June 3, 2024

The Only 6 Cable Shoulder Exercises You Need

By Luis Centeno
The Only 6 Cable Shoulder Exercises You Need

Shoulder workouts are not everyone’s favorite, primarily because they require very precise movements to effectively target the muscles for hypertrophy. 

This is particularly true for exercises like lateral shoulder raises, which can be challenging for beginners to perform correctly without mistakes.

But what if we told you that with cable workouts, all of this can be much better? 

In fact, you only need six exercises to build strong shoulder muscles.

And strong shoulders are especially important for guys to have that complete “boulder shoulder”, superhero look which is highly sought after.

For women, shoulder muscles help define the upper body figure and can accentuate the hourglass curves.

For everyone, shoulders are important to help stabilize all other upper-body movements. 

That’s why in this article, we will introduce you to six of the best cable shoulder exercises you need to strengthen and build your shoulder muscles. Let’s get started.

Understanding Shoulder Muscles

Before we dive into the shoulder exercises, it's important to have a basic understanding of the shoulder muscles and their functions. This knowledge will help you better comprehend the exercises we recommend and help you build lean muscle. Let's start with deltoids.

Shoulder Muscle Anatomy

Deltoids

The deltoid muscle is a large, triangular muscle that covers the shoulder. It's named "deltoid" because it looks like the Greek letter Delta (Δ), which is shaped like a triangle. 

It is divided into three distinct parts:

  • Anterior Deltoid: Located at the front of the shoulder, this muscle is responsible for shoulder flexion (lifting the arm forward) and internal rotation. It is heavily involved in pushing movements, such as bench presses and shoulder presses.

  • Medial (Lateral) Deltoid: Situated on the side of the shoulder, the medial deltoid is key for shoulder abduction (lifting the arm out to the side). It contributes to the width and roundness of the shoulders, playing a major role in exercises like lateral raises.

  • Posterior Deltoid: Found at the back of the shoulder, this muscle aids in shoulder extension (moving the arm backward) and external rotation. It is crucial for pulling movements, such as rows and face pulls, and helps improve posture by balancing the strength of the anterior deltoid.

Rotator Cuff Muscles

These muscles work together to keep the head of your upper arm bone (humerus) firmly within the shallow socket of your shoulder blade. 

They allow you to lift, rotate, and move your arm in different directions while keeping your shoulder stable and secure. 

These muscles are:

  • Supraspinatus: This muscle sits on the top of your shoulder blade. It helps lift your arm up.

  • Infraspinatus: This muscle is located below the supraspinatus, on the back of your shoulder blade. It helps rotate your arm outward.

  • Teres Minor: This small muscle is just below the infraspinatus. It also helps rotate your arm outward.

  • Subscapularis: This muscle is on the front of your shoulder blade, facing your body. It helps rotate your arm inward.

Internal Rotators of Shoulders

The internal rotators of the shoulders are muscles that help turn your arm inward. 

Think of when you’re reaching across your body to scratch your back or give yourself a hug, those movements use internal rotators. 

These muscles include:

  • Subscapularis: This muscle is part of the rotator cuff. It's located on the front side of your shoulder blade and helps rotate your arm inward.

  • Pectoralis Major: This is a large chest muscle. It also helps bring your arm inward and across your body.

  • Latissimus Dorsi: Often called the "lats," this muscle is on your back and sides. It helps pull your arm down and in toward your body.

  • Teres Major: This small muscle is located below the shoulder blade and helps rotate the arm inward.

  • Anterior Deltoid: This is the front part of the deltoid muscle, which also assists in turning the arm inward.

Cable Machines for Shoulder Workouts

Functional Trainers

Functional trainers are like the Swiss Army knives of cable machines. They're super flexible and can do a lot of different things. 

These machines have two arms that you can move around in all sorts of directions. 

You can adjust the arms up or down, and you can even move them in or out. 

This means you can do exercises that mimic real-life movements, like swinging a tennis racket or reaching up to put something on a high shelf. 

They are great for working your shoulders in a way that's practical and mimics everyday activities, blending functional training with traditional weight lifting.

Compact Cable Machines

Imagine a mini version of the traditional cable machine that fits right into your home, ideal for home workouts.

Compact cable machines are like the little brother of the big gym machines. 

They don't take up much space but still let you do lots of different exercises. 

They usually have one stack of weights and a few different spots where you can hook the cable. 

Modern all-in-one machines are also compact cable machines.

This means you can still work out your shoulders and the rest of your body without needing a huge machine.

Wall-Mounted Cable Stations

Wall-mounted cable stations are exactly as they sound: fixed in place and immobile, making them perfect for working out during winter when you might prefer staying indoors more.

You can attach handles to the cables and use them just like you would with other cable machines. 

They are excellent for standing exercises, such as when you pull the handles to work your shoulder muscles. 

Plus, they're conveniently out of the way when not in use, making them perfect for tight spaces. An example of one is the Tonal.

Why Cable Pulley Machines Are More Effective for Shoulders

Exercises are not only about building muscles; by switching things up from dumbbells to cables, you keep your workouts fresh and interesting.

