Shoulder Exercise: Front Raise

What is it for?

This shoulder exercise primarily trains the Deltoid muscles and focuses on the Anterior Deltoid (the front portion of your shoulder muscle and highlighted in red on the diagram). The secondary muscles (highlighted in yellow) it works on are the core muscles especially the erector spinae muscle (small muscles that run along either side of your spine) This is because the weight is brought up in front of the body and so requires stability from these muscles to stop you falling forwards. It also works the Biceps; part of their job is to raise the arm at the shoulder joint (highlighted in yellow).

Shoulder exercises are notoriously tough as our natural shoulder strength is pretty poor. Therefore the benefit this will have on our daily lives is very high and will nearly always make the task of carrying things and manipulating objects that much easier. With this exercise you will find the first few repetitions relatively easy, however the muscle will tire very quickly and discomfort will soon kick in. It is for this reason that you must start with a very light weight.


The basics of this exercise are very simple as it is a movement that covers just one joint, however there are a few training tips that will help you get the most out of it and avoid any unnecessary injuries. You can use the cable machine in the gym for this exercise but in my opinion it is best to use the good old dumbbell. If you don’t have access to gym equipment then don’t worry, you can use tins/cans or even a sealed bag of sugar. You will get stronger and may eventually have to increase the weight to dumbbells, but all in good time.

For the Front Raise I am going to use dumbbells, it is also a good idea to use a mirror to check your technique in. The starting position is simple, with a dumbbell in each hand and with your hands down by your side making sure that the palms of your hands are facing into your body. This is important as through the whole movement your hands must be facing each other.

Slow and Controlled

Now you are ready to start the exercise. Before you begin the movement it is important that you activate your core muscles (this will help support your back) do this by drawing your belly button in and slightly up. Once you have done this you must hold it like this throughout the whole exercise. Move your arms slowly and in a controlled way up in front of you, keeping your arms straight and your palms facing each other. In this example you are moving both arms up together although you can do alternate arms however I find the temptation to swing your arms to aid the movement is far greater with alternate arms and that is bad.

When your hands reach shoulder level and your arms are parallel to the ground you have reached the finish position. It is tempting at this point to just let your arms flop back to the start position, don’t! You need to use control to take your arms back to the start position. It should take you around 1 to 2 seconds to get back. Once at the start position hold it for a fraction of a second before you go into a second repetition, this will stop you from swinging the weights to get them up which is a very common way to cheat in the exercise. The diagram below shows the finish position you should be in.

Avoid Leaning Backwards

You now have the basic movement but there are a few more training tips you need to be aware of. Firstly in all exercises the body likes to cheat and in this exercise one way it likes to cheat is to arch the back right back to aid the movement. If you have good abdominal strength you should be able to prevent this, however if you don’t and when doing this exercise you back does start to arch then use a back support. For my clients I get them to lean against a wall with their feet about one foot length away from the wall. With the back support in place it cuts out all ability to arch backwards.

Secondly make sure you start with a light weight and build up, if your weight is too heavy the body will struggle and so have to cheat to complete the movement.

Thirdly when holding your stomach muscles in place and drawing them in it can be difficult to breathe. That said it doesn’t mean you should hold your breath. You should make sure that you keep a constant air flow going as the muscle will require oxygen and if you deplete it then you won’t be able to do as many repetitions. I find it easier to breathe out on exertion and in when relaxing the muscle. So in the case of this exercise you should breathe out on the way up and in on the way down.

The Do’s

Breathe in a controlled manner
Start with a light weight
Use a mirror to check technique
Keep the movement slow and controlled
Keep your palms facing each other throughout
Make sure your arms are straight
Keep tummy muscles tight
Move your arms slowly back to the start position
Use back support if you need to

The Don’ts

Don’t hold your breath
Don’t use too heavy a weight
Don’t rush the movement
Don’t drop your arms back to the start position
Don’t swing or bend your arms
Don’t arch your back
Don’t have your palms facing down in the movement
In your Program

This is an important exercise to add to your routine but it should be placed in the right order. In your workout always train the larger muscles first and finish with the smaller muscles. There are exceptions to this rule but we will get into that another time. So the shoulder exercises come after legs, chest and back but before arms and stomach and any specialised supporting muscle exercises. In my opinion, if you are not body building, it is best to treat the shoulders in a more toning type of training. That means to complete repetitions of 15 or more and sets of 1 to 5. Of course you can combine it with other types of shoulder exercises and there are many different ways to add this into a program. However that is another topic, which we will cover in the future.

And A Warning…

This is a good exercise however there are some risks. Firstly, if you find you are holding your breath through the exercise and you are not breathing properly then this can increase your blood pressure. If you already have high blood pressure then you must not do this exercise until you can breathe properly. You can do this by reducing the weight to a level that is much more manageable or I find counting the repetitions out loud helps me to keep the breathing regular.

Secondly, if you have a bad back then stay away from this exercise. As the weights come forwards it puts a lot of pressure on the lower back and could aggravate the problem. Thirdly, and it has already been mentioned, but it is important that you hold the weights with your palms facing each other (like you would hold a hammer) and not with the palms facing down (like you would hold bike handle bars). If you complete the exercise with palms facing down, over time you can cause an impingement in the shoulder. This impingement will sound like a clicking in the shoulder joint or a sharp localised pain in the shoulder. It takes time for it to happen so don’t worry if you have always done this exercise this way but do consider changing as it will help avoid any injury.

If you are unsure about your health and doing this exercise then it is always safer to check with a health professional like your GP to get a personalised point of view.

Good luck with this exercise and your training. If you have any topics or exercises you would like covered then please let me know and I will get to them as soon as I can. Remember always be safe with your training and don’t push yourself too hard.