Video: A Total Body Cable Machine Workout


Personal trainer Christina Chu from New School Fitness demonstrates a total body cable machine workout.

By Christina Chu· 10/5/2018, 10:41 a.m.

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Photo by Christina Chu

To those who think the gym is an intimidating place, have no fear. As a female personal trainer, I have experienced the ins and outs of gym culture and am here to help. One of my favorite machines to use is the cable machine, due to its versatility in strength training. You can go heavy on the weights or go light for high reps, all with just the switch of a push-pin.

The workout below is in a superset format, where you perform two exercises back-to-back. In today’s workout, these exercises work different muscle groups with the exception of Superset 3, which switches sides of the same exercise.

This workout is perfect for when you are on a time-crunch at the gym, when you just want to stick to one machine, or as a strength finisher.

Read on for step-by-step instructions and video to guide you through this cable machine workout.

Cable Set-Up

Make sure the push-pins are fully in each socket, both on the cable and on the weights. Give the handle a little pull to make sure everything is locked in.

You will need:

  • A cable machine at the gym
  • A straight bar (or EZ bar if there is no straight bar available)
  • A handle attachment

Don’t be afraid to (nicely) ask people at the gym if they are using an attachment that seems vacant. Usually, it’s just the product of someone not putting their equipment away, so don’t forget to return your two attachments to their proper location!

The Workout

3 sets of 12-15 reps, in a superset, meaning: Perform the first exercise 12-15 times, then perform the second 12-15 times. This is one set. Repeat this three times total.

Superset 1:

Set up the straight bar attachment at the bottom of the cable machine, then use these two exercises to form your set.

  • Squat

Start with a medium-to-heavy weight (start with 40-60 pounds and then adjust as necessary) on the cable machine and an overhand grip (palms down) on both sides of the bar. Walk a couple steps back, feet shoulder width apart, keep your arms out in front, and begin your squat. Think about sitting back into an imaginary chair and keep the tension on the cable. Shift the weight towards your heels rather than your toes, and keep the motion under control.

  • Bicep Curl

Shift the weight to light-to-medium (20-40 pounds) and have an underhand grip (palms up) on both sides of the bar. Step back and with a slight knee bend (athletic stance), bring your arms in, and lock your elbows by your side. Bring the bar up and slowly release down without swinging the hips or jerking the shoulder.

Superset 2:

Set up the straight bar attachment at the top of the cable machine, where it comfortably locks in within your reach.

  • Straight-arm Lat Pushdown

Starting with a medium-to-heavy weight (40-60 pounds) and an overhand grip, push down on the straight bar, squeezing your lat muscles in your back. Don’t know how to engage your lats? Think about squeezing a piece of paper under your armpits. Your lats should fire when you squeeze. Keep a slight bend in your arm, and control any hip swinging.

  • Tricep Pushdown

Switch to a light-to-medium weight (20-40 pounds) and keep the overhand grip. Bring the bar down to elbow height, and push down on the bar while keeping your elbows close to your sides.

Superset 3:

Switch the straight bar with a handle attachment, and shift the cable to the center, around sternum/mid-chest height.

  • Pallof Press (L)

With a light weight (15-30 pounds) and the left hand underneath the right, step away from the cable machine laterally and in line with the cable strings. Push the handle straight out in front of you at shoulder height, keeping it in line with the center of your body. Then drive the handle bar up, bring it back down, and then back to your chest. Resist the weight of the cable and keep your shoulders and hips square, engaging your core muscles.

  • Pallof Press (R)

Switch your hands so your right hand is underneath your left, and repeat the same method as above.

Don’t forget a warm up and cool down. Have a great workout!

You know the scenario: you’ve arrived at the gym and it’s more crowded than the Apple store on new iPhone day. There’s no space and you’ve been told to give machines a miss, but there’s one piece of kit worth making an exception for: the cable machine.

As expert personal trainer Phil Sims will tell you, this contraption of weights and pulleys is enough to effectively rewire your workout in a time of need.

It’s a weight off your mind

We know you’re a busy guy, so why not shave some precious minutes off your workout by using a cable machine? Its inbuilt weight stack means everything you need is in one place. But aren’t free weights more effective in building muscle? Absolutely not, says Sims: “The cable machine does everything dumbbells do. Name a muscle group or exercise that you can do with freeweights, and you can do the same thing on a cable machine.” It’s the best way to get an effective workout where the furthest you’ll have to travel is to your water bottle.

Safe, not sorry

For most men, the only form they worry about is the one that lets them join the gym in the first place. So it’s no wonder 90% of gym injuries come from dumbbells and barbells, according to a study published in American Journal of Sports Medicine.

