In the gym, free weights are arguably the best choice when it comes to building overall muscle mass. However, this doesn’t mean that free weights are the only method of approach when it comes to training and building muscle in the weight room. Machine work or cables are still a great choice for anyone wanting to build a lean and strong physique.
The main advantage that cables offer over traditional free weights is that cables offer a smooth, fluid motion resistance that enables a constant tension on your muscles. Cables also offer an element of safety by allowing us to train without the concern of the weight crashing down on us if we can’t complete that final rep. This means we can push ourselves even more. So what’s some of the best exercises to use cables for in regards to building muscle mass?
Cable Machine Exercises
✓ Cable Fly’s
This is very similar to using dumbbells on a flat bench and performing chest fly’s to build the pectorals. In this case, you will move the bench to the cables and use both cables. Set both cables at the bottom and use the single handle grips and perform chest fly’s with the same form as if you were using dumbbells. With the cables, focus on the squeeze instead of the stretch since the cables are offering a greater resistance to apply a constant stretch.
Target Muscle Group: Chest
✓ Two Arm Weighted Cable Curls
Use exercise to target your biceps with. Begin by using 2 cables with a D-handle grip. Grab both pulleys and stand in the middle of the machine area (you will have to grab one handle and walk to the other side to grab the other handle). With your palms facing towards the ceiling and your body straight up, begin with your arms outstretched and parallel to the floor. Curl the weight in towards your head and squeeze your biceps as hard as you possibly can.
Ensure that your upper body/arms remain stable and do not move from being parallel to the floor with each rep. The only part moving should be the contraction of the forearm to flex the bicep as your upper arm should not be moving up and down whatsoever.
Target Muscle Group: Biceps
✓ Lying Cable Shrugs
When it comes to performing cable shrugs, most people will perform this standing upright with the cable attachment set to the bottom position on the pulley. Instead of starting this way, go ahead and set up the bar on the seated cable row feature. Set the weight at a reasonably comfortable load and begin by placing not your feet, but instead your knees (legs bent and feet on floor still) on the foot rest.
This is to allow enough movement from the cables. Grab the bar and pull back and lay backwards until your back is lying flat on the bench. Now you should be lying flat while holding the on to the bar. Shrug before slowly releasing the weight back to its lowered/starting position and then repeat. This will help properly engage and allow the upper, middle and lower traps to remain entirely stable with each rep.
Target Muscle Group: Traps
✓ Wide Grip Triceps Push Downs
Start with the standing pulley and set the height for what you would normally use for triceps push downs. Grab the wide grip lateral pull down bar attachment for this. Using this bar, place your hands at the outermost bend point on the bar for a wider grip to target more of the outer head of the triceps or the long head.
Step back from the machine a few steps, bend your waist a bit so your butt is pointed outwards/backwards to help keep the lower body stable. This will provide a greater tension and emphasis on the triceps to isolate the muscle. Start with your arms bent at a 90-degree angle and push the weight downwards until your arms are fully extended out in front of you and moving towards the floor. Pause on the contraction and slowly release back to the starting position. Allow 3-4 seconds on the release upwards to keep the tension as high as possible with each rep.
Target Muscle Group: Triceps
✓ Cable Crunches
Begin with the rope attachment and cable height set to maximum height. Grab the rope and stand back from the machine or get onto your knees. This applies a tension immediately to the abs. While holding the rope, curl the body downwards in a crunch like motion and pause on the bottom of each rep. Slowly release back up to the starting position and repeat to target the core/abdominal muscles.
Target Muscle Group: Abs
✓ Single Arm Shoulder Raises
Set the pulley at the bottom of the machine and use a single D-ring handle attachment. Grab the handle and turn the body sideways. Raise the handle upwards laterally until your arm is lateral to the floor and hand is at head height level. Pause at the top of the movement and slowly lower the handle/arm down until your arm is at your side and hand touches waist. Repeat for 12-15 reps and perform for both shoulders. Do not rest between sets.
Target Muscle Group: Deltoids
Take Home Message
Here are just a few of the many exercises you can do with the cables. You should certainly add cable exercises to your free weight routine to add a different type of tension to your muscles. The best thing about cables is the constant tension you put your muscles under, which leads to a greater breakdown of muscle fibers. With correct nutrition, this means you can achieve more muscle growth. Make sure you’re eating enough protein, which can be achieved by supplementing with protein powders.