So you want boulder shoulders and to be able to hoist heavy weights overhead. You know that strong and powerful shoulders are built with presses, so you’ve got a lot of them in your program. But if you really want to round out your shoulders, adding delt raise variations to target different heads of the deltoids may be the secret to unlocking your training.
The dumbbell front raise is a shoulder isolation exercise that targets the anterior head of your deltoids. This head already gets a fair share of volume in most programs. But if you need to strengthen your front rack position, boost your pressing power, train shoulders without overhead presses, or improve your overall shoulder function and performance, look no further than the dumbbell front raise.
- How to Do the Dumbbell Front Raise
- Benefits of the Dumbbell Front Raise
- Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Front Raise
- Who Should Do the Dumbbell Front Raise
- Dumbbell Front Raise Sets and Reps
- Dumbbell Front Raise Variations
- Dumbbell Front Raise Alternatives
- Frequently Asked Questions
You can perform the front raise with dumbbells, cables, or a barbell. However, this guide will discuss how to perform the dumbbell front raise. You can perform this with a supinated (underhand) or pronated (palms down) grip. This guide will focus on the pronated grip variation.
As tempting as it might be to load up the weight, this exercise should be performed with moderate to light weights. It is not primarily a shoulder strengthening exercise. Therefore, combine strict form and moderate to higher reps with light weights. That way, you’ll keep tension on the proper muscles and not overly stress your shoulder joint.
Step 1 — Grab the Dumbbells and Stand Up Tall
Start with the dumbbells in front of your thighs. Keep your palms down. Stand tall with your shoulders down away from your ears.
Coach’s Tip: Tension on your muscles is the key here. Avoid letting your hands and dumbbells rest on your thighs.
Step 2 — Reach the Dumbbells Forward
With a soft bend in your elbows, lift the dumbbells out in front of you. Make sure they stay shoulder-width apart. Keep your palms facing downwards. Lift the weights to shoulder height. Pause briefly. Don’t use any momentum or hip movement.
Coach’s Tip: Fight the urge to move your body around or push your hips forward as you lift the weights. If you have to do that, switch to lighter dumbbells.
Step 3 — Lower Slowly and Repeat
After a brief pause, fight the urge to let the weights drop. Perform a strict eccentric lowering of three to four full seconds. Do not let the dumbbells rest on your thighs between reps.
Coach’s Tip: Lower the weights very slowly. The better the lowering phase, the more tension and benefits you will get.
Increase Size of the Anterior Shoulder
Looking to round out your shoulders? Delt raises of all kinds are going to be your friend. Integrate front raises with your rear delt raises and lateral delt raises in training. You’ll be cooking up a recipe for excellent shoulder growth that will give you both strong and aesthetically symmetrical shoulders.
Work Your Shoulders Without Lifting Overhead
If you have the necessary shoulder mobility and strength to safely lift overhead, your front delts likely get a lot of stimulation from the pressing components of your program. But what if you’re recovering from an injury that prohibits you from lifting overhead? With this lift (and clearance from your doctor), you can still get in some solid shoulder training if you can’t lift overhead while recovering from surgery or an injury.
Improve Front Rack Position
A stronger pair of front delts will help you develop a better front rack position. You don’t want shoulder strength to become a limiting factor too quickly when you’re working on your front squat or clean & press. By strengthening your anterior delts, you’ll be better preparing yourself for the fatigue-resistance and stability you need while holding a front rack.
In addition, you might benefit from having physically larger shoulders when holding front racks in the front squat and jerking movements. Not having adequate shoulder shelf space can make the barbell sink lower onto your body and become very uncomfortable without the necessary padding — AKA, muscle mass.
Pressing Strength and Performance
Having more muscle mass in your anterior deltoids can lead to greater strength and power. By isolating your front delts, you’re able to target them for increased strength without overloading your whole body and nervous system (as you might with heavy presses). Having more muscle in a given area can lead to better strength in the bench press, strict press, dips, and other pressing movements.
