Cable Machines

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

Although it is possible to devise an entire training routine around cable machines, these are usually designed for you to perform isolation exercises once you are finished with the main compound movements.

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.

Cable machines are perfect for isolating individual muscle groups
For example if you were looking to perform overhead tricep extensions and superset this with barbell curls, for free weights you would need to find a bench or stand with a cambered bar, find all the weight plates you need for your sets, load the bar and perform your overhead extensions, then find another straight bar and load that with the correct weight then perform your bicep curls. Although you can get everything ready before starting the superset, you still need to adjust the weight plates between sets which will mean less rest, and put the weight plates back on the racks after which will reduce workout time.

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.

Simple single function cable 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.

Cable machines that have a high and low pulley system

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.

The Tunturi platinum has exercise stations that all run off the same cable system and 2 weight stacks

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:

  • Tricep pressdowns
  • Overhead tricep extensions
  • Lat pulldowns
  • Single arm tricep extensions
  • Rope crunches
  • Low single cable:

  • Straight bar curls
  • Hammer curls (with rope attachment)
  • Upright rows (with straight bar or rope attachment)
  • Front raises (either with a single handle or with straight bar attachment)
  • Concentration curls
  • Side lateral raises
  • Single rear delt fly
  • Using a pair of adjustable cables:

  • High cable crossovers
  • Low cable crossovers
  • Rear delt fly both arms
  • High bicep curl with handle attachments
  • Plus all of the exercises listed for the high and low cables on their own
  • 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.

    When looking to buy a cable machine it doesn’t necessarily matter about what cable attachments it comes with.

    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.

    You can buy many different attachments for cable machines to work different muscle groups effectively

    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.

    Compare Cable Machines

    Cable machines come in many different forms, from those that isolate specific muscle groups such as the cable lat pulldown, to those that offer two adjustable cable pulley systems for performing exercises such as cable cross overs.

    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.

    Cable Machines

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