You've worked out for years but still can't seem to build your shoulders up as much as you'd like. Maybe it's time you found out what the most effective cable shoulder exercises are.

Get a better understanding of some of the benefits and start using one of our muscle-building cable shoulder workouts.

Do these exercises consistently, and watch as your shoulders transform and improve. You won't believe how quickly you'll start seeing results. 

There are plenty of exercises that you can use to train your shoulders, using the cable machine as part of your shoulder workout will ensure the joint moves through extensive range of motion and the muscles experience constant tension. 

The most effective cable machine shoulder exercises targets all three portions of the deltoids, the three separate muscles that make up your shoulder.

Anterior Deltoid

The anterior deltoid, also referred to as the front delt, sits at the front of the shoulder joint. The function of this muscle is the move your arm in front of your body and it helps you turn your shoulders inwards (internal rotation).

The main action of the front delt is to raise the arm up over head and it's the primary mover in vertical pushing movements such as overhead press. It's also involved in lots of horizontal pushing exercises such as bench press, therefore, it's the most often trained muscle out of the three delt muscles.

Lateral Deltoid

The lateral deltoid is also called the side delt, middle deltoid or medial deltoid. This muscle sits between the anterior and posterior deltoids. This muscle is responsible for moving your arm out to the side (abduction).

The middle delt plays a role in overhead pressing movements but to target this muscle specifically, lateral raises is the optimal exercise.

Posterior Deltoid

The posterior deltoid, or rear delt, sits at the back of the shoulder joint. This muscle is responsible for moving the shoulder in horizontal abduction when the shoulder is internally rotated. It also plays a part in shoulder extension when the arms are extended behind you and the external (outwards) rotation of the shoulder.

Many people forget about training the rear delt, mostly because they are located at the back. But it's important to train this muscle as well in order to have well-rounded shoulder strength.

The rear delt acts as a stabilizer in movement such as overhead press, so in order to isolate this muscle you need to do a rear delt fly. 

The Deltoid Anatomy

Rotator Cuff & Traps 

The exercises I'm explaining in this article targets all three muscles in the shoulders. The cable machine also improves strength and function of the rotator cuff, which is vital for strong and well-functioning shoulders.

The trapezius, also known as the traps, is the triangular shaped upper back muscle that extends from the bottom of your skull to the lower thoracic (mid-back) vertebrae of the spine. 

Its main function is to support your head moving and to stabilize the arm during pushing and pulling movements. Traps play an important part in shoulder exercises, especially overhead pressing. The traps are involved in some degree in shoulder exercises using the cables. 

shoulder muscle and where they are located

11 Best Cable Shoulder Exercises And How To Do Them Correctly

As you can see, the cable machine targets all the muscles in the shoulder joint. The time under tension and ability to target the muscles from many different angles makes the cable machine a solid choice in your upper body day. 

Here are my top 11 cable shoulder exercises plus an explanation on how to do them correctly to improve your shoulder shape, size and strength. 

1. Cable Lateral Raise

Man Doing Cable Lateral Raise Exercise In The Gym

The cable lateral raise is a great exercise to target the lateral head of the deltoid muscle, also known as the medial deltoid or middle delt. In addition, it works the anterior deltoid (but to a lesser extent).

Studies show that the cable lateral raise exercise also helps to strengthen the infraspinatus and subscapularis muscles within the rotator cuff.

This helps to ensure that a variety of shoulder movements, including internal and external rotations, function without difficulty.[1]

When you perform lateral raises, you can either use both arms, or it can be done as a single arm lateral raise.

Using one arm makes the exercise more challenging and helps to specifically target the deltoid muscle group more.


  • Improves symmetry to both sides by working the shoulders individually. 
  • Improves shape, making the shoulders look rounder.
  • Targets weaknesses and imbalances very effectively.

How To Do A Cable Lateral Raise:

  1. Stand beside the machine with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Using your outside arm (the arm furthest away from the machine), hold onto the cable pulley handle at waist height.
  3. Keeping your arm straight, lift up and out, bringing your hand to shoulder height.
  4. Hold for 4 seconds and slowly return to starting position.
  5. Aim for 4 sets of 10-15 reps per arm.