Strengthen Shoulder Stabilizing Muscles
Increasing the specific strength, performance, and movement of many of the smaller, more isolated muscles in your body can help improve joint stability and control. The less you neglect smaller muscles like your anterior delts, the more stable your bigger lifts can be. Plus, you’ll build up your resilience against potential injury since you’ll be supporting the muscles around relatively vulnerable joints.
The dumbbell front raise is a variation of the lateral raise, where you’ll move the weights forward in the raise (instead of to the sides or back). Since you’ll use such light weights, your traps and forearms shouldn’t really be taxed in this move.
The anterior deltoids (front delts) are the muscles that are isolated during the dumbbell front raise. When done properly, you should be able to feel the front of the shoulder working, and very little else.
Rear and Lateral Deltoids
Although your front delts are doing the hard labor, your rear and lateral delts will support you during the eccentric phase of the lift.
The dumbbell front raise is not a strictly necessary part of shoulder training, as the front deltoids often get hammered with a ton of volume in most upper body programs. Movements like bench pressing, dips, shoulder presses, and other upper body compound presses all place significant load on your front delts.
Some lifters may still want to add more direct front deltoid work, either to increase shoulder size or endurance. Keep in mind that less is more with front raise training. Adding too much of direct front delt work could increase shoulder fatigue and discomfort, ultimately limiting recovery in more intense pressing programs.
Some strength athletes may want to add dumbbell front raises to their program to increase their overall upper body muscular development. Bodybuilders have an investment in symmetry that can be aided by a wide variety of raises.
Weightlifters need a strong, steady front rack, for which the front raise is a great help. Powerlifters concerned with maximizing recovery between benching sessions might not be able to add a lot of overhead pressing into their program. But dumbbell front raises can help add shoulder volume without causing a lot of full-body strain.
Most regular gymgoers could benefit from doing more general overhead and shoulder work before isolating the front raise. The front delts are usually more developed than the lateral and rear deltoids, since they are used in most pressing movements already. However, if you are looking to specifically bring up your front delts and already have developed shoulders through a pressing program, you could benefit from adding more direct front shoulder work.
Training your shoulders with front raises and other variations can be tricky, especially since there can be a big temptation to lift heavy. But generally, avoid going heavy with this movement, as the single-joint mechanics of this under high load could end in more injury than results. Remember that the goal here is not to build max strength, but rather to support your other lifts.
To Build Strength
The front raise is not an ideal exercise to build front deltoid strength. The front deltoids already get a fair amount of intense loading during presses like the bench press, incline press, and overhead work. Additionally, heavy single-joint training at the shoulder could result in higher risks of injury. For this lift, training with heavy loads — under eight reps — is often not recommended or necessary.
However, if your goal is ultimately to build overall strength, feel free to use this movement as a support for your big lifts. Or, if you can’t lift overhead because you’re recovering from an injury or surgery, front raises can help maintain strength while you get your mobility back. Consider performing two or three light sets of 10 to 15 reps so that you’re not overloading your shoulders in the midst of heavy presses. But you’ll still be supporting stability and progress.
To Build Muscle
If you are looking to build muscle with isolation moves, you can train these both in moderate rep ranges as well as higher rep ranges. The front deltoid gets a fair amount of loading via pressing movements, so you may not even need to add extra direct work to your shoulder routines. But if you want to get specific with your muscle growth, try three to four sets of 8 to 15 reps. Make sure to use a slight pause at the top of every rep with slow and controlled lowering to maximize time under tension.
To Build Endurance
If you are looking to increase shoulder muscle endurance, as needed by boxers, you could perform longer duration work sets with higher reps and even lighter weights. Be mindful that the exercises you do in your sport (such as boxing) will already supply adequate volumes. If you want to up the ante, try to do two to four sets of 20 to 30 reps. Even with such high reps, make sure you’re controlling your speed and pausing at the top of every rep. As fatigue builds up, make sure to not swing the weights, which will add extra stress to your shoulder joints.
