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If you have ever been told to “pour the pitchers” when doing dumbbell lateral raises, then you are going to want to watch this video. Here I’m going to show you why you want to actually do the exact opposite when performing side laterals for your shoulders.
The db lateral raise is one of the best exercises for building the middle delt of the shoulders. This head of the delts responds best to abduction of the arm, or lifting the arm out away from the body. Some feel that the extra internal rotation of the shoulder at the top of the movement gives you better activation of this head. This is incorrect, and as a matter of fact, this invites some structural instability into the exercise that could get you injured in the long run.
The front delts or anterior head of the delt is positioned the best out of the three heads to assist in internal rotation of the shoulder. This is why exercises that stress this head of the shoulders tends to produce rounded shoulders and bad posture when overdeveloped.
In order to hit the middle head of the delts however, the arm must be lifted out to the side and ideally remain positioned directly opposed to the downward force of gravity.
When positioned with the pinky held higher than the thumb (as in pouring a pitcher of water at the top of the rep) you are causing internal rotation of the shoulder joint from an elevated position. This is a common position of impingement. The structures within the shoulders joint like the suprapsinatus tendon as well as the subacromial bursa are often times pinched from this position due to a lack of free joint space created at the top of the motion.
Over time, the constant irritation of these structures can lead to their inflammation which can cause not only pain but eventual fraying of the tendon of the rotator cuff. Again, this is not something that often happens on a single rep of a side lateral raise but accumulates over time. This is why some people will often argue that they never hurt themselves doing the exercise and therefore it is not dangerous for them to continue to do it.
I would caution someone from having this mindset. The goal of anyone embarking on a training program should be to perform one that is going to keep them in the gym for the longest period of time without injury. Maybe their shoulder anatomy is not such that the joint space is closed down as much to cause faster irritation of these structures, again this does not mean that it cannot occur. It just means that it may do so at a slower pace.
In order to perform this more safely and effectively, instead of pouring the pitchers at the top make sure you keep the water in the pitcher. This is accomplished by keeping the thumb higher than the pinky at the top of each rep. This small but important change creates external shoulder rotation rather than internal rotation which creates the all important joint space at the top and decreases the likelihood for impingement.
Accumulating reps over time from this position is far less likely to lead to injury while still not compromising shoulder muscle gains.
Make sure that when you make this move to rotate the shoulder backwards that you lean forward slightly at the same time. This ensures that the middle delt is positioned optimally again directly opposed to the downward force of gravity. This will ensure that the middle head of the delts is doing the bulk of the work and is positioned to make the best muscle gains.
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