The Best Shoulder Exercise You’re NOT Doing

By: Jordan Shallow

I lied…

If you’ve done a shoulder workout with the purpose of packing on slabs of muscle then you’ve undoubtedly done this exercise. The dumbbell side lateral raise is a keystone exercise found in every bodybuilder’s workout. But I’m going to introduce a slight variation to the standing lateral raise that will take your delts from diminutive to DEMONSTRATIVE.

The lateral raise is one of the most permutated exercises in the gym, and it seems like everyone and their mother has their own little slight variation on it. Everything from; starting position, to shoulder rotation, elbow angle and end range of motion vary from person to person, all with varying degrees of success.


If the goal is muscle hypertrophy than without doubt isolation should be the intent. Especially on a muscle that only crosses one joint. You’ll find that the guys who are senselessly flapping their arms, while rapidly flexing and extending at the hip are oddly enough the same guys with little bottle capped shoulders. Lower your weight, check your ego at the door and work on executing proper form.


The deltoid is a muscle group consistent of three heads (anterior, medial, and lateral) that encapusulates the clavicle, the acromion and the spine of the scapula respectively and insert onto a prominence on the humerus . The side lateral raise targets the medial head of the deltoid primarily.

The medial head of the deltoid moves the shoulder through the motion of abduction, and more so when the shoulder is internally rotated. The caveat of deltoid isolation that is often forgotten is that in moving the shoulder through abduction the deltoid becomes responsible for the motion at 30 degrees of abduction and up. That first 30 degrees of abduction is initiated by the supraspinatus, a muscle located on your scapula and an integral part of your rotator cuff.


So from what we just learned we now know that the medial delt works best when:

  • Shoulder is at 30 degrees
  • Shoulder is internally rotated.

Now how can we fulfill both of these criteria in one single muscle contraction?

The answer is simple. ..

Flare your lats!

I’ll let that sink in.


For some of you familiar with anatomy you may have just had a “Eureka!” moment. For those not so well versed let me explain…

The lats function as an internal rotator of the shoulder, therefore will place the shoulder in an optimal rotation in order to isolate the medial head of the deltoid. And if you have visible muscle mass in your lats the flaring motion will bring the shoulder to the ideal starting point (30 degrees) for the delts to initiate abduction and alleviate the need for the supraspinatus to activate the motion. If you don’t have muscle mass to leverage off even the “invisible lat syndrome” posture will suffice in getting your shoulder to the optimal joint angle.

But Muscle Doc; isn’t there already perfectly good exercise for isolating the delts?


The single arm side lying lateral raise on the incline bench is a perfectly suited exercise for isolating the medial head of the deltoid through its specific range of motion. The angulated starting point relative to gravity will minimize the initiation of abduction by the supraspinatus, which will, in turn isolate the delt throughout the range of motion. However it may minimize the potential of the delt by starting at an angle higher than the desired 30 degrees.

Also, Very often this exercise is performed on bench angled at 45 degrees, which leaves the shoulder at the same angle, so to optimize delt activation and minimize the contribution of supraspinatus I would recommend angling the chair to a higher degree.

But if you’re crunched for time, and the idea of awkwardly staring at the guy working on the bench next to you doesn’t really appeal to you, then this variation of the lateral raise might be for you! Give it a shot on your next workout and be sure to give some feedback on what you think.

Stay Strong,


Jordan Shallow