Lateral raises can be helpful for isolating parts of your shoulders. Discover some exercise alternatives that offer similar effects.
More specifically, lateral raises work your deltoid muscles, the main shoulder muscle, and more precisely the middle, also known as lateral or side, part of the muscle.
In turn, that means that lateral raises can help you build muscle mass, burn calories, and offer other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy lateral raises, you want to focus on more muscles at a time, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to lateral raises can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
Remember that if you are at home and/or don’t have any traditional weights available, you can also do lateral raises with resistance bands or a heavy backpack as a replacement.
1. Upright rows
As the name implies the upright row is similar to a bent-over resistance training row but done while standing up straight. Take the following steps to do an upright row with a barbell:
- Load the barbell with the desired number of weight plates. Stand right in front of it with feet about shoulder width apart.
- Grab the barbell with an overhanded grip, your hand palms pointing back/down, with your hands at about shoulder width or slightly wider.
- Lift the barbell and stand up straight. Keep your spine straight during this initial lift. Let your arms with the barbell hang down for now.
- Raise the barbell straight upward in a controlled manner until your hands are at about shoulder height.
- Slowly lower the barbell back into the position of step 3.
Because of this change in position compared to the bent-over row, the upright row is a lateral raise alternative that focuses on slightly different muscles, including more on your shoulders.
Similar to lateral raises, upright rows mainly focus on the middle part of your deltoids. You likely will also work muscles like your trapezius, rhomboids, and biceps a bit.
If you like the unilateral aspect of lateral raises, training each side with separate weights, you can also do upright rows with one-handed weights like dumbbells.
2. Shoulder presses
The shoulder press is one of the most popular compound exercises for growing shoulder muscles. Take the following steps to do this movement with dumbbells:
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at about shoulder height with your hand palms facing forward. Your elbows can point slightly more forward than just a horizontal line with your shoulders.
- Slowly move the dumbbells up until your arms are slightly less than stretched.
- Lower the dumbbells back into starting position in a controlled motion.
You can do shoulder presses instead of lateral raises if you are interested in working more muscles at a time.
More specifically, shoulder presses will help you work muscles like your middle shoulder muscles, triceps, and trapezius.
The shoulder press is a versatile exercise with many variations and resistance options. You can use other fitness equipment options like kettlebells, a cable machine, barbell, smith machine, resistance bands, etc. too.
3. Pike pushups
Regular pushups are a compound exercise mainly focused on your chest muscles. By changing the angle of the pushup you can shift the focus more to your shoulder muscles which makes it a decent lateral raise alternative.
A benefit of this option is that you can do it at home without any equipment. Take the following steps to do a pike pushup:
- Sit on your hands and knees on the ground with your hands at about shoulder width.
- Move your hips in the air so that your body makes a triangle together with the ground. You likely have to lift up your heels in the air and lean on the front of your feet.
- Slowly fold your arms at your elbows until your face is close to the ground. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides. Another way to put it is if someone is looking down at your upper body from above your arms should make an arrow, not a T.
- Stretch your arms again until you are back in the pike position of step 2.
Pike pushups are not the most beginner-friendly exercise out there.
Make sure your arm strength and balancing skills are at a sufficient level. If needed ask for help from someone to stand next to you to help out if you lose your balance, better safe than sorry.
On the other hand, pike pushups can also become too easy. At this point, you can start wearing a weighted vest or (safely) elevating your feet to keep seeing muscle growth and strength progress.
Pike pushups are another substitute for lateral raises that works many more muscles during the movement. This exercise will work muscles like your front and middle shoulder muscles, triceps, chest muscles, and trapezius.
4. Arnold presses
For this next lateral raise alternative, you need some form of easy-to-rotate weights. Dumbbells are generally the best option. Take the following steps to do an Arnold press with dumbbells:
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand right in front of you at about shoulder height with your hand palms facing toward your body.
- Move the dumbbells upward by raising your upper arms and stretching your arms. Twist your wrists 180 degrees throughout the upward. At the top of the movement, you should stand straight up with stretched arms holding up the dumbbells with your hand palms facing forward.
- Lower the dumbbells back into starting position in a controlled motion similar to how you pushed them up. This means twisting your wrists 180 degrees back.
Due to the extra rotation, Arnold presses engage the back part (posterior/rear) of your deltoids (the main shoulder muscle) slightly more compared to a shoulder press.
So similar to shoulder presses, Arnold presses engage many more muscles and different parts of your deltoids compared to lateral raises. Even more so with the extra rear deltoid engagement.
5. Cuban presses
The requirements of the weights for Cuban presses are not as precise as for Arnold presses but you do want a relatively mobile type of resistance.
Take the following steps to do a Cuban press with dumbbells:
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand right in front of you with your arms hanging down and hand palms towards your body.
- Move the dumbbells upward in a controlled motion by raising your upper arms until your upper arms are horizontal or slightly lower. Keep the dumbbells close to your body throughout the upward movement.
- Keep your upper arms at the same angle while rotating them so that the dumbbells move upward.
- Slowly move up the dumbbells until your arms are slightly less than stretched.
- Repeat the same steps in reverse.
You can do Cuban presses both as a warm-up or to build muscle. Before you go to heavier weights make sure you are able to do the exercise right with lighter weights.
Similar to Arnold presses, Cuban presses focus on many more muscles than lateral raises. Especially your rotator cuff muscles get a lot more attention with this lateral raise alternative.
6. Side plank with arm raises
When hearing the words side planks you may not think about heavy weights. Even so, for this side plank variation, you preferably want some type of one-handed resistance, preferably a dumbbell.
Take the following steps to do a side plank with arm raise with a dumbbell:
- Sit sideways on the ground leaning on one of your lower arms with the upper arm of that arm vertical to support your upper body. Hold a dumbbell with the upper arm and keep it stretched by your side.
- Walk away from your upper body with your feet until you can put your body in a straight side plank. Keep your shoulder right above your elbow.
- Slowly raise your slightly less-than-stretched upper arm sideways and upward until it is vertical
- Lower the upper arm back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
- Repeat the same duration and number of repetitions on your other side.
Without the added resistance from shoulder workout equipment like a dumbbell, this exercise will likely not be challenging enough for any muscle growth or strength progress.
You can do side planks with arm raises instead of lateral raises if you are more interested in training core muscles like your obliques.
Even if you do this exercise with a decent weight, side planks with arm raises will generally be less effective for training your side deltoids than lateral raises due to the smaller range of motion under tension.
7. Behind the neck shoulder presses
For the behind the neck press you preferably have a barbell rack at chest height and a barbell. Once you have that, take the following steps to do a behind the neck press:
- Find a barbell rack and place the barbell at about chest height. Add the desired number of weight plates. If there are any safety bars you can adjust them to the right height.
- Stand under the barbell and let it rest on your shoulders with your hands at about shoulder width with your hand palms facing forward.
- Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room to do the exercise. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- To get in position for the exercise, bend through your knees slightly and with the help of your legs push up the barbell until your arms are slightly less than stretched and pointing vertically. Your legs will do a quick explosive squat to generate upward momentum.
- Slowly lower the barbell behind your head until about the middle of your head and/or ears.
- Slowly move the barbell up into the position of step 4 in a controlled motion.
- When done rack the barbell again.
The behind the neck press is a lateral raise alternative that is generally not preferred for people with shoulder issues.
This exercise looks similar to shoulder presses but due to the different position of the barbell, there is more focus on the middle part of your deltoids and less on the front part of the deltoid and triceps similar to lateral raises.
The reason why you initially use your legs to get into position and why you don’t lower the bar more is because that movement engages different muscles.