Last updated on March 4th, 2023 at 10:38 am
Lateral raises are without doubt a great exercise.
In fact, many of us perform the movement for purely aesthetic purposes.
So, would it be better or worse for you to be doing lateral raises every day?
You can do lateral raises every day, and you should also see some great improvements in size, strength, and overall shoulder health. Lateral raises only place the deltoids under any significant loading during the top phase of the movement, so you won’t actually create as much muscle damage as you would with a compound exercise, such as an overhead press. Furthermore, due to the fact that you won’t be using a heavy load, lateral raises are less taxing on the Central Nervous System, so you’ll require less recovery time.
Lateral Raises Cause Minimal Muscle Damage
Whenever you workout with weights the muscles will become damaged.
This isn’t anywhere near as bad as it sounds.
Basically, as you apply load and tension to a particular muscle the muscle fibres will be stretched.
This causes tiny microscopic tears.
And when you rest and recuperate this damage is repaired, thus allowing the muscles to grow back bigger and stronger.
So, in effect, “muscle damage” on this scale is actually a good thing.
However, muscle damage occurs during the eccentric (negative) phase of a movement.
This is actually why for many exercises you will perform the concentric phase explosively and then the eccentric phase in a slow and controlled manner.
Allow me to move away from lateral raises for just a moment to explain this better.
A great example of this is push ups.
You lower yourself slowly towards the ground and then explode as you push yourself back up.
So, realistically the muscle-building (damaging) part of the push ups occurs during the lowering phase.
When you look at big compound exercises you should follow the same methodology for the best possible muscular growth.
Therefore, for the bench press you should slowly lower the bar towards your chest.
For squats, you should slowly lower yourself into the squat.
This is when muscle damage occurs, which of course will lead to size and strength gains.
It’s interesting to note that as good an exercise as deadlifts are, they probably aren’t the greatest muscle builder.
This is because there typically isn’t an eccentric phase for heavier loads.
In reality, you drop the bar to the floor rather than slowly lowering the load.
What Has This Got to Do With Lateral Raises?
Anyway, back to the point, lateral raises.
You won’t cause much muscle damage during lateral raises because your shoulders aren’t actually under load throughout the entire movement.
In fact, it is only the top portion of the range of motion that your shoulders are under any significant load.
Realistically, as you raise the weights during a lateral raise you never really feel your shoulders working until you’re about three-quarters of the way up.
Let’s say by the time the dumbbells get to about upper ab level.
So, the same can be said for the eccentric part of the lift.
Your shoulders are under stress at the top of the lateral raise, but only for about the first quarter of the lowering phase will this tension still be applied to the shoulders.
You can actually test this for yourself.
Grab a pair of dumbbells and get yourself into the lateral raise position.
Then raise your arm sideways as though you’re performing a lateral raise, but then stop when your hands are about 6-8 inches away from your side.
You should be able to hold that position for a long time, as there is no stress being placed upon the shoulders.
Now continue raising the dumbbells until they’re in line with your upper abs/lower chest and then just hold them there.
Suddenly, it’s not as easy to simply hold the dumbbells in that position, especially for a significant amount of time.
What this means is that it’s only during the top quarter of the range of motion that your shoulders are really under stress.
So, the eccentric part of the lift is over well before your hands are back by your sides.
Lateral raises performed correctly should involve a light load, high reps, and no swinging.
Therefore, the fact that you’re using a lighter weight and have a minimal eccentric portion means that you won’t be causing as much muscle damage.
A minimal amount of muscle damage means that you can train the movement more often.
Lateral Raises Do Not Tax the Central Nervous System
I’ve mentioned the “Big 3” exercises above.
And these are three extremely neurologically demanding exercises.
Basically, the squat, bench, and deadlift are extremely taxing on the Central Nervous System.
You can’t tell me that you’ve performed a big deadlift workout and then just wanted to curl up in bed once you got home (or is that just me?)
You can generally say that the more of the body’s larger muscles that you have to use during an exercise, the more demanding it will be on the Central Nervous System.
This is why you may find it difficult, but not impossible, to perform say deadlifts two days in a row.
It’s safe to say that lateral raises won’t place stress on anywhere near as many muscle groups.
In fact, you will only typically be placing stress on the deltoids, and mainly the medial deltoid.
So, lateral raises will definitely not be as taxing on the Central Nervous System.
And the upshot of this is that you can safely train lateral raises much more often.
Lateral Raises Are Great For All-Round Shoulder Health
I’ve mentioned that lateral raises are best performed with a light load and for high reps.
All too often I see people performing lateral raises with far too much weight.
This results in the use of momentum, swinging at the bottom of the movement, and using body jerks at approximately the halfway point.
This will also take the stress away from the deltoids (the target muscles) and bring the traps (and potentially other muscles) into play.
Lateral raises are definitely an exercise where you need to put your ego in check.
In fact, I’ll go as far to say that the vast majority of us should never be using more than 10-12kg dumbbells (or 20-25lbs) for lateral raises.
Your aim is to get 15-25 slow and controlled reps in, while solely placing stress on your deltoids during the top quarter of the movement.
I would also say to keep a very light grip on the dumbbells.
Most people lead with their hands when performing lateral raises.
However, it’s actually better to just focus on pushing your arms out to the side and up.
I liken it to someone wrapping their arms around you in a bear hug and you then pushing your arms out to the side to release their grip.
If you perform lateral raises on a regular basis you should start to notice appreciable size gains.
Plus, your regular lateral raise practice can actually improve shoulder stability and mobility.
Most of us need to work on this aspect, as we’re used to pressing heavy loads in front of us or above the head.
So, not only can a daily dose of lateral raises make you look good, it can also improve the overall health of your shoulders.
Key Learning Points
- Lateral raises don’t cause as much muscle damage as the bigger compound lifts.
- You can perform lateral raises every day, as they are particularly taxing on the Central Nervous System.
- Lateral raises are best performed with lighter loads for higher reps.
- Performed correctly and with good form, lateral raise can actually improve your all-round shoulder health.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.