Lateral raises may be the most important exercise for shoulder width and mass. If you're looking to widen your shoulders and develop that "cannonball" look, then lateral raises are an absolute must.
Lateral Raises are one of the only exercises that isolates the middle of the shoulder, and should be central to any good mass-building shoulder workout.
What muscles do they work?
Lateral Raises work the medial deltoid, which is the middle of the three shoulder muscles.
This muscle is worked to some extent in a variety of lifts - the overhead shoulder press, the upright row, and is even somewhat active in the bench press.
However, most people find that these compound exercises don't hit the middle shoulder hard enough to stimulate much growth. To really work those medial delts and develop that wide-shouldered V-shape you need to isolate the muscle.
Although they are the most important exercise for shoulder width, they are often neglected in the gym. Too often you see a typical "shoulders" day comprised of heavy overhead presses, then set after set of front raises, with laterals thrown in as an afterthought.
That's a good recipe for an unbalanced, "drooping" look, pulled forward by over-developed front shoulders and nothing going on at the back or sides.
If anything, it's the sides of the shoulders that are the most important in building a wide V-shape physique. If that's your goal, then you should view side laterals as at least equally important (if not more) than your overhead presses.
Lateral Raises Instructions
Grab a pair of dumbells. Pick a light pair you can find to warm up with. If you're doing laterals with good form, you shouldn't be able to lift much at first. Stand straight with the dumbells to your sides, feet shoulder width apart.
Slowly raise the dumbells out to the side, until they are level with your head - don't go higher than this as it can put undue stress on your rotator cuffs. Lower the dumbells under control to your sides. That's one rep.
The only motion should be at your shoulder joint - no movement at the elbows, and no rocking of your body to cheat the weight up. Lateral raises are most effective when the shoulders are isolated and doing all the work.
The dumbbell lateral raise is one of those exercises that so many people do incorrectly.
First, this is an isolation exercise, so you should be focusing on stretch and muscle contraction, not using heavy weights.
Second, you MUST keep your rep timing slow and controlled. So many people use momentum to swing heavy weights up, and this is not going to get you the best results from the dumbbell lateral raise.
Third, itís important that your elbows stay above your wrists. If your wrists come up to far, the focus comes off your side delts and onto your front delts. A good trick to ensure this does not happen is to tilt the dumbbells down as if you were pouring a jug of water as you raise them up. This makes it very hard to raise the wrists higher than the elbows.
Finally, keep the side delts under stress for the whole set by not allowing the dumbbells to touch your body or "hang" at the bottom of the movement.
Lateral Raises - Shoulder Workout Routine
If you're doing a workout split routine, it makes sense to do lateral raises on the day you train shoulders.
Assuming you're training for size, you probably want to keep your repetitions high - three sets of 8-10 reps should be fine. Some people find that they can train their medial delts more frequently than other body parts, and like to train them 2-3 times per week.