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February 10, 2022 12 min read

Lateral raises come in so many modifications that can make your head spin. Each variation comprises a  tweak in the basic lateral raise exercise. 

The cable lateral raise, like the original  lateral raise variation, is a shoulder exercise that focuses on growing the deltoid muscle.

It provides a more shredded look by switching your rounded shoulders for a broader v-tapered look. Is this lateral variation any good? Below, we have provided the answers to any questions you might have.

cable pulley system gym workout fitness people with personal trainer

What Is The Cable Machine?

The upper body, which includes the shoulders, arms, and torso, is the most worked-on part at the gym. This might be due to a myopic view that only focuses on massive chests and boulder-like shoulders as the epitome of fitness, or the fact that the arm and shoulder muscles require consistency and focus for the first signs of hypertrophy to become apparent. Either way, a regular gym-goer tries to build their upper bodies at every chance they get.

The cable lateral raise is a common upper-body strength-training exercise favored by veteran and new gym-goers.

It can be both a unilateral exercise and bilateral exercise, depending on your fitness goals. The cable lateral raise is done using bulky gym equipment known as the cable machine or a pulley machine.

The cable machine is an intimidatingly large piece of equipment loaded with pulleys and resistance.

They are used for a wide range of exercises, thanks to their resistances that support movement across different planes of motion.

The amount of cable station, meaning the workable part of the cable machine, depends on the type of cable machine at your gym and can be anything from 1 or 2 stations to multiple numbers.

The cable machine had its roots deep in the 1900s when it was first invented for weight and functional training.

It was a simple design that consisted of a rectangular steel frame and attached weight and pulley system with handles included. It has since undergone various research and remodeling to make it more functional and safe for commercial use. 

Although muscle response varies with cable machines and selectorized weight training, the cable machine provides you with a chance at a different form of muscle response.

Free weights can be tedious and demanding.

If you are looking to take a break while still working your body, cable machines are a safe bet to start with. With the provision of smooth eccentric and concentric phases and a chance to increase or decrease your resistance, cable machines are safe and stimulating.

The Cable Lateral Raise

The cable lateral raise was designed to isolate the muscles of the shoulders, primarily the deltoids, for a broader and more capped look.

It helps to widen the shoulders and at the same time create an optical illusion of a bigger chest and a smaller waist. Essentially, it is designed to help you achieve a bodybuilder’s v-taper look.

The cable lateral raise is a variation of a conventional lateral raise. The latter is done using dumbbells, and the cable lateral raise is done in the same method using the cable machine. The cable lateral raise, however, is more underrated and even less famous than its counterpart.

Muscles Worked In Cable Lateral Raise

The primary benefit of the cable lateral raise is its ability to work the middle or medial deltoid.

The problem with building the shoulders is it is made up of different muscles, and each power may activate during exercises depending on the movements and directions of the arm. 

Contrary to popular opinion, your shoulder is not one big fat slab of fleshy muscle. It is divided into various sections, and each section has its primary function.

The delts, the most substantial muscles of the shoulders, comprise three parts of the head, namely the anterior or front delt, the medial or middle delt, and the posterior or back delt.

While they might be clumped together to work smoothly like a well-oiled machine, the deltoid heads each carry out seperate functions. Altogether, the deltoid acts as an abductor of the shoulder and stabilizer of the humeral head or shoulder.

Without strong deltoid muscles, your arm would probably come out of its socket every time you lift heavy loads.

Separately, each head of this triangular muscle tells a whole different story.

Anterior Deltoid 

Located on the front of your shoulder and connecting to the clavicle, the anterior delt helps you move your arm forward.

You make use of your anterior delt when you reach out to grab an item or point at something in front of you.

You also make use of your anterior deltoid when you do  push-ups. The anterior delt also helps to flex the arm at the shoulder joint.

Medial Deltoid

The medial or middle deltoid, also fondly known as the lateral deltoid, is located between the anterior and posterior delts, connected with tendons. This is the most superficial deltoid that contributes to the bulk size of the shoulders.

As its name implies, the lateral deltoid helps abduct or move the arms out to the side and away from your body. It also helps to move the arms during internal rotation, flex, and extend the arms, and without a healthy lateral deltoid, you would find it difficult to move your arms up and down.

Posterior Deltoid

It is also vital in the stabilization of your shoulders during movement. The posterior delts work to keep your posture in check.

It does this by connecting and working together with the scapula retractors, rhomboids, and trapezius muscles to stabilize the back and pull your shoulders backward. This prevents you from hunching over and strengthens your posterior chain. Add this to its primary function of extension, external rotation, and horizontal abduction of the arms. You see that the rear delt is one of the most critical muscles in the upper body.

What do we work the most?

While the cable lateral raise works all three deltoid muscles, it focuses most of the intensity on the lateral deltoid.

