If you want to build a great physique, it would be impossible to do it without having a great back. The muscles in the back are some of the largest muscles we have in the body, and they’re super important.
They play a big role in protecting your spine and can help you lift heavier weights too. But, what are some of the best exercises to train your back?
Well, you have several different options when it comes to training your back. You can even use a variety of equipment, like free weights, machines, and bands.
Of these different pieces of equipment, my favorite to use for building a strong back is the cable machine. After all, cable machines can be a great way to build a big and strong back!
Today, I’ll run through 10 of my favorite cable machine back exercises you can try out for your back workouts. Before we run through those exercises though, let me give you a quick crash course on what makes training with cables so great.
Benefits of Using Cables
There are so many different forms of training, and I am a big advocate for switching it up. This can help train your body in a more well-rounded way. By that, I mean you should incorporate free weights, machines, cables, and more in your workouts.
However, working out with cable machines can offer some benefits that other types of equipment simply can’t. For that reason, I use them often.
Here are a few things that separate cables from other forms of exercise equipment:
Cables Provide Constant Tension
With free weights and plate-loaded machines, there isn’t always a constant level of tension on your muscles. This is because these weights get their resistance from the same place everything else does … gravity.
This means that the only time a muscle is being used is when the muscle action is working against gravity. This isn’t necessarily true when talking about cables though.
Cable machines use a system of pulleys to allow you to pull in whatever direction you'd like. At the same time, the weight is always pulling vertically against gravity. This gives you a lot more freedom to adjust your workout to your liking.
Cables Are Extremely Versatile
Similar to the last point, cables can be used from virtually any angle, so you can set the handle up high, down low, or somewhere in between to use it however you want.
This gives you a lot of customization, and can even allow you to do the same movement multiple ways. Plus, changing the angle actually changes the way your muscles get trained.
Because of this, you may even be able to make better progress in the gym!
Cables Allow You To Train How You Want
With a barbell, you can only change your grip so much. The same is true for dumbbells, machines, and bands.
With cables, you have an endless amount of cable attachments you can choose from for every exercise. You can train with a handle, a straight bar, an EZ bar, rope, V-bar, and so many others.
Changing the grip can make a massive difference in how the muscles are worked. This gives you an even wider variety of options.
Those are just a few of the major benefits of training with cables. But, now let’s dive into some of the best back exercises you can do with a cable machine.
Top 10 Back Exercises on the Cable Machine
Now, that we've covered a little bit about cable exercises, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this article.
Here are 10 of my favorite back exercises with cable machines to help build a big and strong back.
1. Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown
This is a classic for building wide lat muscles. Pull-ups are a great exercise for them too, but with a cable machine, you have the ability to really focus all of your efforts on the pulldown.
For this exercise, you'll want a wide-grip bar attachment.
Grab the bar outside of shoulder width and sit down with your legs underneath the pads. First, pull your shoulders down and back into a more secure position. Keep your arms fully extended and lean back slightly.
From here, engage your lats as you pull your elbows to either side of your body until the bar reaches your chest.
Squeeze your lats for a second, then slowly return back to the starting position with your arms fully extended. Repeat this for reps.
2. Cable Machine Low Row
This is a strong movement that you can likely use a little more weight on than you can with a lat pulldown. This is great for building thickness in your mid-back, and can work your forearms well too.
For this exercise, you’ll use the V-bar attachment. It looks like 2 parallel bars that connect at an angle, resembling a “V”.
Sit down, place your foot on the foot pads, and lean forward to grab the V-bar. From here, lean back until your torso is vertical, and this should lift the weight off of the weight stack.
Pull your shoulders down and back, then lean back slightly as you get ready to pull the weight. As you begin leaning back, engage your lats to pull your elbows behind you until the V-bar touches your abdomen.
Hold this position and squeeze your lats for a second. Next, slowly return to the starting position and repeat this for reps.
3. Straight-Arm Pulldown
This is a nice semi-isolation movement for your lats. It’s more difficult than it looks, but it can really help you build a strong back. For this exercise, you’ll need an EZ bar attachment. Make sure it is attached and set the cable at the highest setting.
Grab the outer angle of the bar with your palms down, and step back to lift the weight off of the rack.
You should have a slight bend in your knees, and be bent forward 45 degrees or less at the hips.
First, pull your shoulders down and back as you engage your lats to pull the bar down to your waist.
Your arms should be mostly straight, but have a slight bend in the elbow. When the bar reaches your waist or upper thigh, squeeze your lats for a second. Finally, slowly return to the starting position and repeat this for reps.
4. Cable Shrugs
This is a great exercise for building control and a mind-muscle connection with your upper traps. Building this muscle can make a big difference in how muscular you look. You can use whichever attachment you’d like, but I prefer a straight bar.
Attach the straight bar, or whichever attachment you prefer, and set the cable at the lowest height. Grab the bar with your palms down to at least shoulder width, and take a step back to lift the weight off of the rack.
You should have a slight bend in the knees and hips to get into an athletic position. This will be your starting position. Pull your shoulders back and up simultaneously until you cannot shrug your shoulders any higher.
Many times, it’s natural to feel like you need to stick your head forward and down to make room for your shoulders, but please refrain from doing this. Instead, keep your neck and head neutral throughout the movement.
When your shoulders reach their peak height, squeeze your traps for a second, then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.
5. Single-Arm Cable Low Row
It’s good to do single-arm and single-leg exercises in addition to using both at the same time. This can help minimize muscular imbalances that are inevitably created in different ways.
