by Truth Fry January 03, 2023 9 min read
There are tons of ways to get a good chest workout in the gym ... and no, they don't all involve free weights. Even though heavy barbell movements and variations of the bench press are the most popular ... it doesn't mean they are necessary to get a good chest workout.
Don’t get me wrong, free weights can really help transform your physique and increase your strength a lot. I'm just saying you aren't limited to using barbells and free weights when it comes to building your chest.
Take me for example! I rarely use free weights for my chest workouts anymore because I've torn my pecs 3 times now. I tore my left pec once, and my right one twice.
Because I was someone who always went heavy on barbell bench press ... I eventually needed surgery to reattach my right pec.
I'm not trying to scare you or discourage you from using free weights, because they make for a great workout. I just want to make you aware of all of your options.
If you're looking for a way to get a great chest workout in and potentially reduce your risk of injury ... you should try some cable chest exercises!
My past injuries have forced me into some alternate training methods ... so I personally use cables a lot. Even if I didn't get injured though, they would still be a huge part of my chest training routine.
While my workouts are not exclusive to cables only, I utilize them now more than ever to workout my chest. This is because it still allows me to get a great workout without as much risk of re-injury.
Even if I never had injured my chest though, they would still be a prominent part of my workout so I can hit these muscles from all angles. Cables are quite versatile in this way.
So, let's dive into the benefits of using cables, and 10 of my favorite cable chest exercises for you to try.
There are a lot of advantages to using cables over free weights and bodyweight. In a lot of cases, cable exercises can be more beneficial.
With free weights, the angle of the resistance is always vertical. This is because the resistance comes from gravity. This isn’t a bad thing at all, as it is how the real world works, but it does limit the way you can perform the exercises.
For example, if you want to work the chest with free weights, you must be laying down and pressing towards the ceiling. The resistance changes when you begin to push it in any other direction.
With cable exercises though, you can be standing, sitting, or laying down.
No matter what angle you choose to pull the cable from, the amount of resistance will remain the same. This is true because of the pulley system.
The weight is still getting pulled vertically against gravity, but because it is all attached to a cable that runs over pulleys ... you can pull it from any angle and get the full resistance. This also transitions smoothly into my next point...
Another huge benefit to training with cables is the constant tension they provide the muscle. Your muscle is always working against the force of the pulley.
This forces the muscle to continue to work without rest throughout the entirety of each set. If you're looking to build muscle ... this is great news. The longer the muscle is under tension, the greater the potential for new muscle growth. This also leads to greater calorie expenditure.
That sounds like a win-win to me!
Not every movement you perform in real life will be seated or lying down like many free weight exercises. Functionality has to do with training in a way that may translate to real life activities. Any exercise you can do standing vs sitting or laying down will add more functionality.
For example, you can practice punching with extra resistance by using cables. Heck, you can even go through the full body motion of throwing a good punch.
But, what would happen if you tried to do the same thing with dumbbells? You would have to lie down.
Otherwise, you'd be strengthening the muscles designed to support the weight rather than the muscles producing the punching motion.
Plus, how often would you be punching someone while lying down anyways?
So cable exercises can add another layer of functionality to them that free weights don’t always provide.
For instance, doing a single arm cable fly will not only work your chest, but also your core. The resistance on the cable would be working to pull your arm and your entire body towards the origin of the cable.
You’ll have to work your obliques harder during the exercise in order to not rotate your body.
But, now that you know these benefits, let’s dive into some of my favorite cable exercises for the chest!
Give these exercises a try and really focus on your form, and feeling the muscle work!
Start by standing directly in the middle of 2 cables set at chest height. You'll want a single handle attachment for both cables. Grab both handles and hold them at your chest.
Take a small step forward with one foot to create tension in the cables and enter a split-stance. Lean slightly forward, keep a slight bend in your elbows, and push the cables in front of your chest.
From here, slowly draw your elbows behind you, releasing tension on your chest. When you can no longer draw your elbows back further, squeeze your chest and triceps to push the cables directly in front of your chest again. This is one rep.
Make sure to flip which foot is forward halfway through each set, or alternate each set for an even number of sets.
Start by standing directly in the middle of 2 cables set at chest height. You'll want a single handle attachment for both cables. Grab both handles and hold them in front of your chest.
Take a small step forward with one foot to create tension in the cables and enter a split-stance. Lean slightly forward, keep a slight bend in your elbows, and slowly open your arms up as if you're about to give a big hug.
When your arms are opened up as wide as they can go, squeeze your chest and triceps to press the handles back to center.
Same thing here ... make sure to flip which foot is forward halfway through each set, or alternate each set for an even number of sets.
