The cable shoulder press is a variation of the shoulder press exercise that is commonly used to develop the front and lateral deltoids. Not only does this compound movement build muscle and strength, but it helps to maintain shoulder mobility and has a lot of carryover to athletic performance by facilitating the function of the shoulder joint.
We’ve explained how to perform this exercise with tips, variations, and how you include it in your workout routine so that you can benefit from this movement.
Here’s a guide to the cable shoulder press…
In This Exercise:
- Target Muscle Group: Shoulders
- Type: Strength and hypertrophy
- Mechanics: Compound
- Equipment: Cables
- Difficulty: Beginner
In the press, three muscles take the brunt of the work. Here’s some information on the key muscles involved in this exercise.
The deltoid anterior or front deltoid is one of the three heads (other heads are lateral and posterior) that make up the shoulder muscles. The anterior head works with the posterior head to stabilize the arm while the lateral head abducts the arm from 15-100 degrees. It also works with the pectoralis major to flex the arm when walking.
The deltoid lateral or side deltoid is one of the three heads (other heads are anterior and posterior) that make up the shoulder muscles. This head abducts the arm from 15-100 degrees while the other two heads stabilize the arm. It’s also involved during walking and helps to prevent inferior displacement of the glenohumeral joint when the arm is pressed against the body under load.
The triceps brachii or triceps for short is a three-headed muscle (long head, a lateral head, and a medial head) located on the back and outer portion of the upper arm. Its primary function is elbow extension. The triceps are heavily involved in all pressing or pushing movements, and the shoulder press contributes to its development.
How To Do The Cable Shoulder Press
While there are several ways to do the cable shoulder press, we’ve provided step-by-step instructions for the most basic, common variation.
- Attach two single-grip handles to a low point on a cable machine with closely positioned pulleys. You want to have tension in the cables throughout the entire range of movement.
- Stand facing away from the pulleys, squat down and grip the handles, then stand up with feet either shoulder-width or use a split stance. You should be holding the handles at shoulder-height.
- Keep your back straight, core tight, and lean just slightly forward.
- Press the cable straight overhead without locking out completely, and lower them back down to shoulder-height.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Here’s a video example…
Cable Shoulder Press Tips
- If you want to emphasize more of the front delts, position your arms in front of your body. To emphasize the lateral head, position your arms out to the sides so that your elbows are pointing laterally away from your body.
- Try to stand as close to the cable machine as possible. Standing too far away can cause the weight to pull you back, placing stress in your lower back and making the exercise more difficult to perform. This also depends on how much weight you’re using too.
- You won’t be able to use as much weight as you would if using free weights or a machine as it does require stabilization. However, don’t be afraid to use heavy weight just make sure that you can handle it with proper form.
Here are three very effective variations that each offer its own unique benefits.
Single-arm cable shoulder press
The single-arm cable shoulder press is a unilateral exercise that has advantages over using both arms to press at the same time. Unilateral training is beneficial for identifying and correcting a weaker side, building total-body stabilization and coordination, training the core in a functional way, and the list goes on.
Seated cable shoulder press
You could do this exercise seated too which many prefer because it removes some of the total-body stabilization required when standing. Do it exactly the same way as explained above for the standing variation, and you could also use a straight bar for this variation, of which we shared a video example below.
Resistance band press
If you don’t have access to a cable machine or prefer to use resistance bands which will work just as good, then it’s a great variation to experience the same benefits. Stand on the bands and perform the shoulder press as you would the cable press. It’s really that simple!
How To Incorporate The Cable Shoulder Press Into Your Training Routine
There are a few different ways to effectively include the cable shoulder press in your training regime.
If you train your shoulders on a separate day from any other pushing movements, then we recommend doing the cable shoulder press before you do any other shoulder exercises. That’s because it’s a compound lift that is best performed at full strength. You can follow it with shoulder raises and other exercises. But it’s best to get the most of the movement while you’re fresh.
It’s best to not do heavy chest presses and heavy shoulder presses on the same day for this reason. You want to maximize the stimulation of each muscle methodically. But if you do choose to include two large pushing muscles in a single workout such as the chest and shoulders, either train both lighter, or train one heavier and one lighter, training heavy first.
We recommend 3-4 sets of the cable shoulder press. As for reps, this can vary depending on your goals, but a range of 5-20 reps should cover all bases.
If you want to focus more on developing strength, 5-7 reps is an ideal range. For hypertrophy, you should stick within the 8-12 rep range. 15-20 reps are also good for hypertrophy when taken to failure, and should be incorporated anyway as you don’t always want to train the shoulders using heavy weight.
You should also always do a proper warmup before you train to ensure the health of your shoulder joint. We recommend doing light shoulder lateral raises and presses before using challenging weights.
The cable shoulder press has its place in any workout routine where the goal is to build size, strength, and function. There are many variations of this exercise and it’s a variation in itself so it’s also a good idea to mix things up and benefit from the advantage/s that each offers.
Just make sure to use your smarts when performing any exercise that involves the fragile shoulder joint, and never lift beyond your means to where your form and safety is compromised.