Lu Raises – Strengthen Your Shoulders Like an Olympian

Lu Raises

Popularized by Chinese Olympic weightlifting champion, Lu Xiaojun, Lu raises are gaining traction as a superior alternative to lateral raises.

The exercise promises to improve shoulder strength and mobility… making it the perfect option for not just strength athletes but for anyone wanting to develop better upper body movement.

It is believed to have been a fundamental exercise for Olympic Chinese weightlifters, who have somewhat dominated many weightlifting categories in the last few years.

But the movement does require some subtle considerations, as well as understanding how it differs from regular lateral raises, to fully understand how you can use it to your advantage.

And then there’s the underlying question, of whether you should ditch the trusty lateral raises for this alternative?

In this exercise guide, we outline everything you need to know about Lu raises, including how to do them, the muscles worked, benefits, and who we think should do them (and who shouldn’t).

What are Lu Raises?

The Lu raise is a shoulder strengthening exercise that involves full range of motion at the shoulder joint so your hands go overhead (as opposed to stopping parallel to the floor like a traditional lateral raise).

Although the exercise has been named after Olympic weightlifting champion Lu Xiaojun, it features in bodybuilding and strength training literature dating back to the 1920s.

Lu raises can be seen as a variation of lateral raises as they have a shared initial movement path and largely target the same muscle groups.

How to Perform Lu Raises

To do Lu raises:

  • Stand in an upright position with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  • Hold a weight, such as a barbell plate or dumbbell in each hand.
  • Hinge forward at the hips slightly and lift your arms out to the side (like you would a lateral raise).
  • Continue to lift the weight upwards overhead, until your hands meet.
  • Don’t rotate your hands during the movement.
  • Slowly lower your arms back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for repetitions and sets.

Coach’s Tip – We’d recommend selecting a much lighter weight than you would for regular lateral raises. Your muscles will tire quicker due to the increased range of motion and time under tension. The exercise also benefits from slow, controlled repetitions.

Muscles Worked

Lu raises primarily work the deltoids, trapezius and the rotator cuffs.

Lu Raises with Dumbbells

Although Lu Xiaojun tends to perform this exercise with barbell plates, as shown in the video demonstration, you could use dumbbells to achieve the same outcome. The grip would be different to holding a barbell plate, but the way the muscles around the shoulder joint would be engaged would be very similar.

If you are using dumbbells, the start of the movement may feel very similar to traditional lateral raises, but remember to select a lighter weight as the full range of motion and requirement to lift the weight overhead means it’s a harder exercise.

Lu Raise Benefits

Effective at Strengthening the Shoulders

Lu raises are incredibly effective at strengthening the shoulders… even with light weights.

The movement recruits more of the muscles around the shoulder compared to lateral raises due to the additional overhead phase.

This means you may notice much more engagement of the trapezius, for example.

Great for Warm-Ups

Lu raises lend themselves very well for warm-ups and mobility drills. Doing a few light sets of Lu raises before compound movements may help improve performance.

Works Shoulder Mobility

There are all sorts of exercises and movements you can do to improve shoulder mobility… but if you aren’t set on following along to a mobility app or program, then incorporating exercises that help improve mobility whilst primarily being a strength movement may be something to consider.

In such cases, Lu raises are a great example of how a strength-based exercise can also work mobility too.

Improve Overhead Lifting

The final phase of Lu raises helps to prime the body for overhead lifting. It helps prepare the shoulder joint and muscles for raising any sort of weight overhead.

From Olympic lifting to simply trying to fit your luggage in the overhead compartment on an aeroplane, there are all sorts of reasons why improving overhead lifting is beneficial.

Including these sorts of movements into your fitness routine will improve lifting performance overall.

Effective for Building Muscle (Hypertrophy)

Although the primary goal of a weightlifter like Lu Xiaojun is strength… that’s not to say this sort of training isn’t useful for hypertrophy too.

The full range of motion means your muscles are working harder for longer.

They also need to support the downward movement (eccentric phase) more compared to lateral raises, which helps further stimulate muscle growth.

Things to Consider

The main thing to consider about Lu raises is that you need a pretty good level of shoulder mobility to even attempt this movement. You may find it feels quite uncomfortable, in which case we’d recommend giving it a miss (until you improve your shoulder mobility).

Another consideration is that due to the larger range of motion, the amount of weight you’ll likely be able to lift is going to be much smaller than with lateral raises, which may feel counter-intuitive for those looking to maximize strength.

Ultimately, it’s clear the exercise is useful for professional weightlifters and those who need to generate significant power overhead… however, most casual gym-goers probably don’t need such raw overhead lifting power.

The risk of injury may suggest that regular lateral raises are more than enough for most people.

Nevertheless, if you’re looking to progress with overhead lifts, such as with powerlifting or for certain CrossFit exercises, then Lu raises are definitely worth giving a go.

Although it looks quite simple, we would categorize the Lu raise as an advanced strength exercise so if you’re a beginner you might be better off sticking with regular raises.

Lu Raises Vs Lateral Raises

Lu raises and lateral raises are very similar movements, and the first lifting phase of both exercises is largely the same. The difference is that Lu raises involve you lifting the weight overhead, instead of finishing parallel to the floor.

Your overall fitness goals will largely influence which exercise is better suited to you.

Bottom Line

Lu raises are undoubtedly an effective exercise for those wanting to improve shoulder strength and mobility.

If you’re looking to progress Olympic lifts, such as the snatch, then it’s certainly worth trying.

The movement may be difficult for anyone with limited shoulder mobility, or who has a history of shoulder problems, in which case, regular lateral raises are likely going to be a better choice. Similarly, if you don’t need to generate Olympic strength overhead, you could certainly argue that there’s nothing wrong with regular raises (that don’t require such mobility at the shoulder joint).

If you do give them a go, start very (very) light and focus on slow, controlled movements and only increase the weight once you’re comfortable with the exercise.

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Featured image and video credit – All Things Gym