15 Best Cable Exercises for a Full Body Workout

Putting an entire fitness routine in one place, modern cable machines will help you build muscle in all the key areas. Get a little creative and bring in some accessories and you may find that this comprehensive equipment is the only thing you’ll ever need for a full-body workout. Not just (arguably) safer than standard free weights, they’re often just as effective.

At home or at the gym, cable machine exercises strike the perfect balance between convenience, versatility, and performance. First-time users may need to adapt and adjust, but it’s smooth sailing once you get the hang of it. Pair your cable workout with some dedicated cardio and now you’re firing on all cylinders. Here are some of the best exercises to kick off your regimen.

You’ll also like:
10 Best Chest Exercises for Men
10 Best Tricep Exercises & Workouts for Men
10 Best Core Exercises for Men

Best Cable Machine Exercises

New to the cable machine? Or maybe you’ve just been using it for the same few exercises. Whatever the case, we’re here to blow the doors wide open on this wonderful and wide-reaching equipment. From overhead double cable exercises to ab crunches to one-legged cable kickbacks and more, we have your whole body covered.

1. Cable Crossover

One of the most popular double cable pulley exercises is also one of the best. It targets the upper body region and delivers rapid results. Here’s how to execute:

  1. Stand evenly between two pulleys (with stirrups)
  2. Grab each cable pulley stirrup by the hand
  3. Keep your arms outstretched with only a minor bend at the elbows
  4. Step slightly forward with one foot and tighten your core
  5. Pull both cables downward across your body so that your wrists form an “X” at the waistline
  6. Carefully return to the starting position and repeat

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3-5

2. Standing Biceps Cable Curl

A veritable classic, this isolation cable exercise builds strength in the upper biceps. Set an appropriate weight (based on your personal metrics) and then perform the following steps:

  1. Face the cable machine
  2. Keep your feet flat on the floor
  3. Grab the bottom cable handle with one hand or both hands
  4. Brace your core and keep your back straight
  5. Hold the cable in front of your waist
  6. Using only your forearms, curl the cable toward your chest
  7. Hold for a moment and then return to the starting position
  8. Repeat

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3

3. Overhead Cable Curl

Like the biceps curl, this cable machine exercise targets the elbow joint and upper arm. You can execute it using both cables at once (as laid out below) or by using one cable at a time to further engage your core. Perform these steps:

  1. Stand evenly between two overhead pulleys (with stirrups)
  2. Hold each cable pulley stirrup by the hand, palms facing inward
  3. Flexing at the elbows, bring the pulley toward each ear
  4. Pause and squeeze
  5. Return to the starting position and repeat

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3

4. Abdominal Cable Crunches

No full-body workout is complete without some ab exercises. Pay attention because a lot of people do this one incorrectly (though the “correct” form is also open to interpretation). Here we go:

  1. Attach a rope handle to the pulley
  2. Kneel and face the cable machine
  3. Keep your hips high and in a locked position so that most of the movement is coming from your spine
  4. Grab the rope with both hands
  5. Keep your hands (and the rope) in front of your face or toward the top of your face, with your thumb knuckles even with either your forehead or at your crown
  6. Tuck your chin into your chest
  7. Lower your head to your waist until your elbows hit your upper thighs
  8. Return and repeat

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3-4

5. Cable Flyes

This double cable exercise cranks respectable mileage out of simple maneuvres and bolsters the chest area. Perform the following steps:

  1. Set the pulleys (with stirrups) to chest height and stand evenly between them
  2. Grab each handle by the hand
  3. Keep your back straight and your palms facing forward
  4. Brace your core
  5. Step forward until you can feel some tension at each cable
  6. Keep one foot in front of the other
  7. Bend slightly at the elbows to assume the starting position
  8. Pull your hands toward one another in front of your chest
  9. Pause, return, and repeat
  10. Switch the position of your feet with each set

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3-4

6. Wide-Grip Lat Pulldowns

This cable machine workout involves the bar attachment and works a host of upper body muscle groups. Select a weight based on your personal metrics. Here’s how to execute:

