Lateral raises are one of the best exercises to target the deltoid muscles in the shoulders.
Lateral raises are a great exercise to add to your gym workout routines, but you may ask yourself, “How many lateral raises should I do to build muscle? How many lateral raises should I do to increase strength?”
In this programming lateral raises workout guide, we will discuss how to do lateral raises and how to determine the number of reps, sets, and weights you should use for lateral raises based on your fitness goals.
Ready? Let’s dive in!
How Do You Do Lateral Raises?
You can perform lateral raises with various types of resistance, but dumbbell lateral raises are the most common.
Here are the steps for how to perform lateral raises with dumbbells:
- Stand upright with good posture with a dumbbell in each hand and your arms down by your sides.
- Keeping your core tight, lift your arms straight out to the sides so that your body forms a giant T.
- At the top position, your palms should be facing the floor.
- Pause for 2-3 seconds, squeezing your shoulders without hiking them up to your ears (keep them relaxed).
- Slowly lower your arms back down to your sides.
How Many Lateral Raises Should I Do? Reps, Sets & Weight Explained
Most people want to know how many lateral raises to do based on their fitness goals.
When we consider how to structure a strength training workout, the number of reps of an exercise that you do, be it lateral raises or any other movement, is only one part of the programming of the exercise into the workout.
The reps of an exercise refers to the number of repetitions of the exercise you do.So, for example, one rep of the lateral raise exercise involves starting with the weights down at your sides, lifting the weights straight out to each side of your body until your arms are parallel to the floor, and then lowering the weights all the way back down.
Another component to consider is the number of sets of lateral raises that you will do.
A set of an exercise is the total number of repetitions that are performed back to back without stopping and resting.
Thus, an exercise set is the group of reps performed together before you either take a break or move on to another exercise, depending if you are doing a circuit training workout or numerous sets of the same exercise with rest intervals in between.
For example, you might do 10 lateral raises, rest for 90 seconds, and then do another 10 lateral raises.
This means that you have done two sets of 10 reps of lateral raises in each set.
Finally, the other key component that significantly impacts how many reps of an exercise you should do is the weight that you are lifting, also known as the load.
Together, the number of reps, sets, and weight that you lift for an exercise multiplied together constitutes the total training volume or training load of that exercise for a workout.
How Many Lateral Raises Should I Do Based On My Goals?
There are several factors to consider when deciding how many lateral raises you should do.
#1: Your Fitness Level
The first thing that comes to mind for most people when deciding how many reps of an exercise to do is your fitness level or training level.
This leads to questions like: How many lateral raises should beginners do? and How many lateral raises should I do if I have been training for years?
It certainly makes logical sense, and indeed is true, that beginners should do fewer reps of an exercise than trained athletes in order to prevent injuries and allow the body to get accustomed to the demands of the movement.
#2: How Much Weight You Are Lifting
There is a big difference in lifting 5-pound vs 15-pound dumbbells for lateral raises.
The number of reps of lateral raises that you can and should do in a set or workout overall will be largely dependent on how much weight you are lifting.
Here, it is important to distinguish that the amount of weight that you are lifting refers to the relative load or intensity of the weight you are using for you personally.
With the lateral raise exercise, using 5-pound dumbbells may be extremely difficult for a beginner and pose essentially very little challenge for an advanced athlete who might be able to do 100 reps without stopping.
When discussing relative load to determine how many reps of an exercise you should do, the weight that you lift is compared to your one-repetition maximum (1RM) for the exercise.
Your 1RM for an exercise is the maximum amount of weight that you can lift with proper form for just one complete repetition of that exercise.
For example, with the lateral raise exercise, if you can lift 25-pound dumbbells for one repetition but not more than that, your lateral raise 1RM is 25 pounds.
Then, if you are using 20-pound dumbbells in your lateral raises workout, you are lifting 80% of your 1RM.
The strength continuum refers to a framework by which the appropriate load to lift can be determined based on the number of reps that you are performing.
According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association1 (NSCA)TRAINING LOAD CHART. (n.d.). https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/61d813865e264c6e852cadfe247eae52/nsca_training_load_chart.pdf, the following table shows the percentage of your 1RM you should use for the given number of reps of an exercise:
|Maximum Number of Reps||Percent of 1RM Load|
To interpret this strength continuum, you look at the number of reps of an exercise that you want to do and then determine the relative load that you should use in the column next to your desired number of reps.
For example, if you want to do 12 reps, the recommended load is 70% of your 1RM while if you are only doing six reps, you should use 85% of your 1RM.
This still leaves the question—How many lateral raises should I do based on my fitness goals?
#3: Your Fitness Goals
Aside from your training level, your primary training goal is the other key factor that will affect how many lateral raises you should do. This is what is considered in the context of how much weight you should lift.
When considering fitness goals, there are three primary strength training goals generally discussed when programming exercises:
- Increasing strength
- Increasing mass (building muscle, also known as hypertrophy training)
- Increasing muscular endurance
How many reps of an exercise you should do is largely dependent on these fitness goals, as each dictates a different generalized approach to programming your workouts.
The following table provides recommendations for how many reps to do and how much weight to lift for different strength training goals based on the average guidelines from the American Council on Exercise (ACE)2How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/5867/how-many-reps-should-you-be-doing/and The National Strength and Conditioning Association3Sands, W., Wurth, J., & Hewit, J. (2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) BASICS OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING MANUAL. https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf
|Training Goal||Sets||Reps||Rest Period||Intensity|
|General Fitness||1-3||12-15||30 to 90 seconds||Varies on exercise and ability level|
|Muscular Endurance||3-4||>12||Up to 30 seconds||<67% of 1RM|
|Hypertrophy (building muscle mass)||3-6||6-12||30 to 90 seconds||67% to 85% of 1RM|
|Muscle strength||4-6||3-6||2 to 5 minutes||>85% of 1RM|
|Power||3-5||1-5||2 to 5 minutes||85%–100% of 1RM|
From here, you can use the strength continuum table to determine how much weight you should be lifting after you determine how many reps of the exercise you should do based on your training goals.
Let’s walk through an example:
How many lateral raises should I do to build muscle?
According to the table above, if you are trying to build muscle, which is hypertrophy, you should do 6 to 12 reps of the exercise.
So, if we want to do 10 reps of lateral raises—which would be right in the middle of the recommended range for building muscle—we would then use the first table to see that for 10 reps of an exercise, the optimal load is 75% of your 1RM.
Let’s imagine that your 1RM for the exercise is 20 pounds, this means that you would do three sets of 10 reps with 15-pound dumbbells.
Using these tables and the information on your specific fitness goals, calculate your reps and sets for lateral raises!
To learn more about the number of reps and sets you should do to build muscle, check out our guide to hypertrophy reps and sets here.
- 1(NSCA)TRAINING LOAD CHART. (n.d.). https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/61d813865e264c6e852cadfe247eae52/nsca_training_load_chart.pdf
- 2How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/5867/how-many-reps-should-you-be-doing/and The
- 3Sands, W., Wurth, J., & Hewit, J. (2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) BASICS OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING MANUAL. https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf