17 Best Cable Shoulder Exercises

Cable Shoulder Exercises

The shoulders are a relatively small muscle group. But they can take forever to train because you must hit them from multiple angles. Not to mention the time wasted changing weight plates or swapping dumbbells.

Fortunately, using the cable apparatus can significantly reduce time spent in the gym while increasing workout intensity. This article shows you 17 unique cable shoulder exercises to grow your delts faster than free weights.

What Are Cable Shoulder Exercises?

Unlike free weights, this apparatus utilizes an adjustable weight stack for resistance. A cable runs through several pulleys and connects to handles that you use to perform various exercises.

Cable shoulder exercises use single handles, bars, or rope attachments to enable you to train your deltoid muscles from multiple angles.

Benefits of Cable Shoulder Exercises

Most bodybuilders use barbells, dumbbells, and machines for their shoulder workouts. And maybe head to the cables to do a few sets of lateral raises before calling it a day.

However, cable exercises offer several distinct advantages over free weights. And you might want to consider using cables for more exercises during your shoulder workouts.

Here are the benefits of cable shoulder exercises:

  • Perform dozens of shoulder exercises with one piece of equipment
  • Constant tension throughout the range of motion
  • Can work both arms or one arm at a time
  • Train shoulders in less time
  • No need to lug around weight plates or dumbbells
  • Easy to do drop sets or supersets
  • Safer than free weights

Muscles Worked by Cable Shoulder Exercises

Before getting into the cable shoulder exercises, it’s vital to understand shoulder anatomy. This way, you’ll know which exercises to use to target specific areas of your shoulder.

The deltoid muscle comprises three separate muscles called the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoid. In layman’s terms, the anterior is the front, the lateral is the side, and the posterior is the rear.

Shoulder Muscle Anatomy

Anterior Deltoid

The anterior deltoid is the front of the shoulder, closest to your chest. As a result, it adds thickness to the front of your shoulder and makes you stronger on exercises such as the bench press.

The anterior delt gets worked during compound exercises like the overhead press. But you can also isolate it using different variations of the front raise exercise.

Lateral Deltoid

The lateral deltoid is on the side of your shoulder between the front and back. This deltoid muscle adds width to your shoulders, making them look wider.

The lateral delt gets worked to some extent during pressing exercises. But it’s best isolated using lateral or side raises.

Posterior Deltoid

The posterior deltoid is located on the back of your shoulder near your traps and rhomboids. And it adds thickness to your shoulders when viewed from the side or back.

The rear delt gets worked along with the traps and upper back on exercises like high rows. While it’s tricky to isolate, you can hit it more directly using rear delt fly variations.

Best Cable Shoulder Exercises

Now let’s get into the best cable shoulder exercises for blasting your deltoids. This list is divided into exercises that target the front, side, and rear delts. So you can find specific exercises more easily.

Front Delt Cable Shoulder Exercises

These cable shoulder exercises include presses and front raises to focus on building your anterior deltoids.

1. Single Cable Overhead Press

You can use the single cable overhead press as an alternative to the traditional standing barbell shoulder press.

First, hook a straight bar attachment to the end of the cable and set the pulley at a low position. Now grab the bar with an overhand grip and lift it to your chest, so your hands and elbows are under the bar.

From this starting position, press the bar overhead until your elbows fully extend. Then lower the bar back to your chest.

2. Kneeling Shoulder Press

Taller lifters might find that the weight stack tops out when doing standing overhead presses on the cable apparatus. If that happens, set the pulley at the lowest position, and kneel in front of the cable to start.

From this position, you should be able to fully extend your arms on the overhead press. And kneeling takes away your leg drive, so you can’t use any momentum or cheat on the exercise.

3. Dual Cable Overhead Press

Instead of a single cable and bar attachment, you can also use two cables with a single hand attachment. This variation forces each arm to work independently like a dumbbell shoulder press.

Start by setting both pulleys at a low position. Then grab one handle in each hand and stand directly in the center of both cables.

Now lift the handles up to your shoulders, so your hands and elbows are directly underneath. From here, press the handles overhead until your arms are fully extended.

4. Seated Cable Military Press

You can also do the dual cable overhead press while kneeling or seated to ensure a full range of motion or to make your form more strict.

For the seated variation, center a bench directly between both low pulleys. Then perform the exercise as you would standing.

5. Single Cable Front Raise

Front raises are excellent for targeting the anterior and lateral delts with little help from other muscle groups. As such, they are considered a shoulder isolation exercise.

First, stand with the pulley on one side and the cable behind you. Then step forward slightly so your hand is by the side of your thigh or slightly behind. Now perform the front raise movement.

Allowing your arm to travel behind your torso puts slightly more tension on the muscle in the stretched position.

Cable Shoulder Exercises Single Front Raise

6. Cable Front Raise (between legs)

You can also do the cable front raise exercise with both arms simultaneously. This variation allows you to lift more weight and save time compared to the single-arm version.

tart by setting the pulley at the lowest position near the floor. Next, stand with the pulley between your legs and your back to the cable.

Begin with your hands by the front of your thighs. Then lift your hands up and away from your body without bending your arms.

You can use a bar handle or rope attachment for this exercise, whichever is most comfortable.

Side Delt Cable Shoulder Exercises

Next up are cable shoulder exercises for targeting your side delt. This section includes a few different variations of the lateral raise movement.

7. Single Cable Lateral Raise (across front)

In execution, the cable lateral raise is close to the dumbbell lateral raise. Start by setting the pulley low to the floor. You can use a single handle or hold the cable.

Next, stand with your hand across the front of your body before performing the lateral raise movement. With this variation, you keep tension on the side delt even at the bottom of the range of motion.

