How to Perform Barbell Front Raises

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Nothing draws attention to a well-rounded and balanced physique quite like full, capped deltoid muscles. Evenly developed deltoids contribute to the aesthetic X-physique by increasing the illusion of broader shoulders and a narrower waist.

The deltoid muscle group is made up of three heads – anterior, lateral, and posterior. Many athletes emphasize exercises targeting anterior or front deltoid-dominant which can lead to overdevelop front delts and underdeveloped lateral and posterior delts. However, not everyone has been blessed in the shoulder genetics department and some athletes require isolation exercises to further target the front delts.

Related: How to Perform the Dumbbell Arnold Press

The barbell front raise is an excellent isolation push exercise used to target the anterior or front deltoid muscle. This clavicular head of the pectoralis major (upper chest), lateral deltoids (side delts), middle and lower trapezius, as well as the inferior digitations of the serratus anterior (boxer’s muscle) act as supporting muscle groups during the exercise. [1]

Supporting muscle groups assist the target muscle group(s) during the movement. The upper trapezius, levator scapulae (upper shoulder/rear neck), wrist extensors (outer forearm) act as stabilizers during this movement. [1] Stabilizer muscles help maintain a posture or fixate a joint by contracting without significantly moving. [2] Shoulders can typically be hit with a higher frequency and volume because they’re comprised of a higher percentage of slow twitch muscle fibers compared to other muscle groups.

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How to Perform the Barbell Front Raise

Begin by placing a barbell on the floor or rack pins and selecting the appropriate working weight. Ensure you add an even amount of weight to both sides of the bar. Don’t place 10lbs on one sides and 25lbs on the other side. Uneven loading won’t improve your gains and will likely lead to an injury. If this is your first time performing the exercise then pick a conservative weight that you can safely lift for 8 to 12 repetitions.

Once you’ve selected the appropriate working weight approach the bar with a hip width stance. Pick up the bar from the ground or rack pins with a shoulder-width pronated grip (palms facing away from you). Taking an excessive wide grip will decrease the range of motion and minimize the stimulus of the front deltoid muscles.

An excessively narrow grip will lead to excessive internal rotation of the shoulders which increases risk of injury and discomfort. Your elbows should be straight (but not hyperextended) or slightly bent during all portions of the movement.

After setting your stance and grip, take a deep breath, brace your abdominals for impact and begin raising the bar in front of you and upwards. If you find yourself swinging your body or significantly bending your elbows then the weight is too heavy. Raise the barbell until the upper arms are at or slightly above parallel with the ground.

If you’re looking to increase the intensity of the exercise then continue lifting the barbell with straight arms until it’s directly overhead. This will further stimulate the front deltoids as well as work the small stabilizers muscles in your shoulders and upper back. Shoulder flexibility may limit your ability to lift the barbell completely overhead but most trainees should be able to their arms until they’re parallel with the ground.

Once you’ve lifted the barbell to the desired height contract the front delts and hold for 1 to 5 seconds. Then slowly lower the weight in a controlled motion back to the starting position, which for most is resting the barbell on or slightly off the hips. During the lower portion your elbows and arms should remain relatively straight.

Some lifters choose to exhale while raising the barbell, at the top of each rep, or in between in each repetition. Choose a breathing pattern that feels the most natural and comfortable for you.

This exercise can be performed using straight sets, pre-exhaust sets, drop sets, rest-pause sets, supersets, trisets, giant sets, paused reps, partial reps, forced reps, or slow negatives. As with any exercise, the two most important components are high-quality form and progression. Progression can take a variety of forms (e.g. more weight, sets, or reps, decreased rest period, improved rep quality, etc…) but strive to improve every time you walk in to the gym.

Barbell Front Raises Form Tips

Keep the Arms Straight – Before the rep, during the rep, and in-between each rep your shoulders should be straight or slightly bent. While keeping straight elbows is important don’t hyperextend the joints as this could lead to injury.

Minimizing elbow and arm bend will ensure the barbell front raise doesn’t turn in to a reverse curl. This is not an ego lift; a moderate amount of weight goes a long way in stimulating the front delts.

Hold at the Top – If you’re looking to increase intensity experiment with holding the barbell at the midpoint position where the arms are at or slightly above parallel with the ground. Holding in this position for 5 to 10 seconds will increase time under tension and the burn in the front deltoids. Increased time under tension is an excellent variable to adjust for progressive overload.

Avoid Momentum – The barbell front raise provides maximum benefits when it’s perform in a slow and controlled full range-of-motion. Check your ego at the door and don’t attempt to barbell front raise 135lbs.

Exceptionally heavy weights on this exercise will lead to body swinging in an effort to generate enough momentum to raise the bar. This momentum dramatically increases the likelihood of injury and minimizes the stimulus of the target muscles.

Lift Completely Overhead – If you’re looking to increase the intensity of the barbell front raise experiment with slightly decreasing the working weight and increasing the range of motion by lifting the barbell completely overhead. The added range of motion will further stress the front deltoids, middle and lower trapezius muscles, as well as incorporate posture-improving scapular depressing.

References

1) “Barbell Front Raise.” ExRx (Exercise Prescription) on the Internet. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
2) “Kinesiology Glossary.” ExRx (Exercise Prescription) on the Internet. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.

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Name: Nick Ludlow

Bio: When it comes to fitness I enjoy reading about historic weight lifters, non-conventional weightlifting approaches, nutritional protocols, and the science behind supplements.