Start by standing in the middle of 2 cables set at the lowest height. You'll want a single handle attachment for both cables. Grab both handles and hold them at your sides at about hip height.
Set up in a split stance with one foot in front of the other to remain balanced. Keep a slight bend in your elbows as you squeeze your chest to raise your arms in front of you.
Pull your arms together to have the cables meet together in front of your chest. Then, slowly return the cables to either side of your body. This is one rep.
Start by standing directly in the middle between 2 cables set at the highest height. You'll want a single handle attachment for both cables. Grab both handles and hold them out at your sides with your palms facing forward.
Set yourself up in a split stance and lean slightly forward to remain balanced.
With a slight bend in your elbows, squeeze the chest as you lower your arms in front of you. Pull the handles together to meet in front of your abdomen and hold the tension.
Slowly return your arms back to the starting position to complete a full rep.
Set a seated bench directly between 2 cables facing away from the machine.
Be sure that the cables are set slightly below chest height (Your chest height when sitting down - not standing). Grab the handles and sit down, holding both handles a little below your chest. Your elbows should flare out behind you at a 45 degree angle from the body.
Squeeze your chest and triceps to push the handles directly in front of your body. When your arms are fully extended, hold for a second before drawing your arms back to their starting position.
Repeat this for reps.
Start by standing directly in the middle between 2 cables set at chest height. Grab the right handle and hold it by the right side of your chest facing away from the machine, and take a small step forward with the left foot to put some tension on each cable.
You should be in a split stance and slightly leaning forward to remain balanced.
Keep your right elbow bent at a 45 degree angle from the body and squeeze your chest and tricep to push the handle in front of your body.
When your arm is fully extended, hold for a second, then draw your arm back to its starting position. Make sure to alternate arms to work each side evenly before moving on.
Grab a cable machine and a single handle attachment. Start by setting the cable to about chest height. Turn away from the cable to one side of it, grab hold of the attachment with both hands, then hold the cable at your chest.
Widen your stance a little wider than shoulder width and bend your knees slightly to balance yourself.
Press the handle away from your chest, squeezing your chest, triceps, and bracing your core.
Squeeze for a second or 2, and then allow the arms to draw back into starting position. Repeat this for reps on each side of your body.
Set up a bench between 2 cables with the cables set on the lowest height. For this exercise, you'll need single hand attachments.
Set the bench in a spot where you can comfortably hold the handles by your chest on either side. Lay with your back flat on the bench, holding both handles by the chest with your elbows rotated 45 degrees away from the body.
Squeeze your chest and triceps to press the handles directly above your chest, fully extending your arms. Hold this position at the top for a few seconds, then slowly bring your arms back to either side of your chest. This is one rep.
Set up a bench directly between 2 cables with the cables set on the lowest height. Place the bench in a spot where you can comfortably hold the handles by your chest on either side.
Lay back on the incline bench holding both handles by your chest with your elbows rotated 45 degrees away from the body.
Squeeze your chest and triceps to press the handles above your chest. Your arms should be fully extended.
After a few seconds of holding, slowly return your arms to either side of your chest to complete one rep.
Set a seated bench directly between 2 cables facing away from the machine.
Be sure that the cables are set at the lowest height. Grab the handles and sit down holding both handles at shoulder height.
Your palms should be facing forward as you grip the handles at your shoulders. From here, push the cables overhead by squeezing your upper chest, triceps, and shoulders.
When your arms are fully extended overhead, slowly lower your arms back to either side of your head. Repeat for reps.
Your chest is a big muscle group in the upper body, and it makes sense why so many people want to build it up. It can really make a difference in how you look, and is a major mover in helping your upper body produce a lot of force.
Many people think free weights are the only way to go when it comes to getting quality results, but that just isn't true. While they really are a great option, there are plenty of ways to strengthen and build your chest. All of the cable exercises listed above in this article can help to take your chest gains to the next level.
...But that's only if you do everything else necessary to see results. It takes a lot more than just doing the right exercises.
Working out hard and doing that part right is only one piece of the puzzle. All in all, to see results you must be dialed in on a lot of different fronts.
You have to exercise hard enough to stimulate the need for your body to make the changes you are aiming for...
You have to get adequate rest and sleep...
You have to recover properly....
...and you have to be doing the right things with your nutrition.
It’s not easy to do all of those things properly either. If it were easy, everyone would be healthy and look great.
That’s not reality.
The reality is, seeing results is hard. It takes a ton of work and discipline ... a lot more than you may think.
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BS Exercise Science NASM Certified Personal Trainer NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist