cable exercises

Best Cable Exercises For A Full-Body Workout

by Evelyn Valdez

There is no denying that free weights like dumbbells and barbells are the best for building muscle and strength. However, you shouldn't neglect other fitness equipment, like the cable machine, you'll only be sabotaging yourself!

The cable machine, also known as the pulley machine, is a large piece of exercise equipment commonly found in gyms. They have several attachments and feature adjustable cable pulleys which allow you to perform a various assortment of exercises. The way this equipment works is what gives it its fantastic hypertrophy benefits - like it'll fatigue your muscles for better muscle growth!

So, we're going to tell you all about why you should use the cable machine and how by giving you the 12 best cable exercises!

Benefits of cable machine workouts

How the cable machine works us how it gets all of its benefits! They work similarly to resistance bands, in which they provide a constant tension for your muscles to work against. The constant tension they provide will help you to fully fatigue the muscle group you're intending to target. Plus, it has the added benefit that the resistance can go even heavier than resistance bands can! The weight stack on a cable machine can go up to 100lbs and can be easily increased in small increments so you can steadily make progress.

Aside from its muscle-building benefits, here are more reasons to love this piece of gym equipment...

  • You have the freedom to move the way you want to move! The cable machine is your one-stop shop for a full-body workout. You're able to move at almost any angle which allows you to work any and every muscle group.
  • Cable machines allow for fluid smooth movements during an exercise which will allow you to focus on the muscle group working.
  • It's beginner-friendly equipment! The cable machine is easy to use and can be set up quickly, and they're also less intimidating than other free weights. This makes it a great option for beginners to start building muscle and strength before hitting the weight room!
  • It's safer than traditional free weights which reduces your risk of an injury, again one of the many reasons it's great for beginners!
  • Breakthrough workout boredom and plateaus! Hitting a wall in your training can happen when you don't change things up in your routine. Instead of doing the same barbell exercises, switch some out for cable exercises to help work your muscles in a different way!

Best cable machine exercises

As you can see, the cable machine is one you definitely want to use! So, learn how to use it so you can start having better upper and lower body workouts. To help, we've put together 12 of the best cable exercises...

So, grab a pair of UPPPER Ankle Straps (you'll be needing them), and get ready to create a full-body workout with these ten cable exercises...

Biceps cable curl

Isolate your biceps after your pull workouts at the cable machine! Dumbbells are excellent for isolating the biceps, but the cable machine will give your biceps a different challenge to overcome. Plus, this exercise also works your shoulders and upper back muscles!

How to do it: 

  • Set up a cable station with a straight bar attachment connected to the low pulley.
  • Stand close to the station, feet shoulder-width apart. Grip the bar with a shoulder-width underhand grip. Keep your elbows close to your sides.
  • Curl your arms up from the elbows in a steady arc. Continue until your forearms are vertical with your palms facing your shoulders. Hold for a count of one while flexing your biceps.
  • Lower the bar back to the starting position in a steady motion.

Overhead cable curl

Now, this is one bicep exercise you can't really do with free weights! Aside from targeting mainly your biceps, this exercise engages the deltoids, forearms, and core. You can do it by using one cable at a time (works your core more, and helps fix muscle imbalances), or use two cables at a time to work both biceps at once.

How to do it:

  • Stand between two overhead pulleys and grasp a handle in each hand. Raise your arms so that they are parallel to the floor.
  • Supinate your forearms (turn your palms upward). Keeping your upper arms still, exhale as you flex your elbows and curl the handles toward your ears.
  • Hold the contracted position and squeeze your biceps. Inhale as you return the handles to the starting position.

Cable lateral raise

If you want to work your anterior deltoids and build better-rounded shoulders then include cable lateral raises into your shoulder workouts! This exercise works similarly to the dumbbell version and works your deltoids along with your trap muscles.

How to do it: 

  • Start by standing to the right side of a low pulley row. Use your left hand to come across the body and grab a single handle attached to the low pulley with a pronated grip (palms facing down). Rest your arm in front of you. Your right hand should grab the machine for better support and balance.
  • Make sure that your back is erect, and your feet are shoulder-width apart from each other. This is the starting position.
  • Begin to use the left hand and move it across your body out until it is elevated to shoulder height while exhaling.
  • Feel the contraction at the top for a second and begin to slowly lower the handle back down to the original starting position while inhaling.

Cable chest flyes

Dumbbell chest flyes and bench presses can be particularly tough on your joints. One way to work your pectoral muscles while sparing discomfort in your joints is by using the cable machine to isolate your chest muscles. Cable chest flyes work primarily your chest, but secondarily work your shoulders and upper back.

How to do it:

  • Stand between two cable stations with the dumbbell grip handles attached to the high pulleys on each side of you.
  • Hold the handles with an overhand grip. Your arms should be outstretched. Bend your knees and hips slightly so that you are leaning forward, but not too far. Bend your elbows slightly and rotate your shoulders towards the center of your chest a little. Your elbows should be slightly behind you.
  • Use a hugging motion, keeping your elbows in a fixed, bent position to bring the grip attachments together in front of your chest.
  • Slowly return to the starting position until you feel a slight stretch in your chest muscles.

