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A lat raise is an isolation exercise for the upper body that works the shoulder muscles.

Lat, or lateral raises, can be performed with dumbbells, cable pulleys, or using a lateral raise machine at the gym. They can also be performed with no weight for beginners.

Lat raises may be beneficial for your fitness routine because they work the deltoid muscles of the shoulder. Strengthening the deltoid muscles is important for preventing shoulder injuries. They’re also important to help you push, pull, and lift objects you use daily.

Read on to learn how to properly do a lat raise and how to perform variations of the exercise.

Standing dumbbell lat raise exercise

Equipment needed: light dumbbells of 2 to 10 pounds, depending on your fitness level

To perform a lat raise, follow these steps:

  1. Start standing with your feet either hip-distance apart or in a split stance. Hold one dumbbell in each hand and keep them at your sides. Your grip should be closed and neutral. Keep your thumbs around the handles and your palms facing your body.
  2. Contract your abdominal muscles and pull your shoulders down and back. Your head should face forward in a neutral position aligned with your spine. You can bend your knees slightly if it helps keep you stable in the movement.
  3. Start to raise the dumbbells up and out to your sides. Once your arms are at shoulder level, rotate slightly upwards. The dumbbells should be pointing slightly upward. Stop when you reach your shoulders and your arms are parallel with the floor.
  4. Start to lower the dumbbells slowly, rotating them slightly downward once you get past your shoulders.
  5. Repeat the movement. Perform 10 to 12 reps, with up to 3 sets.

Lat raise with machine

To perform this variation, start by adjusting the weight to how much you want to lift.

  1. Sit facing the machine with your feet facing forward or on the foot rest.
  2. Keep your arms slightly bent and the pads should rest just above the shoulders.
  3. Start to lift the pads by pressing through your elbows and raising your upper arm to shoulder height.
  4. Return to starting position.

Single arm lat raise with cable pulley

Attach a single cable pulley to the machine at waist height.

  1. Start with your left arm: Stand so your right side is next to the machine and take the cable in your left hand.
  2. Start to lift the cable with your left arm (it should cross your body) until it’s parallel and shoulder height.
  3. Return to starting position and repeat on right side.

Seated lat raise

To perform this variation, sit up tall on the edge of a chair or flat bench. Follow the same directions as the standing dumbbell lat raise.

Front lat raise

To perform this variation, start in the same position as with a standing lat raise.

  1. Instead of raising your arms out the sides, lift them straight out in front.
  2. Lift up to shoulder height before lowering back down.
  3. You can lift one arm at a time before switching to the other.

It’s essential to do lat raises with proper form. If you do them improperly, you risk an injury. The following tips will help.

  • Keep your abs engaged throughout the movement.
  • Keep your torso upright and tense. You can bend your knees slightly if it helps.
  • Stabilize yourself by placing your feet hip-width apart or in a split stance.
  • Don’t arch the back. Keep the spine neutral to avoid injury.
  • Keep your shoulders down as you perform the movement or you could injure your neck or collarbone.
  • Use one controlled movement to lift the weights. Don’t swing them upward too quickly. If they are too heavy, switch to lighter weights.

Lat raises can generally be performed at any fitness level. If you find them too difficult, you may need to use a lighter weight.

If you aren’t sure about how to perform a lat raise or what weight you should be using for the exercise, consult a certified personal trainer or other fitness professional. They’ll be able to walk you through the exercise and assess your form to make sure you are performing them correctly.

Always avoid lateral raises if you have a shoulder injury or experience pain while performing the exercise. Your doctor or physical therapist can recommend exercises that are safe for you.

Lat raises are a great shoulder exercise to add to your weekly strength training routine. You can perform lat raises two or three times a week. Be sure to give yourself at least a day or two between performing lat raises to allow your muscles to rest and recover.

You can combine them with other upper body exercises like push-ups, chest press, and deadlifts for the best results. Always talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.