Lateral Raise vs Shoulder Press – Which is best

lateral raise vs shoulder press

Lateral raise vs Shoulder press

The shoulders can be sculpted and accentuated through exercise. The shoulders are not just for the aesthetics alone, they also aid in functional movement of the arms consisting of complex muscles an connective tissue.

Both the overhead press and side lateral raises develop the shoulders. One is not necessarily better than the other because each exercise places a different emphasis on the muscles.

The two main exercises to help you get big strong shoulders are the lateral and overhead press. Although, you might have the impression that one is better than the other but they are good exercises when it comes to building big 3d delts.

While neither one deserves priority over the other, they both have their benefits and should be incorporated in a standard shoulder routine and are optimal for shoulder development.

What Makes Lateral Raise So Effective

Side lateral raise

The lateral raise is an isolation exercise that targets the side shoulder, because they are an isolation movement, this exercise focuses entirely on the lateral muscle of the shoulder.

One way to fully maximize the development of your shoulder is to use a mix of bot low and high reps. You can perform lateral raises with your arms straight or bent and this can be determined by the weight you use, your arms bent allows for heavier weights to be used but through a short range of motion for low reps while keeping your arms straight but using lower weight with high reps.

The lateral raise is a common shoulder isolation exercise that targets the deltoids. Your shoulders actually consist of three parts (or heads): your front, middle, and back deltoids. The lateral raise primarily targets your middle delts.

While they can be easier to perform compared to the shoulder press, proper form is essential to avoid injuries and getting the most benefit.

Performing lateral raises creates larger deltoids and helps you achieve the boulder shoulder look that many people desire.

How to do the side raises
  • Stand with knees slightly bent, core engaged.
  • A dumbbell in each hand, hang your arms at your sides with your arms slightly bent, palms facing you.
  • Keeping your elbows slightly bent throughout the movement, raise your arms to the side of your body to shoulder level.
  • With control, lower the weight back to the starting position.
Tips for lateral raise

For lateral growth, a common remedy is to ‘put down your thumb’ or ‘pour a pitcher of water’.

And you’ll want to keep a slight bend in your elbows throughout the movement. This reduces the stress on the shoulder joint. If you straighten your arm while doing a lateral raise, you increase the length of the lever (your arm), which creates significantly more tension at the focal point, which is your shoulder.

One key takeaway is when keeping the arms bent during lateral raise you tend to limit the amount of triceps activation and also always lead with the elbow as this will ensure that you’re really moving at over your shoulder joint and targeting the appropriate muscles.”

Avoid These Lateral Raise Mistakes

As you get fatigue, or if you choose a weight that is too heavy, there is a tendency to use other muscles to help you lift the weight – and you don’t want that! A common compensation we see when using more weight is shrugging your shoulders while raising your arms.

Also, you may find yourself swinging your body or using leg drive to try raising the weights up, this takes away proper form thereby undermining your progress.

If you find yourself cheating, do the exercise in a sitting position. This will make it easier while also targeting the right muscle.


Pick a weight that you are comfortable with for both the lateral raise and the shoulder press, then slowly progress from there. Then, as you get stronger and more comfortable with the exercise, gradually increase the weight.

Why You Even Need an Overhead Press

As mentioned above, the overhead press generally requires more stability to be performed properly. For this reason, the overhead press can feel like a more challenging shoulder exercise.

They also recruit more muscles along your ribs as you lift the weight in front of your body.

A common mistake people make is choosing a weight that is too heavy. When choosing a weight keep in mind how it affects your posture throughout the movement. If you are not able to maintain good form the whole time, then the weight is too much for the exercise.

Choosing the Best Overhead Press Variation

The catch with the overhead press is that it requires a fairly strong core and considerable shoulder mobility to press the weight without causing lower back pain and without causing the ribs to move upward. When this happens, especially if you’re lifting a heavy barbell, it increases your risk of lower back injury. This is a fairly safe lift when done correctly, but not everyone can do it correctly. At least not right away.

Other types of overhead press:
  • Military press

The military press is a type of overhead press performed with a barbell or Smith machine. The motion involves lifting the barbell from shoulder height to the top of the chest. The overhead press targets the anterior and side shoulders likewise the upper chest and the triceps as well.

  • Dumbbell overhead press

lateral raise vs shoulder press

Pressing overhead with dumbbells allows for more range of motion than using a barbell. Dumbbells can be held with the knuckles facing back and palms facing forward, or presses can be done with the knuckles out and palms facing the ears. The dumbbell overhead press targets the shoulders.

Final thoughts on lateral raise vs shoulder press

Keeping the above points in mind, we can conclude that while choosing between the lateral raise vs shoulder press, choose them based on your capacity and level. The shoulder press is a compound movement that works multiple muscles in one motion.

If you are short on time the overhead press would be the best to do, they can hit many muscles in less time, while if you want more emphasis on the side shoulder, the lateral raise is the best exercise for it.

Ideally, the combination of both movements provides the most effective and comprehensive workout for the side shoulder area.

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