Cable Shoulder Exercises Single Lateral Raise

8. Single Cable Lateral Raise (behind back)

Let’s stick with the single cable lateral raise setup for one more variation. But this time, start by reaching behind your back to grab the cable.

You’ll feel more stretch in the front and side delts when you do the lateral raise behind the back.

9. Cable Crossover Lateral Raise

Another way to do the cable lateral raise involves two cables. First, grab the one to your left with your right hand and vice versa. Then start with your hands in front of your body.

Next, you perform the lateral raise movement as you would with two dumbbells. The cables should make an “X” shape across the front of your body at the top as illustrated below.

Cable Shoulder Exercises Crossover Lateral Raise

Rear Delt Cable Shoulder Exercises

Finally, we have cable shoulder exercises for hitting the rear delts. These include reverse flies and high pulling/rowing movements.

10. Single Cable Rear Delt Fly

The cable machine is a great way to perform a standing rear delt fly with one arm at a time. Start by setting the pulley at about shoulder height. Then grab the cable or single-hand attachment by reaching across your body.

Now pull your arm back across your body while keeping your elbow relatively straight. Repeat this motion for the desired number of reps.

11. Cable Crossover Rear Delt Fly

Another way to do the cable rear delt fly involves two cables. First, set the pulleys at just above head level. Then, reach across your body to grab the cable on the opposite side of each hand.

Next, perform the rear delt fly movement by pulling the cables down and back at about a 45-degree angle to target the rear delts.

12. Cable Upright Row

The cable upright row is another solid rear delt exercise. Again, you can use a bar, dual handle, or rope attachment for this variation.

One benefit of upright rows with the cable is taking a step or two back from the low pulley. This stance makes the exercise like a hybrid between an upright row and a face pull.

Cable Shoulder Exercises Upright Row

13. Cable Face Pull

The face pull is essentially the same movement as the upright row, except the pulley is about head level. With the higher pulling angle, your shoulders rotate externally, incorporating the rear delt.

When doing this exercise, your hands pull towards your forehead. However, it’s best to think about pulling through your elbows to get your mind to connect to your rear delts.

Related: Mind Muscle Connection Tips

14. Cable High Row

The cable high row is like a cross between a lat pulldown and a low pulley row. This unique angle works different parts of your back and incorporates more rear delts.

To begin, set the pulley to the highest position, so it’s above head level when standing. Then attach an EZ bar or dual strap handle.

Grab the handle and step back with your feet staggered for support. Start with extended arms, then pull the handle down and back towards your chest.

Other Cable Shoulder Exercises

No shoulder workout should be complete without an exercise for your traps! So this section includes a shrug variation and a couple of exercises for warming up or burning out your shoulders.

15. Cable Shrugs

Usually, you train your traps with heavy dumbbell or barbell shrugs. But you can also do them on the cable apparatus using a low pulley setup.

This exercise can use a straight bar, EZ bar, or rope attachment. Start by grabbing the handle with an overhand grip and standing close to the cable so your hands sit on the front of your thighs.

Now pull your shoulders up towards your ears without bending your arms. Then slowly lower the weight down to the starting position.

16. Cable Internal Shoulder Rotation

The cable internal rotation exercise is excellent for working the stabilizer muscles in the front of your shoulder. And it is a good warm-up for your rotator cuff.

To perform this exercise, set the pulley at navel level. Then grasp a single handle in one hand and step out with your side facing the pulley.

With your arm bent 90 degrees, rotate your hand inward towards your body while keeping your elbow locked at your side. Then switch sides and perform the exercise with your other arm.

17. Cable External Shoulder Rotation

As with the front of the shoulder, it’s a good idea to warm up your rear delt with an external rotation. This exercise strengthens the rotator cuff and stabilizer muscles of the shoulder.

To perform this exercise, set the pulley at waist level. Then grasp a single handle in one hand and step out, so the cable crosses in front of you.

With your arm bent 90 degrees, rotate your hand outward away from your body while keeping your elbow locked at your side. Then switch sides and perform the exercise with your other arm.

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Cable Shoulder Workout

I recommend including at least a couple of these cable shoulder exercises in your next shoulder workout. But, if you want, you could do an entire shoulder workout on the cables!

One advantage of this workout is that you can rapidly change the weight between sets, which saves time. In addition, you can move from one exercise to the next by simply changing the attachment and/or adjusting the height of the pulley.

I’ve included a mix of compound and isolation exercises in the following cable shoulder workout. You’ll also notice the rep range varies from 5-20, which balances strength and hypertrophy training.

Finally, I’ve included intensity techniques such as drop sets and supersets to make this work out more challenging.

Cable Shoulder Workout

  • Warm Up: Internal/External Rotation – 3 sets, 15-20 reps
  • Cable Front Raise – 5 sets, 8-12 reps (pre-exhaust superset)
  • Cable Overhead Press – 5 sets, 5-10 reps
  • Single Cable Lateral Raise – 5 sets 8-12 reps
  • Face Pulls – 3 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Cable Shrugs – 5 sets, 10-15 reps
Cable Shoulder Workout

More Shoulder Exercises

The cable shoulder exercises you just learned are excellent for hitting all three heads of the deltoids. But you might want to include some barbells, dumbbells, or other equipment, depending on your gym setup.

So click the links below for shoulder exercises that go above and beyond the cable apparatus.

23 Best Front Delt Exercises

Top 25 Side Delt Exercises

23 Challenging Rear Delt Exercises

11 Resistance Band Shoulder Exercises

Best Compound Shoulder Exercises For Mass

If you feel you’ve got a good handle on shoulder exercises, check out some of my other fitness-related content below. These articles include topics covering all things bodybuilding, nutrition, and supplements.

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