Let’s face it ... we all want a six pack. But, if you’re like me, I’m sure you’re tired of doing the same old ab exercises over and over again.
Don’t get me wrong, traditional sit-ups and crunches are great exercises for targeting the abs, but to see progress in any area of fitness, it requires a change that your body isn’t used to.
There are a ton of different ways to train the core too.
You can choose between bodyweight exercises, free-weight exercises, and even ab machines too!
But that's not all. One of the most overlooked pieces of equipment you can use to train your core is the cable machine. It also happens to be among the most versatile too!
There are so many different ways to train your core using these genius pulley systems. Today, I'm going to show you 12 of the best ab exercises you can do with a cable machine.
First, we need to cover which muscles we're working and how to work them. We'll also dive into some of the benefits of training on cable machines too.
So keep reading!
Core Muscles Anatomy
The muscles of your core surround your body's entire midsection from front to back. These muscles are primarily responsible for stabilizing your spine and trunk. They also protect vital organs and allow movement within the midsection.
There are many small muscles we could cover, but we’re going to stick to the main ones here:
• Rectus abdominis
• Transverse abdominis
• External obliques
• Internal obliques
This is the “6-pack” muscle that extends from the bottom of the sternum down to the pelvis. The tendons running down the middle and between each section are the reason the muscle looks like a 4, 6, 8, or 10 pack ... however, this all depends on the genetics of each person.
If you're wondering whether you can make a change in the amount of abdominal sections you have ... don't hold your breath. If you were born with a 6-pack, no amount of training will ever make it an 8-pack. It's just genetics.
Now, don't let that discourage you ... having a lean midsection and abs that pop are very possible for those willing to work for them!
The main function of the rectus abdominis is to:
• Bring the chest and hips closer together by flexing the trunk.
• Protect the organs behind it
• Help other muscles stabilize the core
Also known as the corset muscle, this is the deepest of all core muscles. This muscle provides posture support while also helping to protect the organs beneath it.
You actually use this muscle anytime you brace your core. So, I'm sure you can imagine just how important the transverse abdominis is ... we use it in almost every daily movement.
With muscle fibers running horizontally ... when this muscle contracts, it tightens everything in the core beneath it. This effectively shrinks the circumference of the waist like a corset. This helps to:
• Stabilize the lower back
• Increase intra-abdominal pressure necessary for lumbar support in exercises that load the spine (squats, deadlifts, etc.)
These muscles lay on both sides of the 6-pack, wrapping the sides of the torso. They run from the bottom half of the rib cage down to the pelvis. This muscle lays on top of the internal obliques.
The muscle fibers run diagonally at a downward angle from back to front. This helps to:
• Rotate and flex the trunk
• Stabilize the core
• Breathe out forcefully
• Bend from side to side
Similar to the external obliques, these muscles lay on both sides of the 6-pack, wrapping the sides of the torso. They run from the bottom 4 ribs down to the iliac crest of the hip. This muscle lays beneath the external obliques.
The muscle fibers run diagonally in the opposite direction of the external obliques; at an upward angle, from back to front. This helps to:
• Rotate and flex the trunk
• Breathe out forcefully
• Bend from side to side
• Increase intra-abdominal pressure with the transverse abdominis
Why Use Cables to Train Your Abdominals?
First, let me say there is nothing wrong with body weight exercises, or free weights. Those should also be utilized in a proper training program, but there are some advantages to using cables that give them the edge in some instances.
Let’s dive in...
1. Cables Allow For Constant Tension Throughout a Movement
You see, with body weight and free weights, the angle of resistance is always up and down. That's because the resistance is created by gravity.
This is important to know because gravity has a resistance curve. This 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.
Think about a bicep curl, for example. It’s much easier to lift the weight in the very beginning and very end of each rep, but in the middle of the rep, it’s harder.
That’s just the physics of it. You have more or less leverage to lift the weight, depending on what part of the range of motion you’re in.
That said, if you did the bicep curl on a cable machine, there would be no point where you have more or less leverage. It would stay the same throughout the entirety of the exercise.
2. Cables Provide Resistance at Any Angle
Whether you want to set the cable up high or down low, you have the freedom to do so without losing functionality. Since cable machines use a pulley system ... the weight can travel in any direction and still give the full amount of resistance.
This allows you to train the way you want to without losing any effectiveness.
3. Different Attachment Options Allow For a More Customizable Workout
Don’t forget that you don’t only have to use handles in your cable workouts. You also have the option to hook up a rope, bar attachments, loops to put your feet in, attachments to strap your head in, and much more.
You really just get so many different options! Sometimes switching the grip is all you need to do to make a big difference in how the exercise targets certain muscles.
Now, let's jump right into some of my favorite cable ab exercises. These will light your core on fire and help you get the best ab workout of your life!
Cable Exercises For The Abdominals
Here, I’m going to list out some of my favorite abdominal exercises you can perform with a cable machine. Be sure to follow the directions correctly to maximize your results.