Tips From A Trainer!

To increase the challenge without adding weight you can add a pause at the top of the movement and then lower the weight slowly to the starting position.

2. Cable Shoulder Press

Woman Doing Cable Shoulder Press Exercise

The cable shoulder press is ideal for targeting both your front and rear delts equally.

Your anterior deltoids (front delts) are engaged to drive the weight up, while your posterior deltoid muscle (the rear delt) keeps your arms from dropping forward.

This variation is particularly easy on the shoulder joints, so it’s ideal for people with existing shoulder pain or shoulder joint injuries.

Compared to the dumbbell shoulder press, using a cable helps ensure constant tension, and more muscle fibers are used.

Additionally, you can train both arms simultaneously or opt for an alternating press.


  • Targets all three deltoid muscles.
  • Safe and efficient way to increase way to increase the amount of volume for the shoulders.
  • Offers a smooth and controlled motion to train the shoulder joint.

How To Do A Cable Shoulder Press:

  1. Using the straight bar attachment, set the cable to its lowest position.
  2. With an overhand grip on the handles, bring your hands up into the starting shoulder press position.
  3. Keep your core tight and drive your hands up before slowly returning to the starting position.
  4. Ensure that you maintain your form and keep your hands in alignment with your elbows throughout the movement
  5. Aim for 4 sets of 10-15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

You can also perform this exercise with the seperate handle attachments if you want to improve imbalances between the two sides.

3. Single Arm Leaning Cable Lateral Raises

Man Doing Single Arm Leaning Cable Lateral Raises

This leaning variation of the single arm lateral raise is an excellent isolation exercise for building stronger shoulders.

When using dumbbells, there is no tension applied on the side delt at the bottom of the rep. However, when using cable machines, tension is spread throughout the entire rep.

Additionally, studies show that the side deltoid muscle is more active at the end of the range of motion.

When executing this single arm cable exercise, leaning helps you to extend the range of motion, thereby maximizing your deltoid development to achieve those barn door shoulders!


  • Strengthens stabalizer muscles in your shoulder.
  • Improves size and symmetry between the two sides.
  • Ideal for muscle hypertrophy and perfect for drop sets.

How To Do Single Arm Leaning Cable Lateral Raises:

  1. Using the single handle attachment, set the cable to its lowest position.
  2. Stand with one foot in front of the other, and position the cable between your legs.
  3. Using the hand closest to the machine, hold onto the weight column and lean away from the machine. Avoid elbow lockout and ensure a slight bend in your elbow.
  4. Raise your arm up and out, bringing your hands to shoulder level.
  5. When your upper arm is parallel to the floor, stop and hold for 4 seconds.
  6. Slowly return your arm to the starting position.
  7. Aim for 4 sets of 10-15 reps per arm.

Tips From A Trainer!

You get the most out of this exercise by doing medium to high reps with moderate to lighter weight, this exercise is not the most suitable for strength, it's perfect for muscle growth.  

4. Cable Front Raise

Man In Blue Shirt Doing Cable Front Raises

If you want to target the anterior deltoid, a cable front raise is your solution. Anterior deltoids are the front side of the delt.

When combined with lateral raises, doing this exercise with a cable machine (rather than anterior raises with dumbbells) ensures that your delts are under constant tension and will help you get those boulder shoulders within no time!

This cable machine exercise can be done using both hands or as a single arm cable exercises to target the anterior deltoid even more.


  • Improves function of the shoulder.
  • Better shoulder strength and muscular development. 

How To Do A Cable Front Raise:

  1. With either the rope attachment or straight bar, use the cable at its lowest position.
  2. In a neutral stance, stand with your back to the weight stack and the cable between your legs.
  3. With the palms forward grip, hold the rope with each hand.
  4. Brace your core and bring your arms up in front of you. Ensure that you keep your arms straight.
  5. Lift your hands to shoulder level and hold for 4 seconds.
  6. Slowly lower your arms back to starting position.
  7. Aim for a total of 4 sets of 10-15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you feel yourself rocking forwards to lift the weight, likely you've gone too heavy. Choose a weight you can maintain a stable torso and keep the movement controlled at all times.  

