What Muscles Do Front Raises Work?

Trainer instructing a young woman with sports equipment in the gym
A woman is doing front raises with her trainer. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Weight training exercises are performed for different reasons by different people. Bodybuilders for example, hone in on all of their major and minor muscle groups to produce the greatest amount of definition possible. People looking to just maintain strength might perform only five or six basic exercises to achieve their goal. The front raise is an exercise that fits into any workout and it involves the upper body musculature.

Primary Muscle

The deltoids consist of a posterior, medial and anterior head. Anterior means in the front, medial means on the side and posterior means on the back. The posterior delts are often referred to as the rear delts, and the medial delts are often referred to as the lateral delts. The main muscles targeted with front raises are the anterior and medial delts, which sit on the front and sides of the shoulder.

Function of the Exercise

The anterior deltoids function to elevate the arm forward. The front raise exercise simulates this motion, and you have the option of using a barbell, dumbbells or a cable machine to perform it. Start by holding the weight in front of your thighs with your palms facing your body. Keeping your arms straight, raise the weight up until your arms are about parallel to the floor. Slowly lower your arms back down and repeat.

In daily life, the anterior delts need to be strong for movements that involve reaching your arm out in front of your body. A good example of this is when you raise your arm out straight to place a cup of coffee in a cupboard.

Other Muscles Targeted

Although the anterior delts get the brunt of the work with front raises, a number of secondary muscles get targeted as well for stabilization. The trapezius, erector spinae, biceps, pectorals, rotator cuff, serratus anterior and abs are examples. The trapezius is a large muscle that starts at the base of the neck and moves out over the collar bones. It contains upper, middle and lower fibers. The erector spinae runs down the spinal column and ends in the lower back. The pectorals are in the chest and they consist of the pectoralis major and minor. The rotator cuff stabilizes the shoulder joint specifically and it contains four small muscles -- the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. The serratus anterior sits on the sides of the upper rib cage and it looks like fingers when it is well developed.

Tips with the Exercise

When using dumbbells with the front raise, people have a tendency to keep their palms facing down throughout. A better way to do the exercise is to slightly turn your thumbs in the air as you approach the high point of the movement. This reduces the chance of shoulder impingement, according to the American Council on Exercise. Impingement takes place when the acromium -- a small bone extending from the shoulder blade -- rubs against the rotator cuff tendons, leading to painful irritation.

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