This is the key to consistently exercising over time, which not only benefits you physically but also supports your mental health.

Cable Machines Provide Continuous Tension

When you use a cable machine, your muscles are always working, from the start of the exercise to the end. 

This is because the cable provides a steady resistance. 

Think of trying to push a car that keeps rolling back slightly; you have to keep pushing constantly to move it forward. 

That's what constant tension is like.

This constant tension during a workout helps in building muscle endurance and strength more effectively and can lead to better muscle hypertrophy.

You Can Do Multiple Shoulder Workouts on Cable Machines

Cable machines are built for multipurpose use, which means you can do a whole bunch of different exercises with just one piece of equipment.

It's like having a whole gym in one machine. You can adjust the height, change the handles, and move in all sorts of directions. 

This lets you work out different parts of your body, like your arms, legs, chest, and especially your shoulders, in many ways. 

It's super handy because you can switch up your routine and keep challenging your muscles in new ways, which is key to getting fitter and stronger.

Cable machines allow for a wide range of exercises targeting different parts of the shoulder muscles. You can adjust the angle and height of the pulleys to focus on specific muscle groups.

This versatility makes it easier to work all parts of the shoulder, including the anterior, medial, and posterior deltoids, as well as the rotator cuff muscles. 

Plus, it keeps your workout interesting, allowing you to continually mix things up and stay motivated toward your goal, whether it's losing weight or generally getting fit

Cable Machines are Safer

Cable machines provide better control over movements during a workout. 

When you lift weights with control, you're making sure that the right muscles are doing the work without any jerky movements. 

This helps you get stronger in the right places and protects you from getting hurt. 

The controlled movement patterns provided by the cables minimize the risk of improper form and sudden drops in weight. This is key when safely strive for personal records, if that's something you're aiming for.

This makes cable machines particularly better for beginners or those recovering from shoulder injuries.

You Can Better Isolate Specific Shoulder Muscles

Cables allow for precise targeting of specific shoulder muscles, which is also possible with dumbbells but can be harder as the amount of weight you lift gradually increases.

This isolation helps in correcting muscle imbalances and strengthening weaker areas, leading to better overall shoulder development and supporting your long-term health goals.

6 Effective Cable Shoulder Exercises

So here we are. Now that you know the basics of shoulder muscles and why exactly we are recommending cable exercises, here are the exercises that you need to build strong shoulders.

1. Cable Shoulder Press

Target Area: Overall Shoulder

Difficulty: Moderate. Requires good form and control to avoid straining the shoulder joints.

Benefits:

  • Enhances overall shoulder strength and stability.
  • Engages the core for additional balance and support.

How to Do It:

  1. Attach a straight bar to the low pulley on a cable machine.
  2. Stand facing away from the machine, holding the bar at shoulder height with an overhand grip.
  3. Press the bar upward until your arms are fully extended.
  4. Slowly lower the bar back to shoulder height.

Variations:

  • Single-arm cable shoulder press: Focuses on each shoulder individually.
  • Seated cable shoulder press: Provides more stability and isolates the shoulders.

2. Cable Front Raise

Target Area: Front Delt

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate. Maintain a slow, controlled motion to avoid swinging.

How to Do It:

  1. Attach a straight bar or rope to the low pulley.
  2. Stand facing the machine, holding the bar/rope with an overhand grip.
  3. Keeping your arms straight, raise the bar/rope in front of you to shoulder height.
  4. Lower it back down slowly.

Benefits:

  • Isolates the front deltoids, enhancing shoulder definition.
  • Helps improve shoulder mobility and strength.

3. Single Side Cable Lateral Raises

Target Area: Middle Delt

Difficulty: Moderate. The leaning variation offers a greater range of motion and isolation.

Benefits:

  • Emphasizes the middle deltoids for broader shoulders.
  • Improves shoulder symmetry and stability.

How to Do It (Standing):

  1. Attach a single handle to the low pulley.
  2. Stand sideways to the machine, holding the handle in your outside hand.
  3. With a slight bend in your elbow, raise your arm out to the side until it’s parallel to the floor.
  4. Lower it back down slowly.

How to Do It (Leaning):

  1. Lean against a stable object with your inside arm for support.
  2. Perform the same movement as the standing variation.

4. Cable Face Pulls

Target Area: Rear Delt

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate. Focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the rear deltoids and upper back.
  • Improves posture and shoulder stability.

How to Do It:

  1. Attach a rope to the high pulley.
  2. Stand facing the machine, holding the rope with both hands, arms extended.
  3. Pull the rope towards your face, separating your hands as you pull.
  4. Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the peak of the movement, then return to the starting position.

5. Cable Shoulder Shrug

Target Area: Traps

Difficulty: Easy. Ensure a full range of motion for maximum benefit.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the trapezius muscles.
  • Enhances neck and upper back stability.

How to Do It:

  1. Attach a straight bar to the low pulley.
  2. Stand facing the machine, holding the bar with an overhand grip.
  3. Lift your shoulders straight up towards your ears.
  4. Hold for a moment, then slowly lower them back down.

