T Raises are a fantastic functional movement that can be used to build muscle or improve upper body mobility. They target the backs of the shoulders, an area often ignored and a solution for those with rounded shoulders and poor posture.
They are also a great choice for anyone engaging in sports that require overhead movements or heavy lifting.
They predominantly engage the upper back muscles, build strength and improve stability in your shoulders. With no equipment required (unless you want to add dumbbells) they are perfect for an at-home workout, as a stand-alone exercise or a warm-up for something more.
In this exercise guide, we delve into how to perform the movement safely, the muscles it works, benefits and some variations so that you are ready to incorporate it into your next workout.
How to Perform T Raises
- Step 1. Lay flat on the floor with your chest down.
- Step 2. Stretch your arms out to the side on either side of your body in line with the height of your shoulders.
- Step 3. Engage your core and squeeze your shoulders together to allow you to raise your arms directly up from the ground towards the ceiling. Keep the movement in line with your shoulders and be careful not to lift your arms at an angle either forwards or backwards.
- Step 4. Your head should still be facing down once your arms are raised on either side your body. Briefly pause to hold the position as you feel the tightness in your upper back.
- Step 5. In a slow, controlled movement, allow your arms to lower back onto the ground to the starting position. Do not let your arms drop down, try to make sure you can’t hear a sound as they reach the ground to ensure the movement keeps the upper back muscles engaged.
- Step 6. Repeat the movement with 6-10 repetitions of 3 sets being a good starting point.
Benefits of T Raises
The T Raise exercise offers a whole host of benefits, including;
Strengthen upper back
This exercise predominantly works the muscles in your upper back building strength and definition.
Stable shoulders and improved mobility
Not only will you notice greater shoulder stabilization as the strength in your muscles builds, T raises also work to improve in mobility in your shoulders too. This is great for an exercise like the dumbbell power clean.
Engaging in activities requiring you to raise your arm over your head such as overhead sports and lifting exercises, puts a lot of pressure on your shoulders. Practising T raises will help to strengthen these muscles and reduce the chance of injury.
As T raises improve the vertical pushing motions that are required for heavy lifting, they are a great addition to bodybuilding workouts.
In the unfortunate event of an injury in the shoulder muscles, T raises are often utilisated for rehabilitation. The focus here would be to gradually up the reps and sets over a long period of time, maybe even up to 100 repetitions.
As always, consult with your doctor or physical therapist first before using T raises to recover from an injury.
Muscles Worked During T Raises
The muscles in your upper back and shoulders are predominantly put to work for T raises. These include your anterior (rear) deltoids, which allow you to raise your arms over your head and the lower trapezoids, which gives functionality of the neck and scapula. The rhomboids will also be engaged, key for movements in the upper limbs and your triceps will strengthen, particularly if adding dumbbells to the raise.
T Raise Modification and Variations
Once you are laid flat with your arms outstretched, either side of your body, put your thumbs up and point them to the ceiling. As you squeeze your shoulder muscles together to lift your arms, keep your thumbs pointing towards the ceiling at all times. This helps you to lift directly upwards and not at an angle to ensure the correct muscles in the upper back are engaged.
Dumbell T Raise
Hold some light dumbells in your hands for the entire movement so that as you raise your arms your upper back muscles work harder to lift the increased weight. Weights of 1-3kg are recommended.
Incline T raise
For increased range of motion and strength throughout entire shoulders, try the T raise from an inclined position.
Set an incline bench at a 30degree angle and sit chest down, arms hanging straight down on either side of your body, palms facing each other.
As above; squeeze your shoulder blades together to raise your arms on either side of your body up to shoulder height. Pause and hold the position before returning your arms to the starting position.
Remember the movement back to starting position should always be slow and controlled. With further for your arms to fall, the incline T raise works the muscles harder to ensure your arms don’t just drop down.
Standing T Raise/ Bent Over T Raise
This variation of the T raise is commonly used by bodybuilders. Whilst working the upper back muscles, it also activates the hamstrings and lower back muscles. Like the incline T raise, it is just the starting position that is different to a flat T raise.
Begin by keeping your back straight, bending slightly at the knees and hinging forward at the hips. With your feet shoulder width apart, let your arms fall straight down towards the floor below your shoulders, palms facing each other. Squeeze your shoulders together to bring your arms up at either side of your body until aligned or slightly above shoulders.
Pause before lowering back into the starting position in slow controlled movement.
You will notice not only are your upper back muscles engaged, but your legs work hard to support your position throughout the movement. Your shins should stay vertical and aim to have your body at a 45 degree angle from the hips.