3 Cable Shoulder Workouts For Mass (+10 Best Exercises)

3 Cable Shoulder Workouts For Mass (Complete Guide)

Cables can offer advantages for the shoulders that machines and free weights cannot give. 

With cable machines, you can manipulate the resistance’s direction and maintain consistent tension throughout the range of motion. With cable shoulder workouts, you can isolate the shoulders to a greater extent and induce a larger stimulus for muscle growth. 

So what are the best cable exercises for shoulders?

  1. Cable Lateral Raise
  2. Underhand Cable Front Raise
  3. Single Arm Leaning Lateral Raise
  4. Single Arm Rear Delt Flyes
  5. Half Kneeling Single Arm Cable Shoulder Press
  6. Face pulls
  7. Alternating Overhead Press
  8. Cable Cross Over Reverse Fly
  9. Cable Upright Row
  10. Cable Cuban Press

In this article, I’ll describe each of these exercises in detail, but also explain why shoulder workouts with cables are effective for building mass, how you should structure your shoulder cable workouts and tips on using the cable machine for shoulders to stimulate greater muscle growth.

Are Cable Shoulder Workouts Effective For Building Mass?

Cable shoulder workouts are effective for building upper body muscle mass for the following reasons: 

  • Cables can offer consistent tension throughout the range of motion
  • Cables can be set in the direction that best hits the muscle fibres
  • Cables can offer the safety of resistance machines
  • Cables can offer similar freedom of movement to free weights
  • Cables can target the front deltoid, side deltoid, and rear deltoid muscles
  • Cables can increase the range of motion for common shoulder exercises

Cables Can Offer Consistent Tension Throughout the Range of Motion

Cables can give the advantage of creating constant tension throughout the muscle. This is because regardless of the position of the cable handle, the resistance is still pulling from the weight stack in the cable’s direction and against the muscle fibers.

cable

Whereas with free weights such as dumbbells, the resistance is always in the direction of gravity which is vertically down.

An example of this would be the lateral raise exercise. With a dumbbell, there is no resistance on the deltoid in the bottom position. With a cable machine, there is resistance on the deltoid in the bottom position.

Cables Can Be Set in the Direction That Best Hits the Muscle Fibers

Cables can be adjusted at different heights to achieve resistance going in specific directions. In all cable machine shoulder workouts, this will benefit the deltoids as you can set the cable to go in line with the direction of the muscle fibers.

For example, you can set the cables to stem from the bottom to perform lateral raises or shoulder presses to target the front and side deltoids. You can also set the cables to stem from higher up to target side and rear deltoids to perform exercises such as rear delt flyers.

Cables Can Offer the Safety of Resistance Machines

Cable machines can be used at a level of difficulty where if you were to push close to failure and want to let go, there is a lower risk of injury than if you were to use a dumbbell.

This is useful as it means you can train harder and bring the shoulder muscles closer to failure with your sets to give it a higher stimulus. 

With dumbbells or barbells, there can be a higher risk of danger of pushing it close to failure as you may accidentally drop the weight on yourself or move in a bad way that injures you.

So why train close to failure?  Because metabolic stress, which is taking a muscle at or near fatigue, is one of the main drivers of muscle growth

Cables Can Offer Similar Freedom of Movement to Free Weights

If you train shoulders using machines, you are fixed in the machine’s range of motion, which means it might not suit your mobility or be too short in motion range. However, cables are more similar to “free weight movements”, where you have more control over the direction of load. 

This is good because it works around your mobility and can get more range of motion, which is beneficial for muscle mass. 

Another advantage is that cables put more demand on stability during the exercise, similar to when you train with dumbbells or barbells. This may be better for shoulder health as you engage the smaller muscles that help stabilize your shoulder joint.

Cables Can Target the Front Deltoid, Side Deltoid, and Rear Deltoid Muscles

cables can target the front deltoid, side deltoid, and rear deltoid muscles
Anatomography, CC BY-SA 2.1 JP <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.1/jp/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons

For a cable machine shoulder workout to be effective in building shoulder mass, it must target all deltoid muscles. As cables are very versatile, you can easily set them to do exercises that target both the front, side, and rear deltoids.

You can perform exercises such as shoulder presses, which target the front deltoids, and lateral raises, which target the side deltoids. And rear delt flys that target the rear deltoids. Not many single pieces of gym equipment have the ability to target each area of the shoulder.  

