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September 10, 2022
The front raise is a forgotten exercise, often overshadowed by the overhead press and lateral raise. In some circles, it is even classified as unnecessary.
But, in your quest for massive shoulders, ignoring the front raise is a mistake. In fact, it can be essential to your shoulder routine if done correctly. Some of the best bodybuilders of all time, including Arnold, Dorian Yates, and Jay Cutler, swore by them.
As with any exercise, the key comes down to using proper technique and understanding how to program the movement in the best possible way.
In the article, we will go over:
The shoulders are composed of three muscles: anterior deltoid, middle deltoid, and posterior deltoid. All three shoulder muscles have unique functions requiring a wide range of exercises for maximum shoulder development. This means that incorporating anterior deltoid exercises, lateral shoulder moves, and posterior delt exercises is essential for well-developed shoulders.
That said, with this move, one shoulder muscle is targeted more than the others.
Dumbbell raises primarily target the anterior deltoid, also called the front delt, through shoulder flexion.
Two movement patterns train the anterior delt: overhead presses and front raises. It is common for people to say the shoulder press is all you need to build big front delts. While that may be true for some, it’s not true for everyone.
The shoulder press is a great exercise for working both the anterior and medial delts. In addition, it also incorporates the upper chest muscles, triceps, and upper and lower trapezius. With that in mind, one of these other muscles may fatigue before the front delt, causing you to end the set before your anterior shoulder tires.
Decide which piece of equipment to use for front raises based on what is at your gym and personal preference.
The technique outlined below is for the standard standing dumbbell front raise. However, proper form is virtually the same regardless of the equipment used. This move is a great one to include in your dumbbell shoulder workout.
How to do Front Raises:
It's always important to use proper form, but it is particularly important for front raise success. If you have failed to build muscle using front raises in the past, chances are you have made one of these three common mistakes.
The front raise is not a “power” exercise used to significantly increase muscular strength. Use a weight you can control through a full range of motion. Going too heavy forces you to use other muscles to lift the weight, defeating the exercise's purpose. Avoid rocking or using momentum to get the weight up. Feel the muscle you are supposed to be working.
A common mistake is shrugging your shoulders on the upward part of the movement. This takes some tension off the front delt and into the traps. Keep the shoulders retracted and locked down. The goal is to keep all of the movement in the arms. Save the shoulder shrugging for the next time you include shrugs in your traps routine.
If you have watched the movie Pumping Iron, you probably noticed Arnold performing dumbbell front raises by lifting the dumbbell over his head. Now, we don’t want to criticize the technique of one of the best bodybuilders of all time and we love the Arnold Split, but you don’t need to lift the dumbbells that high.
Once the dumbbells go higher than eye level, other muscles besides the front delts come into play. Additionally, many people experience shoulder pain raising the dumbbells overhead.
Shoulder pain and shoulder joints injuries are widespread when lifting weights.
Do front raises hurt your shoulder joint more than other exercises? It depends. The shoulders are susceptible to pain during many different exercises. The most common culprits are the bench press, overhead press, upright row, and dip.
However, most shoulder pain occurs from poor technique. This is why it is imperative to get your form buttoned up.
One of the issues with the front raise, specifically, is shoulder impingement syndrome.
Shoulder impingement is when a tendon inside your shoulder rubs on a nearby bone as you lift your arm. The rubbing leads to swelling and inflammation, causing pain and discomfort.
Impingement can occur with both front and lateral raises. It is not something everyone experiences, but it can be painful if it happens. In most cases, a combination of rest, ice, and NSAIDs is enough to get the pain to subside.
Avoid things that worsen the pain. If it continues, it makes sense to seek medical advice.
The front raise is not an exercise you should go heavy on and perform for low reps. As mentioned, one of the most significant mistakes people make on front raises is using too much weight, causing form breakdown as other muscle groups come into play.
Research shows you don't have to go heavy to build muscle, particularly with an isolation exercise. In fact, muscle growth is similar across a wide range of repetitions when the volume is the same1. We want to stick primarily in the 10-15 rep range with front raises. We are targeting muscle hypertrophy, but you could also go even lighter with weights, target 15-20 reps, and train for muscular endurance.
This is not an excuse to take it easy. Push the sets hard and close to failure, so you can grow your anterior delts.
There are many different ways to perform the front raise. Here are a few tips to help you switch up the movement.
One of the easiest changes involves turning it into an alternating dumbbell front raise, which you do just as the name implies: by alternating arms. Thanks to the brief rest each arm gets, you may be able to do a few more reps and maintain proper form. It's a great move to include in your shoulder and arm workout.
Another easy way to switch things up is simply changing your grip. We explained the palms down variation, but using an underhand or neutral grip will target the delts differently, or may just be more comfortable.
Swapping equipment, like using a barbell in place of dumbbells is another great way to change things up. The barbell front raise is the variation you can use the most weight with. Your upper body will thank you for including this in your next workout.
Finally, you can combine this exercise with another, like in the front raise to lateral dumbbell raise. By adding the lateral raise movement, involving first raising your dumbbells in the front, moving them to your sides, and then moving them back to the front before lowering down, you're now effectively hitting your front and lateral delts.
Looking for more variations? These 3 might be just what your back and shoulder routine needs!
A low pulley cable attachment keeps constant tension on the front delt throughout the full range of motion. Keep your elbows slightly bent throughout the movement, and for a little extra stability, try a standing split stance position. Focus on retracting your shoulder blades slightly throughout the movement.
Lying with your chest on an incline bench makes it almost impossible to cheat. The front incline dumbbell raise is a great move for focusing on your mind-muscle connection.
Similarly to the face-down incline variation, the seated dumbbell raise prevents excessive form breakdown.
Before you go, here are a few programming tips to keep in mind. Also, remember to play around with different front raise variations and grip positions until you find one that feels the best.
After reading through this article, you may be surprised that the front raise is not the best overall exercise for the front delts in most cases. If you had to pick only one exercise to train the front part of your shoulder, the best option would be a barbell or dumbbell overhead press variation.
However, the good news is that you don't have to pick just one. Front raises are an excellent secondary exercise to include after a heavy pressing movement. And, for those of you who have elbow pain during heavy pressing exercises, the front raise may, in fact, be the best option to train your front delts during your next upper body dumbbell workout.
Author: Kyle Hunt, Hunt Fitness
Related: 9 Best Barbell Shoulder Exercises
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