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5 Cable Shoulder Exercises for The Best Pump!

Cable Shoulder Exercises

Without a doubt, having well developed 3D shoulders is by far the most important for an aesthetic and proportional look. Hence training your shoulders is so important, not only for that broad appearance but also to prevent injuries. So, let’s look at 5 of the BEST cable shoulder exercises you need to try!

Now, don’t get me wrong, using free weights to build those delts is amazing however including a cable machine can be equally beneficial.

Cable machines provides that constant tension, complete isolation, and generally are less likely to cause an injury compared to dumbbells and barbells, especially if you have sloppy form. After all, the last thing you want is to take a break from the gym, right?

And it’s always good to switch up your workout and introduce a new exercise to make your routine more fun and enjoyable. But before we dive into the ONLY 5 cable shoulder exercises you need, let’s get a better understanding of our shoulders.

Shoulder Theory Lesson (Boring But Important Stuff)

Everyone wants those 3D shoulder, right? I mean it provides that proportion upper body “V shape” look that everyone finds attractive.

A lot of our compound and upper body lifts uses shoulder to large degree and hence training them becomes even more essential. You will not only be able to progressively overload in those lifts but also reduce your chances of injury. But how is this done?

Well, it all starts but understanding the deltoid muscles.

The deltoids muscles are in your shoulder and protects and helps stabilize the shoulder joint. It allows your arm to move forward, to the side, and back. The deltoid consists of three parts/heads:

  • Anterior Deltoid (Front Delts)
  • Lateral Deltoid (Side Delts)
  • Posterior Deltoid (Rear Delts)

Let’s look at these three in a little more detail.

1. Anterior Deltoid

The anterior deltoid is located on the front part of the shoulder that connects to your clavicle. Its primary function is shoulder flexion which means to raise the arm up.

Hence, to target the exercise, we need to add resistance to its primary movement pattern which is shoulder flexion. Exercises like the cable front raise or dumbbell front raise involve the anterior delts to high degree.

However, your front delts are also heavily involved in many pressings and compound movements like bench press. This is because the front delts are also located at an insertion point at the pectoralis muscle.

This leads to a question, should train your front delts if they already get used in many other upper body compound movements? We’ll talk a little more about this later in the article.

2. Lateral Deltoid

The lateral delts are located on the side or middle of the shoulder. More specifically it’s on the acromion process of the scapula.

Our lateral delts help with shoulder abduction which means moving the arm to the side.

The lateral delts are responsible for that width and broad appearance and it’s the key to that aesthetic physique.

3. Posterior Deltoid

The posterior or rear delts are located on the spine or the back of your shoulder.

Rear delts are responsible to move the arm both outwards and backward. It helps with horizontal abduction and external rotation. Hence, exercises like the face pulls and rear delt cable fly involve this movement pattern and are perfect for rear delt activation.  

Our rear delts are used during many pulling movements and helps stabilize the shoulder joint. In fact, our rear delts act as secondary muscles in many of our back exercises.

So, do you need to train your rear delts separately? Absolutely! Rear delt isolation exercises have much more rear delt involvement.

Now that we have understood the all the three parts of the deltoid muscle, let’s look at the best cable shoulder exercises.

Best Cable Shoulder Exercises

Cables are an effective way to place constant tension on your working muscle and including these cable shoulder exercises will target each deltoid head separately and effectively. A combination of these and free weights will give the best results.

1. Cable Side Raises – With a Lean.

This is one of the most popular cable shoulder exercises. It’s easy but super effective in hitting those side or lateral delts.

The main function in this movement is shoulder abduction, i.e moving the arms out to the sides.

However, instead of performing this in an upright standing position, try leaning away from the cable machine and you will notice the tension on your side delts increase significantly.


  1. Set up the cable to the lowest position and attach a single handle.
  2. Position your outside foot over the handle and in line with your back foot. The cable machine should be in between both your feet.
  3. Grab the handle with your outside hand in a neutral grip maintaining a slight bend in your elbows.
  4.  Lean away from the cable machine by gripping the pole/column firmly. Keep leaning away until the arm you’re gripping the pole with is completely straight and parallel to the ground. This is your starting position
  5. Maintaining a slight bend in your elbow, slowly raise your outside are up so that the cable runs between your legs.
  6. Keep raising your arm up until it is in line with your shoulder.
  7. Pause at the top of the movement then slowly lower the arm back down to the starting position.

