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Cable Lateral Raises: Form, Muscles Worked, Tips and More

Want to have wide, strong shoulders? Give cable lateral raises a try!

Fit and muscular man doing cable lateral raises to build shoulder muscle

The shoulders are some of the most important muscle groups to nail down if you're a man wanting to look strong and muscular.

They help to round off your physique and really accentuate the size of your frame if they're well developed.

If you've been lifting for a while, we're sure you've heard of the lateral raise before.

Being one of the more classic exercises in the gym, almost everybody that lifts knows what a lateral raise is.

And while lateral raises are done with dumbbells the majority of the time, there's one variation that we particularly love here at Gympulsive.

In fact, it's popular among some of the most well known online fitness coaches for being incredibly good at stimulating muscle growth.

We're talking about the cable lateral raise.

In this post, we'll go over why we love this exercise so much, how to perform it correctly, some common mistakes, training tips and more.

Keep on reading and we'll help you master this exercise in no time.

How to Perform Cable Lateral Raises

Cable lateral raises are actually a pretty simple exercise to perform.

It's an isolation lift, meaning there's only movement at one joint. You're really only moving at the shoulders.

Here's how to perform lateral raises for the best results:

  1. Set the cable machine low, with a single 'd' handle attached to the pulley system.

  2. Stand next to the machine with both feet close together and face out to either side.

  3. Stand upright and push your chest out to straighten your posture.

  4. Grab onto the tower with your non-working hand for added support.

  5. With your outside arm, grab the handle and stand upright with your hand slightly in front of you.

  6. Bend your elbows slightly (just a little bit less than fully straight) and allow the weight to pull your hand down until it's by your hip.

  7. Maintaining that position with your elbow, raise your arm up and out to the side at about 20-30 degrees until your upper arm is level with your shoulder.

  8. Squeeze the shoulder muscles hard at the top of the movement.

  9. Lower the weight back down with control until your arm is out just in front of your hip again.

  10. Repeat for reps.

Check out the video below by ActiveID Training Systems for a demonstration!

Muscles Worked During Cable Lateral Raises

The cable lateral raise is a shoulder exercise, making it a great choice of exercise on workouts such as 'push' workouts, upper body workouts or shoulder day workouts.

To fully understand the muscle activation in a cable lateral raise, it's important for you to understand the structure of the shoulder, and how those muscles are developed.

The shoulder has three heads. This basically means there are three muscles on each of your shoulders that can help to perform some kind of movement.

You have the anterior deltoid (located on the front of your shoulder highlighted in red), the posterior deltoid (located at the back of your shoulder highlighted in blue), and the medial deltoid (sitting between the two and highlighted in green).

Breakdown of human structure of deltoid muscle.

Each one of the three heads has its own functions, and often you'll have more than one of them working simultaneously to get through a range of motion.

However with the cable lateral raise, you're primarily going to be working the medial head of the delts.

Cable lateral raises are treated as an isolation movement for the medial deltoid.

Now we say this because although cable lateral raises are mean to be an isolation exercise for the medial delts, it's completely normal for the traps and front delts to be slightly engaged as well.

In fact, it's basically impossible to do lateral raises without engaging the muscles of the traps and front delts. Even if just a tiny bit.

But primarily, cable lateral raises are meant to be used as an isolation exercise for the medial or middle head of the deltoids.

How Do Cable Lateral Raises Differ from Dumbbell Lateral Raises?

Even if think you're quite strong, you're quickly going to be humbled when doing this exercise for the first time.

The lateral raise itself is quite a weak range of motion due to the small number and size of the muscles activated and doing the work.

And on a cable, you're going to find that you're even weaker than you were with dumbbells in your hands due to the constant tension that cables provide.

With dumbbells, the resistance you have to overcome at the bottom of the range of motion is minimal and insignificant.

The dumbbell only really becomes heavy at the top of the motion when your delts are in their weakest position (fully shortened), which is why you might've been feeling like you were unable to progress on this exercise in the past.

However with cables, the profile of the resistance is the same whether you're at the top of the range of motion of the bottom of it.

This means instead of half the exercise being difficult, the entire exercise is more difficult and stimulating.

Trust us when we say, you're going to want to pick a lighter weight.

It might hurt your pride a little bit, but it's going to go a long way in helping you see more gains in the long run.

Training Tips for Cable Lateral Raises

The cable lateral raise is a pretty simple exercise to perform.

However, there are still lots of places where you could go wrong, and lots of useful training tips that we could give you to maximize your results in the gym.

