cable exercises for shoulders
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15 Cable Exercises For Shoulders To Help Sculpt Your Body

The shoulders are the most visible muscles in your body. Whether you are wearing a t-shirt, a tank top, or a suit jacket, well-developed deltoids will set you apart as an athlete, giving you that much-coveted Upper Body V Shape. So, what’s the secret to great delt development? 

Cable exercises.

When you train your shoulders with cables you can hit them from every conceivable angle. That is ideal for working this multi-faceted muscle group while being friendlier on your shoulder joints.

Cable machines also provide constant tension to provide greater time under tension. In addition, cable exercises provide maximum load at the start of the exercise, which naturally fits the strength curve.

Here are the 15 best cable machine shoulder exercises to blast your deltoids and develop boulder shoulders. 

1. Seated Front Cable Press

Muscles Worked: 

Anterior (front deltoids)

Equipment Used:

Double cable pulley station

Training Tips:

The ideal forward motion is to scoop your arms in an arcing motion rather than moving in a straight line.

How to Do It:

  1. Set the pulleys on a double cable pulley machine at shoulder height when seated.
  2. Place a low-back bench about three feet in front of the machine facing away from it.
  3. Grasp the cables with palms up and sit on the bench.
  4. Your starting position has the elbows at your sides. From here scoop your arms forward and slightly up to meet in front of your mid-chest.
  5. Lower and repeat.

2. Cable Side Lateral Raise

Muscles Worked:

Lateral (side) deltoids

Equipment Used:

Single cable station pulley

Training Tips:

Do not move higher than shoulder level or lower than thigh level. This will prevent momentum and keep the tension on the side deltoid.

How to Do It:

  1.  Set a cable pulley to waist level and stand side onto the machine, feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Grasp the cable with your outer hand at thigh level with a straight arm.
  3. Move your arm directly up and out to the side to the level of your shoulder.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.

3. Rear Delt Cable Flye

Muscles Worked:

Rear deltoids

Equipment Used:

Double cable pulley machine

Training Tips:

Maintain an upright body. Only bring the cables to the level of your shoulders on rear delt exercises.

How to Do It:

  1. Set the cable pulleys at waist height. Remove the handles from the cables.
  2. Grab the left cable with your right hand and the right cable with your left hand and stand back three feet from the machine. Your hands should be crossed over at your waist level.
  3. Bring your straightened arms up and across your body to the level of your shoulders.
  4. Lower and repeat.
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4. Cable Front Lateral Raise

Muscles Worked:

Front (anterior) deltoid

Equipment Used:

Single cable pulley machine

Training Tips:

Keep a strict range of motion between the level of your waist and shoulders to keep constant tension on the working muscle.

How to Do It:

  1. Set the pulley at its lowest level and put a straight bar attachment on the end of the cable. 
  2. Stand in front of the machine facing away from it with feet shoulder-width apart. Grab the bar with an overhand grip, with the cable coming up between your legs.
  3. With arms straight bring your bar up to shoulder level.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.

5. Single Arm Cable Press

Muscles Worked:

Anterior deltoid, lateral or middle delts

Equipment Used:

Single cable pulley machine

Training Tips:

Do not go too heavy on this exercise. Cables allow you to focus on constant tension and range of motion. If you overload the weight and use momentum, those benefits will be lost. Keep your core tight and maintain a neutral back.

How to Do It:

  1. Set the pulley at waist height and put a straight bar attachment on it. Grab the handle with an overhand grip, bringing it up to shoulder height as you face away from the machine.
  2. With elbows at shoulder level, press the cable up to full arm’s length. Stop just before elbow lockout to keep continual tension on your delts. 
  3. Lower and repeat.

6. Incline Cable Shoulder Press

Muscles Worked:

Anterior deltoids, lateral or middle delts

Equipment Used:

Double cable pulley machine

Training Tips:

Do not lockout at the top to keep constant tension on the front delts.

How to Do It:

  1. Set the pulleys at shin level. Place a 75-degree angled incline bench three feet in front of the machine, facing away from it.
  2. Lie on the bench with the cables in your hands.
  3. Press the cables up at a 75-degree angle, stopping just before lockout.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.

7. Cable Rear Delt Row

Muscles Worked:

Posterior (rear) deltoids, latissimus dorsi, trapezius

Equipment Used:

Seated row cable pulley machine

Training Tips:

Do not lean back as you pull the cable back. Stay upright and focus on pulling your shoulder blades together. Keep your chest up throughout the movement.

How to Do It:

  1. Position yourself on the seated row machine and grab the handles with a neutral grip. Your knees should be slightly bent and locked in that position.
  2. Pull the handles into your waist, pulling your shoulder blades together while maintaining a neutral spine position. 
  3. Lower under control and repeat.

8. Incline Cable Front Raises

Muscles Worked:

Anterior deltoids

Equipment Used:

Double cable pulley machine

Training Tips:

Maintain a strict range of motion between the levels of your waist and shoulders. Do not allow momentum to rob you of the benefit of this great isolation movement.