Pro Tips:

  1. This “leaning” position will allow for a greater range of motion and more tension on your side delts compared to the standard upright position.
  2. Choose a lighter weight. Your side delts aren’t a large muscle group so you won’t be able to go to heavy. In fact, you’re likely to reduce tension on the side delts or, even worse, cause injury if you go with heavier weights.
  3. Have the cables run between your legs. Not only does this look cool but it will maximise tension on your side delts. Having the cables out in front isn’t wrong but it’s likely that your front delts will start to get involved. Instead having the cables run between your legs will focus mainly on the side delts.
  4. Like any exercise, pause at the top of the movement. This will increase the tension on your side delts and hence greater gains!

Exercise Summary

Muscle WorkedLateral Deltoid (Side Delts)
Sets & Reps3 – 4 sets of 10-15 reps
Difficulty Beginner to Intermediate

2. Upright Rows – With Modifications

Upright row is an exercise that often gets neglected because its considered “unsafe” or “ineffective” due to it causing unnecessary stress on the shoulder joint.

However, upright rows are the opposite. They are completely safe and super effective in maximizing lateral delt involvement, if done with proper form.

Unfortunately, this exercise does get performed incorrectly by most people which often leads to shoulder joint pain. So, by following some of these modifications, this exercise will blow up your side delts to give you that broad upper body appearance.


  1. Set up the cable to the lowest position and attach a double rope attachment.
  2. Reach down and grab the rope with a double overhand grip and lift it up so that the weight is off the stack.
  3. Using a staggered stance and lean slightly back. This is your starting position.
  4. Slowly drive your elbows up by pulling the rope up in front of your torso. Make sure to pull the rope out and apart for maximum side delt involvement.
  5. Keep pulling up until your elbows are in line with your shoulders.
  6. Pause at the top of the movement and slowly reverse the motion back to the starting position.

Pro Tips:

  1. Use the double rope attachment which allows for more freedom at the shoulder joint and maximizes your lateral delt involvement.
  2. One common mistake is driving your elbows too far up and past your shoulder. This is likely to cause shoulder pain and injuries. Instead, stop and pause when the elbows are in line with your shoulders.
  3. The movement must be a smooth pattern pulling the rope right in front of your torso. If it’s too far out in front of you, your front delts will start to get involved.
  4. Again, like I’ve mentioned before, pause at the top of the movement. This will maximize the tension on your lateral delts.
  5. Do NOT go too heavy. Instead, go with moderate but challenging weight and aim for higher reps.

Exercise Summary

Muscle WorkedLateral Deltoid (Side Delts)
Sets & Reps3 – 4 sets of 10-15 reps
Difficulty Intermediate

3. Rear Delt Cable Fly

The rear delt cable fly is another great choice when it comes to targeting your rear delts. Performing them with proper form and technique will maximize rear delt activation.

Also, don’t try to go too heavy with this exercise. Instead, focus on a slow movement and contraction with pause at the end of the movement.

Exercise Summary

Muscle WorkedPosterior Deltoid (Rear Delts)
Sets & Reps3 – 4 sets of 10-12 reps
Difficulty Beginner to Intermediate

4. Face Pulls

It might be hard to admit, but a lot of us have highly underdeveloped rear delts. I mean just take a minute to think about your current workout routine.

And yes, you might think that your rear delts will be trained during your back workout however it is crucial that you include rear delt isolation movements. Afterall, we all want that proportional look with those 3D shoulder, right?

Face pull are by far one of the best exercises for your rear delts, if done correctly. However, unfortunately this is also the exercise that gets performed incorrectly by most. So, how do you do this exercise with proper form?


  1. Set up the cable attachment so that the pulley is positioned above you head. Attach a double rope attachment.
  2. Grab the rope with both hands with your palms facing in.
  3. Take a step back and lean back slightly with your arms fully extended and the weight is off the stack. This is your starting position.
  4. Pull the rope towards your “face” keeping your elbows fully flared out Keep pulling until your arms can’t go further back. Your palms should end up on either side of your face.
  5. Pause for a second and slowly return to the starting position.

