How To Master The Front Raise

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How much do you know about your shoulders? Probably not a great deal. It’s fine to admit that, no-one’s expecting you to. The shoulders are there, they do a valuable job, and unless something goes wrong with them it’s easy not to think about them much. Aside from when you’re trying to bulk them up, that is, because boulder shoulders do a bang-up job of filling T-shirts.

However, if you don’t know much about the shoulders, it’s easy to get it wrong when attempting to target them in your workouts. The shoulder comprises three heads – the front (anterior), middle (medial) and rear (posterior) deltoids – and all of them need to be worked on to build strong, well-rounded Noddy Holders.

When it comes to working on your front delts, there is no finer exercise than the front raise. It can be done with several kinds of free weights or resistance bands, but for the classic front raise, grab a pair of dumbbells. Be careful not to go too heavy – what feels OK on your first front raise may become impossible to lift by the fourth or fifth.

There are two ways to do the dumbbell version – the double-arm front raise and the alternating, one-arm front raise. Here’s how to perform both exercises.

Double-Arm Dumbbell Front Raise

dumbbell front raise

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Begin by holding both dumbbells of equal weight in front of your thighs with your palms facing your body (a pronated grip). Keeping your back straight and feet shoulder-width apart, lift the dumbbells in front of you in a controlled manner until your hands are in line with your shoulders. Pause, then slowly lower back to the starting position.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Front Raise

dumbbell front raise

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Follow the form guide above for the double-arm version, but instead of raising both dumbbells at once, lift one to shoulder height, lower and then repeat with the other arm and keep alternating.

Common Mistakes To Avoid

Lifting above the shoulders

Going any higher is unnecessary. It’ll provide no extra stimulation to the front delt, but will increase the risk of injury to the surprisingly delicate shoulder joint.

Using a heavy weight

Check your ego (for this exercise and everything else). The front portion of the shoulder is such a relatively small muscle that light weights provide adequate muscular tension and will lower the chance of injury.

Front Raise Variations

Cable front raise

At one end of a cable cross-over station, set the straight bar attachment to the lowest pulley increment. Hold the attachment with palms facing your body (a pronated grip), your back to the cable station, feet shoulder-width apart and the pulley running between your legs. Lift the bar to shoulder height keeping your arms outstretched, pausing at the top of the movement, then slowly lower again.

Plate steering wheel raises

steering wheel raise

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Take a weight plate that you can safely raise for 15 to 20 reps. Grasp the plate in the same ten-to-two position that you use with a steering wheel. With your feet shoulder-width apart and back straight, raise slowly in front of you, arms outstretched, until your hands reach shoulder height.

Barbell front raise

Select a barbell of appropriate weight – the fixed weight barbells that you typically find on a stand are a great choice for this variation – but if in any doubt, go lighter. With your feet shoulder-width apart, position your hands shoulder-width apart on the bar (any wider can injure the shoulder joint) and bring the bar to the front of your thighs. Lift slowly under control until the barbell reaches shoulder height. Slowly lower back to the start.

Joe Warner
Former editor of Men’s Fitness UK

Joe Warner is a highly experienced journalist and editor who began working in fitness media in 2008. He has featured on the cover of Men’s Fitness UK twice and has co-authored Amazon best-sellers including 12-Week Body Plan. He was the editor of Men’s Fitness UK magazine between 2016 and 2019, when that title shared a website with Coach.