Use a Light Weight

Using a light weight is going to allow you to really hone in on the technique of the exercise and get as much out of each rep as possible.

This exercise is not like the bench press of the barbell back squat where it makes sense to be lifting heavy in the rep ranges below 6-8.

Cable lateral raises should be done with light weights to really burn out the medial delts, and get them working hard to grow in size.

Make sure that each and every rep you do is executed with control, and that you're not just throwing the weight around and letting gravity pull it back down for another rep.

Many people will find that a single plate (lowest possible weight on the cable machine) is going to be heavy enough to create a real challenge and stimulate some proper growth in their medial delts.

Whatever you do, just make sure you're using a weight that you can actually control.

Otherwise you're not going to be getting as much out of the exercise as you could be.

Don't Use Momentum

Perhaps one of the most commonly made mistakes when it comes to cable lateral raises would be generating momentum with other parts of your body to bring the weight up.

Whether you do this by bouncing a little bit off your legs or swinging your entire torso up and down just to keep up with the weights that you're trying to lift, it's all the same.

It's all having a negative impact on the gains you're making.

Instead, just keep control over your body and try to maintain the same position with your legs and torso throughout the range of motion.

Drop the weight to get the hang of this first it it makes it easier.

Keep Your Head Up

We know this might not seem like it would have a ridiculously large effect on your performance when it comes to cable lateral raises, but you should actually refrain from allowing your head to drop down.

The reason for this is that dropping your head down actually increases the chances of you not only straining your neck, but engaging other, less important muscle groups for this movement such as the traps.

It's best to just try and maintain a neutral neck, along with a strong spine and good overall posture.

Cable Lateral Raise Variations

There are lots of variations of the cable lateral raise that you could do instead for one reason or another.

We'll give you a list of our 3 favorite ones, and briefly explain how you can perform each one.

Standing Cross Body Cable Lateral Raises

This is a variation that's pretty similar, but has you setting up the exercise differently and doing both arms at a time.

Basically, you stand in the middle of the cable machine and you grab both handles. You grab the handle on the left with your right arm, and vice versa.

Bring the cables close together and then simply lateral raise them up, both arms at a time.

Like this:

Fit and muscular man doing cable lateral raises

Isometric Lateral Raise Holds

This is a great variation to the regular cable lateral raise that's going to provide more of a burn on your shoulder muscles and really have you feeling satisfied after your workouts if that's something you've been struggling to achieve in the past.

All you have to do for this variation is to do a regular lateral raise, but incorporate a short hold or pause at the top of the range of motion when your upper arm is at your shoulder level.

Simply bring the weight up like you normally would, and then pause it at the top for a second or two before lowering the weight back down with control.

Really try to feel your shoulder muscles squeezing, and that burning sensation will be sure to follow suit if you do it correctly!

One and a Half Rep Cable Lateral Raises

Like many other isolation exercises, the cable lateral raise can be used as a burnout at the end of your workout to really finish off a muscle group.

By implementing the 1 and a half rep technique, you can create that extra burn on your medial delts and stimulate that extra bit of growth, no matter how small it is.

It's one of the best intensifying techniques you can do to raise the difficulty of your workout and help you get more out of the session in a shorter period of time.

You can do this variation by simply incorporating half of a rep in between each full rep you do.

For example, you'll do one full lateral raise, allow the weight to come back down, go halfway back up (arm to an angle of 45 degrees), come back down, then do another full rep and repeat this cycle until you can't do anymore.

Precautions with Cable Lateral Raises

While cable lateral raises are generally a pretty safe exercise, you do need to be careful with your range of motion, and avoid trying to lift your arms too high up above your shoulder level.

If you try going through a range of motion that's too long, you're going to run the risk of injuring your shoulders in one way or another.

This is then going to have a very negative impact on your ability to train with the rest of your upper body, whether you're wanting to train chest, back, or arms.

You're going to struggle to bench press, struggle to do pull ups, and will likely feel some lingering pain in your shoulders for a while if you're not careful.

Just try to prevent your arms from going any higher than your shoulder level during your cable lateral raises.

And again, don't try to use a weight that's too heavy for you.

The risk of injury simply isn't going to be worth it for you.

To Conclude

To wrap things up, cable lateral raises are an amazing shoulder exercise that you can utilize to see great progress in the upper body, and to really help you round out your physique.

Having big, strong shoulders is going to really accentuate the size of your frame and help you attain that wide looking physique.

Cable lateral raises are one of the best exercises you can do to get you there!

If you enjoyed this post, remember to share it with your friends so that we can reach more people!

Do you currently do cable lateral raises?

Let us know in the comments section!


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