Exercise 101 : the cable machine

Exercise 101 : the cable machine

The cable machine can at first seem intimidating, but it’s simple once you get the hang of it.

What is it?

The cable machine is used in weight training or functional training and consists of a rectangular steel frame with a weight stack either end. The cables connecting the handles to the weights run through adjustable pulleys that can be fixed at any height.

How do I use it?

There are many variations of exercises that can be performed using the cable machine.

Here are a few:

Cable Isometric Hold

Starting with around ten pounds of weight, position the carriage so it's even with chest.

Stand next to the machine with your left side facing away from it. Hold one cable handle with both hands, and then take one big step away from the machine.

Extend both arms fully at the same level as your chest and bend down into a comfortable half-squat, holding the weight steady. Engage your abs to hold the handle straight in front of body—don't twist your body towards the machine.

With good posture, hold the position for 30 seconds, then switch sides.

Cable Oblique Crunch

With a medium weight on the machine, slide the carriage down to the setting close to the ground.

With the right side of your body perpendicular to the machine, take hold of the cable handle with your right hand.

Place your left hand behind your head. Engage the obliques and lean to the left, away from the machine, to perform a standing side crunch.

Return to the start position and complete 10 to 15 reps before repeating on the other side.

Side Plank with Cable Hold

With a light weight on the cable machine, again slide the carriage down to a low setting, and stand a few feet from the machine.

Take the cable handle in your left hand and come down into a side plank position on your right forearm. Engage your core muscles and stack your feet.

Extend your left arm so your body forms a T-shape and hold for 30 seconds.

Repeat on the other side.

Overhead Kneeling Cable Hold

Load a light weight onto the cable machine and slide the carriage down to a low setting close to the floor.

Start with the right side of your body facing the machine and your right foot and left knee on the floor.

Holding the cable handle in both hands, pull the handle overhead, using your hands to hold the cable in place on top of head. The goal is to stay perfectly straight with your core engaged.

Hold it for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.

Who can do it?

As long as you’ve completed an induction into your gym, you’ll be able to undertake these exercises using the equipment.


The Author

Laura Briggs

Laura is a fitness writer who loves running, strength training, Pilates and Yoga. When she's got time to herself you might find her knitting, or in the kitchen trying out an elaborate recipe - healthy of course!.


Tom D.
13 April 2016

Tom D.

I'm not a big fan of machines but I make an exception for this one. Like Matthew said though, it is very popular!

Mike D.
13 April 2016

Mike D.

This is an underrated machine, in my opinion. I certainly don't suffer the same issue as Matthew C who said it's hard to get on it. But then we have a large gym with loads of equipment.

Melissa F.
13 April 2016

Melissa F.

Helpful article but quite it's hard to imagine the exercises without actually using the cable machine as you read! No substitute for actually getting an instructor to go through the exercises with you

Matthew C.
12 April 2016

Matthew C.

The cable machine is one of the most popular pieces at our gym so I struggle to get on it. But it works great when I do so worth the wait.

Clare R.
11 April 2016

Clare R.

I love these '101' articles - saves a lot of daft questions! Will be giving this machine a go.

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