Top Cable Machine Leg Exercises

13 Best Cable Leg Exercises

So you're looking to get in a killer leg workout ... but you only have access to a cable machine.

Maybe the gym is crowded, you're in a hotel gym, or you have an injury which limits you. Whatever the reason may be, you CAN still get an incredible leg workout with just cables!

You can even add cable training to your current routine to mix things up.

Now ... generally, you'll read or hear that free weights are superior, especially on leg day. Squats, deadlifts, split squats, and many more movements all use free weights.

To some degree, I do agree. However, there are quite a few benefits to cable leg exercises that free weights simply can't provide...

Why Use Cables For Leg Workouts?

There are quite a few reasons why you'd look to add or switch out some of your leg exercises for cable leg exercises.

Not because they're "better" per se, but they offer a unique challenge to your leg muscles...

1. Cables Can Hit Different Angles

As opposed to traditional weights, cables don't depend on gravity. Because of this, you can address a muscle group from all sorts of different angles.

Since there's no gravity to determine the direction of pull ... you do!

2. Cables Provide Consistent Resistance

You see, gravity has a resistance curve. With free weight exercises, you're pushing or pulling against the force of gravity.

The resistance curve explains the leverage advantages and disadvantages at certain points in the range of motion. To put that simply ... this just means some parts of the repetition might be easier, while other parts might be more difficult.

With a cable though, the pulley mechanism allows for constant resistance. There won't be any point during an exercise where you'll have more or less leverage. This is great news, especially if you're looking to increase time under tension.

3. Cables Have a Free Range of Motion

Unlike traditional weight machines, cable machines have a free range of motion. This just means you're free to move the weight in any direction you please. This also allows your stabilization muscles to activate during any movement.

Whereas with a fixed range of motion ... your stabilization muscles don't get much, if any, activation.

4. There Is No Direct Load

Many of us have experienced joint pain or discomfort while weight training. Heck, this can even happen from performing basic calisthenics and cardio exercises.

Cables, however, can offer a smooth movement. This limits the compression and force associated with many movements in the gym.

5. Safe and Easy

Cable leg exercises can be done safely without a spotter, and very easily. You can also adjust the weight between sets with ease. This can be a huge benefit for those who are short on time or work out alone.

Because of all these benefits together ... cables allow us to train with precision, while still challenging the muscle.

These attributes make cables a phenomenal option for stepping up your leg workouts. For leg workouts specifically ... cable machines can take a lot of pressure off your lower back and knees while training.

When it comes to training your legs with cables ... all the same principles apply. This means we want to proportionately train all the muscles of your lower body.

So keep that in mind as you go to build a leg workout with cables, or any equipment for that matter.

Anatomy Of Leg Muscles

Before you dive into leg workouts, let’s look at how your leg muscles work and the lower body anatomy. 

Specifically, let’s look at the muscle groups that make up your legs, what muscles are in them, and what they do. 


Your quads are located on the front of your thighs and are crucial in your ability to run and lift. 

Muscles included in the quadriceps:

  • Vastus Lateralis
  • Vastus Medialis
  • Vastus Intermedius
  • Rectus Femoris


  • Extension of the knee joint
  • Assists in hip flexion

This muscle group makes up the back of your thighs, opposite your quads. Without these muscles, you won’t be able to properly bend your knees or use your hips. 

Muscles included:

  • Biceps Femoris
  • Semimembranosus
  • Semitendinosus


  • Flexing the knee joint
  • Extension of the hip joint

The calves make up the muscles on the back of your lower legs. They help your ankles and are vital for exercising—especially running and cycling. 

Muscles included:

  • Gastrocnemius (calf muscle)
  • Soleus
  • Plantaris


  • Plantar flexion of the ankle joint (pointing toes downwards)
  • Assists in knee flexion

The glutes make up the muscles in your buttocks. While they’re not directly part of your legs, they are vital support to any and all cable leg exercises. They help your hips move and stabilize you. 

