A cable machine is an item of fitness and weightlifting equipment that will almost always generate the resistance through a weight stack of rectangular weight plates and a cable pulley system.
Although the initial thought of a cable machine may be relatively simple, such as a high or low fixed pulley that you can attach various different handles or rope attachments to, there is actually a wide variation in quality and possible exercises across the available cable machines.
Training with a cable machine
The main compound exercises such as bench presses, squats and deadlifts are a great start to your workout for building overall mass and size, but for building shape and working a particular muscle group to failure there is no denying that cable machines are the most effective form of exercise. Not only are you able to quickly adjust the weight between sets, but you can quickly change cable attachments and perform supersets with very little rest between exercises.
With a cable machine that has both a high and low pulley you could simply attach a straight bar to the top and a straight bar to the bottom cable. Then put the pin in the weight that you want to perform the extensions with and use the top cable pulley for this, and when you finish simply move the pin to your required weight for bicep curls and perform your set immediately after. No time wasted adjust weight plates, collars to keep the weight on the bar or having to put the weight back after the exercise.
Although exercises with cable machines could be considered a form of fixed resistance due to the cable pulley being fixed in place, this can’t be compared with other movements that are considered to have a fixed range of motion such as smith machines as there is still a lot of room for movement in the cable. It is thanks to this movement that you can perform so many exercises effectively with cable machines while still following your body’s natural range of motion in the exercise.
Types of cable machine
Simple single function cable machines
A range of cable machines developed to target one or two particular muscle groups. The lat pulldown is a good example of where a cable machine has been developed to specifically work one muscle group, in this case primarily the muscles in the upper and middle back.
You can also often use these for performing tricep pushdowns. These cable machines that have been developed to focus on one main muscle group will often be found in commercial rather than home gyms due to the extra space gyms have for many more of these types of machine that work individual muscle groups, such as seated tricep extension or bicep curl machines.
High and low pulley cable machines
This type of exercise equipment offers a much wider range of possible exercises but does have the drawback of taking up a much larger space. Having a relatively low width this could still be positioned along a wall in a spare room at home if you were looking to add this style of cable machine to your home gym.
The three main factors to look for if you are looking to buy a new cable machine with the high and low cable pulleys and two weight towers, are the weight in each stack, stability when free standing and size.
Tunturi Platinum cable crossover
Although the main cable crossover section of the Tunturi Platinum range of exercise equipment can be considered similar to the style shown above, this has been included as it is such a unique design that really makes the most of the two weight stacks.
Not only do you have the cable crossover machine with the pulleys that use the resistance in the weight stacks, but you can also have the leg press station, leg extension / hamstring curl station and a module that allows for pulldowns, chest presses and shoulder presses all using the same cable system.
Exercises you can perform with cable machines
The exercises will vary greatly depending on the added features of some cable machines, but essentially there will always be a high cable pulley, low cable pulley or pair of adjustable cable pulleys.
High single cable:
Low single cable:
Using a pair of adjustable cables:
What to look for when purchasing a cable machine for home use
Probably the most basic form of cable machine is the lat pulldown. This is simply a seat, weight tower and high cable pulley system. Although this is perfect for working your back muscles when used with different grips on the bar, it is a machine that will normally be found in commercial gyms and not at home. If you are looking for a good cable machine for home use then you will be looking for something that offers as many exercises as possible, with as much resistance as possible, in as small a space as possible.
This is one area where the simple lat pulldown is better due to the small amount of space it requires. Most cable machines come with two weight towers spaced well apart and a supporting bar or two running along the top. This means you will need a large spare room at home to set them up.
While the cable machines will usually come with a couple of the basic attachments such as the single handles, you can also purchase sets of cable attachments that include others such as the rope attachment, cambered bar, ankle attachments, parallel grip row bars and straight bars of various thicknesses and materials.
Also it helps to be realistic when choosing a cable machine and to weigh up just what you need for your workouts both now and in the future.
It’s best to make a shortlist of features that you are looking for, or exercises you would like to be able to perform. Add to this list the amount of weight you will require the weight stacks to have for each of these exercises to have a list of requirements before even looking at cable machines. Once you are sure what you need then there may be a few models with varying price ranges so weigh up the differences and use comparison charts to see what makes the prices different.
With even the larger cable cross over machines designed to isolate single muscle groups, this can be the perfect addition to any home gym where you already have a power rack or smith machine for performing heavier compound movements that use many different muscle groups at once.