• Photo for This or That: Standing vs. Lying Single-Arm Lat Raises
    Photo Credit: Nicolas Smith

This or That: Standing vs. Lying Single-Arm Lat Raises

By Devin Wicks

Welcome to "This or That?", a weekly series in which I will try to help demystify the different exercises you can do in the gym. There are many familiar exercises that seem very similar. But which should you do to accomplish what result? In this series, I'll try to give some answers. This week, I'd like to compare two versions of dumbbell lateral raises for your deltoids. The difference? One is done standing, the other lying down. Let's get the low-down on single arm lateral raises vs. side-lying lateral raises.

Single-Arm Dumbbell Lateral Raises
Standing dumbbell lateral raises are an absolutely standard shoulder exercise. Here we will do them with one arm at a time. Begin standing upright with feet hip width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms at your sides and palms facing inward. From there, simply raise one arm out to the side, keeping the elbow straight (though not locked) as your arm comes up to be parallel with the ground. Keeping the arm straight, lower the weight back down.

That is a single-arm lateral raise. Here are the benefits of this basic exercise:

  1. Works the medial deltoid: Lateral raises work the the medial deltoids—that's the middle portion of the major muscle running over the shoulder. When done standing, that muscle is worked primarily through the later portion of the lifting phase. That is, the deltoid does not engage until the arm comes well away from the body. This may tempt you to lift your arms above the horizontal plane at the top of your lift. Slightly doing so will recruit some of the upper and middle portions of the trapezius, but for better isolation of the deltoids you should work below the horizontal level.
  2. Isolate for core challenge: Doing your lat raises with one arm at a time will add a core strength challenge to this shoulder exercise, and help give you a focus on form. As you lift with one arm, focus on not leaning over to the side, and not heaving your lifting shoulder up in the arm to move the weight. You will feel how much you need to use your abs and back to stabilize against the one-sided movement—and that's a good thing for your core. Do an entire set on one arm before switching to the other for high intensity, or alternate arms if new to the experience (since this will give each arm a recovery between lifts).
The single-arm lat raise hits the middle of the shoulder, and gives you a solid core challenge. It is a great go-to exercise. But if you are trying to change things up in order to get size gains as part of a concentrated lifting program, you may want to try a side-lying lat raise. Here's what that's about:

Side-Lying Lateral Raise
The lat raise is such a basic exercise that you would not think it had much versatility. But by lying down while you do it, you can actually impact the way your deltoids cope with the lift. So, lie on your side on the floor with your knees bent for stability. Hold a single dumbbell in your top hand with that arm just in front of your body, extended toward your feet with palm down. Keeping the arm straight, lift the weight up toward the ceiling, until the arm is perfectly vertical. Then lower back down to the floor, with the arm straight the entire time.

Here are the benefits of side-lying lat raises:
  1. Increase your gains: Lying on your side differently orients your arm relative to gravity. As I described, when you are standing, your deltoids do not go to work until the weight is substantially out from your body; but in a side-lying lift, your medial deltoids go to work at the initial phase of the exercise, rather than the later phase. This differently challenges the muscle and can help to build bulk.
  2. Some core challenge: The stability of the side-lying aspect will remove some of the core challenge you get from the standing one-arm raise, but by no means all. If you want to increase the stabilizing component of this exercise, do it lying on your side on a flat bench rather than on the floor. The smaller base of support will help to give you enough of a balance challenge to activate your core.
It's easy to get into a rut of just doing endless lat raises. But it turns out there is some versatility in this exercise. Use the single-side raise to add a core component; lie on your side to add a new challenge, especially if you are trying to tweak a lifting program to get size gains.

About Devin Wicks: Devin Wicks (ACSM-HFI, USAW Club Coach) is creator of the RealJock Strength Foundation 12-Week Workout program and the fitness operations director at the University of California, Berkeley, where he acts as specialty strength coach for some of the university's premier sports teams, and is coordinating a pioneering new campus employee wellness program.