A new twist on cables will give you a complete shoulder workout in just 16 minutes.
By Bill Geiger, MA
In a fitness world where everything seems to be over-hyped and under-delivered—sure, you can have a six-pack overnight!—it’s a welcome relief to find a 20-minute shoulder workout that can actually be done in just 16. Not that those four minutes are going to mean much to you, unless you’re late for work because you missed your subway train or your sirloin steak is just a bit overdone. But for those who don’t like to spend hours in the gym training like a competitive bodybuilder, it’s good to know you can get a complete delt workout that hits all three heads in about the same time it takes those guys who live in the gym to put down a protein shake.
While you’ve probably done a few delt exercises using cables before, you’ve probably never done your entire routine using them. But with the advent of dual cable machines, like the one made by FreeMotion Fitness, you can set up shop in front of one for your entire workout because you can do just about every conceivable type of shoulder exercise here—even shoulder presses. (Okay, I said the workout was fast; I never promised that the other members wouldn’t give you menacing looks for hogging the equipment.)
If you’re used to free weights, cables offer a number of advantages. When doing a move like a standing press with cables, your core muscles are highly active in helping to stabilize your torso, meaning you’re engaging more muscle groups and burning more calories. In addition, whereas the target muscle is simply resting between reps at the bottom position of single-joint dumbbell shoulder moves (like front raises), this isn’t the case with cables; the angle of pull (coming from the machine) keeps continuous tension on the front delt (or target muscle, depending on the exercise) from the top of the move to the bottom.
The workout here starts with a multi-joint pressing move for a couple of challenging heavy sets, then two lighter sets, before doing a single-joint move for the front and rear delt heads, so in total you work all three delt heads. To boost intensity, on your last set of each exercise quickly drop the weight by about 25 percent when you reach muscle failure and keep the set going until you reach muscle failure again.
Dual cables won’t replace free weights, but they make for a nice change of pace to work your shoulders in a different way from what they’re likely accustomed to—and at 16 minutes, just think of what you can do with those extra four minutes added to your life.
Standing Overhead Cable Press
The instability with cables is a bit similar to doing dumbbell presses: You sacrifice some ability to use heavy weights, but your core gets a more thorough workout. This movement can also be done seated with a low-back bench placed in front of the dual cables.
Target Muscles: Middle and front delts, and triceps
Set-up: Rotate the cables to the bottom position and attach D-handles. Grasp the handles and face away from the machine. Stand erect with your chest out and back slightly arched, knees unlocked and palms facing forward.
Action: With a strong motion, press into a full arm extension overhead without locking out your elbows. You may have difficulty bringing the handles together as you do with dumbbells because the cables may not clear your body. Lower to the point where the handles are just outside your shoulders, with your elbows pointing out to your sides; the weight stack shouldn’t be touching down between reps.
Alternating Front Cable Raise
With a regular cable, you can’t alternate reps; you can do that only with dumbbells. But with the FreeMotion, you get the benefit of continuous tension—meaning there’s a pull on the front delts, even when your arms are in the down position—while being able to alternate sides, as with dumbbells.
Target Muscles: Front delts
Set-up: Stand erect a step forward from the machine to ensure that there’s tension in the cables when your arms are by your sides. Use a split stance for better balance, keeping your knees soft. With straight arms, grasp the D-handles with a palms-down grip and hold them by your sides.
Action: With a smooth motion, raise one arm directly in front of your body to about shoulder height, keeping your arm as straight as possible without locking out your elbow. Lower with control and repeat on the opposite side.
Intensity Booster: Start out with both arms simultaneously, then alternate sides. Going back and forth between sides affords each side a short break while the other side is working to help you continue the set past failure.
Reverse Cable Flye
This move mimics the reverse pec-deck flye, but that machine locks your elbows in the slightly bent position. Here, you need to consciously do that—otherwise, this becomes a triceps move.
Target Muscles: Rear delts
Set-up: Adjust the machine’s arms so that the pulleys are above shoulder height. Attach D-handles (alternatively, you can use no handle and grasp the rubber ball between your thumb and index finger). Stand erect, a few feet in front of the unit, facing the machine. With your right hand, grasp the left handle; with your left hand, grasp the right handle. Extend your arms well out in front of you, keeping your elbows locked and slightly bent.
Action: In a wide, sweeping motion, bring the handles out to your sides as far back as possible while retracting your shoulder blades, ensuring that you’re not extending your elbows (straightening your arms). As your hands come in line with your torso, your chest should swell out. Let the pull of the weights reverse your direction, controlling the movement until your hands meet in the middle. You can physically cross your hands at the start to slightly extend the range of motion, but alternate which side goes on top from one set to the next
20-Minute Superspeed Delt Training
Duration: 6 weeks
Add the following to your weekly routine
Overhead Cable Press
Alternating Cable Raise
Reverse Cable Flye
8, 8, 12, 12***
10, 10, 10***
10, 10, 10***
*Doesn’t include warm-up sets. Do 1-2 with light weights but never take warm-ups to muscle failure
**Choose a weight in which you reach muscle failure by the target rep.
***On your last set of each exercise, once you reach muscle failure quickly reduce the poundage by about 25 percent and continue with the set to the second point of muscle failure.