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9 Shoulder Exercises With The Cable Machine

Cable machine workouts can offer you impressive benefits and muscle gains but what are some shoulder exercises you can do with cables?

The cable machine is a piece of fitness equipment where a steel frame holds weights and pulleys. Thanks to the cable going through these pulleys and attached to these weights you can do many types of strength training exercises for a wide variety of muscles.

Most people think about dumbbells and barbells when talking about shoulder exercises but you can definitely get big shoulders with the cable machine if you choose the right exercises.

Keep in mind that even though there are many benefits, your injury risk is generally also higher when you do exercises with more weight/resistance. You may want to talk to your primary care provider before starting a new workout routine.

1. Cable shoulder press

For the first shoulder exercise with the cable machine you preferably use a straight bar handle. In theory, you can also use other grip attachments. To do a shoulder press take the following steps:

  1. Set the cable machine low to the ground, attach a straight bar handle, and select your desired weight.
  2. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart right in front of the cable machine facing toward it. Take the straight bar and hold it at about shoulder height with your hand palms facing forward. Your elbows can point slightly more forward than just a horizontal line with your shoulders.
  3. Slowly move the bar up until your arms are slightly less than stretched.
  4. Lower the bar back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.

The shoulder press with a barbell or dumbbells is one of the most popular exercises for growing shoulder muscles. These other types of equipment may be more popular but you can definitely use the cable machine for this exercise too.

2. Straight arm cable kickback

To do a straight arm cable kickback take the following steps:

  1. Set the cable machine low to the ground, attach a single rope handle (or double if you don’t have this available), and select your desired weight.
  2. Grab the handle with one hand. Take a step back.
  3. While keeping your back straight slightly bend forward until your upper body is as close as horizontal to the ground while keeping your posture good. Either brace yourself against the machine or put one leg forward and one leg backward. Keep your arm vertically pointing toward the ground. Hold the grip in a neutral position.
  4. Move your hand back until your arm with the handle is about horizontal.
  5. Move your hand back into the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.

The tricep kickback is a popular tricep exercise. By keeping your arm straight during the exercise you shift the focus to your rear deltoid, back shoulder, muscles.

3. Front cable raise

This description of the front cable raise will describe the exercise with a straight bar grip but you can also use a double rope cable attachment. To do a front cable raise take the following steps:

  1. Set the cable machine low to the ground, attach a straight bar handle, and select your desired weight.
  2. Stand right in front of the cable machine with your back toward it. Pick up the straight bar handle with your hands at about shoulder width. Stand up straight. The cable goes through your legs. Your arms start slightly less than stretched and pointing down.
  3. Raise the bar up while keeping your arms slightly less than stretched until they are at a horizontal line.
  4. Lower the bar back into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.

The front cable raise mainly engages your anterior, your front, deltoids. This exercise can also be done with free weights and resistance bands.

4. Cable shrug

For the cable shrug, you preferably want to use a double D-grip cable handle but other handles can work too. To do a cable shrug take the following steps:

  1. Set the cable machine low to the ground, attach a double D-grip handle, and select your desired weight.
  2. Stand right in front of the cable machine with your face toward it. Pick up the double D-grip handle. Stand up straight. Your arms start slightly less than stretched and pointing down.
  3. Raise your shoulders as far as you can in a controlled manner.
  4. Slowly lower your shoulders again.

The shrug does not look like the most impressive motion but this cable machine exercise can be great to help you improve your trap muscles.

5. Cable lateral raise

For the cable lateral raise, you can either work out two shoulders at the same time if you have a double pulley cable machine. If not you want to work out one shoulder at a time. To do a cable lateral raise with a single pulley take the following steps:

  1. Set the cable machine low to the ground, attach a D-grip handle, and select your desired weight.
  2. Stand right in front of the cable machine with your side toward it. Pick up the D-grip handle with your hand furthest away from the cable machine. Stand up straight. Your arm with the handle is slightly less than stretched and starts pointing down. You can put your other hand on the cable machine to brace yourself.
  3. Slowly raise your hand with the handle out to the side until it is at shoulder height. Keep your arm slightly less than stretched.
  4. Lower your hand back into starting position in a controlled motion.
  5. Repeat the same number of repetitions with your other arm.

The cable lateral raise mainly engages your lateral deltoids, the middle part of your shoulder muscle.

6. Bent-over rear delt fly

Similar to the lateral raise you can either work out one shoulder at a time or two depending on your cable machine. To do a bent-over rear delt fly with one pulley take the following steps:

  1. Set the cable machine low to the ground, attach a D-grip handle, and select your desired weight.
  2. Stand right in front of the cable machine with your side toward it. Pick up the D-grip handle with your hand furthest away from the cable machine. While keeping your back straight slightly bend forward until your upper body is as close as horizontal to the ground. Your arm with the handle is slightly less than stretched and starts pointing down. You can put your other hand on the cable machine to brace yourself.
  3. Slowly raise your hand with the handle out to the side until it is at shoulder height. Keep your arm slightly less than stretched.
  4. Lower your hand back into starting position in a controlled motion.
  5. Repeat the same number of repetitions with your other arm.

As the name implies this exercise focuses on the rear deltoid, the back of your shoulder muscle.

7. Cable face pull

For this next exercise, you preferably want to use the double rope grip cable attachment. Once you have that, to do a cable face pull take the following steps:

  1. Set the cable machine at about the height of the bottom of your face, attach a double rope grip handle, and select your desired weight.
  2. Grab the handle in your hands, hand palms facing each other, with your face towards the anchor. Take a step or two backward with your arms stretched forward. Stand with your 2 feet at about shoulder width.
  3. Move your arms in a smooth motion towards a position where your upper arms are at a 90-degree angle with your body and your lower arms are pointing up and are at a 45-degree angle with your upper arms. Keep your feet in the same position and your back straight during the exercise.
  4. Slowly move your arms back into the position of step 2.

The cable face pull engages your rear deltoid. If you have any trouble keeping a good posture throughout the day this exercise can help you out a lot.

8. Upright cable row

As the name implies the upright cable row is similar to a resistance training row but standing up straight with the cable machine. To do an upright row take the following steps:

  1. Set the cable machine low to the ground, attach a straight bar handle, and select your desired weight.
  2. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart right in front of the cable machine facing toward it. Take the straight bar and hold it at about shoulder width with your hand palms pointing back. Keep your arm stretched and pointing downward.
  3. Raise the bar straight upward in a controlled manner until your hands are at about shoulder height.
  4. Slowly lower the bar back into the position of step 2.

The upright cable row mainly engages the front and middle heads of the deltoid shoulder muscle.

9. Standing rear delt crossover

For the rear delt crossover, you want a double pulley cable machine. Once you have that to do a standing rear delt crossover take the following steps:

  1. Set the cable machine pulleys at a high setting, attach a single rope handle on both sides, and select your desired weight. This exercise will be done with your sides facing the pulleys.
  2. Go to one side and grab the rope handle with the hand of the opposite side. Walk to the other pulley and do the same. Then move to the middle of the two pulleys.
  3. Take a step back and hold your arms forward in a horizontal line. Keep your arms slightly less than stretched throughout the exercise.
  4. Slowly move your hands out to the side until your upper arms are in about a horizontal line.
  5. Move your hands back into the position of step 3 in a controlled motion.

This is another great exercise for working on the rear deltoid.