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Cable Conundrum

How to get more out of your gym’s pulley system.

By Eric Broser


Let’s face it—sometimes resistance training can get a little redundant. Even in a gym filled with ample free weights, a plethora of machines, and multiple cable stations, you will more than likely find yourself repeating the same exercises over and over again, week in and out. And while this is certainly okay in your first few years of lifting, it will eventually lead to stagnation, frustration, and plateaus, resulting from pure boredom—of both your mind and your muscles!

As a competitive bodybuilder, trainer, and prep coach for over 25 years, I have always stressed the need for variety in any sound long-term training program. The simple act of altering angles, grips, stances, and/or planes of motion (on just about any specific exercise) will have a different effect on your body and utilize a unique set of motor-unit pools within the target muscle. In the short term, this can make training more interesting, and in the long run, far more productive.

One of my favorite places to experiment with “out of the box” twists on basic exercises is at the cable crossover station. I’m constantly thinking about how our muscles “work” and trying to come up with new ways to exhaust (more like demolish) them. I seek to force the muscles stretch, push/pull, and contract through unique ROMs that they have never dealt with previously. I believe that this is one of the keys to unlocking one’s full genetic potential for muscular development.

With that in mind, here are three rarely seen movements you can do in almost any gym. They require an adjustable incline bench, upper and lower cable, and a few common pulley attachments. With each of these exercises, feel free to experiment with the angle of the bench, bar utilized, and width of grip. The more variety you force upon your muscles, the more complete development they will each achieve. IM



  1. The WG Incline Pulldown Back Blaster: Set an incline bench to about 70 degrees and place it about a foot or two in front of a high cable station, with the underside of the bench facing weight stack. Attach a long lat-pulldown bar to the upper pulley and take a slightly greater-than-shoulder-width overhand grip. Sit facing into the bench with your stomach pressed firmly against the pad, and your legs and feet back behind you. Begin with your arms straight and lats fully stretched. With no momentum or jerking, bring the bar slowly down to the clavicles while arching your lower back until you feel an intense contraction all the way from the upper back down to the lumbars. Hold for a moment and then return to the starting position.



  1. The Incline Overhead Front Raise Deltoid Destroyer: Set an incline bench to about 60 degrees and place it a few feet in front of a lower pulley with the front of bench facing the weight stack. Attach a short straight bar and take a shoulder-width overhand grip. Sit back on the bench with your arms held straight and downward toward the low pulley. The bar should be a few inches above your thighs at the beginning of each rep. While keeping your arms straight, slowly raise the bar up and back in an arc until it is in a position over and above your head. Contract the shoulders hard and then carefully lower the bar (by reversing the arc) to the starting position while resisting every inch of the way.



  1. The Incline Extension/Pushdown Triceps Thrasher: Set an incline bench to about 60 degrees and place it a few feet in front of a high cable station. The underside of bench should be facing weight stack. Connect a rope attachment to the upper pulley. Lie back on the incline bench and have someone hand you the rope from overhead. Begin with your elbows locked firmly into the sides of your torso and fists a few inches in front of you face. Forcefully push both down and outward (making this a “hybrid” of both a pushdown and extension) until your arms are locked out and the triceps fully contracted. Then, while the elbows remain in place, resist the eccentric contractions until once again back in the starting position.
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