Do Lateral Raises Work the Traps as Well as Shoulders? All You Need To Know

Do lateral raises work the traps as well as shoulders?

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Do Lateral Raises Work the Traps as Well as Shoulders? All You Need To Know

Lateral raises are a well-known exercise primarily designed for working on the shoulder muscles, specifically the deltoids. This exercise is frequently included in strength training programs because of its ability to shape and define the shoulders. A common query regarding lateral raises is whether they also target the trapezius (traps) muscles in addition to the shoulders.

In this article, we will thoroughly examine the anatomy of the shoulder and traps, discuss the proper execution and technique for lateral raises, and offer suggestions for optimizing trap development.

Do Lateral Raises Work the Traps as Well as Shoulders?

Lateral raises are a widely-used and efficient exercise for developing the deltoid muscles in the shoulders, especially the middle head. The action involves raising dumbbells outward from the body in an external rotation, which primarily focuses on the deltoids but also engages the trapezius muscles located in the upper back. Nevertheless, trap activation during lateral raises is typically mild to moderate, as they mainly serve a stabilizing and supporting function in this exercise. While lateral raises do contribute to overall upper body strength and stability, including the traps, they are not as effective at directly targeting the trapezius muscles as other exercises like shrugs, upright rows, or face pulls. Thus, although lateral raises certainly work both the shoulders and traps to some degree, their main emphasis is on the shoulder muscles, with the traps playing a secondary part in the movement.

Anatomy of the Shoulder and Traps: A Detailed Look at the Muscles Involved

The shoulder is a complicated and intricate joint, with numerous muscles working in unison to provide stability and a wide range of motion. The primary muscles responsible for shoulder movement are the deltoids and the trapezius.

Deltoid Muscle: Three Distinct Heads for Diverse Movements

The deltoid muscle is made up of three distinct heads: anterior, middle, and posterior. Each head has a specific function in the different types of shoulder movement.

The anterior head participates in flexion and internal rotation of the arm, while the middle head is responsible for abduction, or moving the arm away from the body. The posterior head is crucial for extension and external rotation, allowing the arm to move behind the body and rotate outward.

Trapezius Muscle: A Large, Triangular Muscle with Varied Functions

The trapezius muscle is a large, triangle-shaped muscle that covers the upper back, shoulders, and neck. It is composed of three distinct fibers: upper, middle, and lower. Each fiber contributes to different aspects of shoulder movement.

The upper fibers are in charge of elevating the shoulder blades, allowing us to shrug our shoulders. The middle fibers pull the shoulder blades back toward the spine, aiding in maintaining proper posture. The lower fibers depress the shoulder blades, drawing them downward and helping with shoulder stability. Together, these muscles create a harmonious system, enabling us to carry out a broad range of daily activities with ease and accuracy.

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Proper Form and Technique for Lateral Raises

Initial Stance

To do a lateral raise, start by standing with your feet positioned shoulder-width apart, grasping a dumbbell in each hand. Your arms should be alongside your body, with a slight elbow bend and your palms facing your thighs.

Carrying Out the Movement

Gradually lift your arms to the sides, maintaining a slight elbow bend and your palms facing the floor. Keep lifting your arms until they are level with the floor or just under shoulder height. Pause briefly before gently lowering the dumbbells to the initial stance.

Common Errors and Prevention Tips

Using momentum: Avoid swinging the weights or applying too much momentum, as this can lead to improper form and decreased muscle engagement. Concentrate on keeping control throughout the exercise and employing a smooth, steady pace.

Lifting weights too high: Raising the dumbbells above shoulder height can cause unnecessary stress on the shoulder joint. Maintain the weights at or just below shoulder height for the best results.

Neglecting the core: A robust core aids in stabilising the body during lateral raises. Engage your core muscles throughout the exercise to preserve correct posture and form.

Variations: Seated, Standing, and Leaning Lateral Raises

Lateral raises can be executed in different positions, such as seated, standing, and leaning. Seated lateral raises can reduce the use of momentum, while leaning lateral raises can extend the range of motion and provide a different challenge for the muscles.

Related: Why is the OHP Considered Superior to the Bench Press?

Lateral Raises and Shoulder Development

Lateral raises predominantly focus on the middle head of the deltoid, which is accountable for shoulder abduction. Well-rounded deltoids lead to wider, more defined shoulders and can enhance overall upper body aesthetics and power. Including lateral raises in your exercise regimen can help you attain these advantages and develop balanced, strong shoulders.

The Connection between Lateral Raises and Traps

Direct Activation

Lateral raises directly engage the deltoids, with minimal to moderate involvement of the trapezius muscles. The traps mostly function as stabilizers during lateral raises, aiding in maintaining proper shoulder alignment and posture.

Indirect Activation

The trapezius muscles play a supportive role during lateral raises, indirectly activating as they work to stabilize the shoulder joint. The level of trap involvement can differ based on individual aspects, such as muscle imbalances, form, and technique.

Comparison with Other Exercises

Although lateral raises do engage the traps to some degree, other exercises are more effective at specifically targeting the trapezius muscles. Exercises like shrugs, upright rows, and face pulls are superior choices for concentrating on trap development.

