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12 Cable-Machine Moves That Build Muscle and Torch Calories

author image Kyle Arsenault
Kyle Arsenault is a performance coach, author and former intern of the renown Cressey Performance. Now working with Momentum PT, he specializes in combining principles of physical therapy with strength and conditioning to enhance overall performance for his competitive athletes as well as his general population athletes.

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12 Cable-Machine Moves That Build Muscle and Torch Calories
Photo Credit: Travis McCoy/

Looking for a different way to gain strength, boost power and torch calories? You can enhance the effectiveness of nearly any workout with one common piece of equipment. By adding the resistance of a cable machine to your exercises you can build your core strength, generate power during your workouts and burn calories. You’ll feel powerful results and won’t waste time wandering around the gym from machine to machine. These 12 cable exercises, which are divided into three categories, will help you become leaner, stronger and more athletic. Perform them as a training session alone or add a few of them to your current program.

Before You Start
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Before You Start

Resistance training should be progressive. Before you add the resistance of the cable, first master the correct form. Once you’re proficient with the movements, adding the cable provides a continuous pull on the body that calls for more core stability and strength, which yields a ripped midsection and builds functional strength. The cable allows you to efficiently produce explosive movements, since the movements will be smoother than with free-weight training. Cable resistance also adds intensity without a high amount of stress on your joints, while also targeting fast-twitch muscle fibers when performed quickly.

Related: How to Get Started With Weightlifting

Category 1: Lower-Body Exercises
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Category 1: Lower-Body Exercises

Traditional lower-body exercises such as squats, lunges, deadlifts and step-ups become much more challenging when adding the pull of a cable. The cable provides a horizontal force that tries to pull your body from its center of gravity, demanding more core muscles to work, stabilize and strengthen to prevent you from falling over. Note that with all of these exercises, you’ll have to start by pulling the cable out, which puts tension on the cable. You should be far enough out so that the weight stack does not “bottom out” at the end of the exercises. You don’t want the weight stack smashing into itself. It’s noisy and can damage the equipment.

Related: 9 Fat-Torching Kettlebell Moves

1. Cable Front Squat
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1 Cable Front Squat

Begin by 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 as if you were about to perform a biceps curl. Pull up the rope so it’s just below your chin with your elbows bent -- the goblet-grip position. Don’t allow the rope to drop from just below the chin as you descend into a squat by sitting your hips back and keeping your knees out and feet shoulder-width apart (or just outside). Don’t allow your back to round or overarch as you explosively push through your heels to return to the standing position. Repeat as explosively as possible.

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2. Cable Forward Lunge
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2 Cable Forward Lunge

Start by 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 while keeping your hips level and knees and ankles in line as you descend into the lunge position. The cable will try to pull you forward, but work to keep your back from rounding or overarching. Keep your knee from diving out in front of your toes. Explosively push the ground away and return to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg while keeping your core tight. Continue alternating sides.

Related: 10 Core-Strengthening Kettlebell Moves

3. Cable Reverse Lunge
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3 Cable Reverse Lunge

With the cable pulley on the lowest setting, grip the rope attachment so the pinky sides of your hands are in contact with the knobs of the rope. Carefully turn away from the cable while bringing the rope into the “suspenders position.” The rope will be over your shoulders as if it were a set of suspenders and the cable will be behind you. The cable will try to pull you down and back, so start from a solid athletic position (hips slightly back and knees soft). With your feet hip-width apart, take a step back as you carefully descend into a reverse lunge. Dig your front-leg heel into the ground and explosively return to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg and continue alternating sides.

Related: Build a Better Body: 3 Steps to Bigger Arms

4. Cable Lateral Lunge
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4 Cable Lateral Lunge

Begin sideways to the cable with the pulley at the lowest setting. With a D-handle attachment, bring your hand up to your shoulder to the racked position. Step away from the cable and with the feet hip-width apart, brace your core to stand straight and tall. The cable will try to pull your upper body sideways, so you have to use your core to stay upright. Next, take a step toward the cable into a lateral lunge. Do not allow the cable to pull your upper body out of line with your knee as you sit your hips back and descend into the lunge position. Explosively push yourself back to the starting position and repeat. Turn around and do the same facing the other direction.

Related: 16 Essential CrossFit Moves

5. Cable Step-Up
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5 Cable Step-Up

Get a box (or low step) and place it a few feet in front of the cable machine. Start facing away from the cable with the pulley at the lowest setting and the rope attachment in the suspenders position. Place one foot on the box. The knee should be at roughly 90 degrees. Keep your hips level, core tight and the foot, knee and hip of your standing leg in line. Dig your heel into the box as you explosively step up, bringing the other foot to the top of the box. Step back down with the same leg and repeat before switching legs. Keep the working leg on the box until repetitions are complete to maintain greater stability.

Related: The Ultimate Back-Strength Workout

Category 2: Upper-Body Exercises
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Category 2: Upper-Body Exercises

The cable can also be used to add intensity, core stability and power to upper-body exercises by working from various positions that target your muscles differently. Start with some tension on the cable and perform each exercise as explosively as possible to maximize effectiveness. The following exercises focus on the chest, shoulders, back and arms.

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6. Split-Stance Single-Arm Cable Chest Press
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6 Split-Stance Single-Arm Cable Chest Press

Using the D-handle attachment, place the handle in your right hand and step away from the cable. Face away from the cable with the pulley at lower-chest height. Next, take a step back with your right leg to assume a static lunge position (split stance). With your arm by your side at 90 degrees, there should be tension on the cable. Brace your core and keep your hips level as you explosively press the cable away from the body without allowing the body to move or rotate. If the weight is too light, the cable will “snap” at the end of the press and will not feel smooth. Increase the weight until the motion is smooth and explosive throughout. Complete all your reps one side at a time.

Related: Body-Weight Upper Body and Core Workout

7. Split-Stance Single-Arm Shoulder Press
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7 Split-Stance Single-Arm Shoulder Press

As with the chest press, begin facing away from the cable in a split-stance position (bottom of a lunge). This time, the cable pulley will be at the lowest setting and the handle will start at shoulder height with the same-side leg back. Keeping your core braced and hips forward, explosively press the cable overhead so your arm finishes just in front of your ear. Don’t let the arm travel behind your head, which puts the shoulder at risk for injury, or let the cable cause you to overarch your back. Keep your core tight throughout the entire range of motion. Note that with both of the pressing exercises, you can increase the difficulty by performing the exercise from an athletic position (feet side by side).

Related: 10 Free Workouts to Get You Fitter and Stronger

8. Single-Arm Cable Row
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8 Single-Arm Cable Row

With the cable pulley at lower-chest height, face the machine and grasp the D-handle with one hand. Take a few steps back from the cable and assume an athletic position (half squat). Without allowing your core to move or hips to rotate, explosively row the cable back. Focus on bringing the shoulder blade straight across your upper back toward your spine, followed by the arm. At the end of the row, do not allow your elbow to finish behind the body or your shoulder to tip forward. Repeat on the same side before switching to the other arm. This exercise targets the muscles of the upper back, core and arms.

Related: The 12 Biggest Myths About Personal Training

9. Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Cable Pulldown
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9 Half-Kneeling Single-Arm Cable Pulldown

Begin by placing the cable pulley at the highest setting with the D-handle attachment. Facing the cable, grab the handle with your right hand. Take a step back with your right leg and place your right knee on the ground. With your left knee up so that both legs are at 90 degrees, make sure your knees and ankles are in line. At this point, your arm should be overhead with tension on the cable. Keeping your abs tight, pull the handle down so your hand finishes at shoulder height with the elbow at the side of the body. Do not let your elbow finish behind your body or your shoulder tip forward at the end. Repeat and switch sides.

Related: 9 Essential Strength Benchmarks for Men

Category 3: Core Exercises
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Category 3: Core Exercises

While every exercise so far trains the core due to the nature of the cable machine, the following exercises are designed to specifically challenge core stability, strength and stamina. The key is to not allow your body to move while the cable tries to make your core rotate, bend or round. The job of your core is to prevent the unwanted movement from occurring. Perform these exercises and feel your core working to the max, bringing you that much closer to chiseling an athletic, lean and strong midsection.

Related: 12 Weight-Training Mistakes You Might Be Making

10. Anti-Rotation Press
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10 Anti-Rotation Press

With the cable pulley at lower-chest height, begin sideways to the cable. Grasp the D-handle attachment with both hands and bring the handle to the center of the chest. From an athletic position (half squat) 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. The pull from the cable will place a rotational force on the body, but the goal is to not allow your hands to be pulled toward the cable or allow your body to rotate toward the cable. You want to feel steady throughout. Repeat before turning around and completing the exercise facing the other direction. To increase the intensity, bring your feet closer together.

Related: Core Strength Exercises for Men

11. Side-Plank Cable Row
Photo Credit: Travis McCoy/

11 Side-Plank Cable Row

Adjust the cable pulley to the lowest setting with the D-handle attachment. From a side-plank position, face the cable so the pulley is level with your lower chest. Grasp the handle with the top hand (the other arm is on the ground as a base). Next, row the cable handle toward your body. During the row, your body will want to rotate toward the cable, but don’t allow this to happen. By bracing your core, you should prevent your body from moving as you row the cable. Repeat on one side before switching to the other. This move is challenging, so start with a lighter weight and complete all your reps without allowing your body to rotate or your hips to sag.

Related: The Optimal Training Program to Build Strength and Performance in 4 Weeks

12. Accessory Exercises
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12 Accessory Exercises

Two easy and classic cable exercises to finish off a strength-training session are biceps curls and triceps pushdowns. For the biceps curl, the cable pulley will be at the lowest setting and you’ll curl the handle up. For the triceps pushdown, the cable pulley will be at the highest setting and you’ll push the handle down. Your elbows should be kept close to your body for both exercises. The cable is a convenient way to add challenge to standard exercises and force the body to get stronger, leaner and more athletic.

Related: How to Get Amazing Results With Just a Weight Plate

What Do YOU Think?
Photo Credit: Travis McCoy/

What Do YOU Think?

Do you use the cable machine in your gym? Did you know that just by including some basic cable moves you could elevate your routine and your results? What other cable moves have you done? Leave us a comment below and let us know!

Related: 11 Simple Ways to Add Variety to Your Strength-Training Routine

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