Single-arm cable lat pulldowns

Building a strong back can be done with more than just barbell rows. They are an exercise you should consistently do, but if you want to further develop your back isolate your lat muscles by doing single-arm cable lat pulldowns! This exercise works the rhomboid, trapezius, and rear deltoid head. It also engages the middle deltoid which is ideal for maintaining a stable shoulder joint!

How to do it:

  • Place the pulley on a high position above your head and grab a handle with one arm. Kneel on the floor with your arm stretched out in the alignment of the cable.
  • Begin with your palm facing forward and pull the handle by moving your elbows into the side of your body.
  • Once you have reached full contraction of your back, return your arm back into the starting position.

Straight arm rope pulldown

Challenge your lat muscles differently by using a rope attachment on the cable machine! Rope pulldowns activate the lat muscles, but it also works the posterior deltoids, triceps, and rhomboid!

How to do it:

  • Attach a rope to a high pulley and make your weight selection. Stand a couple of feet back from the pulley with your feet staggered and take the rope with both hands.
  • Lean forward from the hip, keeping your back straight, with your arms extended up in front of you. This will be your starting position.
  • Keeping your arms straight, extend the shoulder to pull the rope down to your thighs.
  • Pause at the bottom of the motion, squeezing your lats.

Triceps pushdown

If you want to slim your upper arms, specifically toning your triceps, use the cable machine to give them the constant tension they need to fully fatigue! Triceps pushdowns are one of the best isolation tricep exercises because it hits all three tricep heads: the long head, the lateral head, and the medial head.

How to do it: 

  • Stand under the pulley and grasp each end of the rope with a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
  • Pull your elbows down to your sides and lean forward a little at the hips, keeping your back straight.
  • Exhale as you extend your elbows and push the rope down. As your arms extend, twist your wrists so that your palms face down at the end of the movement.
  • Inhale as you reverse the motion and return the rope to the starting position.

Glute pull-throughs

Romanian deadlifts are a key compound exercise that targets the hamstring and glutes for maximal growth. However, if you need to switch things up and place a greater focus on your glutes then do glute pull-throughs! This exercise strengthens your posterior chain without adding the heavy stress that deadlifts place on your lower back!

How to do it: 

  • Begin by standing a few feet in front of a low pulley with a rope or handle attached. Face away from the machine, straddling the cable with your feet set wide apart.
  • Begin the movement by reaching through your legs as far as possible, bending at the hips. Keep your knees slightly bent.
  • Keeping your arms straight, extend through the hip to stand straight up. Avoid pulling upward through the shoulders; all of the motion should originate through the hips.

Side leg raises 

Side leg raises are also known as standing abductors because it involves pushing the leg away from your midline. This is an excellent glute exercise that not only works the gluteus medius, and minimus, but also helps strengthen your hip abductors and outer thighs!

You'll need a pair of comfortable ankle straps for this exercise.

How to do it:

  • Stand shoulder-width apart with one shoulder next to the cable machine. The ankle strap will be on the leg opposite the cable machine.
  • Place one hand on your hips and hold the machine with the other for support. Lift your weighted leg out to the side as far as possible, but avoid leaning into your standing leg to try and raise your leg higher. Concentrate on only using your outer thigh and gluteus medius muscles.
  • Lower your leg down and complete your set reps before switching to the other leg.

Cable hamstring curls

Spice up your usual hamstring routine by doing cable hamstring curls! This exercise allows you to isolate one leg at a time and focus on proper form, which will help you better target your hamstrings.

How to do it:

  • Wrap an ankle strap around your ankle and connect it to the cable machine. Stand facing the machine while holding on to it with one hand for balance with your other hand resting on your hip.
  • Use your weighted hamstring to lift your foot as high as you can. Try bringing your heel as close to your glutes as possible without straining your hamstring.
  • Lower your leg back down and complete your reps before switching to the other leg.

Glute kickback

For those who don't know, glute kickbacks are one of the best exercises that isolate the entire glute muscle group! Cable glute kickbacks are a great warm-up exercise to activate your glutes before squats, hip thrusts, and deadlifts. Or you can save it for after your workout to fully fatigue your glutes!

How to do it: 

  • Wrap an ankle strap on your right ankle and stand facing the weight stack. Grasp the cable tower for support. 
  • With your knees slightly bent and your abs drawn in, slowly kick your right leg back until your hip is fully extended back with your glutes contracted.
  • Pause for 1-2 seconds, then slowly bring your right leg back to the starting position and repeat.


We hope you try all of these exercises, but if there's one exercise you should do on this list is its this one! Woodchoppers are the best core exercise that also works your upper gluteal muscle. Building a stronger core is essential for heavy lifting, so throw in some woodchoppers after or before your workout!

How to do it:

  • Using both hands on the handle lower than shoulder height.
  • Tighten and brace your core, and powerfully pull the cable all the way across your body.
  • Hold for 1 second and slowly bring the weight back to the starting position. 

Now you can start utilizing the cable machine and reaping the benefits they have that you won't get from free weights! Use these cable exercises instead of the dumbbell versions to help change things up in your workout routine. You'll drive better growth and bust through workout boredom.

And don't forget to pack a pair of UPPPER Ankle Straps in your gym bag, so you don't have to rely on the flimsy pair of straps at the gym 😉

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