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Four Cable Exercises You’ll Want In Your Program

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Shannon Clark

As you move around the gym floor during your training session, you may have the tendency to stick to exercises requiring barbells and dumbbells. Or, if you’re fairly new to training, you may feel more comfortable sticking to machines for the majority of your program.   

All of these exercises are excellent choices for a well-rounded workout routine, but this being said, you shouldn’t overlook the benefits of cable machines. Cables work the same muscle groups as free weights and machines, only they add an extra element into the mix: continual muscle tension. For this reason, cables can actually help you take your progress to the next level. 

In particular, there are four truly great cable exercises you’ll want to ensure you include. Add these into your workout program today so you can start reaping the benefits and seeing the results of your hard work.

Triceps Cable Pushdowns

Leading the pack is the triceps cable pushdown. This movement is excellent for enhancing the shape of your triceps, as well as building overall arm size, as it hits the long head of the triceps muscle. It’s also one of the best triceps exercises to allow you to fully squeeze at the bottom of the movement when the muscle is elongated, which will elicit greater muscle strength and hypertrophy.

When performing this exercise, make sure that you keep your elbows tucked in at your sides for best results. This will help prevent the lats from taking the work out of the triceps. Do this movement on your designated arm day or at the end of a chest/shoulder workout as your triceps will be recruited as a secondary muscle group that day, meaning they’re already warmed up and ready to work.

Start: Stand in front of a cable machine with a rope handle attached to the high cable pulley. With the knees slightly bent and core engaged, grasp the rope with each hand, keeping the elbows tucked into the sides of your body.

Move: Contract the triceps as you press the hands down and separate them as they move to each side of the body. Pause in the lowered position and then allow the arms to bend again as they return to the starting position. Repeat this movement for as many reps as desired per set.

Cable Crossovers

If getting great pec separation is something that’s important to you, you should be including cable crossovers on your chest day. This exercise is better than incline dumbbell fly’s as it forces you to maintain a constant level of stress on the muscle fibers. This means that at every point throughout the rep, your muscles will be activated.

Additionally, many athletes will find that their range of motion is slightly greater when using the cables compared to the dumbbells. This can also mean superior results as more muscle fibers are recruited to work. 

Add cable crossovers after completing your heavy bench work as it’s an isolation exercise specifically targeting the pec muscles. Or, if you prefer, you can use this as a pre-fatigue exercise prior to your bench press exercises. If you choose the latter option, be aware that your strength may be slightly lower as the muscle has already been taxed.

Start: Stand in between two cable pulleys with a D handle attached to each one, in the top position. Grasp the attachment and lean forward slightly, using a staggered foot stance for stability. 

Move: With the arms high and out to the sides, take a deep breath in and pull them together in front your body towards the waistline. Exhale as you do this. In a controlled motion, return the hands back to the starting position while inhaling. Repeat for the next rep.

Straight-Bar Cable Curls

Want bigger biceps? If so, you have a wide range of exercises to choose from. Building great looking biceps takes more than just tacking on a few sets of standard dumbbell curls at the end of your training session. To really see superior results, you’ll want to ensure that you’re hitting the biceps from a variety of angles and hand positions. 

The straight-bar cable curl is perfect for this. The straight bar allows you to keep your wrists stable, really focusing on the bicep muscle, and the cable will help ensure there is no easy point throughout the entire range of motion. If you’re a fan of dumbbell curls, you’ve probably realized that as soon as you get past the 45-degree mark, the exercise gets considerably easier. With cables, you won’t feel any relief from the tension.

Do this exercise on your designated arm day or at the end of your back-focused session as the biceps are recruited on all your rowing,  pull-up, and pull down movements as well.

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Start: Stand in front of a low cable pulley with a straight bar attached.

Move: Keeping the knees slightly bent and back upright with the elbows tucked into your sides, bend the elbows and curl the weight up to the shoulders. Pause at the top of the movement and then lower back down to the starting position. Repeat the next rep from here.

Face Pulls

The rear delts are one muscle group that’s often overlooked in a training routine. Working these into your shoulder sessions will allow you to capture that 3D look to your delts, which really helps complete a physique.

Face pulls happen to be one of the best exercises for hitting this area. With the continual tension placed on the muscle and the right mind-muscle connection, you’ll get those rear delts popping in no time. 

Do this exercise on your shoulder day or your back day (or both!). It’s your choice.

Start: Stand in front of a cable pulley with a rope attached and positioned slightly lower than face level. 

Move: Grab each end of the rope with the palms facing down. Lean back slightly while staggering the feet to sustain balance, and pull the handles back and to the sides of the head so they’re in line with the ears. As you do this, focus on the rear delts by initiating the movement with these muscles – not your traps.

Pause when elbows are bent and in line with the shoulders, and then return to the starting position to complete the rep.

As you go about your training program, be sure to consider including some cable-based exercises. They’ll offer exercise variety as well as the challenge of sustained tension throughout the range of movement. These four are a good starting point, but the options don’t end here!  Each one will bring unique benefits to your workout protocol, which you will feel and see.


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