Front Raise Muscles Worked: What Muscles Does The Front Raise Work?

One of the benefits of forward raises is that this shoulder exercise can be performed with different types of resistance, including dumbbells, cables, resistance bands, kettlebells, among others. 

But, precisely what muscles do front raises work?

In this front raise muscles worked exercise guide, we will explain how to perform forward raises, and then we will discuss the muscles strengthened by front raises.

We will look at: 

  • How to Do Front Raises With Dumbbells
  • Front Raise Muscles Worked
  • How to Vary Forward Raises

Let’s get started!

Front raises.

How to Do Front Raises With Dumbbells

The front raise (often called forward raise) is a great exercise to add to shoulder, arm, or upper-body workouts.

It works the entire deltoid muscle in the shoulders while really targeting the anterior portion of the muscle, which can help you improve your push-up strength and bench pressing strength. 

The standard shoulder forward raise exercise is performed with dumbbells.

Here are the steps for how to perform dumbbell forward raises:

  1. Stand upright with good posture, with a dumbbell in each hand and your arms down by your sides.
  2. Keeping your core tight, lift your arms straight up in front of your body so that your arms are chest height and parallel to the ground. 
  3. At the top position, your palms should be facing the floor.
  4. Pause for 2-3 seconds, squeezing your shoulders without hiking them up to your ears (keep them relaxed).
  5. Slowly lower your arms back down to your sides.

Front Raise Muscles Worked

So, front raises work what muscles?

By nature, the forward raise exercise is mainly a shoulder exercise. The shoulders are primarily composed of the deltoid muscles.

The deltoids are a three-headed muscle group with an anterior head, middle head, and posterior head, often referred to as the anterior deltoid, middle deltoid, and posterior deltoid, respectively.

A resistance band front raise.

The primary forward raise muscle (or muscle portion) targeted is the anterior deltoid.

The anterior deltoids, sometimes casually referred to as the “front deltoids,” are the muscle fibers that are part of the deltoid muscle located on the front portion of the shoulder. 

This means that the anterior deltoids wrap down somewhat and around or along the front of your shoulder/torso.

Like the other portions of the deltoid muscle group, the anterior deltoids attach to the top of the humerus but a little bit more on the medial side relative to the lateral deltoids, which run down the top of the shoulder and attach to the middle of the humerus bone.

As such, the anterior deltoids are involved with internal rotation of the shoulder along with flexion and horizontal flexion.

Internal rotation is when you twist your arm and turn it towards the inside of your body, while flexion is bringing your arm straight forward in front of your body.

The anterior deltoids are heavily involved in pushing exercises like the chest press and push-ups, so doing forward raises can potentially help you build shoulder stability and pressing strength for these other key upper body lifts.

A close up of a front raise.

While the primary muscles worked by forward raises are the anterior fibers of the deltoid, as mentioned, included on the forward raises muscles worked list are the lateral deltoids and posterior deltoids as well.

The lateral deltoids, also called the middle deltoids, are the bundles of muscle fibers in the center of your shoulder along the top. 

The middle deltoids are responsible for shoulder abduction, which is the movement that involves bringing your arms straight out to the side away from your body, like a giant T (much like how to do a dumbbell lateral raise).

You will mostly target the lateral deltoids, or the middle deltoids, with lateral raises vs forward raises.

Finally, the other primary muscle found on the list of front raise muscles worked include the posterior deltoids, or rear deltoids, often called the “rear delts.”

As the name describes, the posterior deltoids or rear deltoids are in the back portion of the shoulder muscle.

A front raise.

The functions of the rear delts include external rotation of the shoulder joint, shoulder extension (bringing your arm straight back behind you), and horizontal extension.

Although forward raises primarily target the anterior fibers of the deltoid as well as the deltoid muscles at large, the forward shoulder raises exercise also strengthens the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder.

The rotator cuff muscles play an important role in shoulder stability and mobility.

When performing the exercise while standing, you will also activate some of the muscles in the upper back, including the traps, rhomboids, levator scapulae, serratus anterior, and the muscles of your core.

Therefore, the benefits of forward raises include strengthening the deltoids for better shoulder flexion and abduction and providing more stability to your shoulders overall. 

Additionally, when lifting heavy weights and doing enough reps and sets with forward shoulder raises for hypertrophy, you can add girth to your shoulders for a meatier shoulder appearance to build muscular bulk or mass, particularly in the front portion of your shoulders above your clavicle.

Medicine ball front raise.

How to Vary Forward Raises

In addition to dumbbell forward raises, you can use other forms of resistance for forward raises.

Adding variety to the type of resistance won’t necessarily change the primary “front raise muscles worked” in any sort of significant or global sense.

You will still primarily be targeting the anterior deltoids and the rest of the portions of the deltoids. However, the specific muscle fibers worked by forward raises with dumbbells vs cables or resistance bands can vary, for example.

There are also benefits of doing forward raises with different types of resistance equipment because you can get some unique benefits from each variation.

For example, the primary benefit of doing front raises with a cable machine or bands is that the cable machine enables you to move through an extensive range of motion while experiencing constant tension throughout this movement range.

Resistance band front raise.

Therefore, cable forward raises can help maximize your time under tension for the exercise and strengthen the shoulder muscles at all angles and positions throughout the exercise.

This helps target all of the muscle fibers and portions of the deltoids and supportive shoulder muscles and maximizes your increases in functional strength and muscle growth.

Here are the steps for how to perform single-arm cable machine forward raises:

  1. Move the pulley to the lowest setting and attach the stirrup or D handle at the lowest point.
  2. Stand with your back up towards the machine with the pulley to the left of your body and grip the handle with your left hand, palm facing down. 
  3. Squeeze your glutes and abs to maintain an upright posture.
  4. Lift your arm straight up in front of your body until your arm is at chest level. Try to keep your elbow straight but unlocked.
  5. Pause for 3 seconds.
  6. Slowly lower your arm back to your side.
  7. Complete all reps and then switch sides.

One of the more common alternatives to dumbbell forward raises is using resistance bands, and you will get a lot of the same aforementioned strengthening benefits of cable forward raises when using resistance bands as long as you are using a resistance band with enough tension.

You can perform forward raises with resistance bands for at-home upper-body workouts.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart in the center of a resistance band, bringing a handle of the band up in each hand. 
  2. Extend your arms down at your sides, holding a handle so that your palms face into your thigh or just alongside your thigh, facing the wall behind you. 
Front Raise Muscles Worked: What Muscles Does The Front Raise Work? 1
  1. Keeping your core and glutes tight, chest up, and back straight, lift your arms up in front of your body until they are straight out in front of your chest. Your elbows should remain straight.
  2. When your arms are parallel to the floor, pause and hold the top position for 2 to 3 seconds, squeezing your shoulder blades together in the back without arching your back.
Front Raise Muscles Worked: What Muscles Does The Front Raise Work? 2
  1. Slowly lower your arms back down in front of your body. Remember to keep your elbows straight.

While most shoulder workout routines involve key shoulder exercises like the overhead press and lateral raises, adding forward raises to your shoulder workouts is a great way to specifically target the anterior portion of your deltoids.

Keep in mind that the best shoulder workouts target all three portions of the deltoids as well as the rotator cuffs and will also include shoulder exercises that work the muscles that stabilize the scapula, such as the rhomboids, serratus anterior, levator scapulae, and upper traps.

Forward raises can be an integral component in shoulder workouts, but make sure to include other shoulder mobility, stability, and strengthening exercises as well.

A rack of dumbbells.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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