How To Build Broad Shoulders, When You’re Skinny AF

Raise your lateral raise game.

Image Credit: @mikethurston

If you really want to perfect the V-shaped upper body look and fill out your t-shirts, you need to be performing shoulder workouts, and one of the best has to be the lateral raise. On paper, performing lateral raises seems incredibly simple: just lift some weights up to your sides, and lower them again.

However, the lateral raise is one such shoulder exercise that many fall foul to, most commonly because of ego. Performing multiple sets and reps of lateral raises will cause your shoulders to fatigue incredibly quickly (and then cause you to use the wrong muscles to lift them).

This can lead to injury (and to your shoulders remaining stubbornly the same size). Suffice to say: lateral raises are an exercise where lifting lighter weights is not only accepted, it’s actively encouraged.

Lateral raises are also an exercise where you can fall foul to various opinions as to the best way to perform them. It’s with this in mind that you need to be careful about who, or where, you get your fitness advice.

British fitness coach Mike Thurston is one such man whom we deem to be a reliable source of information. His video content is clear and concise and, while it’s certainly true you shouldn’t necessarily just follow someone’s advice because they’re ridiculously jacked, Mike’s rig more than speaks for itself.

Taking to TikTok, Mike explains some common pitfalls when performing the lateral raise and how to correct them. He first confirms that “some form of lateral raise, whether it be cables, dumbbells etc, is one of the best exercises for developing broader, wider shoulders.”

While performing a seated dumbbell lateral raise (his comments are also applicable to a standing lateral raise), Mike says a lot of people “lean back and point their thumbs up. When they do this, they place a lot of tension on the front delt.” The front delt muscle is part of the overall shoulder muscle group, so will still strengthen the shoulders, but if you’re looking to create a broader figure, you need to be working the side of the shoulder muscle instead.

“In order to target the focus area,” Mike continues, “you need to lean forward, keep your arms straight and then lift the weight up, ensuring your hands are flat at the top. If you lean forward and do this, you’ll notice that the tension is now placed on the mid-delt.”

“If you do lots of reps, lots of sets, lots of volumes, it’s going to be a really good way to build your shoulder and give you that 3D look.”

Fellow British personal trainer Tom Bailey also has some top tips when performing dumbbell lateral raises, and he too has taken to TikTok to share them. One of his tips says to make sure you stop lifting the dumbbell when it reaches shoulder height.

The reason? “The higher the upper arm goes, the more the upper traps will contract.” In doing so, you remove the tension being placed on the shoulder muscles, effectively rendering the lateral raise pointless.

Tom further adds you shouldn’t lock down your shoulder blades when performing lateral raises. This could be something new to many since we’re often told we should lock down our shoulder blades in order to help generate stability and to prevent injury. However, in the case of the lateral raise, Tom says, you shouldn’t “lock down your shoulder blades to prevent your upper traps from working.”

“As your arms come up to the sides, the upper traps do have to work as they’re forced to stabilise. So feeling your upper traps work is normal for the exercise.” He adds, “If the upper traps are the only place you feel it, then they’re probably weak and will need strengthening.”

If you search ‘lateral raises’ online or on platforms such as Instagram, you will find a plethora of videos of ‘fitness experts’ telling you how to best perform them, but you’ll also quickly find a lot of videos may contradict each other. This is why it’s important to find accounts that provide information backed up by genuine experience or evidence.

Another fitness expert, Davis Diley, who has previously taught us how to perform a deadlift, has also weighed in on how to perform lateral raises. In his Instagram video, he says you should shift your arms forward by around 30-degrees, instead of lifting the weight out to your side. Doing so will place the “lateral deltoid in an advantageous position to be trained in the scapula plane, known as scaption.”

He then agrees with Mike’s comments, that you should lean forward slightly and “imagine that you’re pushing the weight away from you and out to the walls,” to help build wider shoulders.

See, we told you lateral raises weren’t so easy.

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