This isolation is an advantage if you want to build big shoulders in little to no time. The lateral deltoid is the most crucial deltoid when bulking up the shoulders. Building this muscle would provide a broader physique. Many pressing movements like the bench press and push-up promise to work all the deltoid heads for a capped and shredded shoulder.

Secondary Muscles Worked 

Still, many of these movements work the anterior deltoids more, leaving little stimulation to the lateral deltoid. 

The lateral cable raise works other secondary muscles like the supraspinatus, traps, subscapularis, and serratus anterior.

The supraspinatus muscle might seem relatively small, but as a part of the rotator cuff, it helps balance the shoulders and initiate the movement of the arms away from the body. It works with the subscapularis muscle, another one of the rotator cuff muscles.

The serratus anterior helps raise the ribs during movements and reflexively during respiration. Located on the sides of the ribs, the cable lateral raise strengthens and grows this muscle, contributing to a shredded, broad-chested look. The traps, on the other hand, start at the neck and extend to the mid-back. It helps to move and stabilize the scapula.

Altogether, these muscles contribute to the health and strength of the upper body.

This helps to not only improve performance at functional activities but also helps you to scale on to more challenging exercises at the gym. The strengthening of these muscles allows you to speed towards your fitness goals.

How To Do Cable Lateral Raise

The cable lateral raise might look like a simple, machine-assisted movement but do not be deceived.

While it is no more taxing than the conventional lateral raise, it requires an equal focus on the form.

Like many other exercises, form is vital for targeting the right muscles during the cable lateral raise. It also drastically reduces your risks of injury, ensuring your safety throughout your workout.

Unless you are used to different variations and modifications of the lateral raise, the cable lateral raise might seem a tad difficult for you. Before fret, keep in mind that this exercise is easy to learn and even easier to perfect. Provided that you play strictly by the rules and leave no room for lagging, you are well on your way to bagging the v-tapered look that is a holy grail amongst fitness enthusiasts.

The cable lateral raise works based on the execution of the side lateral raise. The cable lateral raise can work each arm separately or both simultaneously.

If you are new to lateral raises, you may prefer to start with one-armed cable raises.

This would help build each arm in preparation for the bilateral cable lateral raise and help you to correct any muscle imbalance along the way.

How to do the unilateral cable lateral raise:

  • Attach a handle to the lowest pulley setting.
  • To work your right shoulder, stand with your left side to the cable machine. The side you intend to work on should be facing away from the pulley.
  • Keep your feet hip-width apart and your back straight.
  • Stand tall by pulling your shoulders back and pushing your chest forward.
  • Bend your knees slightly.
  • You can choose to either grab the tower of the cable machine with your left hand for support, put your left arm on your hip, or leave it hanging at your side. This is entirely up to you.
  • Reach your right hand across your body and grab the handle.
  • Angle your elbow slightly without turning your palms away from the face-down position.
  • Exhale. Focusing the movements in your shoulders, pull the cable and lift your arms outward until it is at shoulder level and parallel to the floor.
  • Pause at the peak of your movement to maximize contraction.
  • Inhale and slowly lower your arms to the initial position across your body while retaining tension in your shoulders.
  • This is one rep. Complete as many repetitions as you can in a set.
  • Complete three sets before switching to your right arm.

The bilateral or two-arm cable lateral raise uses the two hands at once.

This is relatively more difficult than the unilateral version and demands more effort at holding the correct form.

If you have just been introduced to cable lateral raises, it is advisable to start with the unilateral cable raise.

How to do the two-arm cable lateral raise:

  1. Stand between two cable stations.
  2. Fix the handles of each cable to the lowest pulley setting.
  3. Pick each handle with your arms crossed in front of you so that your right arm pulls the cable on your left and your left arm pulls the cable on your right.
  4. Stand erect with your back straight and chest proud.
  5. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  6. Flex your elbows at a slight angle.
  7. Using your shoulders, pull both cables lateral outward, so they cross in front of you. Gently twist your hand, so your little finger is slightly on top.
  8. At peak movement, your arms should be at shoulder height.
  9. Hold this position for a second.
  10. Slowly lower your arms until they cross in front of you is like in the starting position.
  11. Complete as many reps as you can fit in a set.

Benefits Of Cable Lateral Raises

There is a never-ending debate among gym-goers about which lateral raise variation is better. Many argue that the dumbbell lateral raise evokes more muscle response while devotees of the cable lateral raise believe their way is better. Both variations are equally beneficial on shoulder days. However, the cable lateral raise activates the medial deltoid more.

Bigger Shoulders

Gym-goes tend to think that the frontal raise is a better option for bigger shoulders. However, frontal raises activate the anterior deltoid more than the medial deltoid.

The cable lateral raise is a better option for building big shoulders.

It targets the medial or lateral deltoid, focusing all the generated pressure on stimulating this deltoid head. Other shoulder exercises, including several variations, promise to induce growth on the shoulder; however, these exercises stimulate more of the anterior and posterior deltoid heads than they do the side deltoid.

