Boulder shoulders are a big part of the “V” shape many bodybuilders desire to achieve. Without a focus on shoulders in any bodybuilding workout program, you will be unable to carve out your goal body of having a ripped torso, strong legs, and an overall Herculean build.
Shoulders are often worked through many muscle groups, so you may find you wake up with slightly sore shoulders after back or chest day. However, focusing solely on shoulder workouts would provide additional gains in that area as you’d be working all the different, smaller muscles in the area to achieve greater muscle definition.
In addition to achieving more muscle definition and stronger shoulders, there are also health benefits to focusing on working your shoulders. For example, regularly exercising your shoulders has been shown to provide significant improvements in mobility, particularly in those who suffer with shoulder pain.
In this article, we discuss all things shoulders, along with 7 of the best cable shoulder exercises. You can find a cable machine in almost any recreational gym. It is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment available, particularly useful for upper body exercises.
So, next time you’re heading to your local for a training session, try out the below shoulder exercises and some example workouts to help you improve your mobility, get a good muscle pump, and achieve boulder shoulders.
Firstly, let’s get to know your shoulders!
Shoulder Anatomy 101
Before we get into the top exercises and workouts for shoulders, it’s useful to know what muscles make up your shoulders.
The shoulders are made up of two groups of muscles:
1) Extrinsic muscles
These originate from the torso and attach to the bone of the shoulder
2) Intrinsic muscle
These originate from the scapula and/or clavicle and attach to the humerus
- Trapezius—the triangle-shaped muscle that runs along your spine and across your shoulder blade, supporting your arms and shoulders.
- Latissimus Dorsi—This is one of the largest muscles in your back, often referred to as “lats”, which connect to your trapezius.
- Levator Scapulae—These muscles are located on the back and sides of your neck, its main function being to lift your scapular (bone found in the back of the shoulder).
- Rhomboids—These muscles are located at the top of the back and middle of your shoulder blades. Contracting them would pull your shoulder blades together.
Deltoids—Your deltoids, or “delts”, are made up of three sets of muscle fibres: anterior, lateral, and posterior. They are all connected by a very thick tendon and shaped into a V.
The delts are primarily responsible for arm rotation, and also play a role in preventing injury and dislocation.
- Teres Major—These are small muscles located on the underside of the upper arm, assisting the lats in their function.
- Rotator Cuff—This is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the muscle joint. They keep the head of your arm within the socket of your shoulder.
The following exercises focus on working these muscle groups using the versatility of the cable machine. This machine would allow you to target the shoulder muscles from all angles, which will help you achieve a balanced muscle build in that area.
7 Best Cable Shoulder Exercises
1) Single-Arm Lateral Raises
This movement is often done using dumbbells but can also be done using a cable machine. This is a popular exercise to add to your routine as they target your medial part of your deltoids (the part which will give you the “boulder” shape).
- Start by standing to the side of the cable machine which should be adjusted to the lowest point
- Attach a handle and grasp in one hand, standing so your arm is to one side, and the cable is behind your legs
- Keep a slight bend in your elbow, tighten your core and legs
- Raise your arm up straight, stopping when it’s parallel to the floor
- Lower back down and repeat
2) Anterior Raises
This movement will target the front of your shoulders, further defining your chest and torso and helping you achieve fuller, pronounced shoulders.
The best way to perform this movement is to attach a straight bar to the cable and adjust it to the lowest point.
- Stand with one leg either side of the cable and bend down to grasp the bar in both hands
- Walk one or two steps out to put tension on the cable, keeping the bar at hips length
- Raise your arms up straight until parallel with the floor
- Keeping the elbow slightly bent, lower bar to the starting position and repeat
3) Bent-Over Rear Delt Flyes
This exercise targets the rear delts, the back part of your shoulder muscle, ensuring your shoulders look defined from all angles.
- Stand in the centre of the cable machine with it adjusted at the lowest point, grasping a cable in each hand
- Cross your arms to form an “X”, and hinge at your hips
- Raise your arms straight up to the sides until parallel with the floor
- Keep your elbows locked but slightly bent, lower back down, and repeat
4) Leaning Single-Arm Lateral Raises
This is a variation of the lateral raise which allows you to better target the delts and maintain a stronger form.
- Start by standing next to the cable machine and grabbing the cables as you would a regular single-arm raise
- Grasp the side of the machine with your opposite hand and adjust your feet so they are slightly closer to the machine
- Lean out to one side while holding the machine
- Keeping your elbow slightly bent, raise your arm until it's parallel with the floor
- Lower and repeat
5) Face Pulls
Face pulls are one of the most common cable exercises for building the rear delts and working the traps! A really effective exercise for improving posture.
- Attach a rope to the cable and adjust to its highest point
- Stand in front of the machine while grasping a rope in each hand, using an overhand grip and turn your palms to face each other
- Lift your elbows until they are level with your shoulders
- Take one or two steps back to put tension on the cable
- Bend your elbows while pulling the rope towards your face
- Pull as far back until your hands are in line with your ears
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement, before releasing and repeating the movement
6) Cable Shoulder Press
This is a great alternative to a shoulder press that’s usually performed using a barbell or a set of dumbbells. Start by attaching a bar to the cable machine and adjusting it to its lowest point.
- Pull up the weight so it's resting on the front of your shoulders
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart
- Engage your core and glute, keeping your elbows up and your chin tucked in
- Raise the bar over your head, ensuring you’re not arching your back and keeping a solid frame
- Slightly poke your head out at the top of the movement
- Return to starting position and repeat
7) Cable Upright Row
Upright rows are a great movement for the traps and a great accessory to add to any workout routine to help sculpt the upper body. You can use a straight bar or rope attachment for this movement.
- Set the cable at its lowest point and put on your preferred attachment
- Grab the attachment with both hands around shoulder width apart
- Raise your arms up to your chest, like you’re trying to touch your elbows to the ceiling
- Stop when your elbows are in line with your shoulders
- Lower down and repeat
Example Shoulder Workouts
Now you know the anatomy of the shoulder and some of the best exercises to building shoulder muscle, it’s time to put the knowledge to practice! Have a go at these 3 shoulder routines.
Warning: not for the faint-hearted!
Single-Arm Lateral Raises: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Cable Upright Row: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Anterior Raises: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Face Pulls: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Cable Shoulder Press: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Leaning Single-Arm Lateral Raises: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Bent-Over Rear Delt Flyes: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Cable Upright Row: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
You can also incorporate many different set strategies, such as pyramid sets, drop sets, and super sets. These all work the muscles to failure, resulting in more efficient muscle growth and a better muscle pump.
If you’re seeking that sought-after “V” shape, shoulders should be a big part of your workout routine.
The shoulders are made up of many muscles which can be targeted through many upper body workouts, though focusing solely on shoulder workouts would result in enhanced muscle definition, decreased risk of injury, and better mobility!
The cable machine is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment in the gym and is particularly useful for targeting smaller, more detailed muscles in the shoulders.
Try these exercises workouts for the best boulder shoulder results!