Although it is traditional to strength training to grab a barbell, the benefits of training with a cable machine are immense. Many people seem to forget that a cable machine is a versatile tool in the realm of fitness.
Whether you want to train your upper body, lower body or connect the two into complex movements for whole-body strength – the cable machine truly is your most functional tool.
We’d go as far as saying if you don’t have functional cable machine exercises in your current exercise program you could be missing out on a secret link to strength and conditioning.
Benefits of Cable Machines
Some people think of the cable machine as a tool only to be used when you want to hit fly’s and some rotational exercises – yet for many strength experts, the cable machine is a highly versatile tool that carries massive benefits.
Here are some of the biggest stand-out benefits of using a cable machine for your strength:
It is Highly Functional
Cable machines can be used in many ways and can be used to mimic the exact moment you are training for. Cables also provide constant tension – at the same rate of resistance, which helps to train your muscles through a full range of motion.
Great for Remedial Work
For those that have ever been injured, have muscle imbalances of just weakness in a specific area, cable machines can be used to specifically target that system and spur growth and strength. This means the cable machines can be an effective tool to stress the muscle to grow stronger – without overloading the tissue and running into more injuries or pain.
Provides Foundational Strength
One of the biggest downsides to traditional free-weights or barbell style training is that the weight is not variable. By this, we mean the barbell only moves if it is under stress by your muscles, or through gravity. This makes the weight very easy to control.
Cable machines, on the other hand, are driven through a simple pulley system that can enable you to train through larger ranges of motions, at varying heights and resistance – providing a much larger spectrum of variability in your training.
What Does This All Mean?
Before we jump into the exercises for strengthening – it is important to understand that the reason cable machines are beneficial is that they provide a very functional setting that can be adapted to any goal, any strength level and any injury.
It is the variability and extensive options provided by a cable machine that makes it such a great tool for strength, injury rehab, functional movements, mobility and conditioning.
The Five Best Functional Cable Machine Moves
1: Low Cable Chop
One of the most underrated exercises you could be doing on a cable machine. In this exercise, your intention is to transfer power from the bottom of the machine to the top end of your extension. The exercise will require an immense amount of control, balance and strength through your core.
Not only will it train rotational strength, but also vertical strength, stability in the glutes and of course, strength in the arms and shoulders. We recommend completing this exercise for a medium rep range; 8-12 should suffice. As you get stronger you can change the tempo – slowly moving eccentrically and explosively contracting, or increasing the amount of resistance.
2: Rotational Press
Very, very simple, yet very difficult to perfect. The rotational press is an exercise that so many people do, but very few do right. The goal here should be to create strength through a system called the anterior oblique sling – muscles from one shoulder, to the opposite glute.
Completing this properly will require practice and high-quality training at a very low tempo. We’d recommend using a lower resistance and a much slower rep speed until you lock in this movement. Trust us, once you have the movement locked in your shoulder strength, core strength and stability will skyrocket – so be patient.
3: Seated Single Arm Pull-Downs
One of my personal favourites for adding variability into your pull-up game. In this exercise, you will sit/lunge (either in a chair or on the floor) in front of the cable machine at a high attachment.
Simple – pull down just as you would in a pull-up and allow for the highest range of motion you can. The name of the game here is to develop strength through a complete range of motion.
For those who are into barbell rows, this is a great exercise for training scapular stability that is essential in loading up on heavy rows. Train this exercise like you would any other strength-based exercise (rep schemes of 5×5, 6×3, 8×3 etc).
4: Single Arm, Single Leg Row
One of the best exercises for developing total-body strength and conditioning. This exercise will link together the best of your upper body strength and lower body stability.
Your goal here is to build strength in a system called the posterior oblique sling – muscle systems from one lat to the opposite glute/hamstring. You’ll need great control, and even better balance in order to complete this exercise – but the work will be well worth it when your deadlift and other pulling exercises go up.
5: Single Arm Pull
One of the primal movements by the every popular Paul Chek, this exercise is an adapted version of a traditional cable row. The difference here lies in the foot position and power involved in this style of pulling movement. Read an in-depth description here.
Since you are better oriented you can really overload the weight and link together all the strength in your body to complete this movement with ease.
Conclusion: When Are Cable Exercises Necessary?
Cable exercises are essential for any strength athlete who wants to develop power, control and stability across a wide variety of movements.
The cable machine can be switched and adapted to fit virtually any body type or goal – which makes it very versatile when you are developing your strength routine.
For those who enjoy functional style exercises and the strength that goes with connecting the body as one unit – the cable machine needs to be implemented in your training program.