Related Article: 18 Rear Delt Workouts (Barbell, Dumbbell, Cable, Machine)

Cables Can Increase the Range of Motion for Common Shoulder Exercises

Cable machine handles that you hold onto are smaller than bulky dumbbells. This means that you can perform similar exercises with more range of motion.

For example, if you use dumbbells for the shoulder press exercise, your range of motion stops when the dumbbells touch your shoulders, which is normally around the mid-face level. Whereas with cable handles, you can bring the handles lower down to the bottom of the neck level.

This will allow the cables to be in the optimum position to stretch the muscle fibers and therefore maximize the range of motion, which is important for maximizing the hypertrophy stimulus.

Research has shown that full range of motion is more effective than partial range of motion for muscle strength and hypertrophy.

What is a Cable Machine?

A cable machine is an item of gym equipment that you can use to target multiple muscle groups. It can be used as part of a weight training or functional training program.

The cable machine, sometimes also called a crossover machine, is vertically oriented and uses a pin-loaded system that enables you to choose your desired weight. The weights are labeled, so you know exactly how much you’re lifting. 

There are several different attachments, such as a rope, straight bar, V bar, and long bar, that you can use with a cable machine to target different areas of each muscle.

What Are the Benefits of Doing Cable Shoulder Exercises?

The cable machine provides a highly effective way to train the muscles in your shoulders. Here are some of the many benefits of including cable shoulder workouts as part of your training program.

High Versatility

You can do a full shoulder workout with cables. Using this single piece of equipment, you can successfully target each deltoid and the surrounding muscles without needing to move around the gym.

Easy To Target Certain Areas Of The Muscles

Because you can kneel, lean, lie down, sit, and stand up while performing cable shoulder exercises, you can manipulate your body positioning appropriately to target certain areas and angles of your muscles. It’s also perfect to use when you’re doing drop sets, supersets, and pyramid sets because you can change the weight within a few seconds.

Different Attachments To Vary Your Grip

There is a wide variety of attachments that you can use during a shoulder workout on a cable machine. This lets you make small alterations in how you target your shoulder muscles.

Using the unique attachments for shoulder exercises with cables, you can isolate specific muscles and ensure that you place constant tension on the target area during a movement.

Simple to Use

The cable machine is one of the easiest pieces of gym equipment, so it’s ideal for beginners and advanced lifters. You can quickly and safely adjust the weight using the pins, enabling an enjoyable and stress-free workout.

10 Best Cable Shoulder Exercises 

Here are some great cable machine shoulder exercises to try during your next workout.

1. Cable Lateral Raise

The cable lateral raise is one of the best shoulder cable exercises to isolate the side deltoid. The use of the cable machine allows the side deltoid to feel constant tension throughout, starting from the bottom position.

Dumbbells would provide little tension at the bottom during lateral raises, which is why many people prefer doing this exercise with cables.

How To Do It

  • Set the cable handle to stem from the bottom of the machine
  • For the starting position, stand with your feet about hip widths apart and hold onto the cable handles from the opposite side of the cables
  • Keep a soft bend in the elbows and maintain this bend
  • Pull against the cables and raise the handles to your sides to about shoulder level with your palms facing the floor, then return down until your arms reach the side of your body

Pro-Tip

  • You can use an underhand grip on the cable handles and target your front deltoids a little more. Some may also find this grip more comfortable for their shoulders if they are naturally predisposed to shoulder injuries.

2. Underhand Cable Front Raises

The underhand cable front raise is one of the best cable shoulder exercises for targeting the front deltoids. You can use a straight bar attachment or a cable handle with a slight angle, like an EZ barbell.

How To Do It

  • Set the cable handle to stem from the bottom of the machine
  • Your starting position should involve you standing with your feet about hip widths apart, and you can face toward or away from the cable
  • Stand away from the barbell enough that there is constant tension from the bottom position of the exercise
  • Keeping your body steady and core tight, raise the handle up to shoulder level, then return it down to the starting position

Pro-Tip

  • Some people find it somewhat uncomfortable with a straight bar, so you can use a handle shaped more like a W.
  • You might be more comfortable on your elbows if you keep a constant soft bend throughout the movement.