5. Bent Over Low Pulley Rear Delt Fly

Woman Doing Bent Over Low Pulley Rear Delt Fly in The Gym

This exercise is a variation of the bent-over rear delt fly used with dumbbells. If you're looking for more rear delt exercises, you'll definitely want to include bent-over rear delt flys into your list of isolation exercises.

The posterior deltoids (or rear delts) are essential shoulder muscles used in many pulling movements.

Doing this exercise standing up straight (rather than a bent over raise) will allow you to target more of your lats and rhomboids along with your delts - similar to a cable pull up exercise.


  • Better muscle growth due to constant tension.
  • One of the best exercises for targeting the anterior deltoid. 

How To Do Bent Over Low Pulley Rear Delt Fly:

  1. Position two cables at the bottom of the cable machine, with the handle attachment on each cable.
  2. Hold the left cable in your right hand and vice versa to form an X with the cables.
  3. Hinge forward at the hips, with your knees slightly bent, like you would if doing a bent-over row.
  4. Pull the handles out laterally (sideways) while keeping a slight bend in the elbows. Avoid overly contracting your shoulder blades.
  5. Hold for 4 seconds at the top of the rep, then slowly lower your hands back to the starting position.
  6. Aim for a total of 4 sets of 10-15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Focus on contracting your shoulder blades to keep them down and prevent the shoulders shrugging upwards as you lift the weight forwards.  

6. Standing Cable Rear Delt Row

Man In Black T-shirt Doing Standing Cable Rear Delt Rows

Another cable machine exercise that focuses on the rear delts (or posterior deltoid). This one also works the traps, rhomboids, and biceps too.

When doing this upper body exercise, you want to focus on pulling up with your elbows rather than with your biceps.

Although similar, this exercise should not be confused with cable face pulls.


  • Balances out pushing exercises, such as bench press.
  • Isolates and targets rear delts which can be a neglected area.
  • Improves overall shoulder strength and posture.

How To Do A Cable Rear Delt Row:

  1. Connect the rope attachment to the pulley and use the cable at its highest position.
  2. Grasp the rope with each hand with a neutral grip, keeping your arms straight. Bring your hands down to shoulder level.
  3. Step back a few feet from the cable machine with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
  4. Drive your hands in toward your chest while flaring your elbows out. Ensure that you keep your elbows up and in line with your shoulder joint/ shoulder blades throughout the movement.
  5. Hold for 4 seconds and then slowly bring your arms forward again, returning to the starting position.
  6. Aim for a total of 4 sets of 10-15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Make sure your shoulders are down and chest is forwards. When you pull to the end position ensure your elbows are kept high and focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together. 

7. Cable Face Pulls

Man Doing Cable Face Pulls

Cable face pulls are a great exercise to have in your library of cable machine exercises. Cable rope shoulder exercises are an excellent way to train the upper body.

This exercise focuses mainly on the posterior deltoids (the rear deltoids), as well as the middle traps, rhomboids, and external rotators. This makes them an excellent exercise for improving/ maintaining your posture.

To maintain constant tension on the delts, you want to ensure that you keep your elbows up and level with the shoulder joint. Dropping your arms or leaning too far forward will transfer the majority of the tension over to your lats.


  • Improves posture and pulls the shoulders back.
  • Stabalizes the muscles around the shoulder joints.
  • Reduces chance of injuries. 

How To Do Cable Face Pulls:

  1. Using the rope attachment, set the pulley to around chest height.
  2. With your arms slightly bent and a neutral grip, grasp the rope in each hand.
  3. Stand in a split stance, with your feet hip-width apart and shoulders dropped.
  4. Pull the rope towards your face, ensuring that your elbows are always higher than your wrists.
  5. Squeeze your shoulders at the top of the rep, contracting your posterior deltoids.
  6. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
  7. Aim for a total of 4 sets of 10-15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

The idea of this exercise isn't to go heavy as you can, this is working the rear delts which is a small muscle group. Go light and feel your shoulder blades squeeze together. Always keep your elbows high. 

