Cable Lateral Raises vs Dumbbell Lateral Raises: Which Builds Bigger Shoulders?

Cable Lateral Raises vs Dumbbell Lateral Raises

If you want to build huge, powerful shoulders, the lateral raise is one exercise you can’t skip. This isolation movement targets the lateral deltoid muscles on your shoulders to add width and create that coveted 3D look.

But should you do your lateral raises with cables or dumbbells? Both have their merits, so let’s break it down in this ultimate showdown between cable lateral raises vs dumbbell.

Anatomy of the Lateral Raise

First, let’s look at what’s going on anatomically during a lateral raise:

  • Primary movers:┬áThe lateral deltoid muscles are the prime movers. They abduct the upper arm out to the side, away from the body.
  • Secondary movers: The anterior and posterior deltoid heads assist as stabilizers. The upper trapezius also aids the movement.
  • Joint action: Shoulder abduction in the scapular plane. Elbows stay straight with a slight bend.
  • Range of motion: Arms raise out to the sides until parallel with shoulders, then lowered under control.

Both cable and dumbbell lateral raises involve the same musculoskeletal actions. The difference lies in the equipment and resulting benefits.

Cable Lateral Raises

Cables provide constant tension that dumbbells can’t replicate. Here’s a closer look:

The Set-Up

  • Stand sideways to a cable station with the pulley set at about chest height.
  • Attach a D-handle to one side of the cable.
  • Grab the handle with your far hand and step away to create tension. Keep your palm facing down.

The Motion

  • With a slight bend in the elbow, raise your arm straight out to the side until parallel with shoulders.
  • Slowly lower back down with control.
  • Complete all reps on one side before switching.


  • Constant tension – Cables provide resistance throughout the entire range of motion, maximizing time under tension.
  • Uniform resistance – The weight feels the same during both the positive and negative portion of each rep.
  • Strict form – Cables limit excessive momentum or swinging that can happen with dumbbells.
  • Progressive overload – Smaller weight plate increments make it easy to progressively add weight.
  • Unilateral or bilateral – Can be done one arm at a time or two arms simultaneously.
  • Less stabilizers – Both arms work together so less stabilization required.

Dumbbell Lateral Raises

Dumbbells allow a free range of motion and increased stabilizer activation. Here are the details:

The Set-Up

  • Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing your sides.
  • Let arms hang straight down around your sides with a slight bend in elbows.

The Motion

  • Lead with your elbows to raise the dumbbells straight out to your sides until parallel with your shoulders.
  • Pause briefly, then slowly lower back down with control.


  • Increased stabilization – Works shoulder stabilizers harder to balance the independent weights.
  • Unilateral training – Allows each side to work independently to address imbalances.
  • More weight options – Dumbbell racks offer heavier weights for progressive overload.
  • Natural plane of motion – Free range of motion feels more natural for some people.
  • Portability – Easy to set up anywhere without requiring cables.
  • Less fixed path – More real-world applicability for athletes.

Cable Lateral Raise vs Dumbbell: Which Is Best?

So, should you do cable or dumbbell lateral raises? Here are some key considerations:

  • Cables build muscle efficiently by optimizing time under tension and progressive overload.
  • Dumbbells strengthen stabilizers and allow unilateral training to correct imbalances.
  • Cables encourage strict form, while dumbbells involve more real-world mechanics.
  • Dumbbells are more convenient and accessible without requiring cable machines.

The Verdict

For maximum shoulder development, your best bet is to incorporate both cable and dumbbell lateral raises into your routine.

Cables will efficiently overload the lateral delts while dumbbells strengthen surrounding stability muscles for injury resilience. Alternate between them or do cables one session and dumbbells the next.

Sample Training Split

Here’s a sample lateral raise training split to maximize shoulder growth:

  • Day 1: Seated dumbbell shoulder press 5×5, cable lateral raises 3×12
  • Day 2: Arnold press 3×8, dumbbell lateral raise 3×15
  • Day 3: Rest
  • Day 4: Overhead dumbbell lateral raises 3×10, front plate raises 3×12
  • Day 5: Machine shoulder press 3×10, cable lateral raise drop set

Aim for 2-3 lateral raise sessions per week with varied rep ranges from 10-15 for maximum hypertrophy.

Perfecting Your Form

To get the most out of any lateral raise variation, focus on flawless form:

  • Keep your elbows slightly bent around 20-30 degrees.
  • Lead with the elbows, not the hands.
  • Raise until parallel with shoulders, no higher.
  • Use lighter weight and higher reps – not heavy weight and low reps.
  • Slow and controlled on both positive and negative.
  • Keep your torso still, and avoid excessive swing or momentum.


You can’t go wrong with either cable lateral raises or dumbbell lateral raises – both will build boulder shoulder muscles when executed properly. Include a mix of cable and dumbbell variations and overhead presses for well-rounded delts.

Focus on progressive overload, variety, and immaculate form. Do this, and you’ll be well on your way to mighty, muscular shoulders!

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