12 Cable Shoulder Exercises (For a Stronger Upper Body)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: March 11, 2024
FACT CHECKED by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Our content is meticulously researched and reviewed by an expert team of fact checkers and medical professionals. They ensure accuracy, relevance, and timeliness using the latest reputable sources, which are cited within the text and listed at the end of the article. Before publication and upon significant updates, we confirm factual accuracy, committed to providing readers with well-informed content. Learn more.

The cable machine helps build your shoulder muscles and offers multiple exercise options.

I tested 30 cable shoulder exercises and singled out the 12 best for building muscles and strength. All exercises are beginner-friendly, so you don't have to worry about being advanced or experienced.

A high-quality and durable cable machine ensures you build all three heads of your shoulders in the comfort of your home without spending extra money on the gym membership, gas, or losing time.

Read below to learn the best cable shoulder exercises, their benefits, and how to implement them into a single workout.

Quick Summary

  • Some of the best cable shoulder exercises include the cable shoulder press, cable alternating press, bent over single arm cable lateral raise, kneeling shoulder press, and lying reverse fly.
  • People of all experiences can use cable machines, but the load should be accommodated to your current form and strength standards.
  • According to the National Institute of Health, performing dynamic warm-ups, such as a quick 2-3 minute treadmill run, is essential to heat up your body and prevent injury before engaging in cable shoulder exercises.
  • In my opinion, the best way to build shoulder muscles with cable exercises is to adjust the reps, sets, load, and rest intervals to maximize hypertrophy.

12 Best Cable Shoulder Exercises

A man doing cable shoulder exercises in the gym

My team and I have tested all the cable shoulder exercises on the list. All shoulder cable exercises are safe and the best for building your deltoids.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), to stay safe and avoid injury, perform dynamic warm-ups before the session to raise your body's temperature and prepare it for the workout [1].

Here are the 12 best cable shoulder exercises for strength and hypertrophy.

"There’s more than one way to train. And actually, doing the same thing repeatedly is a common mistake. Bodies begin to adapt to an exercise and need variety to continue making progress. Just make sure you’re doing the basics right."

- Andy Coggan, Director of the Fitness Academy at Gold’s Gym

1. Cable Alternating Press

The cable alternating press is an overhead press variation.

This exercise is excellent for challenging your stabilizer muscles since the alternating method will require you to shift your body weight slightly and remain balanced.

The neutral grip will ensure your front delts and triceps are hit properly and provide maximal hypertrophy effects.

Keep in mind that some machines are far away from each other. In that case, you perform this exercise with one arm at a time.

How to Perform Cable Alternating Press

  1. Ensure you set up stirrups at the lowest point.
  2. Stand away from the cable machine, then grab stirrups with a neutral grip.
  3. Start the exercise with your hands at the height of your shoulders, and your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees, tucked in front of you.
  4. Start pressing straight up, one arm at a time, until your arms reach the fully extended position.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position and press up with the other arm.

2. Cable Shoulder Press

A man doing cable shoulder presses in the gym

To nail the cable shoulder press, set the cable angle just right in front of you.

This sparks new muscle growth by working fibers with the force pulling from behind.

Tilt it more horizontally to beef up your front delts.

How to Perform a Cable Shoulder Press

  1. Set the stirrup to the lowest point.
  2. Begin the exercise by facing away from the cable machine and grabbing stirrups with an overhand grip.
  3. Your hands should be at ear level, and your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees.
  4. Start pressing straight up until your arms finish in the extended position.
  5. Ensure a slow return to the starting position and repeat.

3. Cable Bent Over Single Arm Lateral Raise

The cable bent over a single arm lateral raise nails it as a top-notch shoulder workout, much like the dumbbell lateral raise.

It's a champ at zeroing in on those delt muscles, thanks to the cable machine's non-stop tension. This means smoother lifts and more muscle-building time under tension.

Plus, you'll get to hoist your hand higher, stretching those muscles more for even better gains.

How to Perform a Cable Bent Over Single Arm Lateral Raise

  1. Begin by setting up the stirrup at the low point and standing to the side of it.
  2. Assume the position where you grab the stirrup using a neutral grip with the hand farther from the cable. Then hinge a little forward at the hips, ideally until your torso is almost parallel to the floor.
  3. Your non-working hand should be primarily used for stability by placing it on your hip or knee.
  4. Lift the cable to the side and keep a slight bend in the elbow until the upper portion of your arm is parallel to the floor.
  5. Hold that position briefly, and then return to the start.