8. Kneeling Cable Shoulder Press

Man Doing Half-Kneeling Cable Press Exercise In The Gym

This upper body exercise is an excellent way to ensure that your overhead press form is perfect. If you want to build your upper arms, this kneeling overhead press variation is a great choice.

You’ll primarily target the front or anterior deltoid, as well as other muscles like your triceps and pecs.

Using a cable helps maintain continuous stress on the upper arm, which works more muscle fibers than the shoulder press with dumbells.

Additionally, you can alternate pressing exercises or train both arms at once.


  • Effectively targets all shoulder muscles.
  • The kneeling position reduces momentum and increases work on the shoulder muscles. 

How To Do A Kneeling Shoulder Press:

  1. Connect either the single handle attachment or the straight bar attachment to the pulley and use the cable at its lowest position.
  2. With an overhand grip on the handles, bring your hands up into the starting shoulder press position.
  3. Engage your core and drive your hands up, and slowly return to the start position.
  4. Ensure that you maintain your form and body control, keeping your hands in alignment with your elbows throughout the movement.
  5. Aim for 4 sets of 10-15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Always keep your ribcage down as you press the bar or handle above your head. Keep your ribs down by engaging your core throughout the exercise.  

9. Cable Upright Row

Man Doing Cable Upright Rows

Adding this exercise to your upper body training days will help you to build your shoulders, upper chest, and upper back muscles.

The upright row works all three delt heads, including the front or anterior deltoids but mainly focuses on the medial and posterior or rear deltoids.


  • Accelerates growth in the biceps, back, traps and shoulders.
  • Very effective in targeting the traps.
  • Improves upper body and shoulder stability.  

How To Do A Cable Upright Row:

  1. Use either the straight bar attachment or rope attachment and set the pulley to its lowest position.
  2. Although a simple exercise, you’ll want to start with a light weight and build up from there.
  3. Using both hands, grasp the attachment and take a step back.
  4. Drive your hands up toward your chin, keeping the bar straight until your elbows are at shoulder level. You should feel this in your upper back and shoulders.
  5. Pause at the top of the rep and slowly return to the starting position.
  6. Aim for 4 sets of 10-15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

With any upright row, you don't want to pull the bar too high and risk placing the shoulder joint in an awkward position.  Control the movement and stop when your elbows reach shoulder height.

10. Rear Delt Crossover

Man Doing Rear Delt Crossover Exercise

The rear delt crossover is another excellent workout that only includes cable movements. It’s an ideal exercise if you’d like to focus on building your rear delts, and you’ll also work your traps and forearms (to a lesser degree).

Although this cable machine exercise is very similar to the rear delt flys, the cables are set at a higher position on the cable crossover machine for this one.


  • Creates more balance between the front and back of the body, due to lots of emphasis on pushing exercises and building bigger pecs.
  • Improves core stability.
  • There is very little lower back stress, therefore it's a good choice for those with back issues.

How To Do A Rear Delt Crossover:

  1. Use the stirrup attachment and set both pulleys to their lowest position.
  2. With your feet shoulder width apart and an overhand grip, hold the left cable in your right and vice versa.
  3. With your knees slightly bent, lean over until your torso is almost parallel to the floor. Your elbows should also be slightly bent.
  4. Drive your hands back, similar to if you were doing a fly exercise.
  5. Pause at the top of the rep and then slowly return to the starting position.
  6. Aim for 4 sets of 10-15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Always use controlled movements and fully engage the muscles. Keep your shoulders back and down and avoid shrugging up.  

11. Cable Shrug

Man Performing Cable Shrugs

Wrapping up our list of cable machine shoulder exercises, we have cable shrugs. Although this workout primarily targets the traps, it does work the shoulders too.

When doing shoulder exercises, it’s a good idea to include a variation of workouts that target other muscles besides just the shoulder muscle. This will help to build a well-rounded and balanced upper body.


  • Builds bigger and stronger traps.
  • The cable machine creates constant tension therefore increases muscle development.
  • Works the shoulder joint through full range of motion.

