by Truth Fry January 23, 2023 11 min read
The cable section of the gym isn't always the easiest place to navigate. Plus, all the different attachments and exercise variations can make cable workouts ... well, confusing.
However, cable machine exercises are some of the most versatile, safe, and effective workouts! So, while they may have a learning curve, they can be a great way to spice things up with your workouts.
Cable machine exercises are like a marriage between free weights and traditional machines. In addition to that, cable machines can actually offer several additional benefits ... benefits that neither free weights or traditional machines can offer.
But, regardless of whether your main goal is to build muscle, lose body fat, or just maintain ... cable machine exercises can definitely help!
Keep reading! I'll fill you in on all the benefits of using cables, 10 of the best cable exercises to start with, and even a sample workout to get you started.
So, I'm sure you're wondering ... what exactly are these benefits?
Well, the truth is, there are a lot. So let's dive into them...
One of the biggest benefits of cables is how safe they are in comparison to free weights.
That's because with free weights, you're directly pushing or pulling against gravity. With cables, however, the pulley offsets this. This makes the exercises much easier on your joints.
Unlike most traditional weight machines, cables are highly customizable. You can adjust the height and angle of the pulley to move freely through any range of motion.
On top of that, there are tons of different attachments you can use. Given all of these factors, you can work virtually every single muscle in your body with a cable machine!
Like I mentioned earlier, cables use pulleys to offset the direct push or pull against gravity. Well, this also helps provide constant tension throughout the entire range of motion.
This can be great for everything from building muscle to building stabilization strength!
The truth is, I could go on and on about the benefits of incorporating cables into your routine ... but I’ll save that for another time. After all, you came here for some killer cable machine exercises. To put it simply though, cables can benefit anybody, no matter their goal.
If you're not already incorporating cables into your workouts, you probably should!
The question is ... where do you start? Here are 10 awesome exercises that you can perform with a cable machine...
The lat pulldown is an incredible exercise for your back! It can help build a v-taper look by targeting the latissimus dorsi, upper back, rear delts, and even biceps.
First, you'll need to find a seated cable machine with the cable attachment above your head. You'll also want to adjust the thigh pad to the right height and hook up a long straight-bar attachment to the cable.
Next, set the weight and reach overhead to grab the bar. Your grip should be slightly outside of shoulder width. Brace your core as you pull the bar to meet the top of your chest with your lats, back, and biceps.
When the bar reaches the top of your chest, hold for a second before slowly releasing the bar back to the top. This is one rep! Make sure to move slow and maintain control through every rep.
Cable flyes are a great cable exercise you can do to isolate your chest. In fact, the main muscles involved are your pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and front delts.
For this exercise, you'll want to find a dual cable setup and two single handle attachments. Set each cable to roughly shoulder height and select an appropriate weight.
Take a handle in each hand, standing in between both of the cables. Your body should be perpendicular to the cables. Once you're centered between the pulleys ... take a step forward and keep a slight bend in your elbows as your arms extend to either side. You should feel a stretch in your chest.
Squeeze your chest and rotate your arms inward as if you're giving someone a big hug. When the handles meet each other out in front of your chest ... hold for a second before slowly bringing your arms back to either side. Make sure your arms remain extended with a slight bend in your elbows throughout the entire movement. Repeat this for reps!
Cable lateral raises are by far one of the best exercises for your shoulders. They can help create a strong, well-rounded shoulder by targeting your lateral, front, and rear deltoids. To a lesser extent, cable lateral raises can even work your traps.
Start by adjusting the cable to its lowest height setting with a single handle attachment. Stand perpendicular to the pulley, grabbing the handle with the arm opposite of the cable machine. Brace your core, stand with your feet together, and keep a slight bend in your knees.
With a slight bend in your elbow, pull the cable up and across the front of your body and out to the side. When the cable reaches shoulder-height ... hold for a second before slowly returning it to its starting position. Do this for reps before rotating your body 180° to repeat this exercise with your opposite shoulder.
Cable crunches are a great way to isolate your rectus abdominis. This is the muscle which makes up the "six pack." By working through a full range of motion, you'll be able to work both the upper and lower portion of your abs too!
First, set the pulley to the highest setting on the cable machine and use a rope attachment. Face the cable machine, grip the rope attachment in each hand, then kneel on the ground. Bend your elbows and draw your arms to your sides as you pull the rope behind your neck. Hold the rope in each hand at your collar bone.