The majority of these exercises will work best with a rope attachment. So, assume you’ll be using a rope unless specified otherwise. Make sure to keep the elbows tucked in rather than flaring out.
Your back should round during these exercises if you do them properly.
1. Kneeling Cable Crunch
I like this one because it gives you tension and a stretch at the top of the movement. In a normal crunch, you wouldn't be able to get this kind of muscle activation.
How to do the Kneeling Cable Crunch:
Start on your knees facing the cable column. The cable should be set high enough that you have to reach up and grab it, but not so high that you must get off of your knees.
Grab the rope and pull it down until your hands are at about ear level on each side. Keeping your hips from pushing backwards, engage your abdominals as you curl your torso forward toward the floor.
Think of this more as bringing your chest closer to your belly button rather than just the floor. Go nice and slow, and squeeze the abs when fully crunched at the bottom.
Slowly un-crunch to return to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.
2. Seated Cable Crunch
This is a variation of the kneeling cable crunch. While they might seem like the same exercise, it does hit the muscle differently.
How to do the Seated Cable Crunch:
Set up the cable in the highest position with a bench set up against the machine. Grab the rope and sit down, facing away from the cables. Hold the rope over your shoulders on both sides of your head.
Keep the lower body stable as you engage your abdominals to curl your chest forward toward your lap. When you've crunched as far as you can, slowly reverse the movement to a seated position once again. Repeat for reps.
3. Cable Pallof Press
This is an anti-rotation exercise that really targets the obliques. This is also an exercise that works best with a handle rather than a rope.
How to do the Cable Pallof Press:
Set up the cable at chest height and grab the handle, holding it at your chest. Your body should be turned 90 degrees away from the cable, out to the side. Take a big side step and keep a slight bend in your knees and hips to get into an athletic position.
With both hands, press the cable out in front of your chest until your arms are straight. You should feel the resistance in the cable trying to turn your body toward the machine.
Engage your core and use your obliques to resist turning in any way. Hold that squeeze for a second and then draw your hands back into the chest.
Repeat for reps, and then turn around and do the same number of reps on the other side.
4. Standing Cable Crunch
This is another variation of the cable crunch. However, standing gives you less stability and a greater range of motion.
How to do a Standing Cable Crunch:
Start with the cable at the highest setting. Yes, you'll be using a rope attachment. Face away from the machine while holding the rope over your shoulders by each side of your head.
Engage your abdominals as you curl your upper body downward toward your thighs. Squeeze for a second when you hit a comfortable end range of motion, and then return to the starting position. Repeat for reps.
5. Cable Oblique Twist
This is a great exercise for constant tension on your obliques. This is hard to achieve with other abdominal exercises. For this exercise, you'll want to use a single handle attachment.
How to do the Cable Oblique Twist:
Set the cable to chest height and grab the handle. Your body should be turned 90 degrees away from the cable, out to the side. Take a big step out to the side and get into a stable athletic position.
Keep your arms straight as you use your obliques to rotate your torso, pulling the cable as you rotate. Keep your hands directly out in front of your chest. The movement should all be done by rotating your torso.
When you hit a comfortable end range of motion, squeeze your obliques, then rotate back to the starting position.
6. Seated Cable Oblique Twists on Floor
This exercise is very similar to the cable oblique twist. The biggest difference is that you'll be seated on the floor ... this contributes to even less stability and balance.
How to do a Seated Cable Oblique Twist:
By taking away stability, the exercise gets much harder! Set up the cable at chest height when seated on the ground and grab the handle. Your body should be turned 90 degrees away from the cable, out to the side.
Scoot to the side so the weight is lifted with just your upper body. With your arms straight, use your obliques to rotate your torso away from the cable. Keep your hands out directly in front of your chest.
When you can't rotate any further, squeeze your obliques, then rotate back to the starting position. Repeat this for reps before switching to your other side.
7. Low Cable Side Bends
This is a great exercise to target your obliques in a different way. This exercise also works best with a handle.
How to do a Low Cable Side Bend:
Start with the cable on the lowest height, with the handle in one hand. You should be facing the side of the machine and take a step out to the side, so the weight is lifted to begin the first rep.
Bend toward the side opposite the hand holding the handle until a comfortable end range of motion is met. Be sure not to push the hips out to the side during the movement. Your hips should stay in the same place throughout the movement for maximum oblique engagement.
Hold the end position for a second and squeeze the obliques before returning back to the starting position. Repeat for reps, and then turn around and do the same number of reps on the opposite side.
8. High Cable Side Bends
This is a great variation of the low cable side bend and is actually quite different in how it targets the muscles. This also requires a handle rather than a rope.
How to do a High Cable Side Bend:
Start with the cable on the highest height with the handle in one hand. You should be facing the side of the machine just like the low cable side bend.
Pull the handle down by your shoulder while tucking your elbow in. Bend toward the side of the hand holding the handle until a comfortable end range of motion is met.
