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Machine vs. DB Side Laterals


I started doing machine laterals a while ago after seing them recommended here. My gym has a couple of decent (to me, at least) machines, Panatta and Cybex.

This may be a really stupid question, but: I'm progressing really well on the machines. Using something like 80 kgs/176 lbs depending on the machine right now.

Yet, I'm weak as a kitten on DB side laterals (maybe 8 semi-strict reps w. 15kg/33 lbs).

Why this disparity? Simply b/c the machines are easier and allow for more weight? Leverage (I've got pretty long arms)?

I know I tend to let my traps take over on laterals when things get heavy, and I guess more so on the machines than with DBs, but I don't really worry about that on the machines, since it hit the delts really well too.

So maybe I should just stop wondering about stuff like this and just be happy that I've found something that works well for my shoulder width...


I find myself using the machine either when my wrists are feeling a little 'tweaky', or when I feel like pushing seriously heavy weight (a little less focus on perfectly strict form, pause at top and my usual considerations when I use DBs). If you're progressing, and other muscles aren't taking over the movement (lifting the arms of the machine all the way up to your ears so your traps contract), then I don't think it makes any difference. Applied muscular stress is muscular stress. Especially if you lack the requisite strength and coordination to get the most out of the free weight version.



I've tried a few different side lateral machines and just never feel them in my shoulders like I do with DB's. I think my traps take over the movement like you were talking about Stu.

Do whichever exercise works best for you (or mix in both) OP. If you're progressing and getting bigger/stronger using the machines then keep using that machine


Have someone hold their arm at the spot right before your traps take over. After awhile you wont raise it too high due to mental conditioning.


Do what works for you. If you are progressing and seeing results using machines, I would continue. I personally like both, but ever since I started using machines for lateral raises, I saw some new growth.


It's called torque. If you're doing a lateral raise with the weight on your elbow, it's going to feel significantly lighter than doing a lateral raise with the exact same weight in your hand. That said, I'm pissed I don't have a good lateral machine at my gym :frowning:


Thanks guys. Not gonna overthink this, I'll simply stick with what works :slightly_smiling:


I have a great one. I usually add two 45lbs plates to the stack for my last set. That is all I do for lateral raises lately.

I used to use dumbbells exclusively but it caused me to recover slower from my biceps work because of the problem I have in that area when lifting. Now I don't have that problem at all and they respond well to it as long as I go really heavy.

I would NOT recommend someone who wasn't exceptionally strong on that machine do the same.


Yeah, just maybe, considering wondering does nothing for making gains, yet still remains more popular than actual lifting and LIVING LIFE for the majority of T-Forumites.


Imagine that.


I used to have a good one at the last gym I worked out at and I'd do that in addition to dumbbell laterals. I guess the reason I feel the one I have now sucks is that I can do the stack for high reps and haven't bothered trying to add weight to it because it just feels awkward compared to the one I'm used to anyway. Currently doing cable laterals then dumbbell laterals. Out of curiosity, would you happen to have a picture of the one you use?


I can take a picture of it when at the gym tonight, but I've looked on the net for a pic and can't find one exactly like it.

All of those models will not allow more weight to be added. The one I have is made in a way that allows me to hang the weights on those pins that add an extra "5lbs" to the stack. There are two of those so i can hang two plates off the side. My shoulders didn't stick out like this until I started going heavy on that and back then I was also doing unilateral dumbbell raises afterwards.

My shoulders get more comments now than anything else.


OP: You can lift more on the machine most likely because of how far out your hold the DBs. The closer you hold the DBs (similar to a lateral raise machine)the heavier you can go. The longer the lever the harder to movement. Plus some lateral raise machines have the pads lift as one which will not correct muscle/strength imbalances and make the lift easier.


Seeing how the lateral delts get most activated when going into wrist pronation (or even further) and how this puts a lot of stress on the ulnar wrist, I prefer using machines.

Still doing bent-away unilateral db lateral raises, though (they don't allow me to use enough weight to make my wrists go ouchie!, though).

My take-home message is this:
-use both, but focus on the one providing you the greatest level of lateral delt activation (as opposed to traps)

-if your wrists are prone to injury (say, you're having TFCC issues and/or are dealing with an ulnar variance), using the machine might be better after having developed more strength in your lateral delts than your wrists can endure

Currently, I can do db lateral raises with about 22.5 kg, for 20+ reps, in a very controlled manner. I tried this some time back and as a result couldn't lift for about a week, since my wrist was kinda toast. So, I rather make do with the machine variant and use db variants as finishers.

What hasn't been mentioned is strong resistance bands.


I love the machine at my school gym but I got to using the entire stack within a few weeks unfortunately for 10 reps...I'll probably continue with it until I can do 2x20 or something but for the most part it doesn't seem like something I'll be able to use long-term for growth


Has anyone built huge delts with military pressing and military pressing alone? I cant seem to ever do laterals without my shoulders hurting whether its with a machine, cable, or dumbbells. Ive been doing but standing presses for a few weeks and im starting to see better growth. I do use isolation exercises for my rear delts though and feel that it has contributes to my delt width more so than regular laterals.


They work great for the front delts, but overhead presses alone never made me look wide in clothes... No serious work being done by the lateral head usually, due to the way your upper arm bone is rotated and the fact that gravity pulls weights down, not to the front and down...

That being said, some have better shoulder genetics than others of course and get great delts from pressing mostly.

And not everyone's shoulder joints are built exactly the same, but you might have an inflamed or torn supraspinatus for example... Or bad posture or both... Bad raising technique... Irritated external rotators... Something like that.
Better make sure it's none of these.

Gotta say though... Regular DB laterals are imo just not that great of a side delt exercise, they're one of the worst out of all side delt movements for me... Just that they're often the only thing available...


It's not about wrist pronation, your delts act on the upper arm bone... People usually get their elbows higher than their hands/rotate their upper arm bones in a way to hit the lateral delts more when pronating their wrists during laterals, but technically the "pinky higher than thumb" thing is not necessary as long as you make sure your upper arms are in the right position...
Bending over some at the hips can help too.

Yeah, those machines are a godsend (if you get a good one that is)... Even if your wrists were healthy, doing heavy laterals puts quite a bit of strain on your forearms, not always great if you already grip lots of heavy stuff, do heavy curls and presses etc...


Any suggestions for when only free weights are available?


Good post. I see people talking about pronation as if the shoulder somehow needs the wrist turned a certain way for the force to be on the lateral delts. I also bend my arms and last time I did dumbbells for laterals was using the 70's. If you want big delts, get strong on them and avoid getting caught up in what way your wrists are going.