6 Front Raise Mistakes That Could Be Sabotaging Your Shoulder Gains

The front raise is a great exercise to build shoulder stability and strength, if performed correctly.
Image Credit: Erik Isakson/Tetra images/GettyImages

There are lots of times — probably more than you realize — during your daily routine where upper-body strength really comes in handy. From opening a jar to picking your child up to grabbing a box of a shelf, one of the most critical upper-body muscles is the deltoids (your shoulders).

There are a handful of shoulder exercises that can help build strength, stability and endurance, but one of the most effective is the front raise. Aside from the deltoids, the exercise also works smaller surrounding stabilizing muscles, including the serratus anterior (above the ribs), trapezius (upper back), pectorals (chest) and biceps (upper arms), says Monica Jones, CPT, program director and coach at BASH boxing in Arlington, Virginia.

The front raise is is typically performed with two light- to medium-weight dumbbells. Still, if you execute the movements wrong, you could risk taking up a spot on the injured list. Read on to make sure you're not sabotaging yourself with some of these common front raise mistakes.

How to Perform a Front Raise — the Right Way

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Activity Dumbbell Workout
Body Part Shoulders
  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your knees and one dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Position your arms down in front of your thighs with your palms facing your body.
  3. With a slight bend in your elbows, lift your arms straight out in front of you and up until your dumbbells reach shoulder height.
  4. Lower the weights down, with control, in the same fashion.
  5. Remember to exhale on the way up and inhale on the way down.

Avoid These Common Front Raise Mistakes

The right foundation is critical to executing the front raise appropriately. Here, experts dive into the most common mistakes that they see their clients make during the front raise.

1. Swinging Your Weights

Slow and with intention is the name of the game. As opposed to a movement like a dumbbell clean, the dumbbell front raise requires a steady, controlled movement pattern.

"Swinging your weights gives a false sense of accomplishment and provides limited recruitment of the targeted muscle," says Rick Richey, CSCS. "You don't want to let your ego get bigger than your muscles."

Fix It

Richey suggests starting your movement prep with lighter weights until you feel really comfortable that you have the exercise down pat. Then, you can feel free to increase load with your next sets.

2. Shrugging Your Shoulders

Oftentimes, people shrug their shoulders without even realizing they're doing it. But if you find your confidence in this movement and focus through the entire range of motion, you can avoid the shoulder shrug.

"Shrugging the shoulders upward to initiate the movement is a no-go," Jones says. "We carry a lot of tension in our traps and often shrug the shoulders upward rather than activating our deltoids."

Fix It

To avoid this common mistake, Jones often recommends envisioning pulling your shoulder blades down into your back pockets the entire time you lift and lower the weights.

3. Not Starting from the Ground Up

Quality movement starts with a strong base, says Greg Ux, CSCS. Your foot positioning can make a major difference when it comes to feeling confident in the exercise. Standing with your feet too close together doesn't give you enough support, and standing with your feet far apart is awkward and make take the exercise into your lower back.

Fix It

Ux recommends setting your feet slightly outside of shoulder-width, then brace through the core for optimal form.

“It might feel stronger to stagger your feet slightly one in front of the other,” he says. If you do, make sure you do the same number of reps with each foot leading.

4. Raising the Weights Too High

Raising the weights higher than your shoulders could result in pain, both during and post-exercise, says Alexandra Weissner, certified personal trainer and RRCA-certified run coach and co-founder of bRUNch Running. "You want a straight line from your shoulders to fingers."

Fix It

Weissner recommends starting the move without weight and practice getting to the Goldilocks spot — not too high, not too low but just right.

“You can also stand sideways to a mirror, instead of facing the mirror head on, which can help you really get a closer look at what you’re working with,” she says.

5. Bending the Elbows Too Much

While a slight bend in the elbows is totally normal (and recommended) during this movement, bending them too much could shift the load to other parts of the arm and cause discomfort, says Heather L. Tyler, NSCA-certified personal trainer.

Fix It

If the weight is too heavy, causing you to bend too much at the elbow, Tyler recommends scaling down for a more ideal movement pattern.

6. Not Engaging the Core

Every single movement you do, whether it's walking down the street or putting away groceries, originates from your core. A lack of core engagement during the front raise can cause you to arch your back, and that could result in injury — specifically lower back pain, says Jennifer Nagel, certified personal trainer.

Fix It

“Whenever you are completing any upper body exercise, make sure you pull your belly button in toward your spine to engage the core,” Nagel says.

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