Daily Archives: February 4, 2011

Fitness Friday Flashback – Using The Cable Machine

Happy Fitness Friday and welcome to my first fitness flashback! I have written a lot of fitness posts in my over two years of blogging. Some of which are too useful to get lost in the thousand other posts I’ve written.

I first wrote this post back in June 2009 after getting numerous questions about how to use the cable machine. It is by far the most useful machine at the gym. But it’s also the most complicated and intimidating one to operate. Consider today a beginner’s class. Intermediate class to come ;)

Cable machines come in all shapes and sizes. But they are essential a pulley system attached to weighted plates and detachable handles.

Most can be adjusted by pulling out a knob on the side and sliding the pulley up or down. There are several different attachments you can clip on.

We’re mostly concerned with the above attachments. Not pictured though is the velcro strap that fits around your ankle. Usually these parts are hanging out somewhere around the machine, or you may have to remove it from another machine to use. Don’t worry, most of the following pictures clearly illustrate which one you’ll need.

Before we get into the exercises, I need to make a very important point.

Don’t let the cable boss you around. 

As the weight plates drop on the machine, the cable will pull forward. It is SO important not to let it jerk you with it. Stay strong and balanced. If you’re struggling, lower the weight. Sometimes we can’t go as heavy on cable machines as we can with dumbbells. That’s okay. You’ll see better results when you actually hit the intended muscles ;)


A stiff-legged deadlift to work your glutes and hamstrings. You can also do a regular deadlift where you bend your knees. A straight bar to attach would be needed for this one.

The cable pull through hits mostly your glutes, but you’ll get a little thigh work in there too. Please keep your back straight and supported!

The one leg cable kickback is actually one of the best butt exercises there is. Want a bubble butt? This is one for you.


Cable thigh pull can work either your inner or outer thighs. The motion pictured above will hit your inner thighs. If you turn around and pull the cable away from your body, you’ll hit the outer thighs. Remember to pull the weight with your thigh muscles, don’t just put all the work in your hips.



The cable chest press is one of my favourite ways to change up the boring ole’ chest press. You can do this two arms at a time, or one arm at a time. Remember to push through your chest and not your shoulders. Keep that belly tight!


Standing cable row. I like doing this one best in a squat or lunge position to activate my legs as well. You can do this one arm at a time or with both. If doing both, you can also use the straight bar handle attachment. For the love of Jesus, just remember to pull with your back otherwise the exercise is a waste of time.

Cable face pull. This one targets your upper back and shoulders as well. Make sure to keep your shoulders down and neck soft. Elbows should come straight out to your sides to activate behind the shoulders.


Pictured above is the side lateral raise. This will work mostly the top of your shoulders. It requires very little weight, and if you’re on a machine with two cables, you can set it up so they cross in front of you. You can also turn around and pull your arms out in front of you to do a front shoulder raise.


The cable pushdown is one many people are already familiar with. Pleasepleaseplease do not move your shoulder joints in this exercise. The only joint that should be moving is your elbow, which should also be tucked in by your waist. I’ve made people hold towels between their elbows and waist to ensure they stay tucked there. You’ll be able to feel the difference in your triceps!

Cable overhead extension. The thing to remember for this is to keep your shoulders down, try not to shrug them up with the movement. Hold that tummy in. Again, make sure only your elbows are moving!


The one and only cable curl. Set the cable at the bottom of the machine and curl up! Much like with the triceps, keep those elbows pinched into your side, move only your forearms, and make sure your don’t hunch your shoulders forward. You can do a hammer curl with the rope attachment as pictured above. Or hook up the bar handle, or even do one arm at a time.



Cable woodchop. Above is the diagonal version. But you can also set the cable in the center and twist horizontally for the cable horizontal woodchop. Thing to remember here is to keep your arms straight, and pull through using your abs first.

For some reason I get asked about the cable crunch all the time. Maybe because it looks hardcore. I personally find it’s awkward. In the above picture, the guy is twisting diagonally to hit his obliques, but you can also just go up and down for a normal crunch. Again, keep the work in your abs here, and try not to curve your spine too much.

All the demonstrative pictures are hyperlinked, so click away to get more info on the exercise behind the photo.

These are just a very select few exercises hitting the main muscle groups in your body. But there are SO many exercises you can do on the cable machine, I think a second post will be needed in the future :)