Lateral Shoulder Raise - The good and the bad

4th July 2016

Today we’re looking at the deltoid lateral raise and its common mistakes. It's a pretty simple exercise, but I’ve never failed to correct it in every injured gym goer I’ve met so far. The most common understanding is that a lateral raise should be lateral, meaning the arm should be taken directly out to the side. Like this. But this puts the shoulder at a considerable disadvantage. 

If you contrast this technique with good form, you’ll see that the arm is raised out to the side and slightly forwards. The thumb is up and the shoulder girdle is kept down. You may even notice that in this position I’m able to keep my head straight rather than slightly pulling it to the working side as the upper traps strain to find a stable base to pull from. 

By externally rotating the humerus I also put the GH joint in its most stable position, allowing the the rotator cuff muscles to engage and keeping the head of the humerus from impinging on the acromion. 

So why do we raise slightly forwards? This is due to what is known as the Scapular Plane. The scapular sits on the rib cage at a slightly oblique angle. This means the Glenoid fossa is actually pointing slightly forwards. For the humerus to be in neutral it needs to follow this angle. If the arm to abducted exactly to the side, we are actually horizontally abducted within the GH, placing excess stress on the tissues when under load. This is a terrible position for the joints to be in and is a major cause of injury in this exercise. 

Keeping the shoulder girdle down is another important coaching point because to allows us the engage all the muscles that upwardly rotate the scapular. Our Upper and lower traps work together with serratus to provide three directions of pull on the scapular, causing it to rotate on an almost central axis. 
When the shoulder is allowed to raise through poor technique, we are teaching the body not to use the lower traps to maintain stable rotation of the scapular. Without a stable scapular, the deltoid and rotator cuff will experience over-loading and put them at risk of injury. 

American Physio, Gray Cook, discusses the reasoning behind this in his book ‘Movement’, where his joint-by-joint approach is introduced. 

To help clients understand the correct the shoulder position, try placing three fingers on the upper trap. They should then be able to feel the scapular move down and away from their fingers as they raise the arm. 

These small corrections to the lateral raise can make all the difference to shoulder health. Once you’ve corrected the basic movement, weight can be gradually increased to develop overload to this new coordination. 

So there you have it. Teach your clients an awareness of the scapular plane and how to stabilise the shoulder and you’ll take one large step towards resolving pain in this area.