6. Cable Internal/External Rotation

Target Area: Shoulder Health

How to Do It (Internal Rotation):

  1. Attach a single handle to the low pulley.
  2. Stand sideways to the machine, holding the handle with the arm closest to the machine.
  3. Keep your elbow tucked to your side, and rotate your forearm towards your abdomen.
  4. Return to the starting position.

How to Do It (External Rotation):

  1. Stand sideways to the machine, holding the handle with the arm farthest from the machine.
  2. Keep your elbow tucked to your side, and rotate your forearm away from your body.
  3. Return to the starting position.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the rotator cuff muscles.
  • Enhances shoulder stability and reduces injury risk.

Difficulty: Easy. Focus on slow, controlled movements for maximum benefit.

Full Shoulder Workout Routines Examples for each Split

Whether you're targeting shoulders and arms together, focusing on a push day, or incorporating shoulders into a full-body workout, these routines will help you upgrade your shoulder training.

Choose the routine that matches your workout split and see your shoulder strength and definition improve.

Shoulders and Arms Day

This routine focuses on working the shoulders and arms together, ensuring that you hit all the major muscle groups in your upper body. 

By pairing shoulder exercises with arm workouts, you can achieve balanced muscle development and prevent overtraining.

Routine Breakdown:

  • Warm-Up: 5-10 minutes of light cardio (e.g., jogging, jumping jacks) and dynamic stretching.
  • Cable Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Cable Front Raise: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Single Side Cable Lateral Raises: 3 sets of 12-15 reps per side
  • Cable Bicep Curl: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Cable Tricep Pushdown: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Cable Face Pulls: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Cool-Down: 5-10 minutes of stretching, focusing on the shoulders and arms

Alternative Dumbbell Exercises (for variety):

  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press: Can be substituted for Cable Shoulder Press.
  • Dumbbell Lateral Raise: An Alternative to Single Side Cable Lateral Raises.
  • Dumbbell Front Raise: Instead of Cable Front Raise.

Push Day (Shoulder Focus)

This routine combines shoulder exercises with chest and triceps exercises, providing a balanced push workout that focuses on shoulder development.

Routine Breakdown:

  • Warm-Up: 5-10 minutes of light cardio and dynamic stretching.
  • Cable Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Incline Cable Chest Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Cable Front Raise: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Cable Tricep Overhead Extension: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Single Side Cable Lateral Raises: 3 sets of 12-15 reps per side
  • Cable Face Pulls: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Cool-Down: 5-10 minutes of stretching, focusing on the chest, shoulders, and triceps

Push Day (Chest Focus)

This routine combines shoulder exercises as a supplement to a chest-focused workout, making sure that the shoulders are still engaged without overshadowing chest development.

Routine Breakdown:

  • Warm-Up: 5-10 minutes of light cardio and dynamic stretching.
  • Cable Chest Flys: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Cable Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Flat Cable Chest Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Cable Front Raise: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Cable Face Pulls: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Cable Tricep Pushdown: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Cool-Down: 5-10 minutes of stretching, focusing on the chest, shoulders, and triceps

Full Body Shoulder Supplement

In this routine, we are adding essential cable shoulder exercises into your full-body workout again to make sure the shoulder muscles are adequately trained while maintaining a balanced overall workout routine. 

Feel free to replace the non-shoulder exercises with your typical full-body exercises; those listed are there as examples.

Routine Breakdown:

  • Warm-Up: 5-10 minutes of light cardio and dynamic stretching.
  • Cable Squats: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Cable Deadlifts: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Leg Extensions: 4 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Cable Rows: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Cable Chest Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Cable Chest Fly: 3 sets of 12-15 reps

Shoulder Supplement - Choose 1-2 to add to your full body routine.

  • Cable Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Cable Front Raise: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Cable Face Pulls: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
  • Cool-Down: 5-10 minutes of stretching, focusing on all major muscle groups

If you are looking for a comprehensive workout that targets every body part in a short amount of time and doesn't require any equipment, then check out our guide to prison workout.

Conclusion

And there you have it. The only 6 cable exercises you need to build stronger, fuller shoulders and exactly how you can add them to your workout routine. 

So, next time you hit the gym, give these cable shoulder exercises a try and watch your shoulders transform. 

You can also include dumbbell workouts every now and then, alternating between dumbbells one week and cables the next.

This variety ensures you don’t get bored with your exercises.

If you're tired of your normal routine and want to switch things up with the top-rated fitness classes and persona training in Chicago, come check us out, and as bonus, mention this article and we’ll give you a free class! 

By Luis Centeno

Luis Centeno is the Founder, Owner + Lead Trainer at FIT RESULTS ®️ Second Chance turned entrepreneur Changing lives through fitness. Master Trainer Certified (Personal Training, Strength Training Specialist, Nutrition Specialist, Endurance Specialist, Nutrition Coach, S + C Coach. Passionate about helping others reach their personal goals. The more lives I can help change, the better I feel about the big task that is at hand to make the world a better place.

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