Looking to build bigger, stronger shoulders? All you need is a pair of dumbbells and one key exercise in your arsenal: front raises.
Front raises are one of the best exercises you can add to your upper-body workouts, but doing them correctly is important to getting the most out of this move.
Ahead, learn more about front raise muscles worked, benefits and form tips.
- What is a front raise? A front raise is an exercise where you lift weights up in front of your body to shoulder height until your arms are parallel to the floor.
- What are front raises good for? Front raises help you build muscle in the front part of your shoulders. They can also help you improve your performance on pressing exercises.
- What equipment do you need to perform front raises? Front raises are typically performed with dumbbells, but you can also use weight plates, barbells, EZ bars, bands or cable machines.
- Who can do front raises? Front raises are suitable for people of all ability levels. However, if you have a history of shoulder pain or injury, talk with your doctor or physical therapist before doing this exercise.
How to Do a Front Raise With Proper Form
- Start standing with your feet hip-width apart.
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand down in front of your thighs with your palms facing toward you.
- Initiate the movement by lifting your arms up in front of you. Keep your torso still and don't use momentum to swing your arms up. Don't shrug your shoulders. It's OK to bend your elbows slightly and/or rotate your palms in as you lift if it feels better on your shoulders.
- Lift the dumbbells up to shoulder height until your arms are parallel with the floor or slightly above.
- Pause for 1 second.
- Lower the dumbbells back down toward your thighs in a controlled manner. Pause with your arms about 1 inch above your thighs before beginning the next rep.
You can modify this exercise by doing alternating front raises — where you lift one arm at a time — if raising both dumbbells at the same time is too difficult.
What Muscles Do Front Raises Work?
The dumbbell front raise is a shoulder isolation exercise. Your shoulder muscles (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.
Front raises primarily target your anterior deltoids. People do this exercise specifically to train this front part of your shoulder. So, it's important to minimize involvement from other muscles (especially your neck and traps) in order to get the most out of your front raises.
The other parts of your shoulder muscles play a secondary role in front raises. Your lateral delts are involved more than your rear delts. Changing the angle of your torso or the path of your arms affects how much you target these muscles. Some of the muscle fibers in your upper chest may also be recruited during front raises.
What Is the Difference Between a Lateral Raise and a Front Raise?
Front raises and lateral raises are both shoulder raise variations that target specific portions of your shoulder muscles. Whereas front raises hit the anterior delts by lifting weights in front of you, lateral raises primarily target your lateral delts by lifting weights off to your sides.
These exercises — along with the rear delt fly — complement each other and help you train all angles of your shoulder muscles. They are often included in the same workout or even the same superset (where you perform two exercises back-to-back without pausing between).
What Are the Benefits of Front Raises?
1. They Build Shoulder Muscle
Shoulder raise variations, like the front raise, can help you build a pair of muscular shoulders. This exercise also complements heavier compound upper-body exercises (aka exercises that work multiple muscles in your upper body at once) to round out your shoulders and address any weak spots.
It's important to note that many people already have more developed anterior delts compared to their lateral or rear delts. That's because you use your anterior delts for popular pressing exercises like bench presses, push-ups and overhead presses. (You also use your anterior delts in everyday life when you reach up to high cabinets to put your groceries away, for instance.)
This doesn't mean you shouldn't perform front raises, especially if building bigger shoulders is a goal for you. Just be sure to also perform an equal (or greater) amount of work to target your lateral and rear delts for the best overall results.
2. They're Easier on Your Joints Than Overhead Presses
Are front raises better than overhead presses? Not necessarily — overhead presses are a staple movement for building shoulder strength and muscle. However, they demand a lot of mobility from your shoulders, and many people are unable to press overhead due to pain or injury.
Front raises provide an alternative way to target your shoulders without the need to move weights over your head. You won't be able to go as heavy as you could with pressing, but you can still give your shoulders an effective training stimulus to maintain or build muscle.
If you're currently recovering from an injury or experiencing shoulder pain, be sure to talk with your doctor or physical therapist first before incorporating front raises into your workouts.
3. You Can Use Them to Build Up to Stronger Presses
Some people may find that their weak anterior delts are holding them back from big numbers on their bench press or achieving their first push-up. If you feel like the front part of your shoulder is fatiguing before other muscles like your chest or triceps, you might benefit from including front raises in your workouts.
Common Front Raise Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)
1. Swinging Your Arms
Perhaps the most common front raise form mistake is excessively swinging your arms to use momentum to help you get the weights up. Doing this makes it easy to use more weight than you can handle (more on that below), and you won't effectively recruit your anterior delts.
Keep yourself honest by using a slow and controlled tempo on your front raises. It's helpful to add a pause at the bottom of your front raise to ensure you're starting from a dead-stop position and not using momentum to lift the weights.
2. Going Too Heavy
You should perform isolation exercises like front raises with a slow tempo to make sure you're hitting the target muscle and not recruiting help from other stronger muscles. If you go too heavy, it's very difficult to achieve the desired effect.
Some people may need to start with as little as 2.5 pounds in each hand when they first attempt front raises. Even if you've been lifting weights for a long time, you still may only use 10 to 15 pounds for your dumbbell front raises. You'll be able to use a little bit more weight with an EZ bar or barbell, but you should still be conservative to make your sure form doesn't break down.
3. Rocking Your Torso
This mistake often goes hand in hand with swinging your arms. If you rock your torso back and forth, you can generate momentum to swing the weights up. Combat this by maintaining a standing plank position with your core and glutes engaged. Go slowly and pause at the bottom of each rep before lifting your arms. Don't lean back at the top of the movement.
4. Shrugging Your Shoulders
It's easy to compensate and shrug your shoulders as you lift up your arms. This shrugging motion turns on your trap muscles and takes some of the load off your anterior delts. Do your best to avoid shrugging and try to keep your shoulders down away from your ears throughout your set.
Are Front Raises Right for You?
Front raises aren't a great fit for people with certain shoulder issues, like impingement syndrome (shoulder pain caused by inflammation from repetitive shoulder exercises). If you have a history of shoulder pain or injury, chat with your doctor or physical therapist before adding front raises to your gym sessions.
You might also consider leaving out front raises if you're short on training time. Because your anterior deltoids are involved in most pressing exercises, you're probably already training them. Precious gym time might be better spent getting stronger at pressing or targeting your lateral and rear delts.