Why Scaptions are Better for Your Shoulders Than Lateral Raises

When performing shoulder exercises, focus on keeping your back flat and shoulder blades retracted.
Image Credit: Antonio_Diaz/iStock/GettyImages

Some exercisers swear squats are the ultimate booty-building move. Others may consider hip thrusts the true key to glute gains. Bottom line? Every exercise has its critics and lateral raises are certainly no exception.

While lateral raises can help build shoulder strength, they may not be the exercise you need for healthy, stable shoulders. Read on to learn why shoulder scaptions deserve a spot in your upper-body workout — and why they may take precedence over lateral raises.

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1. Scaptions Are More Controlled

If you've ever done standing lateral raises enough times, you've probably discovered the go-to hack that helps raise the dumbbells. In other words, you dip your chest and use the momentum of the weights to raise them up to shoulder height.

While this trick will help you get the weights up, it's not doing your shoulders any favors. Using momentum during lateral raises ultimately makes the exercise ineffective, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).

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Your strength improves the longer your muscles are under tension, according to the NASM. So, bouncing your dumbbells up with each rep defeats the purpose of the exercise.

On the other hand, shoulder scaptions are an intentionally controlled motion, says New York-based personal trainer Mathew Forzaglia, CPT. The objective is to move the shoulders at a slower pace using lighter weights. So whereas lateral raises are a strength-building move, scaptions are more corrective, helping encourage both strength ​and​ stability in the shoulder joint.

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2. They Improve Shoulder Stability

Your shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in your body. Thus, shoulder instability is a common issue and often comes from weakness in the shoulder blades (your scapula), as these muscles are supposed to provide a stable platform for the shoulder, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

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There are a number of factors that can affect your scapular stability, including day-to-day activities or any previous injuries in your shoulder joint, per the ACE. And sometimes, the cause of instability is your posture. That's why scaptions are a crucial exercise to include in your workout routine to improve your shoulder health, Forzaglia says.

"[Scaptions] are focused on the rear muscles in your upper back that help not only keep strong posture but focus on proper scapular alignment and aids in stabilizing the ball and socket of the shoulder joint," he says. "They also help strengthen the rotator cuff on the eccentric portion of the exercise, which is why it's important to control down."

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3. They Help Prevent Pain and Injury

Not only are unstable shoulders ineffective during everyday movements, but it's also one of the leading causes of shoulder pain or injury, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

By the nature of their build, your shoulders are in a risky position. The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket shape, allowing a pretty broad range of motion. But without the proper stability in your shoulder, the ball of the upper arm can come out of the socket, resulting in a partial shoulder dislocation, per the AAOS.

The main way to help treat shoulder injury or pain is by improving the strength of the joint through physical therapy. But instead of going through the grueling process after the fact, you should practice corrective exercises (like scaptions) as a preventative measure.

Should You Swap Lateral Raises for Scaptions?

Although shoulder scaptions definitely deserve a place in your upper-body exercise routine, they shouldn't necessarily take the place of lateral raises either, Forzaglia says. The intent behind a lateral raise and shoulder scaption is different, which is why you can't evenly swap one for the other.

"When it comes to joint health I believe that [scaptions] are more beneficial for building a strong shoulder girdle," Forzaglia says. "But they both have their time and place — when I think of these two exercises, I think of two different focuses. The lateral raise would be more of an aesthetics exercise adding more of a 'cap' to the shoulder head."

Doing your shoulder scaptions and lateral raises properly will help ensure you're getting the most benefit from each move, Forzaglia says. Read on to brush up on your form and learn the ideal set and rep schemes for each move.

Dumbbell Scaption

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 3
Reps 10
Region Upper Body
  1. Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides, palms facing in.
  2. Brace your core and lift the dumbbells in front of your body at about a 45-degree angle.
  3. Raise the weights until they're slightly above shoulder height.
  4. Lower the weights back down with control.

Tip

Before you begin, think about pulling your shoulder blades back and down, core braced, Forzaglia says. Select a pair of dumbbells that's challenging but controllable for all the reps in each set. The focus of the move is the motion, not the amount of weight you're lifting.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

JW Player placeholder image
Sets 4
Reps 15
Region Upper Body
  1. Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, arms at your sides. Keep your back flat and knees slightly bent.
  2. Keeping your core braced, raise the weights out to your sides until they reach shoulder height.
  3. Lower the weights slowly to the starting position.

Tip

For lateral raises, choose a lighter pair of dumbbells so that you don't have to rely on momentum to complete all your reps.

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