3. Single Arm Leaning Lateral Raise

The single-arm leaning lateral raise is one of the most, if not the most effective cable shoulder exercises when you’re aiming to isolate the side deltoid one arm at a time with a maximal range of motion during your shoulder workouts on cables.

Performing it one arm at a time is useful for concentrating your efforts to minimize asymmetries. Adding the lean to the exercise will help you gain slightly more range of motion.

How To Do It

  • Set the cable handle to stem from the bottom of the machine
  • Stand in a staggered stance so that the cable handle is between your legs
  • Hold onto the side of the machine and lean away from the machine
  • Use a single-arm handle and raise the cable as high and far away as possible

Pro-Tip

  • Control the upward motion and avoid lifting too explosively. This will help make sure you are not recruiting other muscles to execute the movement.
  • You may also want to have the external cue of raising away from the machine as opposed to upwards toward the ceiling. This will help you achieve external rotation and focus more on the deltoids than the upper trapezius muscles.

4. Single Arm Rear Delt Flyes

Next time you’re doing one of your shoulder workouts on a cable machine, include the single-arm rear delt flye. This exercise is a good way to hit the rear delts one arm at a time with a good stretch across those muscles.

Performing these types of cable shoulder exercises one arm at a time is better than doing two arms simultaneously because your arms will not have to cross over and under and move asymmetrically. Also, by doing it one arm at a time, you will not have one arm block the range of motion of the other arm so you can stretch your arm further across to the other side. This will enable you to work your shoulder muscles more effectively.

How To Do It

  • Set the cable handle to stem from the bottom of the machine
  • Stand in a bent-over position with your back parallel to the floor
  • Hold onto the side of the machine with your arm closest to the machine and keep it straight
  • Allow your arm to stretch towards where the cable stems from, and pull out and away 

Pro-Tip

  • Try to stay as far away from where the cable stems from so that you can maximize the stretch across your rear delts at the starting position. This will increase the muscle length that you are working through, which increases your hypertrophy stimulus.
  • You may also want to have the external cue of raising away from the machine instead of upwards toward the ceiling. This will help you focus more on the deltoids as opposed to the mid-back muscles.

5. Half Kneeling Single Arm Cable Shoulder Press

The half-kneeling single-arm cable shoulder press exercise is a great shoulder pressing variation that maximizes the range of motion on your front deltoids.

This multi-joint compound movement involves other muscles, such as your triceps and serratus, which is important for maintaining shoulder health for shoulder training.

How To Do It

  • Set the cable handle to stem from the bottom of the machine
  • For your starting position, position yourself in a half-kneeling or split stane position. If you are training your right shoulder first, your left leg goes forward and your right knee is on the floor
  • Ensure that your back is flat and core muscles engaged to stabilize your posture during the exercise
  • Keep the hand of your passive arm by your hip
  • Position your body, so you face away from where the cable stems from
  • Use a single-hand cable handle and hold it right in front of your shoulder with the cable leading from the outside of your arm
  • Use a neutral grip so that your thumb points back towards you, then press upwards and away

Pro-Tip

  • Try starting with the handle as low as you can to stretch your front deltoid without letting your shoulder joint roll forward.
  • Try to think about exhaling when you press and focusing on reaching away, as this engages your serratus anterior, which is important for good shoulder mobility.

Related Article: 10 Best Cable Back Workouts And Exercises For Muscle Mass

6. Face Pulls

Face pulls, sometimes referred to as the shoulder cable pull, are a really popular shoulder exercise among powerlifters, and it targets your rear delts, side delts, and external rotators. This is because it helps keep their shoulders healthier as they bench press so much in their training. It’s also a great exercise for cable back workouts because it targets the rear delts nicely.

How To Do It

  • Set the cable handle to stem from mid-chest level
  • Stand up straight and use a rope handle. Avoid using the straight bar attachment as this can limit your range of motion
  • Use an overhand grip on the rope handle
  • Stand far away from the cable so that you feel a stretch in your shoulder muscles
  • Pull the rope handle towards your face with your hands outside of your ears, squeezing your shoulder blades together, then return the rope back

Pro-Tip

  • Keep your elbows high and stop at the range of motion that feels most comfortable for you.
  • Imagine you have a pencil in between your shoulder blades as you reach the top of the movement
  • Using an overhand grip with your thumbs pointing away might make it easier to pull, but pointing your thumbs back might be less stressful on the shoulder joint.

