Master the Move: Bent-Arm Lateral Raise

By Micaela Young |

For strong, healthy shoulders, add this simple exercise to your workouts.

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From putting away groceries to picking up your grandkids, your shoulders are involved in countless everyday tasks. When they’re strong and stable, it can make easy work of reaching, lifting, pushing, and pulling. But when they’re not, it can set you up for aches, pain, and even injuries.

Luckily, one simple move can help keep your shoulders in tip-top shape. “The bent-arm lateral raise is a great exercise to strengthen your shoulders and upper back,” says SilverSneakers Master Trainer Andi.

Here, Andi breaks down the bent-arm lateral raise so you can feel confident doing it in a SilverSneakers LIVE class or on your own at the gym. She’ll also show you different ways to do it, including seated, standing, and with or without weights.

How to Use the Bent-Arm Lateral Raise

You’ll need yourself and a sturdy chair to start. If you have dumbbells, feel free to have them nearby as an option, but you can also do this exercise with just your body. You can simply press play on the video above and follow along or check out the step-by-step instructions below.

Andi will start with the seated bent-arm lateral raise without weights, and then she’ll suggest variations to make the move progressively harder. Start with an easier version first, and when that feels good, try the next version. “Progress the exercise each time you do it, and you’ll see great strength,” she says.

As you move, focus on good form, and lift your arms only as high as feels right to you. “We all have different things going on with our shoulders—it’s all good,” reassures Andi.

If you’re taking a SilverSneakers LIVE class, your instructor will guide you through the exercise, but feel free to use the variation that works best for you. If you’re working out on your own at the gym, do up to three sets of eight to 10 reps per side.

As always, safety is key. These exercises may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Variation #1: Seated Bent-Arm Lateral Raise

Begin in a seated position with your chest up and shoulders back and down. Bring your elbows by your sides, and bend your arms to about a 90-degree angle. Make gentle fists with your hands, palms facing each other.

From here, keeping your arms bent, lift your elbows up to about shoulder height. Then draw your elbows back down to return to starting position.

Make it harder: Squeeze your arm muscles to add resistance as you lift and lower your elbows.

Variation #2: Add Weights

Perform the seated bent-arm lateral raise while holding a light dumbbell in each hand.

Make it easier: It’s more important to use good form than it is to add weights. If you add dumbbells but start rushing through the exercise or feel pain, use a lighter weight or do the exercise without weights.

Make it harder: Use heavier dumbbells, or vary the tempo. For example, slow the movement down, or alternate between a slow raise and a regular-paced raise.

Variation #3: Standing Bent-Arm Lateral Raise

Stand tall with your feet about hip-width apart. Relax your knees, and pull your shoulders back and down. Perform a bent-arm lateral raise with a light dumbbell in each hand.

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Make it easier: Skip the dumbbells, and do the move with just your body.

Make it harder: Use heavier dumbbells, or vary the tempo. For example, slow the movement down, or alternate between a slow raise and a regular-paced raise.

Variation #4: Split-Stance Bent-Arm Lateral Raise

Stand so that one foot is slightly in front of the other with your toes facing forward and your heels down. Center your weight between your feet. Perform a bent-arm lateral raise with a light dumbbell in each hand.

Make it easier: Skip the dumbbells, and do the move with just your body.

Make it harder: Use heavier dumbbells, or vary the tempo. For example, slow the movement down, or alternate between a slow raise and a regular-paced raise.

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