Open your ribcage to stretch your abdomen before using your core to pull your torso down like a normal crunch. Crunch your chest & shoulders inward until you've crunched as far as possible. Slowly release your abdomen and return to the starting position to complete one full rep.
The seated cable row is a killer exercise for building a strong back ... similar to the lat pulldown! The biggest difference here is that cable rows will target more of your mid and upper back. Your gym may have a seated cable machine with the cable attachment out in front of you, but if it doesn't, feel free to sit on the floor or pull up a bench.
Attach a D-handle or a lat bar attachment to the cable and set the weight. Reach your arms in front of you to grab the attachment with both hands. You should feel a stretch in your back and lats.
From here, squeeze your lats and upper back to pull the cable toward your belly button. Your elbows should extend behind your body. When the cable reaches your abdomen, slowly begin to release the cable back in front of your body, extending your arms back out in front of you. This is one rep.
Cable woodchoppers are a fun full-body movement to add into your workout routine! It targets the muscles on the sides of your abs: the obliques. On top of that, they also help train your transverse abdominis ... the muscles of your abdomen that help brace your core. This exercise can really help with total body stability and rotational strength.
Start by setting the pulley to the highest setting on the cable machine. You'll also need a single handle attachment for this exercise. Once you're all set, stand perpendicular to the pulley with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Extend both of your arms and rotate your body to grab the handle with both of your hands. While keeping your arms fully extended ... rotate your torso as you bring the handle downward and diagonally across your body. Once the cable passes your opposite thigh, slowly reverse your movement. Do this for reps before switching to the other side of your body.
Make sure you keep a slight bend in your knees and brace your core throughout the movement ... this will help with stabilization and avoiding potential injuries.
Cable pull throughs are all about your glutes and hamstrings. I'd actually consider them to be my favorite exercise for them altogether! The cable allows for constant tension through the entire range of motion ... this eliminates momentum, making it very beneficial compared to other glute movements.
Set the pulley to the lowest height setting on the cable machine and use a rope attachment. Face away from the cable machine and reach between your legs to grab the rope handles with a neutral grip. Take a few steps forward to move the weight off the weight stack.
Keep your spine neutral and your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and keep your arms long. Your arms should naturally fall to meet the rope at your hips. Start the movement by hinging forward at your hips. You should begin to feel a stretch in your hamstrings. When you've stretched as far as you can, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings and bring your hips forward to stand upright. Finish the movement by squeezing your glutes at the top ... it's quite the burn!
The cable goblet squat is one of my favorite lower body exercises! It will help target your quadriceps, glutes and adductors. How can you beat that?
For this exercise, set the pulley to the lowest setting on the cable machine and use a rope attachment. Face the pulley, positioning yourself about 1 foot back from the cable machine. Grab either end of the rope, tuck your elbows in, and hold the rope at your chest.
Adjust your stance to be slightly outside shoulder-width, keep your chest high, and brace your core. From here, sink into your hips and descend into a squat. When you've reached a comfortable depth, push through your legs and squeeze your glutes to stand. This will have your legs feeling like a couple of wet noodles!
When we talk about arms ... everyone thinks about their biceps. But don't forget about your triceps too! Overhead cable tricep extensions are an awesome workout for them.
Set the pulley to the lowest height setting on the cable machine and use a rope attachment. At first, face the cable machine to select the weight and grab the rope attachment in both hands.
Raise the cable above your head then rotate your body 180° to face away from the cable machine. Your elbows should be bent and point toward the ceiling ... this will allow your forearms to fall behind your back to hold on to the rope attachment.
While keeping your upper arm as close to your head as possible, squeeze your triceps and extend your arms overhead. Hold for a second before slowly bending your elbows and drawing your forearms behind your head once again.
If you're looking for a great cable exercise for your biceps ... look no further.
First, set the pulley to the lowest setting on the cable machine and use an EZ bar attachment. Hinge at your hips to bend over and grab the EZ bar with an underhand grip.
Pull the EZ bar to your waist and let your arms hang in front of you. Keep your upper arms fixed at your sides as you contract your biceps to pull the bar toward your upper chest.
When the bar hits your chest and your biceps are fully contracted, pause for a second before slowly reversing the movement. When the cable returns to your hips , you've completed a rep.
Now, this is just a short list of some of the many great exercises you can do with cable machines. In fact, the cables are so versatile, that you could do an entire workout with just cables, and still see great results!
Below you’ll find both a 3-day per week and 4-day per week workout plan that will train your entire body with just the cables.
If you're feeling brave ... give it a try! If not, hopefully you can pull some great ideas for how you can use cables for your next workout!
The full body split will utilize supersets. This means you'll perform two exercises in rapid succession for one set (A1-A2, B1-B2, Etc). Complete one after another before moving to the next group.
|A1) Cable Goblet Squat
A2) Lat Pulldown
|Pyramid: 12, 10, 8, 8, 15||5|
|B1) Cable Split Squat
B2) Cable Fly
|10 of Each||3|
|C1) Rope Cable Curl
C2) Cable Overhead Triceps Extension
|10 of Each||3|
|Reverse Cable Crunches||12-15||4|
|A1) Cable Pull Through
A2) Cable Chest Press
|Pyramid: 12, 10, 8, 8, 15||5|
|B1) Cable Curtsy Lunge
B2) Low Cable Row
|10 of Each||3|
|C1) Cable Glute Kick Back
C2) Cable Lateral Raise
|10 of Each||3|
|High Cable Crunch||12-15||4|
|A1) Cable Reverse Lunge
A2) Single Arm Cable Overhead Press
|Pyramid: 12, 10, 8, 8, 15||5|
|B1) Cable Romanian Deadlift
B2) Reverse Grip Lat Pull Down
|10 of Each||3|
|C1) Rope EZ Bar Curl
C2) Rope Triceps Press Down
|10 of Each||3|
This 4-day split breaks each training session into different muscle groups. I definitely recommend this split for someone who is more conditioned.
|Dual Cable Chest Press||Pyramid: 12, 10, 8, 8, 15||5|
|Cable Cross Body Chest Press||10-12||4|
|Dual Cable Fly||12-15||3|
|Cable Upright Row||Pyramid: 12, 10, 8, 8, 15||4|
|Cable Lateral Raise||10-12||4|
|Dual Cable Reverse Fly||12-15||3|
|Cable Goblet Squat||Pyramid: 12, 10, 8, 8, 15||5|
|Cable Split Squat||10-12||4|
|Cable Pull Through||Pyramid: 12, 10, 8, 8, 15||5|
|Cable Leg Curl||10-12||4|
|Cable Glute Kick Back||12-15||3|
|Underhand Lat Pull Down||Pyramid: 12, 10, 8, 8, 15||5|
|Seated Cable Row||10-12||4|
|Straight Arm Lat Pull Down||12-15||4|
|Cable Face Pull||12-15||4|
|Cable Woodchopper||8-10 Each Side||4|
|Kneeling Cable Crunch||12-15||3|
|Cable Reverse Crunch||12-15||3|
|Rope Triceps Pushdown||Pyramid: 12, 10, 8, 8, 15||5|
|Overhead EZ Bar Cable Extension||10-12||3|
|Single Arm Cable Triceps Kickback||12-15 Each Side||3|
|EZ Bar Cable Curl||Pyramid: 12, 10, 8, 8, 15||5|
|Cable Rope Hammer Curl||10-12||4|
|Single Arm High Cable Curl||12-15||3|
Yes, cable exercises can be a great way to switch up your training ... but what are you training for? Are you training to gain muscle? Are you training to increase your performance? Are you training to lose body fat and tone up? Regardless of what your goal is ... cable exercises alone won't get you the results you're after.
The truth is, your workouts alone won't even help you earn the results you're after. If you aren't prioritizing your nutrition, sleep, and overall health ... it doesn't matter what you do for your workouts.
The 23 hours outside of the gym are just as important, if not more important, than the hour inside.
If you're having a hard time reaching your goals, or need any help at all ... reach out to us! We have a full team of NASM Certified Personal Trainers and Certified Nutrition Coaches that are happy to help. Just shoot us an email at CustomerService@1stPhorm.com or give us a call at 1-800-409-9732.
You can also download the 1st Phorm App for additional help. The 1st Phorm App gives you the tools, info, and support you need to succeed ... and much more! Get access to 1-on-1 coaching, custom workout plans, educational videos and livestreams, nutrition tracking, and much more ... all at the touch of your fingertips!
So go out, give these cable exercises a try, and let us know if there is ever anything that we can help out with!
BS Exercise Science NASM Certified Personal Trainer NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist