If you’ve spent any time in a gym, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the cable machine. This functional piece of exercise equipment, also referred to as a pulley machine, is a staple in many gyms and fitness centres.

Cable machine exercises give you a great balance between convenience, versatility and performance. If you’ve arrived during peak hour at the gym and it’s as crowded as the shopping mall on Boxing Day, head over to the cable machine to get your workout in. The resistance of the cables allows you to perform numerous exercises in a variety of directions, allowing you to replicate just about any exercise that you can do with free weights.

Here are some cable exercises you can try next time you’re at the gym:

Upper Body

Standing Shoulder Press

How To:

  • Stand between two low- to medium-height cables with handles.
  • Squat down, grab each handle, and stand up with your elbows bent and in the starting position for a shoulder press. The handles should be slightly higher than your shoulders.
  • Step back with one foot so you have more stability. Engage your core and push the cables upward until your arms are extended overhead.
  • Reverse the move until the handles are even with your shoulders.

Cable Machine Press

Cable Lateral Raise

How To:

  • Attach a handle to the lowest pulley and stand to one side of the cable machine.
  • Grab the handle with one hand and the tower with the other, to brace yourself.
  • With your elbow slightly bent, raise your arm to the side until your elbow is at shoulder height. Lower and repeat.

Cable Chest Fly

How To:

  • Stand between two cables with handles slightly higher than your shoulders.
  • Grip a handle in each hand and step forward with one foot. Your arms should be outstretched to the sides.
  • Slightly bend your elbows and use your chest muscles to bring the handles together to meet in the center.
  • Pause, then slowly return to the starting position.

Standing Bicep Cable Curl

How To:

  • Hold a cable bar with underhand grip, shoulder width apart.
  • Use your biceps to flex your elbows and raise the bar to your shoulders.
  • Lower it back down to your thighs and repeat.

Lat Pulldown

How To:

Cable Machine Lat Pulldown

  • Sit on the bench, facing the cable machine
  • Adjust the machine until your thighs fit under the supports and grab the bar with an overhand grip, keeping your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart
  • Exhale as you slowly pull the bar down until it touches the upper chest
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades and pause, inhale as you return to the starting position and repeat

Seated Cable Row

How To:

  • Position the bench so that you’re sitting upright with back support
  • Grab the cable handle and bend your knees slightly, making sure your lower back remains straight
  • Brace your core and pull the handle toward the lower abdomen, bending at the elbows
  • Squeeze your shoulders together as you row

Triceps Pushdown

How To:

  • Attach a rope handle to the high pulley of a cable station.
  • Keeping your elbows tucked in at your sides grab the handle, tense your core, and bring your hands down until your arms are fully extended, then return to the starting position.

Lower Body

Cable Front Squat

How To:

  • Begin facing the cable machine with the pulley on the lowest setting (as close to the floor as possible).
  • Using a rope attachment, grip the rope with your thumbs toward the ceiling (goblet grip position).
  • Pull up the rope so it’s just below your chin with your elbows bent.
  • Don’t allow the rope to drop as you descend into a squat by sitting your hips back and keeping your knees out and feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Push through your heels and return to standing.

Cable Forward Lunge

How To:

  • Begin facing the cable machine with the pulley on the lowest setting and the rope in the goblet-grip position.
  • With your feet hip-width apart and your core tight, take a step toward the cable, keeping your hips level and knees and ankles in line as you descend into a lunge.
  • Keep your knee from diving out in front of your toes.
  • Push the ground away and return to the starting position. Repeat both sides.

Glute Kickback

How To:

  • Set the pulley system to the lowest possible setting and attach the ankle cuff to your ankle.
  • Hinge at the waist and bend over so your back is nearly parallel to the floor. Hold on to the machine for stability if necessary.
  • Keeping your plant leg relatively straight, engage your core and contract your glutes to bring your leg as far back as possible in a controlled way.
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top before returning to the starting position and repeating.

Cable Pull-Through

How To:

  • Attach a rope handle to the bottom of the cable machine.
  • Hold one side of the rope handle in each hand and step over the cable so it is in between your legs. Your back should be facing the cable machine.
  • Walk a few steps out from the cable machine to give you space to work.
  • Start by standing straight with the rope handle on extended arms.
  • With a slight bend in your knees and a neutral spine, hinge at the hips, driving them back and allowing your hands/the cable to go through your legs behind you. You should feel a stretch through your hamstrings.
  • From here, engage your glutes and pull back up to standing position, giving them a good squeeze at the top of the movement.



Weighted Ab Cable Curl

How To:

  • Attach a rope to a high pulley and kneel in front of it, with the handles held either side of your neck.
  • Without moving your hips, contract your abs to bring your elbows to your thighs.
  • Pause for a moment then slowly return to the starting position.

Anti-Rotation Press

How To:

  • With the cable pulley at lower-chest height, begin sideways to the cable machine.
  • Grasp the handle attachment with both hands and bring the handle to the center of the chest.
  • From an athletic position with your feet just outside hip-width, press the cable straight out from the chest.
  • Hold the handle out for two seconds before bringing it back to starting position.
  • Repeat before turning around and completing the exercise facing the other direction.