7. Alternating Overhead Press

The alternating overhead press can be performed in a few different ways. You can alternate between both arms during one set or do just one arm at a time. Ideally, you should use a handle attachment that enables you to keep your wrists in a neutral grip throughout the exercise.

How To Do It

  • Set up cable to its lowest point
  • Stand facing away from the cable machine and hold the handles with a neutral grip
  • Start with your hands at shoulder height and keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees tucked into your sides
  • Press one arm at a time up above your head until your arm is fully extended
  • Slowly return to starting position, then repeat with the other arm
  • Repeat this for the desired number of reps

Pro Tip

  • Keep your wrists in a neutral grip at all times to avoid putting too much strain in the smaller muscles around your shoulder, such as your rotator cuff
  • Embrace your core throughout to keep your upper body stable. This will make it easier to push the weight up above your head

8. Cable Cross Over Reverse Fly

The cable cross over reverse fly is a great cable shoulder exercise to work both sides of the body simultaneously. It targets your rear delts and enables you to create constant tension on these muscles throughout the whole set.

How To Do It

  • Set up the cable to its lowest point on both sides of the cable machine
  • Reach down to grab each stirrup with the opposite hands using a neutral grip
  • Hinge at the hips to bring your torso down toward the ground. Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor. Keep your knees slightly bent and your arms hanging down below your shoulders
  • Pull each cable out to each side of your body, keeping your elbows slightly bent. Lift the cables until your upper arms are in line with your shoulders
  • Slowly lower your arm back down to the starting position
  • Repeat for the desired reps and sets

Pro-Tip

  • Keep your core engaged throughout the exercise to keep your spine neutral
  • If you’re struggling to feel the exercise in your rear delts, consider doing some activation work before the set using a long resistance band
  • Avoid excessively bending your elbows during this exercise, as this will take tension away from your rear delts. Instead, keep the elbow soft with a very slight bend

9. Cable Upright Row

The cable upright row is an exercise that targets all three heads of the deltoids. However, it is particularly effective at targeting the shoulders’ medial (side) and posterior (rear) deltoid muscles.

How To Do It

  • Set the cable pulley to the lowest setting and use either a rope or EZ bar achievement
  • Grab the rope or bar with both hands, using an underhand grip
  • Lift the rope or bar up in a straight line, keeping it close to your body until it reaches the level of your sternum
  • Pause for a second before returning back to the starting position. Repeat this for your desired number of reps and sets

Pro-Tip

  • Use a rope cable attachment instead of a straight bar or EZ bar to prevent excessive force from being placed through your shoulder joints
  • If you start to feel pain in your shoulders, elbows, or wrists at any point during this exercise, try lowering the weight and double-checking your form

10. Cable Cuban Press

Although a less commonly known exercise to use in your cable shoulder workouts, the cable Cuban press is an effective way to target your deltoids from all angles.

How To Do It

  • Attach a straight bar to the cable and lower the pulley down to the lowest level
  • Hold the bar down by the front of your thighs using an overhand
  • Bend your arms and upright row the bar until they are in line with your sternum before rotating your arms out to your sides, raising the bar to the level of your forehead
  • Finish the movement by pressing the bar above your head until your arms are fully extended
  • Return to the starting position by reversing each of the above steps and repeat the movement for the recommended number of reps and sets in your training program

Pro-Tip

  • If you find it easier, switch from a straight bar to using two handles
  • Embrace your call throughout to create a stable and solid base. This will protect your spine, net, and shoulders during the movement, especially as you get to the last few reps in your sets.

3 Muscle-Building Cable Shoulder Workouts

These are 3 workouts that include lots of great shoulder exercises with cables. You can add these to your program relatively easily, and you may need a range of attachments, including a rope and straight bar attachment.

If you’re not already training shoulders 3 times per week, I would only perform two of these workouts (workouts #1 and #2). After 6-8 weeks of training shoulders with 2X/week frequency, you could try 3-4 weeks of training shoulders 3X/week.  

After that, you would want to deload or focus on other upper or lower body areas.   

