If you’re hungry to build your ultimate physique, then growing your Lateral Deltoids could be the key!
So, should you just do a million Standing DB Lateral Raises to grow your shoulders?
Not necessarily… Let’s explore why.
Now, the classic Standing DB Lateral Raise is a good exercise and will indeed train your Lateral (or middle) Deltoids well. This is because when you abduct the arm out laterally the lateral Delts will drive the motion.
Well, the lateral Delts should drive the motion if you’re not wildly swinging the dumbbell around using ridiculous momentum and letting your hips and other muscles power the motion too.
However, due to the resistance used and our setup, how the lateral Delts are challenged is important to understand. This is especially the case if you’re a coach or personal trainer who cares about Program Design and achieving superior client results.
With the classic Standing DB Lateral Raise, the lateral Delts will be challenged most when its muscle fibres are in a shortened position. Here this occurs at the top range when the arm is extending out to the side and parallel to the ground.
Crucially though, at the bottom position, the exercise is extremely easy. This is because of the position of the arm relative to your body, plus the impact of gravity acting downwards on us.
So, to start each rep and move out of the bottom position, the exercise is vastly easier as there is minimal resistance to overcome. This is because initially you move more laterally yet gravity acts directly downwards.
Yet, as you progressively move more upward you start to become exposed to more gravitational resistance. It peaks at the top end range because here you temporarily moving directly upwards as gravity acts downwards.
So, the external weight held (the dumbbell) may remain constant, but the resistance to overcome changes drastically over the exercise range of motion. When we refer to a “resistance profile” for an exercise, this is exactly what we are talking about.
Plus, this is why we refer to the Standing DB Lateral Raise as a shortened biased exercise. Simply because it challenges your shoulders and specifically your lateral Delts most when these muscle fibres are shortened.
Enter, the DB Lean In Lateral Raise…
Here we are still performing the same exact motion involving shoulder abduction. Yet now we have made one key tweak – we’ve added a slight lean inward.
This can be done by leaning into either a bench or by simply standing and leaning inwards into a wall, which can be a nice alternative in a busy gym.
By adding the lean, we do one key thing – we change the exercise resistance profile!
Now the exercise will challenge the Delts in a different way, with the exercise harder at varied points. So, the Delt muscle fibres will be challenged more at varied muscle lengths.
This can be very helpful if our goal is hypertrophy and we’re looking to build our shoulders.
But why does the exercise challenge a different position? Because of gravity…
The lean-in ensures we are exposed to a little more gravitational resistance at the bottom, so it’ll be contextually harder here relative to the Standing DB Lateral Raise.
Plus, peak resistance will be closer to the mid-range and will occur when the arm is parallel to the ground. Once you past this range, the resistance also starts to progressively drop off as we aren’t moving directly upwards now.
As muscles typically grow best when challenged more via full range of motion and also when more lengthened, the Lean In Lateral Raise could be your secret weapon to growing your Delts!
This does not mean that the classic Standing variation is a poor exercise and obsolete. It still has value and belongs within your training program.
Rather, both the leaning and standing variations should be used and together they can complement each other to aid superior muscle growth potential.
From experience, programming the leaning variation to build a client’s upper body is especially valuable for a particular population – women!
Due to genetic differences, males will contextually have more muscle mass and be stronger on average, especially in the upper body. Though I personally coach numerous amazing women who are super strong and outlift most males!
Given these differences, unfortunately, we may not be able to prescribe Cable variations which are awesome for muscle gain. Why is this?
Because the cables feature a different resistance profile to the classic dumbbell variations. Whilst we can change how the resistance is felt here, a cable variation will typically be harder over a greater range.
Plus, cables will also be harder at the bottom position too when the Delts are more lengthened. This can be problematic if the cable loading options are simply too heavy, to begin with, which is frustrating as it removes it as a viable exercise for some.
Thankfully though, the workaround to still challenge the Delts at varied muscle lengths is quite simple – we can do it leaning style with a DB!
This is why the DB Lean In Lateral Raise is a great upper body exercise for a coach to program with their clients. Plus, especially if the cable machine features a starting load that is too heavy.
So, if you’re trying to build an epic physique either for yourself or your clients, make sure to include the leaning variation within your training programs.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. Want to learn more? Sign up to our Advanced Program Design course for coaches! Over 40 hours of education for coaches on all things periodisation and program design.