A cable machine (or pulley machine) is a versatile piece of workout equipment comprising a pulley system and weights. The pulley system height can be adjusted based on user preference to effectively activate specific muscle groups.
Upper body cable exercises build broad shoulders, stronger backs, ripped biceps and triceps, and will improve core strength and stability. The wide variety of movement means that longer chains of muscles are also worked.
Therefore, this guide will show the recommended techniques to use the cable machine and the best exercises for your upper body.
Benefits Of Cable Exercises
- A wide range of motion. Upper body cable exercises are versatile and involve a broader assortment of movements. The variation in techniques keeps muscles under constant tension while also promoting joint mobility.
- Promotes growth beyond the fitness plateau. Every passionate weight trainer at one time will reach their fitness peak. Therefore, switching to cable exercises will introduce variation in workouts and always keep muscles guessing and the outcome is further muscle growth.
- Minimal risk of injury. Generally, cable exercises carry a low risk of injury. Because the load is distributed over a system of pulleys, joints sustain less pressure as much of the work is not done against gravity.
- Compatible with different exercises. Tinker with the pulley and levers to get the desired tension and height. Cable exercises are versatile, and one machine offers a plethora of exercise options.
- Intricate user control. Unlike conventional weight training exercises, the cable machine ensemble allows a higher degree of control of the range of motion. Users can seamlessly adjust the path of the cable and pulley systems for more powerful eccentric and concentric phases.
- Easy to use. Cable machines don’t need much to set up and use. However, you need to understand how to use different handles and how the cable system works. Once you master the basics, you can use the cable machine for a wider variety of upper body exercises.
Cable Exercises For The Arms
While some cable arm exercises isolate biceps, triceps, and the forearm, many combine a range of motion that leads to simultaneous engagement of the back as well.
So, how many reps and sets are necessary for each session?
When starting you should aim for at least 8-12 reps for a full set. Thereafter, give yourself a 1-2 minute breather before going back for a total of two sets. In moderate to advanced fitness, go for 10-12 reps, totaling three sets per workout.
The best cable arm exercises to try out include:
- Low cable curls: This routine is similar to dumbbell bicep curls, and primarily targets the biceps.
Fix the pulley system to the lowest position and stand with your back to the machine. Hold the handles with a neutral grip by your sides and from the fully extended arm position, curl the bar until your palm is shoulder level. In a controlled motion, return to the starting position and repeat the movement.
- High pulley cable curls: Use a crossover pulley system. High pulley cable curls are essential for building bigger biceps.
Adjust the pulley crossover system to the highest level and stand in between the two machines. Grasp the cables and keep your elbows shoulder level with hands extended. Flex your hands towards your ears and slowly lower them while maintaining tension. In smooth repeated cycles, repeat this movement for a complete set.
- Triceps pushdown: Implied by the name, triceps pushdowns train triceps. For this, you will work with a single cable pulley machine.
Position the cable to the highest position and stand with your back facing the machine, feet about shoulder-width apart. Grasp the bar palms facing the floor, elbows by your side, and hands close to the upper chest. Push down to extend the elbow, return to starting position, and repeat.
- Lying straight bar curls: The setup consists of a single cable with a long handlebar attachment and targets biceps.
Adjust the pulley system to the lowest option and lie on the floor facing the contraption while grasping the bar with elbows extended. Flex the hand close to the chest and resume from the starting posture soon after.
- Wrist curls: Attach a short handle to a single cable pulley. Isolate all movement to the wrist.
Stand facing the machine with a shoulder-width stance. Grasp the handle palms facing up with the wrists extended. Cyclically flex and extend the wrists and ensure a full contraction.
Cable Exercises For The Back
The back includes the biggest muscles in the body including – trapezius, serratus, part of the deltoid, as well as paraspinal muscles.
When working the back, it is recommended to add as much variation as possible to reach all the bulk of muscle chains.
