How Important Are Lateral Raises for Building Big Shoulders?

In bodybuilding, middle deltoid development is important to make you appear wider and tapered. Due to this, I often see emphasis placed on lateral raise variations and hear the concern that without their inclusion, delt development will lack.

While I don’t dispute the importance of lateral raises (you will even see them in our sample advanced hypertrophy program in the book), it should be noted that due to the delt’s biomechanics the middle delts contribute significantly to many compounds lifts.

To some degree, they are involved in any push or pull, but most notably during horizontal pulling 1 and vertical pushing 2; meaning, they get hit all the time. You only need to spend time isolating them if you are advanced, and they are a clear weak point.

So, given how often compound lifts cover your bases in terms of the muscles they train, a question among strength-focused lifters might be, is it ever appropriate to focus on just a few big lifts (i.e. just doing ‘the big 3’)?

Certainly, but that requires managing volume, intensity, and frequency so as to manage any potential fatigue. For example:

  • Rank beginners can benefit from the practice of the movements with a higher frequency and a lower intensity. Sessions don’t need to be “all out” as progress comes easily and is largely driven by technique improvement.
  • A powerlifter might train squat, bench, and deadlift very frequently at certain stages of competition preparation (with some days performing all three on the same day), but often only one movement is heavy, the other one might be moderate reps at a moderate volume (doing your hypertrophy work), and the last might be singles at 80%, to train technique which is not as fatiguing. Point being, there is a specific reason, a time restricted period this is done, and in a way to manage the fatigue overlap.

Each is just an example, but as you can see, a high-frequency protocol requires that you put more thought into overlap and fatigue management with heavy compound lifts.

If you have found this helpful, you might be pleased to know it is just a small section taken from our Muscle and Strength Training Pyramid book. The second edition, along with the Nutrition companion book, was released this January 2019.

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Thank you for reading. Questions welcomed in the comments.

– Eric, Andy, and Andrea

Reference List

  1. Botton, C.E., Wilhelm, E.N., Ughini CE. Electromyographical analysis of the deltoid between different strength training exercises. Medicina Sportiva, 2013. 17(2): p. 67–71.
  2. Boeckh-Behrens, W.U. and Buskies, W., Fitness-Krafttraining. Die Besten Übungen und Methoden für Sport und Gesundheit (Fitness – Strength Training: The Best Exercises And Methods For Sports And Health). Hamburg, 2000.
About the Author

Eric Helms, Andy Morgan and Andrea Valdez

Eric is a coach, athlete, author, educator, and researcher. Andrea is a lifelong athlete, experienced coach, and content creator. Andy is an online training and nutrition coach. Together they are the authors of The Muscle and Strength Pyramid books. is Andy's website, his sincere effort to build the best nutrition and training guides on the internet. Some readers hire him to coach them, which he has been doing full-time, online, for the last seven years. If you're interested in individualized, one-on-one coaching to help you crush your physique goals, find out more here.

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