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The dumbbell front raise can be an essential addition to your training routine to help build bigger shoulders, but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?
For this movement, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because it’s such a killer exercise for a key muscle. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the move’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.
Before you grab a set of dumbbells and start swinging them up above your head, take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention the movement here. Using the proper form is essential to make sure you’re getting the most out of the exercise—particularly because of how easy it is to cheat and how common it is for guys to grab the wrong weights, putting their shoulder health at risk. Let’s break down everything you need to know.
Don’t Go Nuts
Eb says: Yes, front raises are a weapon in the battle for bigger shoulders. No, you shouldn’t overuse them. Remember: Your front shoulders get a ton of work throughout the week. There’s direct involvement in shoulder presses, there’s assistance in bench presses and pretty much all horizontal pressing exercises, and there’s more front shoulder work for, say, biceps curls, than you may think.
So yes, it’s worth incorporating front raises. But aim to do them once a week max. They’re a detail movement for a detail that’s getting plenty of work already in any well-rounded workout program.
Eb says: You’ll see plenty of people keeping the dumbbells parallel to the ground when they do front raises. Don’t do this. To a lesser degree, by doing this, you limit the space for the humerus and clavicle to move.
Instead, let’s keep the slightest bit of external rotation at the shoulder joint by angling the thumbs upwards. Think of keeping your palms at a 45-degree angle with the ground for the life of each set. You’ll still be hitting your front delts, but you’ll be doing so from a more shoulder-safe position.
Don’t Go Heavy
Eb says: The front raise isn’t meant to be a momentum-inducing cross between kettlebell swing and shoulder movement. Make it all shoulder and eliminate swing by tensing glutes, abs, and shoulder blades. (Shoulder blade tension is also key to helping protect your shoulder tendons).
There’s a good chance that this means you won’t use 30-pound dumbbells or even 25s to do front raises, but that’s okay. Save the heavy weights for overhead pressing days.
Watch The Height
Eb says: Raise the dumbbells only until your arms are parallel with the ground. Plenty of people raise them higher, sometimes so they’re overhead, sometimes so they’re slightly above parallel with the ground, but this isn’t necessary, and, very often, it’s only taking tension off the deltoids, the muscle we’re aiming to hit.
Elevating beyond arms-parallel-with-the-ground starts to take focus off the delts and involve the traps, but it’s not even doing so in a meaningful way, since the traps can be loaded much more aggressively. So go only to arms-parallel-with-the-ground. Want trap work? Do shrugs later.
Eb says: Make whatever load you’re using go farther by pausing and owning the position when you’re at the top of each front raise. This will, once again, force you to work with a lighter weight.
But you’ll be keeping constant tension on the shoulder this way. Also, note that the position of most mechanical tension on the deltoid occurs when you’re arms are parallel to the ground. Why not live here an extra second? Your deltoids will hate you and thank you all at once.
Want to master even more moves? Check out our entire Form Check series.
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