Therefore, like arm cable exercises, beginners should do two sets of 8-10 reps with a two-minute break. Otherwise, the endpoint for advanced trainers is 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
Some examples of cable exercises for the back are:
- Cable lats pulldown: Attach a pulldown bar to a single cable pulley and select the ideal counterweight. Muscles worked include lats, traps, rhomboids, teres, and biceps.
Grab the pulldown bar palms slightly wider than shoulder-width. Keep your spine neutral and back engaged. Pull the bar to your chest, contract the back and gradually release to the starting position.
- Cable incline pushdown: Incline a bench to 45° in front of the pulley system. Cable pushdowns work teres major, latissimus, and rear deltoids.
Grab a straight bar shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip. Position your arms right above your head and push down with a slight elbow flex until the bar reaches your thighs. Return to starting posture and repeat.
- Cable lying overhead extension: This exercise is perfect for toning lats, triceps, shoulders, and chest muscles.
Attach a rope to a single cable pulley. Lie on a bench head facing the cable machine and grab the rope with arms extended behind your head. Pull from the starting position overhead until arms extend above your chest. Descend to the starting position and repeat.
- Bent over single cable pull: Wholesome exercise for isolating lats, rhomboids, teres, pecs, obliques, and biceps.
Adjust the pulley to waist level. stand facing the pulley machine and bend over. While in this position, grab the handle with one hand and use the other for balance. Pull back until the engaged hand is beside you. Hold to a count of two, return slowly to the starting posture, and repeat.
- Cable shrug: The cable shrug is ideal for building bigger trap muscles.
Attach a rope or bar to a single pulley system and adjust the cable to the lowest setting. Grasp the bar with a shoulder-width neutral grip. Take a step back to engage trap muscles. Hereafter, raise the shoulders as high as possible and hold. After a 2-3 seconds breather, descend, and repeat the movement.
Cable Exercises For The Abs
The ideal routine for beginners is about 8-10 reps per set and a maximum of two sets. After each set, rest for 1-2 minutes before hitting another set. However, pro-trainers can comfortably vary 3 exercises, 3 sets each with a set comprising 10-12 reps.
Listed below are some cable exercises for the abs:
- High cable crunch: Adjust the cable to the highest option.
Grasp the cable handle overhead and kneel on the floor. Engage your abs and slowly push toward the floor. Hold this position for a couple of seconds then release and repeat from the top.
- Low cable crunch: Use the lowest pulley system option.
Lie on the floor facing away from the machine grasping the cable over your forehead. Engage your abs into a crunch ensuring shoulders lift off the ground. Hold for 2-3 seconds. Afterward, lower and repeat for a full set.
- One arm cross crunch: Set the cable to the highest pulley level.
Kneel facing the pulley machine grasping the handle in one hand in front of your face. Engage abs and twist in the eccentric phase. Hold the position at the bottom and gradually release.
- High cable woodchop: Adjust the pulley to the highest level and fix a rope to the end of the cable.
Stand with a wide stance side-on to the machine and twist your torso to face the machine. Grasp the high cable. Twist your torso while simultaneously pulling the cable diagonally with core and back muscles engaged. Hold the position for a couple of seconds and slowly release to the start.
- Judo throw: Configure the pulley to the highest option. Attach a rope to the end of the cable.
Stand beside the machine with a wide stance. Grasp the cable handle with both hands on the side nearer to the machine. Grasping the cable over the shoulders, twist your body away from the machine and transition into a crunch. At the bottom, hold the position and slowly return to the starting position.
To Wrap It Up
Cable exercises are similar to free weight training exercises but follow a different set of rules. When it comes to promoting upper body muscle growth and joint and back health, cable exercise offers many advantages over free weight exercises.
Upper body cable exercises are necessary for all kinds of muscle-building needs. Try out the wide assortment of cable exercises to work your chest, abs, biceps, triceps, and back muscles.
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