Pro Tips:

  1. Remember this is “face” pulls, not neck pulls, or chest pulls. So, make sure you pull the rope to your face.
  2. Pause at the end of the movement to develop that mind muscle connection that is crucial for building muscle.
  3. Ensure that your body is positioned correctly. So, take that step back, lean back SLIGHTLY. This way the weight is already off the stack, and you can already start to feel some tension.  
  4. Select an appropriate weight. If they weight is too heavy, it’ll simply be pulling you forwards which makes it hard to maintain that body positioning. It also increases the chances of injury.

Exercise Summary

Muscle WorkedPosterior Deltoid (Rear Delts)
Sets & Reps3 – 4 sets of 10-15 reps
Difficulty Beginner to Intermediate

5. Cable Front Raise

There are thousands of cable shoulder exercises out there, but the cable front raise is probably the best at isolating the anterior deltoid.

The primary function of the anterior deltoid is shoulder flexion meaning to raise the arm up, which is exactly what you’re doing during the cable front raise.

However, many overhead presses and upper body compound movement already involve the front delts. And we all know that training is important by overtraining is harmful.

So, the question is, should you really be including front delt movements in your routine?

Exercise Summary

Muscle WorkedAnterior Deltoid (Front Delts)
Sets & Reps3 – 4 sets of 8-12 reps
Difficulty Beginner to Intermediate

Do You Need to Train Your Front Delts?

The short answer is no. You don’t NEED to work your front delts separately. That’s because they are already heavily involved in many upper body compound lifts.

Your standard bench press, incline press, shoulder press, and dips all hit the front delts HEAVILY. However, does that mean you should completely avoid front delt movements? Absolutely not!

If you want to include front delt exercises into your routine, that’s completely fine. However, I wouldn’t recommend completely focusing on them. The last thing you want is to overtrain them and place further strain on your shoulders.

Instead, during your shoulder workout, try focusing more on the lateral or rear delt exercises. The above list of cable shoulder exercises only included one front delt movement since your front delt should not be your focus.

Importance of Shoulder Warm up

Now, let’s not forget that shoulder injuries are the most common type of injury to occur at the gym. We’ve all heard about the tear a rotator cuff impingement, right?

Our shoulder is used as secondary muscles in many upper body movements, so you need to make sure you do a quick warm up before you get into your workout.

Now, the warmup doesn’t have to be fancy and long. Just a quick 5 – 10 min warm up is good enough to prevent those injuries. Last thing we want is to take a break from the gym, right?


Should You Train Your Rear Delts During Back or Shoulder?

Your rear delts are involved in many of your back exercises. So, it does make sense to train your rear delts on your back day. What I’d recommend is including rear delt exercises in both your back day and shoulder day. Perhaps rear delt cable fly’s and dumbbell bent-over rows on your back day and face pulls in your shoulder workout.
Be sure to separate your back and shoulder day by 48 hours. This way you will give enough time for your rear delts to recover.

How Many Shoulder Exercises Do You Need?

The biggest misconception is that doing more is better. I’ve seen people do 6-8 exercises with 3-4 sets for one muscle group. This is overtraining and it’s actually not giving your any additional benefits. In fact, it can negatively effect your performance and in some cases cause injuries.

Can You Do A Whole Shoulder Workout With Just Cables?

Cables can help target each part. As shown above, the cable shoulder exercises target the front, side, and rear delt. However, I would recommend including both free weights and cables into your workout. Not only will you be getting variety, but you will also be hitting your muscles from different angles which is really important.

Key Takeaway

Using a cable machine will increase the tension on your working muscle. It will also add variety to your workout and target your muscles from different angles.

The lateral cable raise, upright row, rear delt cable fly, face pulls, and front raises are popular and effective cable shoulder exercises that will target each part of your deltoid muscle. Follow some of the modifications and tips to get the best benefits.

I hope this article helped you find some variety in your shoulder workout. Try some of these out and let us know your favorite cable shoulder exercise!

As always, stay Fit & Healthy and I will see you guys’ next week!

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Hey, I'm Shalin

Welcome to Just Fit & Healthy. From the right nutrition to the best science based workouts, here is the one stop shop for ALL information. Let’s achieve goals together!

Shalin Anam

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