to adjust the machine’s weight to how much you want to lift.

Then, here’s what to do:

  • Sit facing the machine. You can keep your feet flat on the floor or use the footrest.
  • Arrange yourself so the machine’s pads rest just above your shoulders. Bend your arms slightly.
  • Start to lift the pads by pushing through your elbows, raising your upper arms to shoulder height.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat.

Pro tip: If you’re not sure how to use this machine correctly, ask an employee to help you out.

2. Single-arm lat raise with cable pulley

You’ll reap the same shoulder-strengthening benefits from this cable pulley move.

  • Attach a single cable pulley to the machine at waist height.
  • Stand with the right side of your bod next to the machine. Grab the cable with your left hand.
  • Lift the cable with your left arm. It should cross your bod until it’s at shoulder height and parallel to the floor.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

3. Front lat raise

To pull off a front lat raise, grab some dumbbells and start in standard standing lat raise position.

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand by your sides, palms in.
  • Lift arms straight out in front of you.
  • Slowly lower your arms to return to the starting position, then repeat.

Pro tip: You can really isolate the muscles in each arm by doing one arm at a time.

4. Seated lat raise

Tired of standing all day? We feel you. Give your legs a rest by taking this one sitting down.

  • Sit tall on the edge of a chair or flat bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Lift both hands out to your sides until they’re at shoulder height.
  • Raise hands just a little bit higher and squeeze.
  • Release arms back to your sides and repeat.

Lat raises are a solid shoulder, upper arm, and core workout to add to your weekly strength training routine. Since your muscles need time to rest and recover, aim to do them 2–3 times a week max.

If you have any shoulder injuries, skip this move. Chat with a personal trainer or physical therapist about other moves that will work for you.