The dumbbell lateral raise is an extremely popular supplemental exercise for shoulder development. It's easy to learn, beginner-friendly, and one of the most effective lateral deltoid focusing exercises.
However, sometimes you may need an alternative forLateral raises with dumbbells.
Maybe you don't have any dumbbells or you just want to add some variety to your workout.
Whatever the reason, if you're looking for an exercise that can replace DB lateral raises, you've come to the right place. I'm about to share 11 of my favorite lateral raise alternatives, including a few different lateral raise variations and exercises with different machines.
Alternatives to dumbbell lateral raises
The first few alternatives I have are really more variations than alternatives. They focus on how you can still do lateral raises, just with a slight variation or with a different piece of equipment.
The second half of the list focuses on true alternative exercises, but they'll still emphasize working on the medial head of the deltoids—something that lateral raises do just as well as any move in the weight room.
use weight plates
If you really want to do dumbbell lateral raises but just don't have any dumbbells available, there may be a really simple solution that you may not have thought of.
use weight plates. If you have weight plates, you can easily use 5, 10, and even 25 pound plates in place of dumbbells.
Depending on the plate type and design, you may need to get a little creative with how you hold the plates (when in doubt, 2 fingers through the center cap usually always works), but weight plates can be a perfect substitute for dumbbells and you really can do lateral raises without any variation.
Dead stop lateral raise
The dead stop or pause lateral raises is a simple but effective way to increase the tension time of the exercise. Prolonged tension increases muscle recruitment and ultimately hypertrophy.
The starting position stays the same and the arm lift stays the same. The only difference is that there is a full pause of one second (or longer) at the top position. It won't be long before you notice the effects of this pause, and you'll most likely need a lighter weight for dead stop lateral raises compared to a regular lateral raise.
One-arm lateral raises
If you're looking for a slight variation to add some variety to your training schedule, then one-arm lateral raises could be a good alternative.
Just like it sounds, single arm lateral raises involve lifting one barbell at a time instead of two. Not only does this allow you to really focus on each arm individually, but the core becomes much more active and involved to help stabilize the body.
Lateral raises on the cable
If you don't have dumbbells but have access to a cable machine (in other words, you're in a hotel gym), then cable lateral raises can be a substitute for dumbbell lateral raises.
Lower the pulley all the way down and attach a single handle attachment. Reach down and across your body to grab the attachment. Now, do side raises one arm at a time and lift them off the machine.
No rush. Maintain control of each rep, especially the eccentric (lowering) portion.
Lateral raises on the machine
Personally, I've never been a huge fan of the Nautilus-style lateral raise machine, but they keep making them and putting them up in major commercial gyms for someone out there to use.
A lateral raise machine comes in slightly different forms, but for the most part they involve sitting and have circular pads on either side of you. Adjust the pad so that it falls on your arm just above the elbow. When you raise your arms to the side, the pad will roll your arm up a little.
As with any lateral raise variation, control the weight and don't rush through the reps.
Lateral lifting of the band
The final variation of the side raise uses resistance bands. If you train at home, chances are you have a few resistance bands at your gym than any of those bulky pieces of equipment I just mentioned.
For band lateral raises, use a thinner band and stand to one side of it. Now reach across the body and grab the band (similar starting position to a cable machine). Lift the band outward and away from the foot resting on the band to shoulder height.
If you have a squat rack (or something similarly sturdy), you can also wrap the band around the rack so you don't have to stand on it. This is my favorite way of preparing for band lateral raises because I feel like I can adjust more easily to make the lift more comfortable and less awkward.
Note:If your resistance band is long enough (and thin enough), you may be able to raise both arms at the same time instead of one arm at a time (as pictured above).
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
My first suggestion for an alternative to lateral raises that doesn't involve the actual lateral raise is:Dumbbell Shoulder Press. Dumbbell shoulder press will still really focus on the medial head of the deltoids, but it has additional benefits as well.
Dumbbell shoulder presses use three heads of the deltoid, and since you can press a lot more weight than you can laterally lift, they're a lot more effective at building strength.
They can be done standing or sitting (I prefer standing). Bring both dumbbells up to your shoulders, then begin pushing overhead to full extension, then lowering back down to your shoulders on each rep.
front press, or Barbell Overhead Press, is one of the best exercise periods for developing upper body strength. It's essentially the barbell version of the dumbbell shoulder press. If you don't have barbells (or even if you do), front raises are a great option for developing strong, broad shoulders.
Two quick front press tips:
As the bar crosses your head, first "pull" your head through so you end the rep with the bar directly over your ears. Second, stagger your posture. Place your feet hip-width apart in a toe-to-heel relationship, rather than having them side by side, feet shoulder-width apart.
Pulling your head through and staggering your stance are both effective ways to prevent you from straining your lower back. Combine these two techniques with engaging your core as you press, and you should be able to front press without straining your lower back.
Landmine presses are one of the most unique ways to add some variety to your workout routine. And before you scroll right over because you don't have a land mine attachment, here's how you can make your own using just a tennis ball.
To do landmine presses, place weight on the mouth of the barbell, then grasp the end of the barbell with both hands and raise to a starting position at shoulder height. Remove one hand, then squeeze one arm at a time.
You can also perform a Landmine Lateral Raise by grabbing the end of the barbell and performing a lateral raise motion. Personally I've never been a big fan of this as I think the movement is a bit awkward but the option is available if you want to try it.
Upright row with the barbell
Upright row with the barbellare often thought of as a back exercise and often don't get enough credit for how well they work your shoulders. Yes, barbell upright rows put a lot of emphasis on the upper traps, but they also work the deltoids and biceps.
To do barbell upright rows, grasp a bar with an overhand grip about shoulder-width apart. I recommend experimenting with your grip width to see what feels most comfortable on your shoulders when rowing.
Brace your core and pull the bar straight up to just under your chin. Lower your back in a controlled manner and repeat the exercise. Be careful not to "rock" or "swing" the weight up. If you can't row the bar with proper form, decrease the weight.
pro tip: Some exercisers find the barbell upright row uncomfortable and bordering on shoulder joint pain. If you find this to be the case, you can do dumbbell upright rows instead, or you can do nothing about the upright row and stick with one of the other side raise alternatives.
The Big 30 is one of my favorite shoulder complexes. It's easy to learn, extremely efficient, and most importantly, it will set your shoulders on fire.
The Big 30 is a giant set of dumbbell front raises, lateral raises, and rear delts.
Each of the three exercises focuses on a different part of the deltoid:
- Front raises - anterior deltoids
- Lateral Raise - Lateral Deltoid
- Rear delt raise - rear deltoid
Grab a lighter weight than you would normally use for lateral raises. Start with 10 dumbbell front raises, immediately followed by 10 lateral raises, and finish with 10 rear delts. The key to the Big 30 is to do all three exercises back-to-back-to-back with no rest in between and without putting the dumbbells down between each exercise.
Big 30s are great toward the end of a workout as a shoulder finisher to torch your shoulders.
The dumbbell lateral raise is an excellent exercise for developing strong shoulders, but sometimes lateral raises just aren't an option. You may not have the right equipment available, or you may just want to add some variety to your shoulder routine at other times.
It's in these situations that you need an alternative to lateral raises, and I hope that one of the exercises I've listed here will match what you've been looking for.