Given the popularity of functional fitness and Olympic lifting, cable machines aren’t exactly trendy at the moment. But that doesn’t mean you should pass by this classic workout equipment. In fact, trainers say it’s one of their favorite tools to use with clients and in their own personal workouts thanks to a host of benefits.
Here’s why you should consider incorporating the cable machine into your routine.
If you’re going to use a weight machine at the gym, go for the cable machine, fitness pros say. “When used as intended, cables win out over circuit machines,” says Rocky Snyder, a certified strength and conditioning specialist. “They have a better chance of encouraging what many people are missing: coordination, balance, strength and integrative whole-body movement.”
Most people think of crunches and planks when they think about core exercises. But with the cable machine, you can make almost any exercise into a core exercise.
“The cable is one of my favorites because, depending on how and where you hold the handle or attachment, it has the potential to constantly be challenging your core muscle groups,” explains Lesley Bell, a personal trainer and brain health coach at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. “Experiment with different stances, feel how they each challenge your balance and core differently,” she recommends.
“One of my favorite ways to teach core engagement is by using the cable machine for a movement called the Pallof press,” says Lindsay Bennett, a certified personal trainer. In this exercise, you attach a handle to the cable, which should be about chest height, and stand with one side of your body to the cable machine. Grab the handle, wrapping one hand over the other, and hold it in front of your chest. Inhale, brace your core and exhale while pressing the handle out until your arms are straight. Perform 8 reps on one side, then turn and face the other direction and perform 8 reps on that side.
Whether your gym is super busy and you don’t want to keep waiting for a spot, or you’re traveling and your hotel gym is limited on equipment, it’s nice to know you can get an awesome workout with just a cable machine. “It’s extremely versatile in that you can not only adjust the arms of the machine and the weight, but you can use different attachments like handles, split ropes, ankle straps and straight bars,” Bennett says. “You can do an entire, full-body workout with a cable machine that has adjustable arms. It’s the most versatile piece of equipment in the gym, allowing you to work every muscle from different angles.”
“The cable machine is going to force you to stay in much better control than a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell would,” Bennett explains. “Too many times, you see people drop their weights at the end of the set because they’re too heavy, which is a recipe for injury.” Though it’s possible to “drop the weight” on a cable machine, it’s not as common, and it’s less likely to result in injury since the weight remains within the machine.
“Cables offer variety for every person, body and goal,” notes Phil Catudal, a certified personal trainer. “So whether it’s a couple of exercises or half your workout, I highly recommend getting cables into your routine.”
His advice on how to get the most from your cable workouts? “Think about the tension. Feel and visualize the specific muscle you are working on. That’s my biggest piece of advice. If the blood isn’t pumping in your target muscle, readjust, slow down and try again.”