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Cable Y Raise: How To, Muscles Worked, & 7 Pro Tips

cross body cable y raise


There aren't many exercises out there that’ll work out your entire shoulder

But the cable Y raise is one of them. 

The muscles specifically targeted by the cable Y raise are the deltoid muscles–you know…those muscles that make up your whole shoulder. 

This exercise is easy to execute with any cable machine–whether at your local gym or your home gym. 

And the best part about cable Y raises? 

They’re an easy way to:

- Bulk up those shoulders

- Improve posture

- And build stability in your shoulders! 

Today, we’ll cover: 


- How to Do Cable Y Raises 

- Cable Y Raise Muscles Worked 

 - Cable Y Raise: 7 Pro Tips 

- Cable Y Raise:  Benefits

- Cable Y Raise Alternative: Lateral Raise vs. Cable Y Raise 

- Other Shoulder Exercise Resources 

- Cable Y Raise FAQs 

How to Do Cable Y Raises 

Similar to the rear delt cable fly–you’ll need to find a cable machine at your local gym to perform a cable Y raise. Or if you have a pulley system at your house, you can also perform a cable Y raise from the comfort of your own home. 

We’ll cover some pro tips for form–but for now–let’s start with the basics. Here’s how to perform a cable Y raise. 

1) Face a pulley machine with two parallel cable pulleys set low. 

2) Attach D-handles to each cable. 

cable y raise form

3) Grab each D-handle with the opposing arm (This is where it becomes a cross body cable Y raise.)

cross body cable y raise

4) Keep your hands in a pronated (facing down) position. 

5) Step back to put some tension on the cables. 

cable y raise form


6) Begin with the cables held out at chest height. 

cross body cable y raise

7) Now, raise the cables up into a Y position at the top, squeezing those rear deltoids. 

cable y raise form


8) Slowly lower down into the starting position–crossing your arms again and stopping when they are out in front of your chest. 

Cable Y Raise: Muscles Worked

As I mentioned, the cable Y raise actually works out your entire shoulder. 

How does it do this? 

Well, your deltoid or shoulder muscle has three heads: 

Front Delt

Middle Delt

Rear Delt 

Part of what makes the cable Y raise so great is that you can count on all 3 of these deltoid heads getting worked like crazy during this exercise. 

These muscles have some very important roles. 

Shoulder Stabilization: The delts work to stabilize your shoulders–keeping them from hunching too far forward. 

Pulling Movements: Basically–whenever you engage in a pulling movement, those delts like to get involved. 

Lifting Your Arms: Your deltoids activate whenever you lift your arm to the front, back, and side. 

What Makes the Cable Y Raise Unique 

Let’s get scientific for a second here. Because it’s gonna help us understand exactly what makes the cable Y raise such a great choice when it comes to working out your shoulders. 

When we work out our muscles, one thing to consider is whether we are working out the muscle in a lengthened position OR a shortened position. 

What’s the difference? Let me explain.

Flex your bicep real quick. No really–go ahead and try it. 

When you extend your bicep–it’s in the lengthened position

When you curl your bicep back up–it’s in the shortened position. 

If you have an exercise where the HARDEST part of that move works the muscle in the shortened (more contracted position), then that exercise tends to be harder and give you more bang for your buck. 

Lengthened Position: When the exercise is HARDEST at the point where the muscle is extended or at the lengthened position. 

Shortened Position: When the exercise is the HARDEST at the point where the muscle is contracted or at the shortened position. 

The cable Y raise works the deltoid when it’s in the shortened position–which helps to really work the muscle and makes it different than many other shoulder exercises. 


Cable Y Raise: Other Muscles Worked

In addition to those rear delts, the cable Y raise also works out your: 

- Upper Traps 

- Rhomboids 

Cable Y Raise Form: 7 Pro Tips 

All right. So now we know the cable Y raise muscles worked AND the basic form. 

But how do you know you actually have good form when you perform a cable Y raise? 

These pro tips will have you looking like a pro when you work those rear delts! 


Cable Y Raise Pro Tip #1: Set the Cables to Shoulder-Width Apart

If you're working with an adjustable cable pulley machine, you’ll notice that the machine offers a variety of width options for how wide to bring out the arms of the machine. 

For the cable Y raise, we want those cables to be just shoulder-width apart–no wider and no more narrow. 


Cable Y Raise Pro Tip #2: Cable Height Should be Low–But Not Too Low 

When you set up for your cable Y raise, there’s a mixed consensus about how high to bring the cable. 

Some say it should be at the VERY BOTTOM. 

Others say it should be HIGHER than your knees. 

Maybe it’s just me: But I like to take the middle ground. I feel like this prevents my back from wanting to over-arch during the motion

So I suggest somewhere between knee and ankle-level

Cable Y Raise Pro Tip #3: How Far Back to Stand (Your Choice!)

Okay so once you set up the cable machine–you’ve gotten your hands in position for the cross body cable Y raise–your next decision is: How far back do I stand? 

Who knew there could be so many decisions when it comes to this simple exercise? 

Exactly WHY we put together this pro tips list, my friend. 

When it comes to how far back you want to stand–the decision lies completely within you. Before you write me off for being too Disney or too “woowoo”–let me explain.

The further you step back–the harder the exercise becomes–so you get to pick based on your comfort level. 

The reason for this is that the further out you stand, the more you bias the shortened position of the delt–which is ultimately going to be more difficult for you. 

In comparison, when you stand closer to the cable machine, you’ll bias the exercise to work the lengthened position of the delt–making it easier

Cable Y Raise Pro Tip #4: Avoid Arching Your Back

This is the #1 mistake most people make when performing a cable Y raise! 