  1. Sit on the bench, facing the cable machine
  2. Adjust the machine until your thighs fit under the supports
  3. Grab the bar with an overhand grip
  4. Keep your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart
  5. Exhale as you slowly pull the bar down until it touches the upper chest
  6. Squeeze your shoulder blades and pause
  7. Inhale as you return to the starting position
  8. Repeat

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3

7. Seated Cable Rows

This compound exercise requires a weighted horizontal cable machine with a bench and footplates. It targets the back muscles and forearms. Perform the following steps:

  1. Position the bench so that you’re sitting upright with back support
  2. Grab the cable handle
  3. Bend your knees slightly but make sure your lower back remains perfectly straight
  4. Brace your core
  5. Pull the handle toward the lower abdomen, bending at the elbows
  6. Keep your chest out and your back straight
  7. Squeeze your shoulders together as you row

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3

8. Triceps Pushdown

You’ll need a rope handle for this cable machine exercise. Attach the rope to the high pulley and then do the following:

  1. Keep your elbows tucked in at the sides
  2. Grab the rope handle with both hands
  3. Brace your core
  4. Lower your hands using just your forearms
  5. Keep going until your arms are fully extended
  6. Return and repeat

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3

9. Standing Single Arm Cable Rows

Find a gym cable machine with a low pulley and attach a single handle. Now perform these steps:

  1. Stand a few feet from the machine
  2. Bend slightly at the knees as you grab the handle with one hand
  3. Row the weight toward your body
  4. Contract the muscles in your middle back
  5. Return and repeat

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3 (per arm)

10. Cable Squat

Who’s ready to work those quads, lats, and glutes?! Well, ready or not, here comes this cable machine exercise:

  1. Stand arm’s length away from the cable machine
  2. Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart or slightly wider
  3. Grab the low pulley stirrups or rope handles with both hands
  4. Keep your chest high and back straight
  5. Pull at the handles as you raise your knees and hips
  6. Don’t stop until your legs are straight
  7. Bend your hips backward and your knees forward as you squat
  8. Keep your back straight and your knees pointed in the same direction as your feet
  9. Squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor
  10. Return and repeat

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3

11. Cable Lunges

This low cable pulley exercise is equal parts easy and effective. Do the following:

  1. Grab the low cable handle with both hands
  2. Stand upright with one leg in front of the other
  3. Lunge down and brace your core
  4. Push back into the starting position
  5. Swap legs and repeat

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3-4

12. Standing Cable Press

This double cable exercise strengthens chest muscles while going easier on your shoulders than the standard free weight routine. Because you’re standing, you also work peripheral muscle groups like the abs, legs, and glutes. It’s quite similar to the cable fly and cable crossover, but not exactly the same. Here’s how to execute:

  1. Stand before the cable machine
  2. Grab each pulley handle by the hand
  3. Keep one foot in front of the other
  4. Keep your elbows at just under a 90-degree angle at either side of your chest, so that your wrists and elbows are aligned
  5. Brace your core as you push through at the palms
  6. Extend your arms in front of your chest at both sides
  7. Return to the starting position and repeat

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3

13. Reverse Grip Cable Pulldowns

This cable machine exercise tweaks the traditional pull-down to increase the range of motion and target the lower lats. It likewise requires a bar. Choose the proper weight and do the following:

  1. Keep your arms shoulder-width apart
  2. Sit on the bench, facing the machine
  3. Grab the bar using an underhand grip
  4. Keep your arms outstretched and hold the bar above your head
  5. Flex at the elbows and exhale as you pull the cable toward your chest
  6. Contract your back muscles and pause
  7. Inhale as you return to the starting position
  8. Repeat

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3

14. One-Legged Cable Kickback

You’ve got legs and you know how to use them. Put those legs to work with the following cable machine exercise, which does wonders for your glutes as well. Whip out a resistance band and do the following:

  1. Place the resistance band around one ankle
  2. Attach the other end of the band to a low cable pulley handle
  3. Face the pulley from approximately two feet away
  4. Grab the pulley frame
  5. Brace your core and bend slightly at the knees
  6. Contract your glutes
  7. Raise the banded leg as high as you can behind you
  8. Pause, return, and repeat

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3 (per leg)

15. Standing Cable Calf Raise

Bring out the belt and the calf block for this gym cable exercise. Here we go:

  1. Secure the cable belt around your waist
  2. Attach the belt to the low pulley handle
  3. Stand on the calf block so that your arches and heels are extending off the block
  4. Grip the support bar for balance
  5. Extend your ankles as high as possible, raising your heels
  6. Lower your heels and bend at the ankles until you can feel the stretch in your calves
  7. Return to the starting position and repeat

Reps: 10-15
Sets: 3-5

Cable Machine Full Body Workout Plan

Now that you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to implement a full-body routine. Here’s an example of a three-day cable machine workout. Tweak as necessary and get to work!

Day One: Chest + Biceps + Abs

  • Cable Crossover: 6 sets, 6, 12, 12, 8, 8, 6 + drop set, 1 1/2 minutes rest
  • Cable Press: 3 sets, 12, 8, 8, 1 1/2 minutes rest
  • Flat Bench Cable Flyes: 3 sets, 12, 12, and 8, 1 minute rest
  • Standing Biceps Cable Curl: 3 sets, 12, 8, 8, 1 1/2 minutes rest
  • Lying Close-Grip Bar Curl On High Pulley (Markus Curl*): 3 sets, 12, 10, 8, 1 minute rest
  • Overhead Cable Curl: 3 sets, 12, 10, 10, 1 minute rest (On next training session alternate the last exercise and include Standing One Arm Cable Curl or Cable Hammer Curls)
  • Abdominal Cable Crunches: 4 sets, 16, 16, 12, and 12

Day Two: Rest

Day Three: Back + Triceps + Forearms:

  • Wide-Grip Lat Pulldowns: 4 sets, 12, 12, 8, 6, 1 minute rest
  • Seated Cable Rows: 3 sets, 12, 12, 8, 1 minute rest
  • Underhand Cable Pulldowns: 3 sets, 12, 10, 8, 1 minute rest
  • V-Bar Pulldown: 3 sets, 10, 8, 8, 1 minute rest
  • Straight Arm Pulldown: 3 sets, 8, 8, 8, 1 minute rest
  • Triceps Pushdown: 3 sets, 12, 12, 8, 1 minute rest
  • Triceps Pushdown with Rope Attachment: 3 sets, 10, 8, 8, 1 minute rest
  • Cable One Arm Triceps Extension: 3 sets, 12, 8 + Drop Sets, 1 minute rest
  • Reverse Cable Curl: 3 sets, 14, 12, 12, 1 minute rest
  • Seated Two-Arm Palms-Up Low-Pulley Wrist Curl: 3 sets, 14, 12, 12, 1 minute rest

Day Four: Rest

Day Five: Shoulders + Legs

  • Upright Cable Row: 4 sets, 12, 12, 8, 6, 1 1/2 minute rest
  • Front Cable Raise: 3 sets, 12, 10, 8, 1 minute rest
  • Cable Seated Rear Lateral Raise: 3 sets 12, 8, 8, 1 minute rest
  • Cable Squat: 4 sets, 16, 12, 12, 8, 1 1/2 minutes rest
  • Cable Lunges: 4 sets, 16, 12, 10, 8, 1 1/2 minutes rest
  • One-Legged Cable Kickback: 4 sets, 16, 12, 12, 8, 1 1/2 minutes rest
  • Cable Lying Leg Curl: 3 sets, 12, 12, 10, 1 minute rest
  • Standing Cable Calf Raise: 5 sets, 16, 14, 12, 12 + Drop set, 1 minute rest

You’ll also like:
10 Best Chest Exercises for Men
10 Best Tricep Exercises & Workouts for Men
10 Best Core Exercises for Men

General FAQ

Can you build muscle with cable machines?

According to many experts, you can definitely build muscle using a cable machine. Not only are these machines considered to be effective, but they're also generally safer than free weights.

What are cable exercises good for?

Bring in the right accessories and you can use a cable machine for virtually every kind of strength-building exercise. Use them to work your upper chest, legs, glutes, back, shoulders, and more.

Are cable exercises better than free weights?

Most fitness freaks will say that cable exercises are comparable to free weights, but not necessarily better. Each respective method offers its own advantages and disadvantages. Some of the best fitness routines incorporate both methods.