Muscles included:

  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Gluteus Medius
  • Gluteus Minimus


  • Extension, abduction, and external rotation of the hip joint
  • Helps stabilize the pelvis and lower back during movement

The Top Cable Machine Leg Exercises

To save you some time ... here's a quick list of lower body cable exercises that will cover all your bases! This will make for one well-rounded, well-balanced cable leg workout.

Cable Goblet Squat

How To: Set the pulley to the lowest setting and attach either a rope handle, or a D-handle. Keep your elbows tucked and hands tight to your chest with one side of the attachment in each hand.

Step just slightly back from the pulley about a foot or two and set your feet at shoulder-width apart. Keep your toes pointed slightly outward.

Make sure to brace your core and maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement. Allow your hips to set back as you bend your knees and hips to squat down to parallel.

Once you've reached a comfortable depth, reverse the movement until you're standing. Repeat this for reps.

Cable Deadlift

How To: Start by connecting a straight-bar handle to a pulley. Set the pulley to the lowest height setting and stand facing the pulley. Keep your feet about hip-width apart.

Grab the bar with an overhand grip and position yourself a couple feet from the machine. Make sure to brace your core and maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement.

With your core braced, hinge at your hips and allow your knees to bend as needed. Let your arms fully extend in front of you. Without bending your spine, go as low as you can. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings.

Reverse the movement by driving through your feet and extending your knees and hips until you are standing. Repeat this for reps.

Cable RDL

How To: Set the pulley to the lowest height setting and attach a straight-bar handle. Stand facing the pulley with your feet hip-width apart.

Next, grab the bar with an overhand grip and position yourself a couple feet from the machine.

Stand up straight with your arms fully extended. Start this movement by hinging at your hips with a little bend in your knees.

Press your hips back as you keep the bar as close to your body as possible. Once you feel a stretch in your hamstrings and glutes, reverse the motion to a standing position. Repeat this for reps.

Cable Split Squat

How To: Start by attaching a single-grip handle to a pulley at the lowest height setting. Grab the cable with your right hand and step your right foot behind you to form a split stance. Your front heel should be 2-4 feet in front of your back foot.

Raise your back heel to place weight evenly along your toes. The weight on your front foot should be evenly distributed along the entire foot.

Make sure your hips are facing forward and your posture is tall with your torso upright. Start the movement by driving your front knee forward and sinking into your hips.

Once your front thigh is at or below parallel with the floor, begin the upward movement. Push through your front foot to a standing position. As you stand, keep your chest high and squeeze your front quad and glute.

Allow your front knee to straighten until you've reached the starting position. Repeat this for reps before switching to your opposite side and repeating.

Cable Pull Through

How To: Set the pulley to the lowest height setting on the cable machine with a rope attachment. Face away from the cable machine and reach between your legs to grab the rope handle with a neutral grip.

Take a few steps forward to move the weight off of the stack. Make sure you have a neutral spine and a slight bend in your knees.

Next, hinge at your hips to slowly bend forward, pushing your hips behind you. Once you begin to feel a stretch in your hamstrings and glutes, pause.

Then, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to push your hips forward, bringing your body back to an upright position. Squeeze your glutes at the top, then repeat this for reps.

Cable Glute Kickback

How To: Set a pulley to the lowest height setting and attach an ankle strap. Next, loop the ankle strap around your right ankle.

Stand facing the cable machine with your feet together. Lean forward slightly and embrace your core.

Begin the movement by pulling with your right glute and driving your right heel behind you. When you can't push your right leg behind you any further, squeeze with your right glute and hold.

Slowly lower your right leg back to the starting position. Repeat this for reps before switching to your left leg.

Cable Abduction

How To: Set the pulley to the lowest height setting and use an ankle cuff attachment. Stand next to the cable machine with one side of your body facing the pulley.

Take your leg opposite of the pulley and put it in the ankle cuff attachment. Keep the leg closest to the pulley planted in the ground as you lift your opposite leg away from the cable machine.

