Cable Pulley Machine Shoulder & Back Workouts

Determined woman doing exercises in gym on lat machine

The cable pulley machine is an excellent all-purpose fitness equipment that allows you to do a full shoulder and back workout. Used for compound and isolation movements, this machine is versatile and ensures you hit all of the muscles in your shoulders and back. And unlike dumbbells which require you to change the angles of your joints, the constant tension of the cable pulley system allows you to devote all of your resources to building larger muscles more economically.

Before You Begin

All of these cable exercises can be performed on your upper-body workout day. Spend 10 to 15 minutes warming up dynamically before you begin your workout. Perform one set of eight to 12 reps for each exercise and work your way up to three sets over time. Rest for 90 seconds between each exercise.


The close-grip pulldown targets the latissimus dorsi in your back as well as the rhomboids, middle and lower trapezius. It also targets the teres major, posterior deltoid and levator scapulae in your shoulder. Attach a double stirrup handle on the upper pulley cable and set an appropriate weight. Sit on the bench, placing your thighs under the support pad and grasp the handle with both hands. Pull down the handle to your upper chest. Slowly return the handle up by extending your arms and shoulders. Repeat.

Military Press

The cable pulley machine can be used to perform the military press, which targets your anterior and lateral deltoids, and the middle and lower trapezius in your upper back. Start by facing the cable machine and attach a cable bar to a lower pulley cable, or cables if using a double pulley. Pick an appropriate weight and grasp the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your palms facing away. Pull the bar to upper-chest level, and place one foot forward and other back to stabilize yourself. Press the bar upward until your arms are fully extended. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

Reverse Fly

Target your posterior deltoid with a reverse fly. This exercise also targets your lateral deltoid, infraspinatus and teres major in your shoulder, as well as the middle and lower trapezius, and rhomboids in your back. Position twin pulley cables approximately shoulder high. Attach stirrups to the cables and pick an appropriate weight. Grasp the cables, step backward and stand facing the machine. Point your elbows outward, with arms straight and parallel to the floor. Hold your hands together with palms facing each other. Pull the stirrups out to the sides, holding your arms straight with a slight bend in your elbow. Pull until you form a T- shape with you arms and body. Contract your core muscles to keep your body stable. Return and repeat.


Target your upper trapezius and levator scapulae with a shrug exercise. Attach a cable bar to the lower pulley cable and set an appropriate weight. Grasp the bar with a shoulder-width grip, arms straight and palms facing away. Stand close to the pulley and pull the bar upward by elevating your shoulders as high as possible. Keep your arms straight throughout the move. Lower and repeat.