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From the Cable to the Wall! Best Cable Exercises for Shoulders

When you’re building your body, whether that means chiseled arms and shoulders or just getting toned for the summer, working your shoulders is a great way to get fit and stay fit.

Your shoulders work a whole host of muscles that in turn help you get stronger, faster.

Using cables to get your shoulders in shape is one of the best ways to get started on your fitness journey!

Why Do Cable Exercises

Starting with any new type of exercise may have you asking “why this one” and cable exercises are no different.

They’re a staple of any gym workout but doing them at the gym can feel like a cop-out. After all, the machine tends to do half the work for you when it comes to lifting and getting fit.

Cable exercises work for a whole host of different muscle groups and remain one of the most versatile exercises you can do at the gym.

Once you get the feel for each of the exercises that you can do with the cable system, a whole new world of workouts opens up!

Particularly, cable exercise enthusiasts swear by the cable rope and many will even carry one in their gym bag.

These cable exercises are easy to adjust as you can move the weight up and down in a short amount of time. You’ll be able to start low and go slow if you’re just working on getting toned or jump up to a heavier weight so you can bulk up your shoulders fast.

Importance of Strong Shoulders

Your shoulders tend to bear the brunt of every workout you do. From pull-ups to bench press, your shoulders are the hinge that makes working out work!

Strong shoulders mean a strong foundation where you can build up to getting stronger or building even bigger muscles.

There are a million different variations of exercises that you can do in your program but nearly everyone will involve your shoulders.

Between your core, shoulders, and knees, these three areas hinge and control every muscle group in your body. Keeping them healthy and strong is crucial to the success of your workout program!

Strong shoulders are also a great way to keep yourself healthy and injury-free. Between shoulder and knee injuries, the most common things that befall any workout fanatic are strains and sprains that are annoying and painful.

Toning and defining your shoulders, strengthening them over time, is the best way to continue preventing injury in the long term.

Keeping your shoulders strong and fit is also one of the best ways to help keep yourself in shape for other activities! If you want to keep playing basketball well into your old age, strong shoulders will be your best bet for keeping active.

A strong set of shoulders is also the key to good joint health as you age. They’re also a much cheaper option than shoulder surgery!

How do You Define Your Shoulders

There are a couple of different paths you can take when you set out to define your shoulders.

You can try to get bulky and push toward heavier weights with each workout. Or you can get a definition and work with a higher number of reps and lower weights.

Since there are several different muscle groups all connected at the shoulder, there are plenty of choices for workouts for your shoulders.

Everything from the pull-up to the chest fly with the cable rope works your shoulders and helps you define the entire muscle area.

Keeping this area of your body strong and functional is the best way to keep progressing in your workout program. A good balance between showy muscles and functional strength is necessary so you can continue to bend and flex at the shoulder for each workout.

Best Cable Exercises for Bigger and Stronger Shoulders

Now it’s time to get with the program!

There are dozens of different moves you can do when you want to build up the strength in your shoulders but cable exercises are a great way to isolate the area.

Keeping a good balance between just bigger shoulders and stronger shoulders is important and doing lots of different cable exercises is sure to keep you limber.

Cable Snow Angels

Get set up with the cable rope system and adjust the anchor points to capitalize on whether you want more resistance with shoulder flexion and choose a lower anchor point or shoulder extension and choose a higher anchor point.

Grasp the end of the cables with both hands and drive your hands toward your back pockets squeezing your shoulders together as you go.

Keep your hands in line with your ears and raise your arms overhead as far as you can. Pause at the top of the move then bring your hands back down to the starting position.

4-Way Shoulder Fly

This move ends up being a variation on the rear delt fly which works your deltoids in a bigger way.

This version works the smaller muscles around this area and the joint is moved up and down to help increase flexion of the area in general. 

Bent-Over Rear Flys

This move is often done with dumbbells but can easily be adjusted to be done with the cable system!

Start by bending over and making your body at a 90-degree angle. You’ll want the anchor point of your cable system to be as close to the ground as possible.

Grasp the cables, each one in the opposite hand. You’ll then focus on your shoulders and pull up and across your body at the same time. This works your deltoids and isolates the areas to help build strength in your shoulders.

The angle makes it difficult to do a lot of weight on this move right off the bat so be sure to start low and go slow as you get going with this move.

Anterior Raises

The anterior raise or cable front raise is a staple shoulder exercise and works for several muscle groups all at once! Start by getting your equipment in order and attach a straight bar to the lowest cable pulley.

You’ll then grasp the bar with an overhand grip between your legs and stand up straight. When you’re ready, bend your elbows slightly and raise the bar until it reaches shoulder level.

Hold this pose for a few seconds and feel your shoulders and pectoral muscles engage fully. Then slowly lower the bar back down to the starting position and start again. Do this for your entire set until you’re finished!

Cable Shrug

Shrugs are another common exercise that is often done with dumbbells or barbells when you’re at the gym working out. But if you’re ready for a bit of a challenge, switch over to the cables to get the most from your workout!

Start by moving the cable pulleys to the lowest anchor point possible on the machine. You’ll then stand in front of the cable pulley with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your core tight and your low back flat.