If you don’t set up the cable Y raise properly, you’re going to start arching your back during the motion, which might look something like this…

cable y raise muscles worked

Instead, we want to focus on: 

- Stacking the ribcage 

- Keeping a neutral spine 

- Contracting the core 

All of this will result in you looking a little bit more like this…

cable y raise muscles worked

THAT is the correct form for a cable Y raise. 

Cable Y Raise Pro Tip #5: Go High–But Not Too High 

It’s all in the minute details when it comes to the cable Y raise. 

Just like lots of people like to arch their back during this exercise–the #2 mistake is to overextend your shoulders at the top of the motion when they’re raised. 

What does this mean? 

Basically, ONLY lift your arms and shoulders up as far as your shoulder mobility allows without having to raise your shoulders or tilt your chest up. 

Just let the arms naturally raise–and you’ll be feeling those delts on fire!  

Cable Y Raise Pro Tip #6: Upper Back Tension is Good 

If you feel some tension in your upper or mid back during the exercise–don’t be alarmed. This just means your delts, traps, and rhomboids are working. 

Obviously, pay attention to your body and the cues it gives you during the workout to decide how much tension is right for you. 

But overall–some tension during the exercise is okay. 

Cable Y Raise Pro Tip #7: Keep Shoulders Down 

Similar to what we discussed about shoulders when they are raised–the same rule applies to shoulders at the bottom of the movement. 

Do not shrug or lift your traps during this exercise–even at the bottom. 

If it helps, think about keeping your shoulders down as if your hands were in your pockets. 

Cable Y Raise: Benefits 

There are loads of benefits when it comes to the cross body cable Y raise–but let’s start with one small caveat. 

Because this is an isolated exercise for the shoulders and upper back–this exercise is best when paired with other compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups. 

This is a great accessory exercise for the shoulders! 

Now for the benefits. 

Works All 3 Delts 

You already know that the cable Y raise targets all 3 deltoid muscles, which is a huge strength of this exercise. 

One extra bonus is that there just aren’t tons of exercises out there that target the middle delt–or lateral deltoid. The mid delt is responsible for those wide, bulky shoulders that lots of people aim for when they work out at the gym. 

This makes the cable Y raise a natural choice for someone looking to build those shoulders. 

Helps With Posture 

That desk job that has you hunching? 

It’s got nothing on cable Y raises. 

That’s because the rear delt works to pull our shoulders back–helping you have an upright posture and proud chest. So, when you work those rear delts, you’re really counteracting any hunchy posture from your desk job or from looking at your phone too much. 

Shoulder Stability 

The external rotation involved in the movement of the cable Y raise means that you’re working those shoulders to increase further stability. 

Cable Y Raise Alternative: Cable Y Raise vs. Lateral Raise

Lots of people want to compare the cross body cable Y raise to its close cousin, the lateral raise. Asking things like: 

Are Y raises better than lateral raises?

Are Y raises harder than lateral raises?

So, let’s answer those questions now. 

First, what is a lateral raise

During a lateral raise, you stand holding a dumbbell in each hand. Then, raise your arms out to your sides till they’re totally parallel to the floor. 

You can also perform the unilateral (single-arm) version of this exercise with dumbbells or a cable machine. 

So now, let’s compare these two exercises. 

Range of Motion 

Cable Y Raise: You start with your arms out front and parallel to the floor and then you lift them all the way up. Because of this, you get much more range of motion out of this exercise. 

Lateral Raise: You can expect less range of motion with the lateral raise since you only lift your arms up to being parallel with the floor. 

Muscles Worked 

Cable Y Raise: The cable Y raise really works those middle delts in that shortened position because the arms are lifted. This means that the exercise is going to feel more difficult. 

Also, when you lift up into that Y position, you’re firing the traps as well during this motion. 

Lateral Raise: The lateral raise also works those mid delts, but it won’t feel quite as difficult because the muscles are worked out in a more lengthened position.

This one’s a good exercise if you want to minimize trap activity because the traps really won’t get involved with lateral raises. 

So, to get back to our 2 questions: 

Are Y raises better than lateral raises?

Cable Y raises aren’t better or worse–they just tend to be harder and work the traps as well as the delts. 

Are Y raises harder than lateral raises?

Yes, cable Y raises are more difficult than lateral raises because of their higher range of motion and the fact that they work the mid delt in a shortened position. 

Other Shoulder Exercise Resources

We love a good shoulder workout here. 

In fact, we love all things that involve back health–whether it’s healthy workouts, massage techniques, stretches, etc. 


It’s kind of our thing. 

If you found this article helpful, check out these other articles on how to get the best out of your shoulder workouts: 

“Rear Delt Cable Fly: How to, Best Pro Tips & Alternatives”

“Unleash Shoulders of Steel With the Face Pull: Muscles Worked & Variations”

Or if you want to check out some of our back health resources, I recommend starting with the QL Claw–it’s a lower back massage device that provides at-home therapeutic massage for all muscles that tend to cause lower back pain. 

Check out the QL Claw HERE. 

Cable Y Raise FAQs

What muscle does the cable Y raise work?

The cable Y raise works all 3 deltoid muscles: front delts, middle delts, and rear delts. They also work the traps and rhomboids. 

What to do instead of cable y raises?

If you want an easier cable Y raise alternative, check out the lateral raise for an exercise that still works the mid delts. 

Are cable Y raises good?

Yup–part of what makes them so unique is that they work all 3 deltoid muscles–particularly the mid delt, which most exercises don’t hit. It also works the delts in a shortened position, which means it‘s a more challenging shoulder exercise. 






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