Cable Shoulder Workout For Mass #1 

  • Warm Up
  • Cable Lateral Raise – 3 sets 15 reps
  • Underhand Cable Front Raise – 3 sets 12 reps
  • Face Pulls – 3 sets 10 reps

Cable Shoulder Workout For Mass #2 

  • Warm Up
  • Cable Overhead Press – 3 sets 8 reps
  • Single Arm Leaning Lateral Raise – 4 sets 15 reps
  • Single Arm Rear Delt Flyes – 4 sets 12 reps
  • Half Kneeling Single Arm Cable Shoulder Press – 4 sets of 10 reps

Cable Shoulder Workout For Mass #3 

  • Warm Up
  • Half Kneeling Single Arm Cable Shoulder Press – 4 sets of 8 reps
  • Cable Lateral Raise – 3 sets 8 reps
    Supersetted with
    Face Pulls- 3 sets 8 reps
  • Single Arm Leaning Lateral Raise – 3 sets 10 reps
    Supersetted with
    Single Arm Rear Delt Flyes – 3 sets 10 reps

4 Tips For Using Cables To Grow Your Shoulders 

Standing Cable Straight Bar Curls

Here are 4 ways you can use effective cable shoulder exercises to really enhance your upper body training:

  • Use a long tempo eccentric
  • Control the execution
  • Use drop sets
  • Use supersets and triple sets

1. Use a Long Tempo Eccentric

Using a long tempo eccentric during a repetition means increasing the time under tension and slowing down the portion of the repetition when the muscle is lengthening. Any shoulder workout with cables is typically during the lowering phase.

This increases the stimulus on the muscle, which can increase the stimulus for hypertrophy. Research shows that a slow eccentric portion and a fast concentric portion, which is the muscle shortening phase, are more effective for building muscle.

Repetitions should ideally last no longer than 8 seconds each, so you should take between 3 to 6 seconds on the way down as a rule of thumb.

Interested in learning more about eccentric training? Check out our guides: 

2. Control the Execution

We want to maximize how much of our shoulder muscles we use during the exercise and minimize the use of all the other muscles, including other upper body muscles.

It is important to use fast muscle contraction during our repetitions in our cable shoulder workouts. Still, we need to ensure we do not sacrifice our technique to complete repetitions. Sacrificing our technique will increase the risk of injury and reduce the stimulus on our muscles.

3. Use Drop Sets

A really useful part of doing your shoulder and back workout with a cable machine is that we can very quickly adjust the load we use when we are training. For this reason, we can benefit from using drop sets with these exercises where immediately after completing a set at a certain load, we drop down the weight by a certain amount and attempt to complete some more. 

A good protocol is to use 2 drop sets after the main set, and drop the load by 10% to 20%  or 1 to 2 machine load increments every time. Minimal or no rest is taken during drop sets, and the load should be switched as quickly as possible.

Performing drop sets can allow us to perform more repetitions to increase our overall stress on each shoulder muscle.

4. Use Supersets and Triple Sets

Many of the cable exercises for shoulders are isolation exercises, which make it really easy for anyone to combine them into supersets or triple sets. These are when sets for 2 or 3 exercises are performed back to back with no rest.

Using supersets and triples sets are a time-efficient way to train the upper body whilst trying to give as much of an equal amount of attention to the different deltoid muscle groups of the shoulders.

FAQs

Are Cables Good for Shoulders?

Cables are a great piece of equipment to target every area of your shoulders. They enable you to achieve a wider range of motion than you can with dumbbells or barbells to maximize shoulder muscle growth, strength, and endurance.

Are Cables Better Than Dumbbells for Shoulders?

Cable machine shoulder workouts are just as effective as dumbbell shoulder workouts. They increase your range of motion and enable you to maintain constant tension on the delts throughout the whole exercise, during the concentric and eccentric phases of your reps.

Can You Build Muscle With Just Cables?

Yes, you can build your muscles using just the cable machine, as long as you follow a well-structured program that focuses on the best cable exercises for strength and hypertrophy. With cables, you can target the muscles from multiple angles in a safe and effective way.

What’s the Best Cable Exercise for Broad Shoulders?

The best cable shoulder exercise to do if you want broad shoulders is one that works the side delts. The lateral raise is one of the most effective exercises for building your side delts. You can also do upright rows to target the side delts.

Other Shoulder Training Resources


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting, and accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience coaching various lifters, from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Alongside coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com