However, there is one machine where keeping form and injury free is easy: you guessed it, the cable machine.“Cables are a lot more fluid and smooth than free weights,” says Sims. “Using a series of pulleys means you’re less likely to get hurt as you don’t directly push or pull against the force of gravity,” explains Sims. This puts less stress on your joints for safer sets and reps.

You can work it any way you want

Put simply: the cable machine is your one-stop shop for muscle growth, says Sims. Are you a nervous newbie looking to build confidence and muscle? Cables will bulk you up away from the needless grunting of the weights room. Recovering from an injury? The smooth movement of the pulley will get you back to form without relapse. Looking to sort out muscle imbalances? The cable machine is the perfect platform for extra isolation work. If you’ve got a problem, this machine is your solution.

The only cable circuit workout you need

When it comes down to the wire, you might not be sure exactly how to use this gem of the gym. MH has the answer.

FREE 28 Day Challenge

Ever been stuck in an old hotel or condo where the only piece of gym equipment they have is a universal cable machine? Believe it or not you can still get in a killer full body workout with just this one piece of equipment!

Choose a weight for each exercise that you can properly execute for 12-15 reps without losing form. Click each exercise for a full description.


2 Supersets/4 exercises each.
4 sets/12-15 reps.
*Don’t forget to perform a 5-10 minute warm up. Jogging, jump rope etc. to get the muscles and joints warmed up and loosened up before starting!

Lets get started! Complete 4 sets of superset #1. Take minimal rest in between exercises.

Superset #1

1. 1-Leg Cable Deadlift

2. Bent Over Lateral Raise

3. Rear Cable Cross Over

4. Cable Curls

1-Leg DeadliftBent Over Lateral RaiseRear Cable CrossoverCable Curl

Take a quick 1-2 min rest and then move on to 4 sets of superset #2. Keep up both the pace and intensity, resting only when needed.

Superset #2

1. Rear Cable Kick Back

2. Tricep Rope Down

3. Kneeling High Pulley Row

4. Rope Pull Through

Rear Kick BackRope DownKneeling Pull DownFront Rope Raise

That’s a wrap! Time to cool down, stretch and rehydrate!
Looking for more? For a full 12 week gym program with complete exercise database check out my Three Phase Program. It’s the perfect place to start if you are new to the gym and looking for an easy to follow, structured program.

Happy Training! 🙂

How All-in-one Exercise Equipment Works

First, let’s explain what exactly an all-in-one exercise system is. If you were to go to a gym and spend an hour using the various machines and weight-training stations, you would, in essence, be giving your body a total workout. All-in-one exercise equipment strives to provide a similar experience. The difference is, an all-in-one exercise system bundles the various workouts in one package. Have you ever seen one of those machines at a gym with cables, pulleys and bars dangling over benches? That’s the professional version of an all-in-one exercise system. But those systems are big and heavy — not to mention expensive. They’re really not practical for home use. But several manufacturers offer all-in-one exercise systems more commonly referred to as home gyms.

A good home gym will have enough features to provide you with a well-rounded strength training program. In other words, a good home gym should be able to work out the muscles in your arms, shoulders, back, stomach and legs. All-in-one exercise systems are designed to work out multiple muscle groups using the same feature. Many times, the way you use the feature is what dictates the muscle trained. It’s also important to understand the difference between user-defined and machine-defined exercises. Machine-defined motion is limited to set planes of motion, whereas user-defined motion isn’t limited to a particular direction. An example of user-defined movement is lifting a dumbbell. To better illustrate these two principles, think of the last time you lifted something heavy. Did it throw you off balance? If you lifted the same weight using a cable and a pulley, you wouldn’t need to worry about the weight moving laterally because it was on a set plane – up or down. This is defined by the machine.


All-in-one exercise systems use weights and pulley and cable systems to provide the resistance needed for weight training. They’re usually comprised of stacks of weights that slide on rails along with adjustable pulley systems that are designed to provide the exercises.

These machines can also incorporate other types of resistance mechanisms such as springs, friction, hydraulics or elasticity. Two of the most popular brands of these resistant all-in-one exercise systems on the market today are the Bowflex and Total Gym systems. The Bowflex system uses polymer-based rods the company calls Power Rods to create tension and replaces traditional iron weights with this technology. The Total Gym uses body weight to provide resistance. First, you lie down on a cushion that resembles a sled, which is mounted on rails. To exercise, you pull the weight of your own body up and down the rails using ropes and pulleys. The Bowflex and Total Gym systems both offer a way to work out without using weights.

In the next section, we’ll learn about some of the benefits and drawbacks of all-in-one exercise systems.

Free motion exercise machine

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