The cable lateral raise is one of the few exercises that emphasize the lateral deltoid muscle fibers, building the broad-shouldered physique that is extremely desired among all other athletes and bodybuilders. 

Good Posture

The cable lateral raise works most of the muscles directly affiliated with the spine and other back muscles.

The average adult spends time working hunched over a desk. This slackens the traps and other back muscles, resulting in a hunched and rounded shoulder. The cable lateral raise corrects this by working these muscles. 

It strengthens and grows these muscles, not only contributing to the overall jacked look but also improving balance, stability, and good posture.

It also protects your back, ensuring that you do not suffer from minor or major back injuries during your daily activities and while exercising at the gym.

Improves Coordination

Muscle imbalance can be caused by repetitive unhealthy lifestyle, inactivity, lousy posture, exercising with poor form, and an imbalanced exercise routine. This severely reduces your muscle coordination, leaving you prone to injuries.

The cable lateral raise specifically helps fix upper body imbalance by working unilaterally on the left and right sides.

This helps attain symmetry, improves shoulder stabilization, increases your mobility or range of motion at your shoulder joint, and makes your body more aligned.

Maintain Tension

It is often stated that free weights are better than machine exercises. This is not true across all activities, and the cable lateral raise proves this point.

When executing the conventional dumbbell lateral raise, the tension on the shoulders is often Maximus at the end of the upward phase. As you begin the downward phase by lowering your arm, the stress in your shoulder steadily depletes. At the end of the movement, with your arm at your side, there is zero resistance in your shoulders, and your arm is resting. 

This means you only get the most of the dumbbell lateral raise during the concentric phase. The reverse is the case when it comes to the cable lateral raise.

When performed correctly, the tension in your shoulders remains during the cable lateral raise. This might be because the exercise works with the strength curve while the dumbbell variation works against it.

This is important because tension breaks down your medial deltoid muscle fibers, triggering the healing and rebuilding process of these fibers.

The healing process signals the beginning of muscle fiber hypertrophy and strengthens these fibers. This is what helps to build strong and bigger muscles

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Are There Any Negative Parts?

With the cable lateral raise, there are little to no deficits in store for you. It is a splendid addition to your workout routine regardless of your fitness level. It is easy to learn and even easier to execute.

The only complaints many gym-goers might report after familiarizing themselves with the machine might be the inability to lift heavier like in deadlifts.

The cable lateral raise allows for little weight because it focuses on form rather than how much you can lift.

There is no point in lifting heavily if you will ruin it with a lag in your stance. Regardless of this, the cable machine still provides heavy-enough weights to trigger growth in your shoulders. It is a great stepping stone for other high-intensity exercises that allow heavyweights like the deadlift.

Another little dent in this exercise is the time it takes to complete equal sets on each side. If you exercise unilaterally, you will spend double the time than exercising bilaterally.

However, as a beginner, you would get the most out of a unilateral cable raise than the two-armed version. Work your way up to using both arms when you start to get comfortable with this wonder machine.

Tips To Help You Perfect The Cable Lateral Raise

You might be required to remember some cues to help you along the way when performing the cable lateral raise. These cues will help you hold perfect form during the cable lateral raise.

Some of these tips include:

Don’t raise past your shoulders

Raising your arms past shoulder level does not automatically increase the activation of your shoulder muscles. It does more harm than good and increases the strain placed on these muscles, further increasing your risk of a shoulder injury. Raise your arms to shoulder-level or slightly above without going too far up.

Squeeze at the top

Squeeze your shoulder muscles at the peak movement to milk the muscle contraction for your fibers. This would work out your muscles even harder and hasten the process of muscle hypertrophy.

Don’t swing

Your rep does not count if you swing your arms up and down. It is easy to cheat when performing the cable lateral raise. However, these cheat reps get you nowhere to your bulky shoulder goals. Focus on slow and controlled movements and feel the contraction in your shoulders as you lift.

Squeeze your shoulder blades

Do this by bringing your shoulders back and pushing your chest forward. This would keep you from hunching forward and help you to hold proper form throughout your exercise. Remember to gaze ahead when you do this. It would take the unnecessary strain away from your neck region.

Make it more challenging

Make your cable lateral raise more intense by pausing for more than one second during the peak movement. As you get used to this increased contraction, focus on expanding the pause for longer without breaking form.

Take time off to recover

Recovery is as essential as your exercises. Take time off to rest after dreary workout sessions. Pack your system with proteins and, most importantly, get enough sleep.

Cable Lateral Raise Alternatives

There are various ways to modify the cable lateral raise. This can be in terms of grip, stance, or arm placement. Regardless, it is vital to get used to the cable lateral raise before tweaking any part of it.

Cable Lateral Raises Are Worth The Hype

Cable lateral raises are not a fad that would fade away. They are a great addition to your arm day routine for broader and stronger shoulders. Combine the cable lateral raise and its various modifications for a killer shoulder routine and massive shoulder gains.