Often, the programs and routines followed by bodybuilders and athletes trying to improve their physique, are filled with free weight exercises followed by a healthy dose of machine work. The odd time you may incorporate some cable movements to “finish” off the muscle group you are working on. As an afterthought, you aimlessly complete a few sets here and there in an attempt to “shape” your muscles into something other than what it is. Your intensity levels are probably fairly low, and you end up just simply going through the movements. Rather than taking this type of approach to cable work, I challenge you to attack the exercises you can perform using pulley systems to initiate hypertrophy and bring back your intensity to effectively and successfully use cable exercises to stimulate new growth via a new approach to your training. Let the cable chaos begin!
One of the best-known exercises for adding quality muscle to your back is the chin up. With that said, not everyone can perform a chin up in a way that would elicit growth. What then is your other option? A lat pull down is. Whether you use a straight bar, a cambered bar, a bar with multiple grips, a v-bar handle or some other variation of a grip, the lat pull down is a great exercise for adding width and thickness to the back. When you focus your pulling with a wide grip, you can expect to see some added new growth to the outer part of your lats creating a wider wing span. When you take a closer grip on pull downs, you’ll be focusing more on the inner portion of your back for added thickness through the lower traps and rhomboids. Regardless of how you perform these, it is a great opening or finishing exercise when added in with other heavy free weight work.
Elbow health should always be something you keep in mind when training. A healthy approach to triceps training would be starting with the cable push down to first and foremost, warm up the entire region including the elbow joint, then use it as a mass builder for any of the three heads of the triceps muscle. With the number of different attachments you can use for performing push downs, this is a great exercise to hit the triceps from many different angles. This cable movement is relatively safe in nature and very controlled, thereby making it my choice for every single triceps routine.
Low cable hammer curls
This exercise may not be one you commonly see performed, but for taking advantage of constant tension of the biceps muscle, this one should be towards the top of your list. By attaching a rope to the clip and spinning around so that your back is to the weight stack, in hammer curl fashion bring both hands up and in front of your abs contracting the biceps hard the whole time. By using the cable to do this, you will always have a pulling down feeling on the biceps and forearms, therefore, making this a very effective, constant tension movement.
I’m not sure how you feel about this, but I never really feel that I’ve worked my chest unless I include some time of movement that I can exaggerate the stretch and squeeze forcing tons of new blood into the pecs. Sure dumbbell flyes can offer you something of this nature, but performing cable crossovers just gives you a whole different feeling in the pecs. Being able to adjust your body position when in the stretched portion of the exercise, you can control how much you stretch your pecs. Then because of the constant tension of the pulley system always working against you, you can get a great contraction to force even more blood into the pec region.
Behind the Back Lateral Raises
Start this exercise by attaching a single handle to the low pulley station. Then grab the handle with either hand and take a step over top of the cable. The shoulder you are working should be the furthest away from the weight stack and the hand holding the handle should be resting behind your lower back. From this position, start raising your hand laterally up and away from your body leading with your elbow and finishing at the top with your elbow just slightly higher than your wrist. This will isolate the side deltoid. What I love about this movement is the constant pulling on the side delt during the whole exercise. In essence, there is no rest at all during the set, and it should set your side delts on fire.
Glute Ham Raises
Not many people give any time or put any energy into training their glutes, but this one exercise will target both the glutes and hamstrings. The glute ham raise, when performed on a low pulley system, offers a great way to specifically focus in on contracting the glutes, one at a time while also hitting the hamstrings in the area closer to the glutes. Yes, there are machines designed for this, but again, the constant tension of the cable makes this exercise that much better.
If you haven’t picked up on it by now, the greatest advantage to using cables in your program is the constant tension they provide your muscles. By coupling the principles of Max-OT while utilizing time under tension methods, you increase your chances of hypertrophy two-fold. Should you rely completely on cable systems to build your physique? Absolutely not, however, they can offer you a whole new training stimulus, and you can use them for building size and strength. Mix them into your workouts by putting them in first, in the middle or at the end of your exercise sequence and put as much effort into them as you would a set of squats. If you used effectively, your cable chaos could turn into cable creations in no time at all.