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How to Use Cable Machines to Build Big Shoulders with Neck/Back Issues 

Weight training is great for strengthening your body, helping you feel confident, and improving your physique. However, if you are not balancing your workout routine, or if you have an improper form you can put yourself at risk for injury. It is not uncommon for weightlifters to get a stiff neck or even a sore back due to overworking and spinal compression problems. These injuries can be difficult to work around, but that does not mean your fitness journey needs to end. If you have back or neck issues you can still build your upper body with these exercises using cable machines.

How to Train Around an Injured Back

Back injuries can be extremely painful and put you out of commission for some of the most basic activities. Whether an injury occurs on the job, at home, or in the gym it can affect every aspect of life. 

The back is one of the areas of the body that is most susceptible to injury because it is used in almost every major movement and motion you make. From walking or bending to pushing and pulling, the back is an integral part of daily movement. When you have a back injury, your abilities are seriously limited.

For some cases, a bad back injury can result in the indefinite halt of working out, but not in every case. 

Before putting yourself at risk by continuing to go to the gym, your primary concern should be to preserve your health and wellness. Before “muscling through it” be sure you have a physician address your back injury and get the proper treatment you need, especially if you have a significant injury to your spine or neck.

 If your back or neck injury is minor, and your muscles are sore or even slightly strained, or you have some spinal disc issues that require precaution in the gym but not avoidance, you can continue going to the gym and train around, not through, your injuries. 

Working Out the Shoulders Around a Back Injury

Shoulder (deltoid) training is very diverse and has many different movements. Building strong shoulders not only creates a sharp, strong physique, it also improves your posture. When you practice good rear delt development, the muscles are in a sense “pulled back” which then helps with the proper posture of the spine, also causing the chest to pop out. 

It’s important to remember to work out the rear delts because they have a variety of purposes and actions in your everyday movement including: 

Shoulder extensions (upper arm moves down to the rear),

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Transverse extension (arms moves away from the chest, elbows move out to the side),

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Transverse abduction (arm moves away from the chest, elbows stay down), or

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External rotation (upper arm turns outward).

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Building your shoulder strength can help alleviate some of the pressure and pain around your neck or back injury. However, you may notice the pressure in your neck or back increase over time when trying to conduct shoulder movement that is overhead. This is because the action is compressing the neck and spine.  You can easily work around these issues with cable machines. Cable machines provide a streamlined pathway for shoulder exercises. Paired with the right workouts, cable machines can help take a lot of pressure off of an injured neck/back. One of our favorite cable machine shoulder exercises is face pulls. 

Face Pulls for Shoulders Using Cable Machines

Proper shoulder exercises can feel awkward or very unfamiliar at first but if you are serious about shoulder training a key exercise you should add to your practice is face pulls. 

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Face pulls involve a cable machine and a dual-handle rope that’s usually used for triceps work. To properly execute face pulls, follow these directions:

  1. Set the rope at face height (or slightly above). 
  2. Stand at a distance where your arms are fully extended out. 
  3. Get an overhand grip on the rope.
  4. Pull the rope to your face, opening the rope as it gets closer to your face, focusing on squeezing the shoulder blades together. ( This should cause the elbows to flare out and your hands should be next to each side of your face.)
  5. Complete 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps of face pulls. 

If you’re new to shoulder work, face pulls can feel a little foreign. Keep trying and be sure you keep your spine neutral to avoid further injury to your neck and back.

Benefits of Cable Machine Face Pulls 

Face pulls are one of those movements with numerous benefits. While they are often used for working the rear delts, face pulls also work the rotator cuffs, traps, and the smaller muscles of the mid-back. Many people complain about pain in the neck when doing rear delt flies either on a machine or leaned over with dumbbells. Rope face pulls allow you to avoid these issues. The action encourages you to target the rear delt muscles because you are using a direct pulling motion with your arms. 

With face pulls, you should focus on form and not so much on weight, especially if you are a beginner. Be sure to extend your arms out and squeeze your shoulder blades together when pulling the ropes to your face. Range of motion may be more important than weight or resistance when doing an exercise like face pulls. 

Your back shoulder muscles can be hard to isolate with other exercises. Face pulls focus on these muscles, so start with less weight and build up. Since rear shoulder development contributes to good posture, face pulls also help with overall shoulder health and preventing injuries. 

Other Shoulder Workouts Using Cable Machines

Anyone seriously trying to build their shoulder muscles should implement a dumbbell raise routine. Because this raising motion is more of a pull than a push, it takes a lot of strain off the spine and neck while still strengthening the shoulders. You can do this with free weights or a cable machine. Start with 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps of both side lateral raises and front raises to see how you feel. You can do this standing or sitting. 

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Another great cable machine shoulder exercise is upright rows. You can switch grips to target different parts of your shoulder.  A narrow grip with hands closer together is an adjustment to target your trapezius muscles (traps). Separating your hands for a wider grip helps to target the side head of the deltoid muscles (delts). Start with 3-4 sets of about 10-12 reps of upright rows with both close and wide grip.

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Should My Back/Neck Hurt When Doing Shoulder Exercises?

Regardless of where you are feeling pain or what action you are doing, if you feel intense, constant pain you should pause your workout routine. This pain can be caused by inflammation, misalignment, or fatigued muscle. Your body needs rest, and it will let you know when rest is necessary. If you feel severe pain, you should consider speaking to a physician or physical therapist. 

If you notice that your back hurts with specific movements, such as bending, twisting, or arching your back avoid exercises and movements that require these actions. Be sure to give your back and neck the rest and recovery they need and try to complete movements that help keep your back stable and neutral. If you are continuing your fitness practice, benches or the floor can help.

If you are set on training your upper body around your back and neck pain, be sure to avoid overhead presses as these can add pressure on the neck and back. Avoid rocking or momentum movements so you do not encourage the stability muscles in your back to kick in. Overall, avoid engaging the back as much as possible when training around these types of injuries.

Be Proactive in Preventing Future Injury

Injuries in your back or neck can be prevented. One major way is to build a stronger core. Most back injuries caused by exercise are a result of improper form or improper form because of a weak core. Core workouts that can improve your back injury include:

Oblique work

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Core exercises - Injury exercises - Back/neck injury workouts

Superman crunches 

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These exercises allow you to target those trunk and core muscles without hurting your back.

When training around an injured back, you must be smart and listen to your body.  But the key is to work around the injury, not through it. 

Archon Fitness Cable Machines Help You Safely and Properly Get Your Sets In

Back and neck injuries can make it difficult to get to the gym and use all of your favorite machines. Rather than skip the gym, you can get professional fitness equipment delivered straight to your home with Archon. From multiplex cable machines to individual bars and plates, Archon has all the equipment you need, whatever your fitness level.

The best gym in town could be right in your living room. Choose from various cable stations and design your perfect at-home fitness center. We have all of the basics, and then some. Order an Archon cable machine today or get more accessories for yours. Check out our entire inventory of fitness equipment at

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