Grasp the cable bar and pull the weight close to your body but keep it hanging in front of you. Focus on using only your shoulders and bring them toward your ears, pulling the cables up toward your head in a shrugging motion.

Hold the movement at the top of the shrug then slowly lower the weight back down to the starting point!

Face Pulls

You’ll start this move by putting a rope attachment on the pulldown station and set your weight limit on the machine heavy enough to counterbalance your weight.

Position yourself in front of the pully and grab each end of the rope in an overhand grip. Your palms should be facing each other and your elbows will move up to shoulder level and then out to the side.

Put one foot in front of the other and rest your knee on a kneepad which will give you better leverage for the move itself. You’ll then lean back so your body forms a 45-degree angle to the floor. Keep your elbows elevated then pull the rope and cable back toward your face until your hands are near your ears.

Squeeze your shoulders together then reverse back to the start but don’t let the weight touch the rest of the stack!

Single-Arm Lateral Raises

This move has you taking it one arm at a time so you can focus on each muscle group individually and build up your strength! Start by standing sideways to the low cable pulley and keep your feet shoulder-width apart.

You’ll grasp the handle of the pulley system in the hand opposite the system then brace your non-working arm on your hips or on the structure itself.

Engage your abs, chest, and shoulders, and then raise the cable out to the side in a wide arc. Your elbow and hand should move in the same plane and just as your arm reaches below shoulder level, hold the pose.

This contracts your deltoids and engages the muscles in your shoulder for each side. Switch sides and repeat the motion to get a full workout finished!

Rear Deltoid Crossover

Start by setting up the cable pulleys on the lowest anchor point and use the stirrup handle attachments to get the perfect grip.

Stand between the two handles and grab the left cable with your right hand and the right cable with the left hand. Drop your hips and knees just slightly and then bend over at the torso until your midsection is almost parallel to the floor.

Start by raising the cables, crossing them over each other, until your arms are parallel to the ground with your palms facing up. Return to the starting position but keep your shoulders and core engaged. This continues to work your shoulders even as you get ready to start another set.

Cable Shoulder Press

While this move is often done with a barbell or dumbbells, using the cable machine allows you to engage and isolate the muscles in your shoulders more effectively!

Start by moving a bench or elevated bench to the cable machine and put your back to the pulley machine itself. Lower the cables to the lowest anchor point and grasp each handle in your hands.

Move your hands and shoulders up into the press position, pause then push up to the full extension of the muscles in your shoulders and chest.

Lower the handles back down in a controlled manner that is a workout in and of itself. Don’t let the weights touch the stack again until you’ve finished your set!

Frequently Asked Questions

Before you get started on your next workout program, get all of your burning questions answered so you can start with a bang and keep going without hesitation!

Take time to consider all the pros and cons of this new set of exercises before you jump in to get them done.

What’s the Best Approach to Get Chiseled Shoulders?

Mixing up free-weight movements, bodyweight workouts, and cable exercises is the best mix to get chiseled and defined shoulders! But the true key to getting chiseled shoulders is to have a plan that you can easily follow.

A workout and diet plan that is thoughtfully considered is your best tool to getting the boulder shoulders that many people envy.

Don’t focus on working your shoulders every single day but keep the muscles in rotation through compound exercises that help create a support system for your shoulders. Over time, you’ll see some clear definition start to shine through!

What are the Best Exercises for Shoulders?

Every person is different and creating a workout plan that suits your particular fitness goals is the first step toward getting your shoulders in shape.

Bodyweight workouts will only take you so far when you want to keep building out your shoulders and you’ll most likely need to turn to weighted exercises to build up the muscles in any definitive way.

You can do many of these different moves with either dumbbells or cables to suit your workout plan.

Mix them up to create some variation so you won’t get bored!

Work your way through front raises, barbell overhead shoulder presses, reverse pectoral deck flys, dumbbell later raises, push presses, and standing barbell shrugs to get your shoulder workout flowing.

If I focus on Shoulder Workouts will I get Muscle Bound?

Being muscle-bound seems to be a hallmark of many professional bodybuilders and they often don’t lift their shoulders high because after years of focusing on them they’re too stiff to move.

You’ll need to strike a balance between building functional strength that will help you move around freely and heavier weights that will build up the way your shoulders look.

Bodyweights are great for functional strength while cables and free weights are ideal for building your muscles out so everyone can see them!


If you have yet to venture over to the cable pulleys at your local gym, now is the time to hit the cables!

Tone your shoulders and push yourself to grow in new ways with a whole new set of workouts. There are dozens of different workouts and variations on exercises that you can do with the cable system to keep your workouts varied and exciting!

Using the cables is a great way to get chiseled shoulders and still maintain your functional strength so you can keep progressing through all different kinds of workouts!

Time to hit the cables!

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Dr. Ahmed Zayed holds a bachelor’s degree in medicine from Alexandria university and is a practicing plastic surgeon. He’s our expert on all things nutrition, medicine, rehabilitation, and flexibility. Dr.Ahmed has been a medical content writer for more than 11 years and his work reached top publications such as the HuffingtonPost

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