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

In today’s article and following lockdown restrictions, I thought something which could tremendously help you! 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! If you don’t care about training at home because you have access to the gym, this article will still be useful for you because we will be talking about dumbbell lateral raises which can be done both at the gym or at home.

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.

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.

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 than a powerlifter would who did strength training and no hypertrophy.

Also, you have to choose the best exercises for shoulders, and lateral raises are a great one for side delts.

Now that we know that, what can we do to grow our medial delts at the gym, or specifically 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; the best option would be to buy a great home gym and not 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 improve on one factor of 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.

With a pair of dumbbells, you can already go a long way towards building massive shoulders thanks to lateral raises as we will see now.

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!

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 the heck 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 where I could still go 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!

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. 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 well!

Specialising with dumbbell lateral raises for side delts size

I have made an article about specialising and how important this is. 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. 

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 and 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! Sorry for the lack of “scientific” reasons for being so, but that was and is the case. 

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. As it got harder, the number of repetitions I could do would decrease. For example, my 5 first sets would look like this: 

-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 higher reps again.

My next five sets would “feel” as heavy as the first five sets with a bit 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. 

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. Specifically, after this period where I went to boarding school, my results skyrocketed in many aspects. 

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!

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

When you are training at home, you should not only focus on your shoulders in that example. You should focus on exercises where you can still go heavy without much equipment. 

You can implement a ton of volume (loads of sets) 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. 

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. 

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. 

Of course, having two bags of the same weight would make it easier. If not, one solution at home is to do unilateral work. 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; this is not a good idea. You don’t have to go that way. I used to do this, but I believe I could have improved more doing higher rep ranges and taking fewer risks.

What I want to say about lateral raises is that it’s not because it is an isolation movement that you should be scared of thinking of getting stronger over time. Imagine if you could do lateral raises for 15 reps with 20kg in each hand in great form, would you do it? 

Probably. And 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. 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 but 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 (although you could do them after all your sets of lateral raises, they might feel hard to do since you will be pre-fatigued, up to you). With lateral raises at home, you will be able to get some excellent workouts in using a pair of dumbbells or even no equipment if you have something which you can use instead of weights. If you have no equipment, try to think of some unilateral work so you can work with heavier weights.

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 the mass!