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What is the correct form for lateral raises?

Q: I see people in the gym using different techniques on lateral raises. Some keep their arms straight and lower to their sides, while others bend the elbows at 90 degrees and lower the arms in front of their body. What is the correct form for getting the most from the exercise and what is your opinion of lateral-raise machines?

A: There are many ways to do this exercise correctly. It was originally thought that we had only three heads in the deltoids, but recent  anatomical research points  to there being seven different innervated portions. Here are the most important points to consider when performing this lateral raises:


• Keep the elbows within about 5 to 10 degrees of flexion to minimize unwanted stress on their ligaments.

• Keep body English to a minimum.

• Vary the pathway of the resistance implement (e.g., pulley or dumbbell) about every six workouts.

• Vary the position of the body in relation to gravity to hit different parts of the strength curve. For example, lean-away lateral raises take away the loading from the supraspinatus and shift it to the medial delts.

Regarding machines for the lateral raise, I think the best pick in the industry is the E-232 from Atlantis. It is the only one that provides a stretch overload on the supraspinatus, and the design permits a wide array of movement patterns to recruit a greater portion of the motor unit pool. The plate-loaded Hammer machine is also a great one, as it is particularly conducive to extended sets, and the Life Fitness version is decent as well.


Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc-cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med-alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit Also, see his in this issue.   IM


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