Dumbbell lateral raises training technique for 3D side delts (at home or gym!)

In today’s article and following lockdown restrictions, I thought I’d talk about something which could be a huge benefit to your training.

See, lockdown or not, if you are in a position where you are stuck at home and can’t go to the gym, you need some solutions to enable you to continue training at home.

Today, we will talk about the solution for hitting your shoulders, (specifically side delts) like you never have before – so you can get them to grow like crazy! This is going to take very little equipment and all you will need is a pair of dumbbells.

This training technique is going to be a huge benefit whatever your circumstances (at home or at the gym) and should be a part of your journey to bigger, stronger shoulders.

I will gather the most important principles that I have learnt through my experience training almost every single day for nine years! Many times I have been stuck with less equipment to train with than expected, and this is why I found great alternatives to this “issue”.

I then applied these great substitutes to how I would train in the gym in general and found that they are beneficial for both in the gym and at-home training.

Sometimes, it seems, you get the best results from the most challenging and inconvenient situations.

How to get broader shoulders and bigger side delts 

Let’s start with how you’re supposed to get bigger shoulders. 

First, you have to follow the principles of progressive overload. You need to get stronger and perform enough volume on your shoulders (hypertrophy training) to grow them. You want to increase the weight you’re lifting week by week so it pushes muscle growth.

For example, if you are currently doing 4×8 reps at 8kg on your lateral raises and one year on you are doing 4×10 at 12kg, you will have bigger shoulders than you do today. By training both strength and hypertrophy (see powerbuilding), you ensure more growth and consistent progress.

Lateral raises are some of the best exercises for shoulders – and specifically for the side delts.

Now that we know that, what can we do to grow our medial delts at the gym, or even at home?

Growing your shoulders at home: the differences

Now, you know how to grow your shoulders, if you’re in the gym, it’s easy – improve your strength on the movements you practice and hit enough hypertrophy training.

So what are the differences at home?

Well, there should not be any differences if you can help it. The best option would be to buy a great home gym and never be limited in terms of weights! This way, you would have to apply the exact same philosophy that you would in your local gym.

The main difference between home and gym training is that you may have less equipment at home – or none at all. Being unable to access all the equipment of a gym makes it harder to practice progressive overload – going for heavier weights over time and getting stronger at the movement.

I would highly recommend you buy a pair of dumbells which won’t cost you much, yet, will help you massively! Two dumbbells of 10kg each would be ideal or a set of adjustable dumbbells can be a perfect investment for a cheap home gym setup.

With a pair of dumbbells, you can already go a long way towards building massive shoulders thanks to lateral raises. They also let you practice upright rows, front raises, and other shoulder builders for those 3d delts.

What I did when I was stuck at boarding school to get broader shoulders

There was a time when I was younger, where I used to go to boarding school.

I could go to my local gym at the weekends, but from Monday to Friday I was at school and going to my dorm room in the evenings. While other teens were playing in the hallway, I’d be training my shoulders (and my biceps another day).

I trained them in a very particular way because I understood quickly I could not do “heavy” shoulder presses like in the gym. I also realised that I could not do barbell presses since I did not have a bar. I could not do any heavy stuff.

So, what was I supposed to do?

That’s when I thought, what about just doing a lot of sets of lateral raises?


My dumbbells were limiting me in terms of how heavy I could go, but if there was one exercise that still felt pretty heavy just with a pair of dumbells, it was lateral raises! So from that day, I started hammering lateral raises and biceps curls (on a different day) with a pair of dumbells. I was doing 15-20 sets every session!

I decided to replace my casual shoulder workout volume at the local gym just by doing lateral raises. So for example, if my shoulder sessions at the local gym included 3-4 exercises of 4 sets, I would do 16 sets of lateral raises instead.

I decided to replace my overall casual shoulder workout volume at the local gym just by doing lateral raises. So for example, if my shoulder sessions at the local gym included 3-4 exercises of 4 sets, I would do 16 sets of lateral raises instead.

I know this might sound more “dangerous” or sound “weird”, but it was one of the most effective things I ever did. I am a huge fan of specialising in a few effective exercises and, with the small weights used in dumbbell lateral raises, high reps were perfect!

Since then, I have always reduced the number of exercises I do limiting myself to what really matters; I practice more sets of these exercises as they are the most effective ones!

Do less but do better!

Specialising with dumbbell lateral raises for side delts size

I have made an article about specialising and why it’s so important – so I’m just going to give you the quick version. As I just said above, specialising is focusing on what matters, and doing more of what matters!

Now, if you ask me about lateral raises and why lateral raises are my exercise of choice? Well, as I said, if you lack equipment and just have a pair of dumbells, you can still significantly increase weight for an exercise like lateral raises. The movement is difficult so a few kg might be enough to get a great shoulder workout in.

Dumbbell lateral raises are the best exercise you can do for your side delts!

My own experience has shown how much bigger your shoulders can get through this exercise. These are two reasons why you should do a lot of sets of lateral raises to get bigger, rounder shoulders.

I did 20 sets of dumbbell lateral raises; I was highly focused and productive. I was not shifting my attention going from one exercise to another, and my shoulders were in that momentum of getting hammered!

There’s less actual stress on the shoulder compared to heavier weights, so these ultra-high-rep workouts feel great and don’t hurt shoulder joints.

Specialising on one exercise also helps you getting stronger quicker at it – that means progressing faster and building muscle quicker.