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How to Do It:

  1. Set the pulleys at shin level. Place a 75-degree angled incline bench three feet in front of the machine, facing away from it.
  2. Lie on the bench with the cables in your hands and by your sides.
  3. With arms straight, bring the cables up to shoulder level. Pause for a 2-second hold.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.

9. One Arm Rear Delt Flyes

Muscles Worked:

Posterior (rear) deltoids

Equipment Used:

Single cable pulley machine

Training Tips:

This is an isolation exercise for a small muscle group. keep the weight very light and do reps in the 15-30 range.

How to Do It:

  1. Set the pulley at shoulder level. Stand side onto the machine with feet about shoulder-width apart and grab the pulley with your outer arm.
  2. Straighten your arm out horizontally at shoulder level.
  3. Under control bring the cable back across the torso until it is perpendicular to your body.

10. Cable Shoulder Press

Muscles Worked:

Anterior deltoids, lateral or middle delts

Equipment Used:

Single cable pulley machine

Training Tips:

Maintain body control by keeping your movement strict and under control, with a neutral lower back. Do not buck with your hips to get the weight up.

How to Do It:

  1. Set the pulley at its lowest level.
  2. Stand facing the machine and grab the handle with an overhand grip, bringing it up to shoulder level.
  3. Press the bar directly overhead to full extension, but stopping just short of lockout.
  4. Lower to shoulder level and repeat. 

11. Incline Cable Lateral Raise

Muscles Worked:

Posterior deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids

Equipment Used:

Double cable pulley machine

Training Tips:

Do not go very heavy on these types of cable movements. You are targeting a small muscle on an isolation exercise. Focus on feeling the rear delts isolating and use reps between 15-30. 

How to Do It:

  1. Set the pulleys at their lowest level. Position a bench that is set to 75-degrees in front of the machine, facing it.
  2. Lie face down on the machine grab the right cable with your left hand and the left cable with your right hand.
  3. Bring your straightened arms out to the side to shoulder level.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.

12. Bent-Over Rear Delt Flyes

Muscles Worked:

Posterior deltoids

Equipment Used:

Double cable pulley machine

Training Tips:

Use a lightweight and concentrate on your form with reps between 15-30 for 3 or 4 sets on this bent-over raise.

How to Do It:

  1. Set the pulleys at their lowest level.
  2. Stand in front of the machine and grab the right cable with your left hand and the left cable with your right hand.
  3. Bend over at the waist so your torso is at a 45-degree angle to the floor.
  4. Bring your arms across and back to fully contract the rear delts.
  5. Return to the start position under control and repeat.
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13. Cable Upright Row

Muscles Worked:

Anterior delts, trapezius

Equipment Used:

Single pulley cable machine

Training Tips:

To keep the focus on the anterior delts, only come up to the level of your chin.

How to Do It:

  1. Set the pulley at its lowest level. stand facing the machine and grab the handle in both hands with an overhand grip.
  2. Pull the bar up to your body to the level of your chin. In the top position, your elbows should be above your hands.
  3. Lower under control and repeat.

14. Cable Shrug

Muscles Worked:

Upper trapezius, anterior deltoid

Equipment Used:

Double cable pulley machine

Training Tips:

Your range of movement should be straight up and down, rather than in a circular action.

How to Do It:

  1. Set the pulleys at their lowest level and grab the handles. Stand facing the machine.
  2. Shrug your shoulders directly up, imagining that you are going to touch your ears with your shoulders.
  3. Lower under control and repeat.

15. Cable Snow Angels

Muscles Worked:

Trapezius, anterior deltoid

Equipment Used:

Double cable pulley machine

Training Tips:

This is an isolation cable raise exercise. Use a light weight for reps in the 15-30 range for 3 sets.

How to Do It:

  1. Set the pulleys at their lowest level and grab the handles with a palms forward grip. Stand facing the machine with arms at your sides.
  2. Keep your arms straight bring them out and up in a circular motion to meet above your head. 
  3. Reverse the motion under control to return to the start position. 

Conclusion

You now have a huge arsenal of 15 fantastic cable machine exercises to isolate and hit your shoulders from every conceivable angle. When putting together your workout, choose an overall mass builder along with an exercise for each of the 3 deltoid heads. Here’s an example:

  • Cable Shoulder Press
  • Seated Front Cable Press
  • Cable Side Lateral Raise
  • Rear Delt Cable Flye

Perform 4 sets on each exercise, with reps ranging from 15 down to 6 and you will be well on your way to those super impressive huge, barn-door shoulders.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I make my shoulders rounder?

Roundness in the shoulders comes from developing the lateral, or middle delts. The best exercise to work this muscle is the side cable lateral raise. Put this exercise first in your shoulder workout to bring out greater shoulder roundness. 

How often should I train shoulders?

You should train your shoulders every 5 days. That will allow the muscles to recover from the previous workout, regrow, and be primed for your next session.

How many shoulder exercises should I do?

You should do around 16 sets in total for your shoulders. That should be broken down into at least 3 exercises; one that targets each of the 3 heads of the deltoids. I recommend doing an additional 4th exercise as a general shoulder mass builder. 

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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