Cable lateral raise is a shoulder exercise that works the middle head of the deltoid muscle, which is the rounded muscle at the very top of each shoulder.
According to studies, this exercise strengthens the infraspinatus and subscapularis muscles in your rotator cuff, thus allowing several shoulder movements, such as the internal and external rotations, to work at ease (
Moreover, the exercise — when combined with frontal raises — can give your shoulder a balanced, well-rounded shape.
One study found that competitive bodybuilders gained more shoulder strength when doing both exercises, compared with just one of them, as lateral raises activate the middle deltoid, whereas the anterior deltoid was more active during the frontal raises (
This article reviews all you need to know about cable lateral raises.
Cable lateral raises focus primarily on the side deltoid muscles while working the anterior deltoid, as well as both the middle and lower traps.
You can use both arms while performing the exercise, but it’s often recommended to use just one to add more difficulty to your workout and stimulate more gains.
To perform cable lateral raises:
- Select a weight that you can lift with only one shoulder.
- Stand next to the pulley machine with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- To maintain good posture, push your chest forward, and point your shoulders back while slightly bending both knees. You can also place your free hand on the machine for support.
- Now, reach across your body and grab the stirrup with your outside arm.
- Slightly bend your elbow to a 10- to 30-degree angle and raise your arm sideways until it’s level with your shoulder, exhaling as you lift.
- Avoid rotating your arm as you raise the stirrup, and keep your focus on the area you want to train — your middle shoulder.
- Hold your position for 1–5 seconds, and then inhale while slowly lowering the weight back. Let the cable come to a complete stop before beginning the next repetition.
- Do at least 10–15 reps per set for each arm.
Cable lateral raise key points
- Use relatively low weights to keep all focus on your mid-shoulder.
- Exhale, lift the weight up to shoulder level, and pause for 1–5 seconds.
- Release the load slowly to the starting point.
If you need more elaboration, check out this video for a demonstration.
Follow the instructions above to perform a one-sided cable lateral raise. Pay special attention to the key points to ensure proper form.
There are a few ways you can modify this exercise. Still, like any other exercise, the two most important things are progression and great form.
Here’s an example of a modification that makes the exercise more challenging.
To get better results, increase the intensity of the exercise by slowly lifting the weight and pausing for 3–7 seconds in each repetition. You will feel the burn as the tension increases in the lateral deltoids, which forces your muscles to grow.
Studies show that lifting the weight slowly increases the time the muscle spends under tension, thus boosting how the muscle synthesizes protein after the workout and helping it grow (
For a greater challenge, lift the weight more slowly and hold for 3–7 seconds before lowering it back down.
There are a few variations to cable lateral raise to spice up your workout.
Dead-stop lateral raises
The dead-stop lateral raise reduces the momentum and thus increases the tension your muscle gets. This exercise is better performed with dumbbells rather than cable pulleys.
Here’s how to do it:
- Grab two dumbbells and sit on a bench.
- With one dumbbell in each hand, extend your arms out to the side and allow the dumbbells to rest on the bench.
- Raise your arms until they’re at shoulder height.
- Lower the dumbbell in a controlled manner until you rest them on the bench.
- Relax your grip after every repetition.
Check out this video for a quick demonstration.
Eccentric lateral raises
In this exercise, you increase muscle tension by extending the amount of time the arms are raised. This adds resistance — and challenge — to the move. Here’s how to do it:
- Hold your dumbbells.
- Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and raise them out to the side, up to shoulder height.
- Now, extend your elbows so that your arms are straight out to the sides, making a “T” shape with your body, and your palms are facing down.
- Hold this position for 1–3 seconds and then slowly lower your arms back down to your sides, keeping them locked in an extension.
You can watch this video for a quick brief on how to do eccentric lateral raise.
Elevator lateral raises
The purpose of elevator lateral rises is to increase the time the muscle spends under tension and thus stimulate more growth. Here’s how to do it:
- Lock your arms close to your body and hold the dumbbells in both hands.
- Raise your arms simultaneously to shoulder height.
- Partially lower your arms one-third of the way down, and then lift them back up to shoulder height. Next, lower your arms down half of the way, and then lift them back up to shoulder height.
- Lower your arms completely back down to your sides.
- Repeat the sequence for a desired number of repetitions.
Elevator raises are very simple, yet challenging. You can watch a quick demonstration here.
Variations of the cable lateral raise are the dead-stop lateral raise, eccentric lateral raise, and elevator lateral raise. Note that dumbbells may be preferred to the cable machine for some of these variations.
There are alternative deltoid exercises, and most of them can be done at home with no equipment. However, keep in mind that these movements may not be as effective at isolating the middle deltoid as the cable lateral raise is.
A few examples include:
- barbell military press
- downward dog
- inverted rows
- overhead press
- warrior pose
- the windmill
If you look up these exercises online, seek out instructors who provide detailed guidance to ensure proper form and help avoid injury.
Alternative exercises to strengthen your deltoids include chinups, downward dog, planks, superman, and the windmill.
Cable lateral raises are a great exercise to give a balanced shape to your shoulders and make them look broader.
There are three variations of cable lateral raises that you can use to spice up your shoulder workout and strengthen the different shoulder muscles. These are dead-stop, eccentric, and elevator cable raise.
Modify and alternate between the three forms, but make sure your form is correct to avoid injury.
Keep in mind that it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider or a qualified personal trainer prior to starting a new workout routine, particularly if you have any underlying health conditions or injuries.