Once you've extended the leg as far out to the side as you can, pause before bringing it back to center. Repeat this for reps before switching sides and repeating with your other leg.

Cable Reverse Lunge

How To: Grab a single handle attachment and place it on a pulley set to the lowest height setting. With the handle in your right hand, step 1-2ft back away from the cable stack. Square your hips with the pulley and keep your feet hip-width apart.

Brace your core and keep your spine neutral throughout this movement. Start the movement by stepping back with your left leg. Allow your left knee to come down and lightly touch the floor.

Reverse the movement by driving through your lead foot until you reach a standing position. Repeat this for reps, then switch sides to do it again.

Cable Single-Leg Calf Raise

How To: Set a pulley to the lowest height setting and grab a single handle attachment. In front of the cable, set up a low platform 3-6 inches high. You can stack some weight plates or use any sturdy platform you find. You can also do the workout without elevation, but you won't get as much out of it.

Face the cable machine and grab the handle with your right hand. Place your right foot on top of the elevated surface and allow your left leg to hand off the side. Make sure your left heel/foot doesn't touch the floor.

Keep your core braced and spine neutral throughout the entire movement. From here, let your left heel drop to allow a stretch in your right calf. Push through your right calf and the ball of your right foot to balance on your right toes. This is one rep.

Once you've completed a set number of reps, switch the handle to your opposite hand and switch legs to repeat.

Cable Tibialis Raise

How To: Find two single-grip handles or ankle straps and attach them to a pulley set at the lowest height setting. Sit on the floor and face toward the cable machine, legs extended out in front of you. Hook the handles/straps around your forefeet, just below your toes.

Scoot 1-2ft away from the pulley, creating tension in the cable. Next, slowly point and flex your feet back and forth for reps. You should feel a contraction in the muscles of your shins.

Cable Leg Extensions

How To: Attach an ankle cuff to a pulley on a cable machine and set the pulley to about shin level. Slowly extend the cuffed leg forward, straightening your knee. To protect your knees, stop just short of locking your knee. You might consider using a weight bench to help you balance. 

Hold briefly until you feel a bit of a burn, and then return to the starting. Maintain control and tension throughout, both the initial movement and returning to the starting position. Repeat on the other leg.

Cable Front Squat

How To: Attach a bar to the pulley on the cable machine. Your starting position is standing in front of the machine with your feet shoulders width apart. Pull the handle to your shoulders and hold. Keep your chest up, back straight, and core engaged. 

Squat down, keeping weight on your heels. Lower until thighs are parallel to the ground. Push through your heels to return to standing. Repeat for desired reps.

Cable Donkey Kick

How To: Attach an ankle strap to a low cable. Start on all fours while facing the cable machine for stability. Your hands should be directly beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. 

Kick the strapped leg back and squeeze your glutes. Keep your knee bent at a 90 degree angle. Pause at the peak and contract your glutes. Lower the lifted leg slowly back to the starting position. Switch legs. 

Breathe out as you kick out and then in as you return to the starting position. Maintain form, and avoid swinging. Repeat on the other leg. 

What Other Cable Exercises Can I Do For Legs?

Now, we just went over a lot of great cable leg exercises you can start with and add to your leg day. However, there are a ton more that you can check out and try for yourself.

But first, I want you to ask yourself a question.

What is your main goal?

Are you training legs to build muscle and get stronger? Are you looking to tone up or lose body fat? Are you trying to do a general body recomposition?

Maybe you're just looking for some alternative exercises to switch things up ... or to work around an injury. Regardless of why you're trying out these cable leg exercises ... we want to help.

For more cable machine leg workouts, instructional videos, and even custom workouts built for your goals ... download the 1st Phorm App!

You'll also get access to a ton of helpful tools inside the app to help you reach any health or fitness goal you're after, including:

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We also have a full team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Nutrition Coaches who are more than happy to help for FREE. Just give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 or send us an email at anytime and we'll get you on track to earning the results you're truly after!

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