Be sure not to push your hips out to the side during the movement. Your hips should remain in the same place throughout the movement for the best oblique engagement. Hold the end position for a second to squeeze your obliques. Then, return back to the starting position.
Repeat for reps, and then turn around and do the same number of reps on the opposite side.
9. Cable Double Crunch
This is a great exercise that works your abdominals and hip flexors from both ends. Be careful though, this one can be tricky. I recommend you follow the directions carefully…
How to do a Cable Double Crunch:
This exercise works best with an ankle strap attachment. You can also put your feet through the handles. Sit in front of the cable machine, setting it to its lowest height setting. Take 2 handles or ankle strap attachments and place them around your ankles/feet.
Scoot a foot or two back away from the cable and lay directly on your back. Keep your hands at either side of your head. At the same time, pull your knees up toward your chest and engage your abdominals to crunch forward.
Squeeze your abdominals once you reach the end range of motion. From here, slowly return to the starting position. Repeat this for reps.
10. High to Low Cable Oblique Twist
This is a great variation of the cable oblique twist, but adding in the high to low angle change targets the fibers a little differently. This is best done with a handle.
How to do a High to Low Cable Oblique Twist:
Set up the cable at the highest height and grab the handle with both hands. You should be facing the side of the machine rather than at or away from it.
Take a big side step so that the weight is lifted. Keeping your arms straight, use your obliques to rotate your entire torso. At the same time, pull the cable down past your opposite hip as you rotate.
Most of the movement should be done by rotating your trunk and keeping your core engaged. Try not to let your arms or lats take over the movement.
When you hit a comfortable end range of motion, squeeze your obliques before rotating back to the starting position. Repeat for reps, and then turn around and do the same number of reps on the opposite side.
11. Low to High Cable Oblique Twist
Another great variation of the oblique twist. This will also incorporate some of the chest and shoulders as well.
How to do a Low to High Cable Oblique Twist:
This is also done best with a handle rather than a rope. Set up the cable at the lowest height and grab the handle with both hands. You should be facing the side of the machine rather than at or away from it.
Take a big side step so that the weight is lifted, and keep a slight bend in the hips and knees. Keeping your arms straight, use your obliques to rotate your entire torso. At the same time, pull the cable up above your head as you rotate.
Most of the movement should be generated from the rotation of your trunk.
There will also be some chest and shoulder engagement as well to life the handle. Try not to dominate the movement with your chest or shoulders though as you move the weight.
When you reach a comfortable range of motion, squeeze your obliques for a second. Then, slowly rotate back to the starting position. Repeat this for reps, then turn to the opposite side for the same number of reps.
12. Cable Reverse Crunch
This exercise is a lot like the double crunch, but instead focuses on the lower abs. This is also best done with ankle straps, but can still be done with putting your feet through the handles.
How to do a Cable Reverse Crunch:
Sit in front of the cable set at the lowest height, and tie the straps around your ankles, or attach two handles and put your feet through each one. Set the cable to the lowest height setting and sit in front of it. Use two ankle straps or two handle attachments to put each foot through.
Scoot back a foot or two so that your legs are straight and the weight is suspended. Lay flat on your back from here with your arms on the ground at either side of you. Throughout the movement, press your hands to the ground for stability and balance.
Engage your hip flexors to pull your knees up to about a 90-degree angle.
From here, the rest of the movement should come from rounding the lower back.
Engage the lower abdominals to round the lower back as you bring your knees towards your face.
Don’t push too far, but find a pain-free end range of motion. When you reach it, squeeze your abs for a second before slowly returning to the starting position.
Repeat for reps.
What Else Can You Do For Your Abs?
The cable machine is very versatile and functional in ways that free weights and machines aren’t. That’s not to say that those other forms of exercise equipment are not good…
That would be an outright lie.
The best workout programs incorporate multiple types of equipment. That way, you can truly diversify the types of results you’re going to receive. Cables should absolutely be a part of that.
Adding in these 12 exercises on the cable machine will really help you maximize the development of your abs and obliques. If you really want a well-defined 6-pack, you must train these muscles, and train them hard.
That’s not all that needs to happen though. Workouts are one big aspect of getting results, but if you don’t have your nutrition in check ... you’ll have a hard time seeing results.
Seeing definition in your core isn’t just about building muscle. It’s also about having lower amounts of fat covering your abs. Even if you have a strong core with plenty of abdominal muscle, if there is too much fat, you won’t be able to see it.
Nutrition isn’t easy for most people, and that’s why so many people struggle with getting results in fitness. But if you utilize the 1st Phorm App we can help you out.
If you aren’t sure what this app is, you’re in for a treat!
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The 1st Phorm App is great ... but at the end of the day, it's a tool. You still have to put in the effort and do the work.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out! We're happy to help get you on track to see your goals for free! Just give us a call at 1-800-409-9732 or send us an email at CustomerService@1stPhorm.com.ABOUT THE AUTHOR