Also Read: Cable Arm Workout Routine

4. Kneeling Shoulder Press

A woman doing a kneeling shoulder press

I find the kneeling shoulder press exercise to be excellent, especially for beginners. It helps maintain strict form during an overhead press, which is crucial to avoid injuries when you're just starting out.

Since you're starting in a kneeling position, you won't be able to use any leg drive to press the weight overhead. This ensures the focus remains on your upper body.

When you press up with a close grip, it primarily targets your front deltoids, pecs, and triceps, making it an effective workout for these areas.

How to Perform a Kneeling Shoulder Press

  1. The stirrup should be set at the low point.
  2. Begin by kneeling facing the cable machine, and grab the stirrups with the overhand grip.
  3. Your hands should be in front of you and at upper chest level, with your elbows bent at 90 degrees and tucked in front.
  4. Start the exercise by pressing straight up until you fully extend your elbows.
  5. Hold the top position for one second and then slowly return to the starting position.

5. Lying Reverse Fly

The lying reverse fly is one of the best cable shoulder exercises to hit your rear deltoid muscles. You can focus on contracting your rear delts by completing this exercise in a supine position.

Keep your arms perpendicular to your trunk, since that will reduce the chances of your latissimus dorsi helping to complete the movement.

How to Perform a Lying Reverse Fly

  1. Set the bench up in the middle of the cable machine, and the cables should be set at the high point.
  2. Grab the cables with a neutral grip with each hand and reach up and across your whole body.
  3. Lie down on the bench on your back.
  4. Start the exercise with your arms slightly bent and up toward the ceiling. The cables should be crossed. Start pulling down the cables to your sides through your elbows until your arms reach the parallel position to the floor.
  5. Hold that position for a second or two, squeeze your shoulder blades, and return to the starting position.

6. Cable Cross-Over Reverse Fly

A person doing cable cross over reverse on a cable machine

I find the cable cross-over reverse fly to be a fantastic choice for hitting those rear delts.

It's pretty much the twin of the bent over single arm cable lateral raise, focusing on the same movement.

The key difference? This time, you're engaging both shoulders at once, giving them an equal workout.

How to Perform a Cable Cross-Over Reverse Fly

  1. Your stirrups should be set at the low point of both towers of the cable crossover machine.
  2. Reach down and grab each stirrup with the opposite hands, using a neutral grip.
  3. Hinge your hips forward so that your body is almost parallel to the floor and your knees are slightly bent, while your arms should be hanging down.
  4. Start the exercise by pulling the cables out to your side and with your arms slightly bent at the elbows until the upper portion of your arms finishes at shoulder joint level.
  5. Reverse the motion of the exercise to return to the starting position and repeat the whole process.

7. Cable Standing Front Raise Variation

The cable standing front raise variation helps to engage your trapezius and the side deltoids by allowing you to lift on one side of the bar at the top portion of the movement.

This is important since the extra lift at the top portion of the movement makes it harder because of the short isometric hold. 

This is an excellent exercise to get your traps and delts burning.

How to Perform a Cable Standing Front Raise Variation

  1. Your cable should be set at the lowest point with a curl bar attached.
  2. Face away from the cable machine; your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  3. Reach down to pull the cable through your legs and grab the bar with both hands using an overhand grip, shoulder-width apart.
  4. Start the exercise by lifting up and away from your body and keep your arms straight until you reach shoulder joint level.
  5. Remember to lift on one side of the bar and mildly rotate your shoulders up and out.
  6. Hold that position for a second, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat for desired reps.

8. Single Arm Front Raise

A man doing single arm front raises in the gym

From my experience as a personal trainer, I've found the single-arm front raise to be top-notch for beefing up those front deltoids.

It's a game-changer because you can really zero in on each side, one at a time. Plus, it's a great way to spot any muscle imbalances in your shoulders.

How to perform a Single Arm Front Raise

  1. Start by setting up the stirrup at the lowest point.
  2. Stand in front of the cable machine and face away while your working arm lines up with the cable machine.
  3. Grab the handle with an overhand grip.
  4. The starting position is your hand at your hip level, with constant tension in the cable.
  5. Exhale and lift straight up and away until your working arm reaches the level of your shoulder.
  6. Hold that position for a second or two and slowly return to the starting position before repeating the process.

9. Single Arm Lateral Raise

The single arm lateral raise is one of the best ways to target your lateral delts.

The cable lateral raise is the perfect isolation exercise to challenge your shoulder muscles.

Always start this exercise by lifting weights so ensure the proper form and avoid injury.

Keep in mind that this exercise has multiple variations, but they all have the same goal of building your lateral deltoids.

How to Perform a Single Arm Lateral Raise

  1. Start by attaching the stirrup or D handle at the lowest point and the stand to the side of the machine.
  2. Assume the standing position where the cable runs behind your body, then grab the stirrup with an overhand grip.
  3. Slightly bend your elbows and lift your arm up and away from your side while exhaling simultaneously until the arm reaches shoulder height.
  4. Hold that position for a second to ensure maximum contraction, then return to the starting position.

10. Cable Upright Row

A buff male doing cable upright rows on the cable machine

The upright cable row works your upper back and shoulder muscles. The upright row builds the majority of your front and side deltoids while also managing to build the rhomboids and traps.

This exercise can help you perform your deadlifts better.

If you have shoulder impingement issues, stay away from the cable upright row since you may experience negative side effects such as pain and potentially even injure yourself.

How to perform a Cable Upright Row

  1. Attach the bar after you set the cable at the lowest point.
  2. Grab the bar with both your hands and primarily use the overhand grip, shoulder-width apart.
  3. Pull through your elbows so that the cable remains close to your body until your elbows reach the level of your shoulders.
  4. Hold for one second at the top portion of the movement and then slowly return to the starting position.

11. Side Lying Lateral Raise

From my experience, the side lying lateral raise is a fantastic variation of the lateral raise cable shoulder exercises for exceptional isolation. It's a game-changer for achieving maximal hypertrophy effects and building those shoulder muscles at a quicker pace.

You can do the side-lying lateral raise either on a bench or the floor. This exercise not only builds muscle but also enhances strength and stability in your shoulder joint.

How to Perform a Side Lying Lateral Raise

  1. Set the stirrup at the lowest point.
  2. Lie down on your side with your feet towards the cable machine.
  3. Grab the stirrup with an overhand grip using the upper portion of your arm.
  4. Brace your upper portion of the body with your elbows on the ground directly under your shoulders.
  5. Start the exercise with your hand at the hip level, lift your arm until it gets parallel to the shoulders, and hold that position for a second.
  6. After the upper portion of the movement, slowly return to the starting position and repeat the process.

12. Cable Twisting Overhead Press

A man doing the cable twisting overhead press on a cable machine

The cable twisting overhead press belongs to the efficient cable shoulder exercises for building your delts since it also works in the transverse plane.

This makes it a functional exercise that imitates daily movement patterns.

Pressing, twisting, and reaching are all combined into a single smooth motion. This exercise will also work your arms, shoulders, legs, and core.

How to Perform a Cable Twisting Overhead Press

  1. The cable should be set at the upper height of the belly with the stirrup attachment.
  2. Get into the position slightly in front and to the side of the cable machine.
  3. Use an overhand grip to grab the stirrup and stand in a wide stance in a quarter squat with your hand that is not working on your hip.
  4. Start the exercise with your hand at the upper chest level, and press across and up your body until your arms reach the fully extended position.
  5. The torso should be rotated, and you should push through your legs throughout the movement.
  6. After the top portion of the movement, reverse the motion and return to the starting position of the exercise.

Cable Shoulder Workout

A man doing cable shoulder workouts on a gym machine

The cable shoulder exercises and workout can be solely executed with the cable machine.

Here is a sample shoulder workout you can start doing today:

  1. Cable Y Raise - 3 sets x 8-10 reps
  2. Single Arm Overhead Press - 3 sets x 12 reps (each side)
  3. Cable Upright Rows - 3 x 12 reps
  4. Cable Single Arm Bent Over Lateral Raise - 3 sets x 10 reps (each side)
  5. Cable Face Pulls - 3 sets x 8 reps

I always advise warming up thoroughly before diving into cable shoulder exercises. A quick 2-3 minute treadmill run does wonders to heat up your body and get that sweat going.

Then, kick things off with a set of shoulder internal and external rotations. This primes those crucial shoulder muscles you'll be working out.

"Resistance exercise with moderate to heavy weight targeting the muscles in the shoulder is the only way to build shoulder muscle"

- Tyler Read, Personal Trainer with a BS in Kinesiology

Who Should Do Cable Shoulder Workouts?

Everybody looking to induce maximal hypertrophy effects should do cable shoulder workouts. The cable machine offers various cable shoulder exercises to avoid monotony and keep you motivated for longer.

You can combine your shoulder exercises with other weekly workouts you already perform.

The minimal amount of time you should rest before completing another shoulder workout is 48 hours.

This time will ensure your recovery from the previous shoulder workout and supercompensation.

Supercompensation is a term that defines the process of rebuilding your damaged shoulder muscle tissues, and it should naturally occur between your workouts.

Benefits of Cable Shoulder Exercises

A man with his back turned around showing his muscles

Find the most important benefits of regularly performing cable shoulder exercises that may change how you view them.

1. Versatility

According to the NIH, cable machines offer substantial cable exercise options and variations [2]. You will never get bored during workouts because you can change the angle, grip, load, and body positioning.

2. Loading Angle

The cable machines feature pulleys affixed to the vertical tracks, enabling you to lower or raise the starting point easily. This is a benefit because, according to ResearchGate, you can target different muscles slightly differently and all within the same movement [3].

3. Body Positioning

You can choose from numerous positions, such as lying on the bench, kneeling on one or both knees, sitting on a bench or stability ball, or standing in a staggered or bilateral stance.

All these require different effort and strength to complete the exercise, and some are more useful for lowering the risk of injury.

4. Grip

Different cable machine attachments allow you to switch your grip easily. It will enable you to place your joints more functionally and physiologically, lowering the risk of injury.

5. Unilateral Movement

A man using a cable machine for shoulder exercises

The cable machine allows you to perform unilateral movements, which are excellent for developing stabilizer muscles and making your joints more functional.

6. Load & Tension

Cable machines can easily be loaded with extra weight, and the length of the cable will be proportional to its tension.

So you can implement the principle of progressive overload, build strength, and induce hypertrophy.

7. Safe & Efficient

According to NIH, the cable machine is one of the safest pieces of functional fitness equipment [4]. There is a small chance of weight falling on your body parts or making you unstable, which often results in injury.

"Strong and healthy shoulders are incredibly crucial for all of life’s tasks, especially as we age and begin to lose shoulder muscle density."

- Jeff Turbett, Health & Wellness Coach

8. Great for Isolation

You can isolate your anterior, posterior, and lateral deltoid with cable machines because it offers numerous exercise options. As NIH notes, it is also great for isolation since you can change the machine's height, position, resistance, and angle [5].

Cable vs. Free Weight Shoulder Workouts

  1. Constant Tension: Cable machines maintain consistent tension throughout the exercise, targeting muscles effectively. Free weights, however, have varying tension, depending on the movement's angle.
  2. Range of Motion: Cable workouts offer a more versatile range of motion, allowing unique angles and movements. Free weights are limited by gravity and natural movement paths.
  3. Stability and Control: Free weight exercises require more stabilization, engaging the core and secondary muscles. Cable machines provide more control and stability, focusing mainly on the primary muscles.
  4. Resistance Direction: Cables provide multi-directional resistance, ideal for functional training. Free weights offer resistance primarily in a vertical direction due to gravity.
  5. Skill Level and Safety: Cable machines are often safer and easier for beginners, reducing the risk of injury. Free-weights demand better technique and balance, making them more challenging for newcomers.

FAQs

Do Cable Pulls Work Shoulders?

Yes, cable pulls work shoulders. Cable pulls are an effective shoulder exercise that will challenge your lateral and posterior deltoids.

What Muscles Do Cable Shoulder Extension Work?

Cable shoulder extension will work muscles such as your rear deltoids and latissimus dorsi. Cable shoulder extension is an effective exercise for building your rear deltoid muscles and it should be incorporated into your shoulder workout routines.

Are Cables Better Than Dumbbells for Shoulders?

Yes, cables are better than dumbbells for shoulders. They will enable you to better and more effectively target your rear, lateral, and anterior deltoids.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18027995/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28129277/
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303635227
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7662789/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7460162/
Was this article helpful?
YesNo

About The Author

Senior Coach
Tyler Sellers is a trained athlete and author with contributions to publications like Men’s Health, The Healthy, Fox Business, NerdWallet, Weight Watchers, and MSN. His unique approach extends beyond physical techniques, emphasizing the significance of mental techniques like the flow state and mind-muscle connection.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

You May Also Like

Your guide to Chest Pushups
By James Cunningham, BSc, CPT 18 hours ago
10 Best Push-Ups For a Big Chest (From a Trainer)
The Calisthenics Diet Plan How to Get the Best Results Featured Image
By Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT 3 days ago
The Calisthenics Diet Plan: How to Get the Best Results
man using pullup bar
By James Cunningham, BSc, CPT 3 days ago
10 Best Pull-Up Bar Exercises of All Time
Bowflex vs PowerBlocks Dumbbells
By James Cunningham, BSc, CPT 3 days ago
Bowflex vs Powerblocks Dumbbells (2024) Which Is Better?
mass gainer vs whey
By James Cunningham, BSc, CPT 4 days ago
Mass Gainer vs Whey Protein: Which One Should You Pick?

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Our scoring system is the result of objective testing data and subjective expert analysis by a team of fitness coaches and medical experts. Our scoring factors are weighted based on importance. For more information, see our product review guidelines.