Lateral Raises – Push or Pull Exercise?

In an earlier article we discussed the lateral raise, a great isolation exercise to target the meaty heads of the deltoid (shoulder). When looking to increase shoulder hypertrophy, increase blood flow, and enhance movement and coordination of the shoulder muscles, we can use the lateral raise to specifically target such goals.

Push vs pull exercises must be properly determine so coaches and athletes can develop well balanced training programs set to increase muscular size, strength, and function. Sometimes the lateral raise can be tweaked to target specific regions of the shoulder that may or may not make it clear as to is it a push or a pull exercise. Therefore, in this article we will discuss the lateral raise deeper, and determine which type of movement (push or pull) it is.

The Lateral Raise

Below is a video demo on how to perform the lateral side raise. For the sake of this video we are going to discuss the raise variation that is most lateral, therefore it targets the medial head of the deltoid.

Shoulder Muscles Worked

As discussed in the video above, manipulating the hand placement, elbow positioning, and torso lean in the lateral raise can result in targeting certain aspects of the deltoid (for proper alignment, think about pouring a gallon of milk out) The lateral/medial head of the deltoid is most commonly targeted when done truly to the side, however some individuals may manipulate variables to turn a lateral raise into a bent over raise, which by default is now more of a posterior movement (and by definition, not a lateral raise).

Is It a Push or Pull Exercise?

In the below section we discuss what is the difference between push and pull exercises, why you should take note of them, and what is the final verdict on the classification of the lateral raise.

Push Exercises

When we hear the term “pushing exercises” we basically can include all exercises that target the front of the body, with the exception of the biceps (swap triceps here). This includes the quads, chest, shoulders, and triceps. Movements like squats, bench pressing, overhead lifts (exception of behind the neck versions), push ups, dips, and other triceps exercises are commonly seen here.

Pull Exercises

When we hear the term “pulling exercises” we basically can include all exercises that target the back of the body, with the exception of the triceps (swap biceps here). This includes the calves, hamstrings, glutes, erectors, lats, biceps, and posterior shoulder and traps. Movements like deadlifts, rows, hip exercises, pull ups, shrugs, bent over raises, and other back and hip work are commonly seen here.

Why Should You Care?

Seeing they are an assistance exercise to help increase hypertrophy and blood flow to the deltoids, while important, will not make as much significant gains in you strength, power, and fitness as overhead pressing movements, squats, deadlifts, and other main lifts. If you choose to perform them (on any day), just take note that they are pretty effective at producing muscle damage, and can impair some force production a day or two afterwards. It is because of that the we typically see them performed on same schedules as shoulder presses and other strength based movers (see full verdict below).

The Verdict

Due to the fact that lateral raises primarily target the shoulder as a whole (mainly the front and lateral deltoids), it would make sense to include these in pushing workouts that include shoulder training. The key here is to not get hung up on the finer points of whether it is a push or a pull, but rather to perform them correctly, on either day you choose. I personally would perform lateral raises when I do the most shoulders (push day) and save my bent over shoulder raises for more of my posterior (pull) day.

Featured Image: @gentecnutrition on Instagram


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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.