Why Is It So Hard To Get Stronger On Side Lateral Raises?

side laterals
September 11, 2023 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “why is it so hard to get stronger on side lateral raises?”. Side lateral raises are a great exercise for building up the side delts and making you appear wider.

Having well developed shoulders makes you look better aesthetically and more powerful. This article will explore this topic in detail and examine various nuances surrounding it.

Why Is It So Hard To Get Stronger On Side Lateral Raises?

The main reason why it is hard to make strength gains on side lateral raises pertains to the fact that the side deltoids are a small muscle.

They are not powerful muscles like the hamstrings or glutes. In addition, side lateral raises are an isolation exercise. It is more difficult on the whole to make big strength gains on isolation exercises.

It is far easier making big strength gains on a heavy compound movement like a squat or deadlift. Some people also perform side laterals with a lot of cheating. Using bad technique makes making real strength gains a lot more difficult.

You also increase the risk of injury and this will hinder your gains. You should focus on getting strong on heavy compound exercises like the shoulder press. Having a stronger shoulder press will also benefit your strength on small isolation exercises for the shoulders.

In addition, it is important to pay attention to your recovery. It is not a good idea to perform side laterals every day. I personally only do this exercise once a week, I find this is enough to stimulate the side delts and allow recovery.
side laterals

Side Delts Are A Small Muscle

The side delts are a small muscle compared to other muscles in the body. The strength potential is not great when you consider how strong other muscles in the legs and back can get.

As a guide, I perform strict dumbbell side laterals with 10kg dumbbells for high rep sets of 15-20 reps. The weight is not heavy compared to the weight you can handle for a similar number of reps on other exercises.

Therefore, you should expect to see slow strength gains on side laterals. You are not going to go from doing side laterals with 10kg dumbbells to doing them with 30kg dumbbells two months later!

In actual fact, the purpose of side laterals are too pump blood into the side deltoids and make the muscle grow. They are not designed to go super heavy or to try and set a one rep max.

Isolation Exercise

Side laterals are an isolation exercise. Isolation exercises are harder to make strength gains on compared to big compound exercises. This is because there are less muscles involved in isolation movements.

You can add a lot of weight to the deadlift over a period of months because the deadlift involves so much muscle mass. You are using your hips, quads, hamstrings, glutes and back to pull the weight.

In contrast, with side laterals you are using the small muscles of the side delts. If you are performing this exercise with good form there should be very little involvement of other muscles to assist.

Therefore, all the work is being done by these small muscles in the shoulder. You can’t expect to make big strength gains with this exercise. The focus should be on hypertrophy and making the muscles bigger.

High reps in the 12+ range work very well for this exercise and I would recommend others to follow a similar prescription for number of reps.

Keep Tension On The Muscle

Performing the exercise safely will reduce your risks of injuries and also help your shoulders to grow. 

In the case of side lateral raises, it is important not to raise your hands above your shoulders in the top position. If you do this you will be placing stress on the shoulder joint.

What you want is to work the muscle and keep tension on the deltoids. You don’t want to place unnecessary stress on the joints. Doing this exercise incorrectly will increase the risk of injuries and hinder your strength gains.

You will be making strength gains even more slowly if you execute the movement with bad technique.

Work Side Laterals From Different Angles

Working side laterals from different angles will help to build up your delts fully. By getting stronger in different angles you will improve your strength gains on side laterals.

This is something that pro bodybuilder Seth Foroce advocates. He has incredible shoulder development and 3D deltoids. I understand the rationale behind his views.

Hitting side laterals from slightly different angles will stimulate growth in different parts of the side delts. If you lean over more while doing laterals then you will engage the rear delts to a greater degree.

Varying your grip position on the dumbbells also plays a role. Gripping the dumbbells dead centre will work a slightly different angle to holding the dumbbells close to the end.

Get Strong On Shoulder Presses

The standing overhead press is a great movement for building shoulder size and strength. It is arguably one of the best shoulder exercises you can do if you can execute it safely.

If a bad lower back holds you back, you can do seated shoulder presses instead. This is the variation that I opt for nowadays. Getting stronger on this exercise will make your shoulder stronger and bigger.

This will then translate into greater strength potential on isolation shoulder exercises like side lateral raises. A bigger muscle has the potential to become a stronger muscle.

Previously on my site I have discussed whether it is hard to overhead press your bodyweight.

Final Thoughts

Why is it so hard to get stronger on side lateral raises? The answer is that this exercise involves the small muscles of the side delt.

The strength potential is not too great on this exercise. Isolation exercises in general will see you make slower strength gains to big compound exercises.

Performing the movement safely and keeping tension on the muscle will reduce the risks of injury. You will not hinder your strength gains by keeping constant tension on the shoulder muscles.

Working side laterals from different angles will also help you to become stronger on side laterals as a whole. You will experience good hypertrophy as a result.

In addition, don’t neglect big compound shoulder movements like the shoulder press. Getting strong on this exercise will also improve your strength potential on smaller shoulder isolation work.

If you have any comments on this topic please leave them below. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

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