How To Do The Barbell Front Raise: Complete Guide

Written by Daniel Mesa
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In the age of modern fitness media, many people have completely discarded front deltoid isolation movements. The logic behind this is that the front delt is already heavily worked on common exercises like the bench and shoulder press. There is some truth in this, but I do not think that means I think you should neglect front delt isolation work.

Without a doubt, the best exercise for front delt isolation is the barbell front raise. Here is the completed guide on how to do the movement:

How To Do Front Raises With A Barbell?

Video Guide

Step By Step

  1. Using a pronated grip, grip the barbell with your hands shoulder width apart. Let the bar rest down on your thighs.

  2. Through the movement make sure you keep your core and lower back tight and engaged. Your shoulder blades should be retracted and stuck in place. You want to limit the sway of your torso.

  3. While keeping your arms straight or elbows slightly bent, raise the bar in front of you to shoulder level. Squeeze your shoulders at the top of the rep.

  4. Slowly lower the bar back down towards your thighs.

How Many Sets and Reps?

I think that the delts like most small muscles respond best to higher volume. When I train delts, I am not really chasing personal records. I rather focus on a solid mind-muscle connection and getting a good pump. For these goals, I prefer to stick in the 12-20 rep range. Since I also take very little rest, I sometimes will also do as many as 5 sets.

If you already have a dedicated shoulder/push/upper day, I would tack these on towards the end to fully exhaust the front deltoids.

Which Muscles Are Worked During A Front Raise?

delt anatomy

If you are just getting started with strength training, it may be a bit confusing to understand which exercises work which muscles, especially for a complex body part like the shoulder joint.

Essentially, the shoulder is broken up into three heads: anterior (front), lateral (side), and posterior (rear). You can generally think of your shoulder heads working like this:

Front Delt: Pressing, Internal Rotation

Side Delt: Abduction, Raising your arms to your side

Rear Delt: External Rotation, Pulling behind you towards your head

In terms of the barbell front raise, it is definitely a shoulder exercise. Your front deltoids are the primary mover here. However, there are a number of secondary muscles involved as well:

  • Pectoralis major clavicular head (Pecs)

  • Serratus anterior

  • Lateral Delt

Barbell Front Raises Common Mistakes

Using Too Much Weight

As I said before the front raise is an exercise where you should be targeting higher reps. There is no reason to try to max out on this movement. If you try to go too heavy, your form will just break down and you will start using momentum and risk injury.

Not Using Full Range Of Motion

When you do a front raise, your starting position should be with the barbell at your thighs and your rep should end when the barbell is at shoulder height. You should not be stopping with the barbell at your chest or ribs. The top portion of this exercise is the most valuable, it is where you will get to feel your shoulders the most. Lower the weight if you cannot get full reps done.

Why Should I Do Barbell Front Raises?

Boulder shoulders

As we mentioned earlier, we are well aware that you have probably heard that you should not directly train your front delts. I really do get the logic since the front deltoids are heavily worked in other exercises.

However, I just think that people also need to realize how much a well-developed front delt can help your upper body pop. In most poses, the front delts are front a center and can help you look more defined and muscular. Not to mention, the front delt work will help your upper chest pop more as well.

Do I Need To Use A Barbell? Front Raise Variations

You do not need to use a barbell, I just think that barbells are the best tool for this exercise since they make sure you stay strict with your form and allow you to use the most weight.

That being said, if you find a barbell to be uncomfortable for whatever reason here are a few variations you could try as well:

  • Cable Front Raises

  • Dumbbell Front Raise

  • Kettlebell Swings

  • Incline Front Raises

Aren’t Front Raises Dangerous?

Lots of people tend to shy away from shoulder isolation work due to fear of injury. However, as long as you are using good form and NOT going too heavy you should be fine. Front raises are a proven movement that has been done for decades.

Should I Do Front Raises Or Side Raises?

I think that you being doing both in your workout routine if you want to maximize upper body strength and hypertrophy. However, if you can only do one, I think that you should opt for the side raise.

Simply put, I think the side raise will contribute more to changing the look of your physique than a front raise will. The added width and 3-D look of a well-developed side delt cannot be overstated.

Also, it is just true that for most of you the front deltoid is not really a lagging body part. Meanwhile, unless you directly target the side delts, you could use the added width.


Are barbell front raises good?

Yes, they are good, valid exercises but should not be prioritized over compound movements.

What muscles do barbell front raises work?

Front and side delt primarily.

Is barbell front raise effective?

Yes, the front raise is effective at isolating your front delt.

Should you go heavy on front raises?

No, stick to a moderate weight which you can do for 12-20 reps.

Is the barbell front raise a push or pull?

It is neither, but it works the muscles associated more with pushing.

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