In practice, how would I hit this very high volume of dumbbell lateral raises sets?

I would do my first sets of lateral raises (around 5) starting as heavy as I could and going close to failure for each set. Ideally only 1-2 reps left in the tank. As it got harder, the number of repetitions I could do would decrease.

-10 reps

-9 reps

-9 reps

-8 reps

-8 reps

I would lower the load I was using so I could reach this number of repetitions again. Instead of carrying on with this first initial load and going down to 7, 6, 5 reps, I would prefer to lower the weights and aim for the same reps again.

My next five sets would “feel” as heavy as the first five sets with less load. It was enough to be able to go for 10, 9, 9, 8, 8 reps again. I would repeat this and follow this principle until I had reached 20 sets.

What can you expect from specialising on dumbell lateral raises?

Let me tell you that after a few months, your shoulders will EXPLODE!

I did the exact same process for biceps, and then to most of the muscles, I trained in the gym.

With triceps, I wondered what the point of doing so many exercises for them was since they are all very similar? I then went onto doing 10 to 15 sets of skull crushers and triceps cable extensions, and that was it. The results only got better. My triceps grew a lot from that.

Since I practised this type of method, I have grown a lot more. After 5-6 years of training, I am still increasing my bench press and other movements as quickly as I did for my first few years at the gym, it is incredible!

Now, I would not recommend doing 15 sets of skull crushers or 20 sets of lateral raises as a beginner. When I started doing this, I had already been training for two years and had a bit of experience.

My size increased a lot, my bench-press and dips improved too, and my arms got much bigger. I believe this was directly correlated to the massive unique exercise sessions I would do in my dorm room!

Applying this training methods when I got back to training frequently in a gym helped me get to the next level.

What does it say about you if you’re training at home with very little to no equipment?

When you’re training at home, dumbbell raises aren’t the only example of this principle. You should focus on exercises that require little equipment but still offer a real challenge.

You can implement a ton of volume by using loads of set, even if you can’t go too heavy, and still improve. In this case, writing down exactly how many sets and reps you have performed is essential to keep track and progress in the long-term.

Let’s say you are doing ten sets of lateral raises and your sets go as follows: 10,10,9,8,8,8,8,7,7,7 – write it all down so you can try to beat it next time. The rep- total will go up and you’ll still be progressively overloading, even without additional weight.

Buying at least a pair of dumbbells is a great idea. And if you don’t have anything, I would advise you to get a bag and make it pretty heavy. You might be able to reach 10-12kg in your bag to do lateral raises, which is already a significant weight for that exercise.

Of course, having two bags of the same weight would make it easier. If not, one solution at home is to do unilateral work – one arm at a time. It takes a bit more time, but if you lack equipment, this could be a great solution to this problem.

Why should you not be scared of getting stronger on dumbbell lateral raises?

Doing low reps on lateral raises might not be the best in the long run, especially if your shoulders are already hurting for any reason. I used to do this, but I believe I could have improved more doing higher rep ranges and taking fewer risks.

Heavy lateral raises are interesting in a way that they can get you stronger quicker on the movement, thus when practicing the movement during hypertrophy phases where you build the muscle. The heavier weight for raises adds more stress to the shoulders and might not be worth it for you.

Lateral raises are a smaller, “isolation” movement but that doesn’t mean you should treat them like the weight doesn’t matter. While we’re mostly progressing on reps, we want to keep improving weight whenever possible, too.

The idea is to increase weight whenever you can to keep getting stronger. Then you repeat the same process with the new weight, before moving up again. This is the simplest form of progressive overload.

Imagine if you could do lateral raises for 15 reps with 20kg in each hand in great form, would you do it? Of course, that’s more muscle gains!

It’s not impossible; it will just take a lot of time and years of training. Don’t get stuck thinking that because these are lateral raises, you should not aim for heavier weights. Just because you don’t have access to tons of equipment now, it doesn’t mean you should treat your lateral raises without urgency.

If you think this way, you will always be doing sets with 6kg and you will stagnate pretty quickly. It is similar to the example if today your bench-press is 50kg for 15 reps, one day, expect it to be 80kg for 15 reps. And those sets at 80kg will feel the same way these sets at 50kg used to feel. It’s just that you are better now.

With the lateral raises, it is the same, 20kg lateral raises might sound insane for 15 reps, but the truth is, the day you can do these, 20kg lateral raises will feel pretty light to you!

Conclusion:

The solution to getting bigger and rounder 3D side delts is to hammer dumbbell lateral raises.

In the gym, you can do more than just lateral raises. You could, for example, do three exercises where you do three sets for the first two exercises and then eight sets for lateral raises (or more depending on your level). This way, you do a lot of lateral raises whilst still giving yourself the ability to improve on basic exercises like an overhead press. 

If you are at home, try to do a lot of sets of lateral raises, (you could also apply this method to raises for your rear delts).

It will be hard to get much out of shoulder presses for example if you do not have access to many weights (you could do them after all your sets of lateral raises, they might feel hard to do since you will be pre-fatigued).

With lateral raises at home, you will be able to get some excellent workouts in using a pair of dumbbells or even some heavier miscellaneous objects around the house. Lateral raises are one of the only exercises that let you do this and they should be at the centre of your home shoulder workouts!

Lastly, feel free to adjust this method to use it in most of your sessions for other muscles. As a start, you can simply reduce your compound/strength exercises by one or two sets to enable you to do a few more sets of your isolation movements, where you will build some good mass!