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Strategies for Maximising Trap Development

To effectively work on the traps, think about incorporating the following exercises into your workout routine:

Shrugs: Grasping dumbbells or a barbell, elevate your shoulders towards your ears and then lower them back down. This exercise mainly targets the upper fibers of the trapezius muscle.

Upright Rows: With a barbell or dumbbells, lift the weight up to chest level, leading with your elbows and keeping the weight close to your body. This exercise engages both the traps and deltoids.

Face Pulls: Using a cable machine or resistance band, pull the handles or band towards your face, with your elbows flaring out to the sides. This exercise focuses on the middle and lower fibers of the trapezius.

Proper Form and Technique

As with any exercise, upholding proper form and technique is vital for maximising muscle engagement and preventing injury. Ensure using a controlled tempo and avoid employing momentum to execute the movements.

Importance of a Balanced Workout Routine

Besides concentrating on the traps, it’s vital to include a range of exercises that target the entire upper body for balanced muscle growth. This approach helps to prevent muscle imbalances and fosters overall strength and stability.

Improving Your Lateral Raise Execution: Typical Errors, Adjustments, and More

Being aware of common mistakes and applying corrections are crucial to prevent injury and ensure effective targeting of the intended muscles during lateral raises. Improper form, like hunching the shoulders, can cause strain and decrease the exercise’s effectiveness.

Keep proper posture with relaxed shoulders and a neutral neck. Using momentum or swinging the weights can result in injury and reduce the targeted muscle engagement. To correct this, execute the movement slowly and with control, focusing on the shoulder muscles.

Try seated or leaning lateral raises to find the best variation for your individual objectives and body type. Each version puts a slightly different emphasis on the shoulder muscles, providing a comprehensive workout. Include shoulder presses, front raises, and rear delt flyes to create a thorough and balanced shoulder workout regimen, ensuring all muscle heads are engaged and developed.

Progression Suggestions

As you become more confident and stronger in lateral raises, slowly increase the weight or intensity to keep challenging your muscles and encouraging growth. Consider using methods like pause reps or slow negatives to further enhance the exercise.

Participate in dynamic warm-up exercises, such as arm circles or shoulder rolls, to ready your muscles for the workout. Afterward, perform static stretches to aid recovery and lower the risk of injury.

Lateral raises can be incorporated into your workout routine as a shoulder isolation exercise or as part of a larger upper body workout, targeting multiple muscle groups. Modify the lateral raise exercise based on your individual requirements, accommodating any limitations or mobility issues.

For instance, use lighter weights, decrease the range of motion, or try seated variations to alleviate pressure on the lower back.

For experienced lifters, advanced techniques like drop sets, supersets, or using resistance bands can offer an added challenge and further stimulate muscle growth. By considering these factors, you can optimize your lateral raise performance and reap the benefits of robust, well-developed shoulders.

Related: Is Arnold Press Better Than Shoulder Press?


How do I make my shoulders bigger than traps?

To make your shoulders larger than your traps, focus on exercises that target the shoulders more than the traps. Exercises like lateral raises, overhead presses, and front raises are excellent for developing the shoulders. Additionally, you can lessen the emphasis on the traps by avoiding exercises that heavily involve them, such as upright rows and shrugs.

Are traps trained with back or shoulders?

Traps are actually trained with both the back and shoulders since they span across both areas. The upper portion of the traps is most commonly targeted during back exercises like rows and pull-ups, while the lower portion can be targeted during shoulder exercises like lateral raises and overhead presses.

Why don’t bodybuilders train traps?

Bodybuilders do train their traps, but they might not always focus on them as heavily as other muscle groups like the chest or biceps. This is because the traps are a smaller muscle group that can often be targeted indirectly through other exercises. However, having well-developed traps can enhance overall upper body aesthetics, so they are still an important muscle group to train.

What do lateral raises work?

Lateral raises primarily work the lateral (middle) head of the deltoid muscle in the shoulder. They also engage the supraspinatus and trapezius muscles to a lesser extent.

How do I make my traps bigger?

To make your traps bigger, include exercises that target them directly, such as shrugs, upright rows, and face pulls. It is also crucial to maintain proper form and gradually increase the weight or intensity over time to continually challenge the muscles and promote growth.

Final Thoughts…

Lateral raises are an effective exercise for developing the lateral head of the deltoid, and they can indirectly engage the trapezius muscles. While they may not be the most effective exercise for targeting the traps, they are still a valuable addition to any workout routine focused on shoulder development.

It is important to focus on proper form and technique, and to be aware of common mistakes and how to correct them. Experimenting with different variations, incorporating complementary exercises, and gradually increasing weight or intensity can help optimise your lateral raise performance and promote muscle growth.

Ultimately, with the right approach and dedication, you can develop strong, well-rounded shoulders and improve your overall upper body strength and posture.

Do your traps take over when doing lateral raises and have these tips helped? Let me know in the comments section below.

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Founder – Sport CBDs

Featured Image Attribution – Image by prostooleh on Freepik

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