As someone who has lifted weights for years, lifting the shoulder sideways has been a part of a lot of my upper body workouts … kind of. It’s a simple elementary shoulder exercise and I knew I did should I do, but often it didn’t feel quite right – so I’d end up skipping.
Then I came across a video on Lee Boyce’s Instagram of the certified trainer that was super easy to tweak. I’ve tried and I don’t want to sound hyperbolic, but … my shoulder exercises are now forever changed.
Here’s what’s going on: When a lot of people think about doing a side shoulder lift, they think about bringing the weights above. “If you intend to lift up, your traps will suffer a lot more,”
I had experienced that with side elevations. I had felt the side bumps in my upper trapezoid, the muscles that cover your upper back and extend to your neck and shoulder. Your upper traps tend to get a lot of work when strength training, which can make them feel tight and uncomfortable, as SELF previously reported. I often felt this a day or so after my upper body workout that included side elevations – and my actual shoulder muscles or my deltoids felt like they weren’t doing much work at all.
But Boyce suggested a ridiculously simple change: instead of remembering to bring the weights above, Remember to take them this far path as possible from each other. The force should move the weights sideways to each side, not towards your shoulders. This does the work in the medial head of your deltoid or in the middle part of your shoulder muscle, he says. (And that’s the muscle you have should work mostly with side-shoulder raises.)
When I tried this for the first time, I was humble. The weight I had used putting my traps into the mix was way too heavy now. So I swapped my 10-pound dumbbells for 5-pounders and really focused on keeping them as far apart as possible on each rep. The result was a severe burn that was focused right on my shoulders – with no sting in my traps.
I finally got the muscles I wanted to train, which was a win for me, but Boyce mentioned another benefit of this simple mindset change: it prepares your shoulders for a safer lift and reduces the risk of impact (a cause of Shoulder pain from pinching the tendons). When your upper traps come into play, they can raise your shoulders, reducing the space you have under your acromion process or where your collarbone meets your shoulder blade.
“And when there isn’t a lot of space, you can start pinching the tendons, muscles, and bursae – all these types of structures below – because you have limited space when you do this sideways movement. Says Boyce. However, with his recommended tweak, you’re not lifting your shoulders with your traps, leaving you with a little more room to work, he says.
How should you use side shoulder raises in your routine?
If you want to build strength in your shoulders, you need to focus on movements that work your entire shoulder – not just overhead pushing work, says Boyce.
“Your shoulder joint has 360 degrees of motion, and the abduction motion that your arms make when you raise them to the side is part of what your shoulders do,” says Boyce. “So we’re going to be very stimulating the deltoids by doing this pattern with load.”