If you’re looking to add some extra front deltoid isolation work into your program, there are variations on the front raise theme that you might want to include.
Incline Bench Front Raise
The incline bench front raise can be done by setting an incline bench to the highest level. Lie down in a prone position, with your chest on the bench. By doing this, you use the bench as a support throughout your front raise.
The support helps you not have to worry about your body’s positioning during work sets. Additionally, the bench does not allow you to rock or use movementum, which is key for highly isolated work. This is a great variation for beginners just learning the move, as well as advanced lifters who need to really dial in their focus.
Cable Front Raise
Cables are a great variation of the dumbbell front raise as they allow you to move in a variety of angles and keep constant tension throughout the range of motion. Unlike dumbbells, cables have tension at the top, middle, and even bottom part of the raise.
Barbell Front Raise
You can perform the front raise with a barbell, which allows you to take a variety of grip widths. Using both hands on the same implement also means you don’t have to unilaterally control the weight. This means you can have more control over the load and may be able to train for slightly higher reps.
Just keep in mind that the barbell will give you a heavier starting point than light dumbbells, so make sure you don’t need momentum to control the weight.
Underhand Front Raise
You can perform any of these variations using an underhand grip. If you’re typically concerned about your lateral delts and traps overpowering this lift, an underhand grip can help ease those concerns. When doing underhand work, it is important that you still do them slowly and with control. Don’t let speed take over to avoid adding undue stress and strain to the front of your shoulder and biceps.
Battle Rope Slam
Battle ropes are great tools for adding in shoulder conditioning and stamina work. Using ropes provides an added bonus that ramp up your heart rate up for extended periods of time — AKA, cardiovascular fitness.
The shoulder press — either with dumbbells, barbells, or a Smith machine — targets your upper body pressing muscles. Your shoulders, front deltoids, upper chest, and triceps are all active in the shoulder press.
In addition, the overhead press is a great way to train your shoulders and front deltoids without needing to do a ton of extra front delt isolation training.
The dumbbell front raise is an isolation exercise that targets your front deltoids. You often train your front delts enough during programs that include compound pressing movements. Still, if you’re chasing bigger front delts, you can add some moderate to higher rep front raises into your program to bring your shoulder gains to the next level.
The dumbbell front raise is a classic shoulder exercise that can be performed with minimal loading and is relatively straightforward. It is also an exercise that is often performed incorrectly, which can cause shoulder pain and discomfort. Nonetheless, there are still a few common questions that come up regarding front raise training.
Do you need to train the dumbbell front raise?
If you’re getting enough pressing in your program, then honestly, no. A vast majority of lifters and gym goers may be better off doing shoulder presses and lateral raises. Seeing that the front delts are often overworked (more than the rear delts) and are used in most pressing exercises, front raises are the least necessary shoulder raise variations out there.
However, if your shoulder training is well-rounded and your recovery is on point — and you’re thirsting for a big upper body — front raises can be a great program add. You might also opt for front raises when you can’t lift overhead if you’re recovering from an injury or surgery.
How heavy should you lift during the dumbbell front raise?
Most of the heavy lifting for the front delts is delivered during shoulder and chest pressing. That’s why most people don’t need to do a ton of front deltoid isolation work.
Avoid training this movement for any less than eight reps with good technique. You shouldn’t be swinging heavy dumbbells around, as the front raise is NOT a strength movement. Save the big bells for shoulder presses.
Dumbbell front raises hurt my shoulders — should I still do them?
If front raises are adding discomfort to your shoulders, then stop. Drop the weights significantly. You may also want to try to have your hands more out to the sides. Still keep them in front, just less straight out front — like a hybrid front/lateral raise. You can also try to supinate your wrist and use more of an underhand grip. If none of this helps, then you’re probably better off not doing them — and when there’s pain in the weight room, you might want to check in with your doctor, too.
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