dumbbell front raise alternative
Exercise Alternative

7 Great Dumbbell Front Raise Alternatives

Well-developed front deltoids will make your upper body look huge and wide. One of the best exercises to get them is the dumbbell front raise.

This exercise allows you to work each front deltoid muscle unilaterally, which has been shown to develop strength and muscle more effectively than when you work the muscles together. The front raise also isolates the front deltoid.

Many exercises for the front delts also bring in the pecs and side delts. So, finding one that effectively isolates the target muscle is priceless. The front raise, however, is no the only effective front delt exercise.

In this article, I lay out 7 great dumbbell front raise alternative exercises. 

1. Resistance Band Front Raise

Why it’s a great alternative

The resistance band front raise allows you to work your front delts at home without having to use dumbbells. Bands also provide greater resistance in the top position of the exercise.

Muscles worked

Front deltoids

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Stand with a foot placement of shoulder width apart and a band under your feet and held at arm’s length in front of your body.
  2. From this starting position, bring your arms directly up and out to shoulder level. Keep your arms straight.
  3. Lower and repeat.
  4. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.

Equipment used 

Resistance band

Tips 

Keep your arms straight throughout the entire movement. Do not come up higher than shoulder level.

2. Front and Side Shoulder Raise

Why it’s a great alternative

The front and side shoulder raise allows you to work both the anterior and medial heads of the shoulder at the same time. 

Muscles worked

Front deltoids, side deltoids

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Stand with feet hip width apart and arms by your sides with dumbbells held at arms length.
  2. From this starting position, simultaneously bring the right arm directly up and the left arm out to the side. 
  3. Lower and repeat with the opposite arms. 
  4. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps on each arm.
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Equipment used 

Dumbbells

Tips 

Keep both arms straight at all times. 

3. Incline Dumbbell Raise

Why it’s a great alternative

The incline dumbbell raise is a stricter version than the standing raise. That is because you are leaning on a bench, preventing you from cheating with a backswing.

Muscles worked

Front deltoids

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Set an incline bench to a 45 degree incline. Lie face down on the bench holding a pair of dumbbells at arms length at your sides.
  2. Bring both hands up to shoulder level with straight arms.
  3. Lower under control and repeat. 
  4. Perform 3 sets of 12 reps.

Equipment used 

Incline bench, dumbbells

Tips 

Keep your arms straight throughout the entire movement; push your lower back into the bench as you bring the dumbbells up; lower under control; be sure to move through the entire range of motion. This is quite a difficult exercise so don’t go too heavy.

4. Cable Front Raise

Why it’s a great alternative

The cable front raise keeps constant tension on the front delts that you cannot get when using a dumbbell. It also more precisely follows the strength curve of the deltoids, being harder at the beginning and easier at the end of the movement. This is a great isolation exercise

Muscles worked

Front deltoids

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Set the cable on a single pulley machine at mid thigh height and stand a foot in front of it, facing away.
  2. Grab the handle with your right hand in an overhand grip and hold it at your side at full arm extension. 
  3. Bring your straightened right arm up to shoulder level.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.
  5. Do 3 sets or 12 reps.

Equipment used 

Cable pulley machine

Tips 

Perform the exercise under control; to avoid shoulder injury, do not come up higher than shoulder level; keep your arm straight at all times. Keep your lower back in a neutral position.

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5. Cable Lateral Raises

Why it’s a great alternative

The side lateral raise on a cable machine allows you to isolate the side deltoid muscle. It provides for early phase loading and works each deltoid muscle unilaterally. The cable version is more effective than the dumbbell lateral raise. 

Muscles worked

Side deltoid

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Set the cable on a single pulley machine at mid thigh height and stand side-on to the machine, about two feet away from it. 
  2. Grab the handle with your outside hand alongside your outer thigh.
  3. Bring your straightened arm up and out to shoulder level.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.
  5. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.

Equipment used 

Cable pulley machine

Tips 

Start with the cable handle by your outside hip; do not come higher than the level of your shoulder; don’t allow momentum to get the weight up. Be sure to get a full range of motion. Do not go too heavy or you will compromise your lateral raise form and shoulder stability on this favorite deltoid exercise.

6. Side Lying Lateral Raise

Why it’s a great alternative

The side lying lateral raise is one of those lateral raise variations that work the lateral head of the shoulder muscle without causing any strain to the spine or shoulder joint. 

Muscles Worked

Lateral deltoids

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Get down on the floor, lying on your side with your feet stacked, one upon the other. Rest your head on your bottom elbow and hold a light dumbbell in your top hand, held at arm’s length, resting at your side. Depress your shoulder blades.
  2. Pivot from the shoulder to raise your arm straight up until it is perpendicular to your torso, at shoulder height.
  3. Lower and repeat.

Equipment used 

Dumbbell

Tips 

Do not allow your torso to drop forward. Use a relatively light weight and focus on your exercise technique. Bringing the arm up too high is one of the most common mistakes for this and other lateral raise variations.

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7. Knee Up with Overhead Reach

Why it’s a great alternative

The Knee up with overhead reach is a plyometric cardio exercise that adds a shoulder-building element, making it a compound full-body worker.

Step-by-step how-to 

  1. Stand in front of a step or platform, holding a dumbbell in both hands by its ends in front of your body.
  2. Put your left foot on the step. Now extend your arms in front of you on a diagonal above shoulder level.
  3. Drive your right knee up to hip height as you bring the weight down to touch your knee.
  4. Return to the start position. 
  5. Do 3 sets of 15 reps on each side. 

Equipment used 

Dumbbell

Tips 

Maintain an upright body position with a neutral spine throughout the exercise. You can use a weight plate rather than a dumbbell for this exercise. 

Final Thoughts

You now have all the ammunition you need to develop boulder shoulders. Put together your training programs by putting 3 of the exercises detailed above into a routine and do them for 8 sets in total. Perform reps ranging between a high of 30 and a low of 6 with your heaviest weight. Work your front deltoids every 5 days. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What muscles will dumbbell front raise work on most?

The front raise will primarily work the front deltoid muscle. This is also known as the anterior deltoid. It also activates the upper trapezius muscle. 

Is dumbbell front raise dangerous?

No, the dumbbell front raise is not a dangerous exercise. However, you should not bring the bar up higher than the level of your shoulders. Going any higher will place the rotator cuff muscle in an unusual position. 

Will front raises build muscle?

The front raise is certainly capable of building muscle. If you combine the exercise with muscle-building nutrition and enough rest then you will build muscle in your front deltoids with this exercise.

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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