Tip: Fix Your Lateral Raises By Targeting Your Grip

BY DR. JOEL SEEDMAN, PH.D.

This is the full-length version of Dr. Seedman's article that was originally featured on T-Nation

Strong Grip = Healthy Shoulders

Few people realize that grip strength and shoulder mechanics are directly related.  In fact improving grip strength and forcing the lifter to aggressively activate their hands and forearms during upper body movements almost always impacts shoulder mechanics.  That’s because it helps promote better shoulder packing and centration of the glenohumeral joint.  Fortunately this theory can be directly applied to a number of movements such as lateral raises to improve form and muscle growth.

Although it seems like a simple exercise the lateral raise is one of the most butchered isolation movements you'll see.  Rather than lifting the weights straight out to the sides, the lifter should focus on using an angle roughly 30 degrees from the side of the torso almost at a slight diagonal angle.  This helps to maximize recruitment of the lateral deltoids.  In addition the lifter should keep the weights to shoulder height or lower as any higher will take tension off of the deltoids and place undue tension on the traps and glenohumeral joint.

These are components that other strength coaches including Nick Tumminello and John Rusin have also discussed as research is demonstrating that this represents natural and optimal mechanics.  Grip pinching variations of lateral raises promotes these optimal mechanics as well as reduced momentum and swinging as anything less makes the lifter feel as though the weights are going to slip out of their hands.

In this particular variation I'm using a bumper plate pinching.  This is the most advanced variation as you’re at a biomechanical disadvantage in terms of leverage as the load is dispersed across a larger surface area.

Hex dumbbells are also very effective for producing a similar response.  If you’re looking to dial your form in to another level try the single leg variation.  The combination of grip activation along with foot and ankle innervation helps create irradiation and concurrent activation potentiation (increased neural drive) throughout the kinetic chain.  Although you’ll have to reduce the load you’ll also be forced to eliminate all forms of cheating and momentum making the reduced balance a worthy sacrifice. 

Besides working the grip and ankles (something I like to take advantage of whenever possible), the metabolic stress and mechanical tension to the deltoids is through the roof on this making it highly effective for inducing functional strength and hypertrophy in the shoulders. Here are a few of my collegiate football athletes using the movement as a high intensity finisher after a heavy upper body workout.