How To Do A Cable Shrug:

  1. Use a straight bar attachment and set the pulley to its lowest position.
  2. Using both hands, hold the attachment shoulder width apart with an overhand grip.
  3. Standing straight up, perform a shrug by bringing your shoulders up toward your ears. Avoid rolling your shoulders during the rep.
  4. Pause at the top of the rep and contract your traps before slowly returning to the starting position. If you’re not able to do the contraction, reduce your weight.
  5. Aim for 4 sets of 10-15 reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Try adding in a pause at the top of the movement. This can help enhance the mind-muscle connection.  

5 Key Benefits Of Doing Cable Shoulder Exercises

1. Offers Consistent Tension Throughout Entire Range Of Motion

When lifting with free weights, the tension will always be in the vertically downward direction of gravity. Cable machines, however, offer consistent tension throughout the entire range of motion, regardless of the angle.

Take lateral raises, for example. At the bottom position of the exercise, you won’t experience any tension when using dumbbells. However, when using the cable machine, you’ll still feel tension at this portion of the exercise.

2. Safety Of Resistance Machines

Compared to using dumbbells, cable exercises offer a net of safety and allow you to train close to failure without the same risk of injury.

Oftentimes, injuries occur when weightlifting from either dropping the weight or moving in an irregular way to compensate for the weight load.

Since training close to failure helps accelerate muscle growth, being able to do so in a safe way is a major benefit of cable machines[2].

3. Similar Freedom Of Movement To Free Weights

Usually, training on an exercise machine limits you to its range of motion. The cable machine is different in this regard since it provides a similar amount of freedom of movement as what you’d achieve when training with free weights.

4. Front, Side & Rear Deltoid Muscles Targeted

To achieve the best results when trying to train shoulders, you need to target all three sections of the deltoid muscle. This includes the front, side, and rear portions.

As cable machines can be adjusted to suit each isolation exercise, you are able to perform all of your shoulder training on a single machine.

5. Increased Shoulder Range Of Motion

Since the handles on a cable machine are generally smaller than dumbbells, you’re able to achieve a greater range of motion.

When you’re doing an exercise like shoulder presses with dumbbells, your range of motion is limited to the point at which the dumbbells touch your shoulders (usually around the mid-face level).

However, when using the cable machine, you’re able to bring the handles right down to your neck. This increased range of motion will allow you to fully stretch the muscle and maximize your gains.

2 Cable Shoulder Workout Plans You Can Try

When putting together a cable shoulder workout, be sure to include an exercise that targets each of the three deltoid heads. Then, add in a fourth exercise as an overall mass builder.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, here are two example workouts I have put together:

Cable Shoulder Workout For Mass #1




Cable Shoulder Press



Cable Front Raise



Cable Lateral Raise



Cable Face Pulls



Bent Over Low Pulley Rear Delt Fly



Cable Shrug



Cable Shoulder Workout For Mass #2




Rear Delt Crossover



Single Arm Leaning Cable Lateral Raises



Kneeling Cable Shoulder Press



Cable Upright Row



Standing Cable Rear Delt Row



Frequently Asked Cable Shoulder Exercise Questions

Are cables good for shoulders?

Yes, cable exercises are ideal for training the shoulders. They allow you to target all three deltoid muscles from a variety of angles and through a range of motions. Additionally, cable exercises offer a personalized workout since you’re able to adjust the weight load, your body positioning, and the type of attachment used.

How often should I train my shoulders?

You should be training your shoulders between one to three times a week, with a minimum of one day in between training sessions. Be sure to include a variety of exercises that target all of the shoulder muscles.

How many shoulder exercises should I do?

You should aim to do at least three exercises - one for each head of the deltoid muscles (anterior, middle, and posterior). You can also add an additional exercise for general should mass building too. In total, aim for around 16 sets.

How long does it take to fix rounded shoulders?

Depending on the underlying cause, targeted mobility and strengthening exercises can be used to treat rounded shoulders over the course of two to four weeks.


That wraps up our guide to the most effective cable shoulder exercises. When it comes to strengthening your shoulders and building 3D delts, cable exercises can make a big difference!

If you’ve been working on your upper body but your shoulders are still weak, our example shoulder workouts will help you develop more muscle mass and strength.

Now that you've learned 15 different ways to work your shoulder muscles, you can begin building a stronger, larger, and more muscular set of shoulders!


Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website