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Cable Lateral Raise 101 Guide - Proper Form, Benefits & More

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson | Co-Founder & Chief Editor
Last updated: June 20, 2023

A cable lateral raise is a fantastic shoulder workout. But you need to ensure you’re doing it correctly to avoid injury.

From my eight-year experience as a fitness instructor, most people do raises the wrong way.

Knowing how to do a cable lateral raise properly can save you time and injuries. Here’s what you need to know.

Quick Summary

  • To perform a lateral raise, stand next to the cable machine then grip the stirrup with your arm, form a slight bend position, and then raise your arm away from the machine.
  • The cable lateral raise is one of the few workout routines that single out the lateral deltoids.
  • Two-arm cable lateral raises, dumbbell lateral raises, and elevator lateral raises, are the different cable lateral raises variations.

One-Arm Cable Lateral Raise: Step-by-Step Instructions

man using a cable machine in a gym
  • Type: Isolation exercise
  • Equipment: Cable pulley machine

As you can see, a cable lateral raise doesn’t require a lot of equipment. You only need a cable pulley machine with the handle attachment adjusted to the lowest setting.

I’ll first show you how to do a regular one-arm cable lateral raise. The two-arm raise and other variations are explained below.

Let’s jump straight to the exercise.

Step #1: Starting Position

  1. First, select the weight you want to lift. Don’t overdo it since you’ll be lifting with one shoulder only.
  2. Now stand next to the cable machine. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Slightly bend your knees.
  3. Grip the stirrup with your outside arm. Keep your arm fully extended, your back straight, and your feet facing forward.
  4. You can grip the machine with your free hand for added support.

Step #2: Raise the Cable

  1. Form a slight bend in your working elbow (10- to 30-degree angle).
  2. Raise your outside arm away from the machine and up to shoulder height.
  3. Pause here for 1-3 seconds.
  4. Slowly lower the attachment. Control your movement and avoid relying too much on your inside arm.

This completes one rep. We recommend doing up to 15 in one set.

Want a visual demonstration of the exercise? Watch this video:


What Muscles Does It Work?

shirtless man showing his muscles

The lateral raise works lateral deltoids. And it isolates them like no other exercise.

Lateral deltoids form the middle part of your shoulder.

They’re placed between the front and rear deltoids and are quite challenging to target [1].

Cable lateral raises target the middle muscle fibers exceptionally well.

So, although we’ll show you a few alternative exercises you can try to target delts, you shouldn’t expect them to be as effective.


To really work your shoulder muscles, we recommend raising the attachment more slowly and making longer pauses at the top position. Try pausing at the shoulder level for 3-5 seconds.

You can also try adding weight. But don’t cheat by using momentum rather than your strength to raise the attachment. You won’t get the results you’re hoping for, and you’ll only waste your precious time instead.

If you catch yourself doing so, reduce the weight. That’s a better option than doing the exercise incorrectly.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Cable Raises

man using a cable machine in a gym

There aren’t many disadvantages of this exercise.

The only risk you should be cautious of is hurting your shoulders by raising your arms too high up.

Unfortunately, I saw many gym-goers permanently damage their shoulders with incorrect raises.

Still, in the best-case scenario, you won’t get the results you want if you’re not performing this workout correctly.

That’s reason enough to get familiar with the do’s and don’ts of this exercise.

Follow this checklist for the best results: 

  • Do keep your arm parallel to the ground
  • Do squeeze your muscles at the highest point
  • Do maintain a strong core and lift with your body
  • Don’t rely on momentum to lift the weight
  • Don’t raise your arm above your shoulders
  • Don’t bend your elbow too much (shoot for a 10- to 30-degree angle)

3 Variations Of The Exercise

A cable raise may be our favorite shoulder workout, but it’s not the only one that works. You can build your shoulders with variations that require different or simpler equipment and movements.

We’ll walk you through three such exercises. It’s up to you how much weight you’ll lift and how many reps you’ll do.

Two-Arm Cable Lateral Raises

Are traditional one-arm cable raises too easy for a seasoned pro like you? Then try this variation that will work both of your shoulders at the same time.

Equipment: Cable crossover station

  1. Stand straight in the middle of a cable crossover station. Adjust two stirrups to the lowest pulleys and grab one with each hand.
  2. Place your arms in front of your body, cross them, and keep your elbows slightly bent.
  3. Raise your arms to both sides of the machine. Stop once you reach shoulder height and pause here for 1-3 seconds.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat for a desired number of times.

Dumbbell Lateral Raises

Unfortunately, you’ll need access to a cable pulley machine to do a cable raise. But don’t despair if your gym doesn’t have one. Try this variation instead.

Equipment: Two dumbbells

You can either stand or sit on a bench for this exercise:

  1. Grab one dumbbell with each hand. Pull your shoulders slightly back and keep your core tight.
  2. Raise both of your arms at the same time to shoulder height. Make sure they’re parallel to the ground.
  3. Pause here for 1-3 seconds and slowly bring your arms down. Do a few more reps for better results.

Elevator Lateral Raises

You’ll also need just a couple of dumbbells to perform this exercise. However, you’ll spend more time lifting them than in the previous variation. And enduring resistance for a longer time period helps you build your muscles faster.

Equipment: Two dumbbells

  1. Stand up and place your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight. Grab a dumbbell with each hand.
  2. Raise the dumbbells to shoulder height.
  3. Lower your arms halfway down and bring them back to the top.
  4. Now lower your arms to three-quarters down. Bring them back to the top from there.
  5. Slowly lower your arms and return to the initial position. This completes one rep.

Alternative Exercises

Other exercises may not be as effective in building your delts, but that doesn’t mean you have to do raises every time you hit the gym. Switching up your workouts is crucial for staying motivated.

So, instead of doing the same exercise every day, try these alternatives:

  • Side plank with arm raise
  • Barbell upright row
  • Seated Arnold press
  • “W” raises
  • Lying side laterals


How Many Times a Week Should You Do Lateral Raises?

You should do lateral raises two to three times a week.

How Much Weight Should I Use for a Lateral Raise?

You should use light to moderate weight for a lateral raise.

Why Do Lateral Raises Hurt?

Lateral raises usually hurt because you’re lifting too much weight. However, in some cases, the pain may signal damage to your rotator cuff.

The Final Thoughts On The Cable Lateral Raise

One-arm cable lateral raises are an awesome way to build delts that are otherwise challenging to target.

Also, you’ll experience tension in your muscle during the entire workout, which leads to faster results.

Just remember not to lift your arms too high up to avoid injury. Otherwise, this exercise is 100% safe. It's also helpful to have a high-quality cable machine that's ideal for your home gym so you can enjoy your workout more.

Combine it with the alternatives we mentioned here, and we guarantee you’ll see visible improvements after only a few weeks. Yes, even if you’re not a lifting pro.


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