Sometimes you may not realize you’re pulling harder with one arm than the other. When you do a single-arm row and find it much harder on one side than the other, you know there’s an imbalance that needs to be corrected for optimal health.
Set the cable at the lowest height setting possible with a single-handle attachment. Grab the handle with a neutral grip, and take a large step back to lift the weight.
You should be in a split stance with the foot on the same side you grabbed the handle with forward and the opposite foot back. There should also be a slight bend in the knees and hips to get into an athletic stance.
The arm holding the handle should be reaching straight outward. Keep your shoulders turned toward the opposite side (this is the starting position).
First, engage the lat on that side to begin pulling your elbow back while rotating your torso toward your front leg. When your elbow is pulled all the way back, squeeze your lat for a second. Then, slowly return back to the starting position.
After a set number of reps, switch to your other side to repeat this movement.
6. Cable Face Pulls
This is a great exercise to work the traps and upper back. It does hit the rotator cuff muscles and the rear deltoid as well, but that’s not a bad thing.
It might feel awkward at first, but once you get used to it, face pulls can be a fun movement. For this exercise, you’ll want to use a rope attachment.
Set the cable to the highest point and connect the rope attachment. Grab the rope with both hands. With your palms facing down, take a step back to lift the weight off of the rack.
Form a slight bend in the knees and hips to get into an athletic position. This will be your starting position. Start by pulling your shoulders down and back before pulling the rope toward your face.
Pull the rope apart so that there's one end on each side of your head, just outside of your ears. At the same time, make sure to keep your elbows higher than your shoulders.
When you can’t pull the rope any further, squeeze your upper traps for a second, then slowly return back to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.
7. Close-Grip Lat Pulldown
This is very similar to the wide-grip lat pulldown, except it targets the muscle differently. With the closer grip, you’ll be hitting more of your mid and lower lats. This can help build some more thickness in your back.
For this exercise, you’ll want a V-bar attachment.
Attach the V-bar and sit down with your legs underneath the pad to lock yourself in place. First, pull your shoulders down and back with your arms still fully extended.
Lean back slightly and engage your lats as you pull your elbows down and back. Once the attachment reaches your chest, hold this position for a second.
Slowly return back to the starting position with your arms extended and shoulders relaxed. Repeat this for reps.
8. Cable Reverse Fly
This exercise does a great job of targeting the rear deltoids. It’s also great for working your traps, rhomboids, and upper back as a whole.
This isn’t a huge strength movement, so don’t go too heavy here. Instead, focus on keeping the movement slow and controlled. All you’ll need is the cables for this one … no attachments necessary.
Find a cable column with an open cable on both sides and set the height of each cable slightly above your shoulder height. Grab each rope with the opposite hand so your arms and the cables are crossed over one another. It can be helpful to take a half step back, so you're not directly between each side of the cable machine.
From here, form a slight bend in the knees and hips to get into an athletic position. This will be your starting position. To begin, pull your shoulders down and back. Next, pull the cables as far apart and as far back as you can.
Keep your elbows mostly straight, but slightly bent throughout the whole movement. When you've pulled the cables back as far as you can, squeeze your shoulder blades together for a second. Next, return to the starting position and repeat this for reps.
9. Seated Reverse Grip Low Row
This is a great way to row if you want to bring the strength of your biceps into the movement. With an underhand grip, your biceps will help significantly more than with an overhand grip.
For this exercise, you’ll want to use a straight bar attachment.
Sit down and place your feet on the foot pads, leaning forward to grab the bar with an underhand grip about shoulder-width apart. From here, lean back until your torso is vertical. This should lift the weight off of the weight stack.
Pull your shoulders down and back, then lean back slightly and pull the weight toward you. As you lean back, engage your lats and biceps to pull your elbows behind you until the bar reaches your abdomen.
Hold this position, squeeze your lats and biceps for a second, then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.
10. Dual Cable Crossover Lat Pulldown
This is a great exercise because it requires both arms to pull the weight individually, and the crossover is a nice addition too. Not only will you have to pull them down, but you’ll have to apply force to pull them to the side as well.
This adds to the stretch of your lats at the top of the movement and requires them to work harder to complete each rep.
Find a lat pulldown cable machine with 2 cables, and attach one handle to each cable. Grab the opposite handle with each hand so the cables cross over. Next. sit down with your legs underneath the pads to lock yourself in place.
Pull your shoulders down and back into a more secure position with your arms still fully extended, then lean back slightly. From here, engage your lats as you focus on pulling the elbows down and out until your elbows are pinched to your sides.
Squeeze the lats for a second, then slowly return back to the starting position with your arms fully extended. Repeat this for reps.
Other Tips For Working on Your Back
When you add these cable machine back exercises into your training routine, I know you’ll notice the difference, whether you’re looking to get a stronger back, build muscle, or balance your physique in general.
At the end of the day, we all want to look as good as we can. For many of us, that includes building muscle, losing fat, and staying in great shape.
While these cable machine back workouts can help, you have to think of it as one piece of a much bigger puzzle. That goes for your training as a whole too. The good old saying still stands true: “You can’t outwork a bad diet.”
Having a game plan when it comes to your nutrition is just as important for your goals, if not more important, than your workouts!
Poor nutrition is truly what holds most people back, and I don’t just mean eating junk food or not getting all of your vitamins. I also mean not eating enough, eating too much, or not getting enough protein.
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