10 Best Cable Exercises for Building Muscle

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Cable exercises are commonly written off. They are usually seen as the low man on the exercise totem pole, ranking below barbells, dumbbells, and machines in terms of overall effectiveness.

However, I believe cables should be given their proper place in a workout.

One advantage cable exercises have over free weight exercises is the fact that they provide constant muscle tension. This means that both the eccentric and concentric portions of the movement are constantly stressing a muscle.

Related: The 10 Best Machines for Building Muscle Mass

This provides a valuable advantage. Free weights only provide tension on the upward (concentric) portion of the movement and less so on the downward (eccentric) portion, no matter how much you attempt to control the weight.

The following is a list of the best cable exercises. They will aid you in making epic gains.

Cable Exercise

10 Cable Exercises for Building More Muscle

#1 – Rear Delt Cable Flys

In recent months rear delt cable flys have become one of my favorite cable exercises. They allow you better control compared to rear delt dumbbell flys or even reverse pec dec flys.

For this movement you do not need a lot of weight. A light to moderate weight will provide sufficient time under tension.

#2 – Cable Side Lateral Raises

If you generally perform side lateral movements with dumbbells try switching it up by using cables. This will likely provide a stimulus your muscles are not used to.

At first this cable variation may be more difficult. Use a lighter weight and concentrate on getting a full contraction and a full range of motion throughout the movement.

Use cable side lateral raises to finish off your shoulder day.

#3 – Cable Flys/Cable Crossovers

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The bench press is the granddaddy of all chest movements. However, adding in some cable flys to your chest workout will allow you to burn out the chest muscles and add in some extra reps for true hypertrophy gains.

Try incorporating both standard cable flys, where your hands meet in the middle of the movement, as well as cable crossovers that extend and provide more of a contraction.

#4 – Single Arm Standing Cable Rows

Lat muscles are very likely to suffer from imbalances. Often times you will see someone with one lat that is much larger than the other. In order to help prevent and/or correct this it is best to perform single arm movements.

Keep your back straight and focus on rowing towards the body, getting a full contraction and squeezing at the peak of the movement. Add these into your back day and you won’t regret it.

#5 – Tricep Cable Kickbacks

It can be difficult to feel a full contraction with dumbbell triceps kickbacks. However, by using the cable machine (with no attachment) you are able to receive constant tension and receive more bang for your buck, so to speak.

Add these into your arm day to burn out the triceps.

#6 – Side Oblique Crunches

Obliques are one of the most commonly ignored muscles. People tend to ignore them or hope they simply appear on their own. However, just like any other muscle, obliques need a little TLC.

To perform this exercise, get on one knee and focus on squeezing one side of your obliques downwards with the cable. Focus on getting the full contraction on both the upward and downward portion of the movement.

This is my favorite way of working the oblique muscles.

Cable Flyes

One advantage cable exercises have over free weight exercises is the fact that they provide constant muscle tension.

#7 – Triceps Rope Pushdowns

This exercise is a triceps classic and for good reason. The cables come in very handy when performing triceps movements.

When performing triceps rope pushdowns, focus on squeezing and feeling the full contraction of the triceps at the bottom of the movement. However, be sure not to go too heavy on this movement as you will end up using too much shoulders, back, core and every other muscle imaginable.

Remember, this is an isolation exercise and you want to focus solely on the contraction of the triceps, nothing else.

#8 – Cable Upright Rows

Upright rows are notorious for one thing, and one thing only…causing elbow tendinitis. When I used to perform upright rows with a barbell or EZ-bar, I suffered from some painful elbow tendinitis.

However, once I took upright rows out of my routine the tendinitis seemed to disappear for good. A good substitute is to do cable upright rows.

Related: 8 Best Bodyweight Exercises for Mass

Grab a cable with an EZ bar attachment and go to work. As always focus less on the amount of weight and more on on strict, proper form and full contraction of the muscle. This exercise won’t leave you feeling in pain.

#9 – Rope Cable Curls

Once you’re done with the triceps rope pushdowns, adjust the location of the cable to one of the holes closer to the floor and now use the rope to perform a curl.

This movement is flexible. You can either keep the palms of your hands facing inwards towards each other (for more of a hammer grip), or squeeze and pull each end of the rope outward at the top of the movement for a grip that more closely resembles standard dumbbell curls.

Either way, with this movement your biceps will be under constant tension for maximum gains.

#10 – Overhead Cable Extensions

This is another solid triceps movement. It focuses on the long head of the triceps, as you will be pushing the cable attachment upwards.

For this exercise you may use either a rope or EZ bar-type attachment. Simply focus on contracting downward before fully extending your arms and getting the full squeeze at the end of the movement.

Perform this movement on a regular basis and the long head of your triceps will grow in no time, giving your arms the full 3D effect like something out of a cartoon.

Cable Workouts for Killer Gains

Cable exercises are great supplemental movements for any workout. While cables should not be strictly used as the foundation of any bodybuilding program, they can be regularly used along with barbells and dumbbells.

The constant time under tension provided by cables make them a valuable resource, especially in the realm of arm movements. Some fitness fanatics claim that cable exercises provide more benefit for arms than standard dumbbells. While this is debatable, it is clearly evident that cables do in fact have their place in the gym.

So don’t be afraid to use them!

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Name: Ryan Rodal

Bio: My short term fitness goals include reaching a 300lb bench, 405 lb squat and a 500 lb deadlift. Longterm I want to become more involved in the fitness industry and help others achieve their goals. The bodybuilding lifestyle is not about how much you can lift or even how you look, its simply about being the best version of yourself.