Gym Equipment 101: A Complete Guide to Cable Machines

man working out on a cable machine

Working out at home is a great way to get that beach bod you’ve been dreaming of, especially if you’re just starting. A little dedication, time and the right equipment can get you there. And there’ll always be that spare room that you can deck out into a fully-fledged home gym. Your choice of equipment will boil down to your fitness level. Basic beginner kits will consist of conditioning gear aimed at improving your endurance and strength levels. Simple exercises like squat jumps, burpees, and lateral lunges only require a training mat of the right size. Flexibility and coordination can be bettered with aerobic steps, resistance bands, foam rollers, skipping ropes and exercise balls. Toning and building muscle means you’ll also want some form of weight and dumbbells and kettlebells are ideal for working on different muscles.

Once you’re regularly burning more calories and get that cardio workout on the treadmill or exercise bike, time to step up to something more demanding. Muscle gain is best achieved with strength training involving higher loads in controlled reps. And you’ll want to observe a protein-rich diet along with gym supplements to guarantee a sculpted figure.

Benches are great for upper body workouts, and racks mean you won’t be skipping leg day. If all this takes a bit too much space or you want a bit more scope in your workout schedule, consider getting a cable machine. The variety of cable machines can be confounding as to what will you need, and will work best in your allotted space.

What are Cable Machines?

Cable machines are weight training equipment designed around a steel frame and with weight, stack worked with cables or pulleys. The cable is attached to the end of a handle. To work different muscle groups, there are different attachments and handles that you can swap out. The benefit here is that any exercises you can do with dumbbells, barbells, and other free weights can also be done with cable resistance.

How do Cable Machines work?

You work out by moving the cables while they stay under constant tension against the weight stack. Tension is maintained throughout the exercise, so there’s no resting point, as with dumbbells or barbells.

Types of Cable Machines

single pulley cable machine

Most cable machines fall into two categories: single pulley and double pulley machines. Single pulley machines consist of a single cable attached to the weight stack and are good for doing two-handed exercises. Just remember that the weight you choose is the actual weight you’ll be lifting. Double pulley machines provide a mechanical advantage in that two pulleys pull on the weights. So, they’re easier to manage than single pulleys as the weight is halved. Double pulley machines often include two handles and are good for working the lats, biceps, middle back, and shoulders.

Double pulley cable machines are not to be confused with two single pulleys placed side by side. Or workstations with two separate weight stacks and pulleys. These are used in more complex exercises, like standing cable chest presses. Cable machines also encompass seated cable rowers, though these are intended for a single exercise only.

Benefits of Cable Machines

Exercising with a cable machine offers several benefits over other single muscle cabled variants.


abs workout on a cable machine

Since exercising is done standing, a cable machine activates core muscles, namely, the abs, mid and lower back, lats and hips while also isolating the targeted muscle. This way you get a complete workout and work more related muscle groups in a single bout. As opposed to seated cable machines like rowers, isolation is more about maintaining posture and balance, so is less difficult.

Continuous Tension

Tension remains the same while you lift and lower the weights. This helps with muscle growth and increased strength, something that requires more time in other weight training exercises.


Almost everything can be adjusted to suit fitness and strength levels and different types of exercises working different muscles. This includes height, weight and direction, as well as handles. You can do almost any exercise, at any angle and with the tension and weight that best suits you.


There are dozens of different exercises that you can do on a cable machine. This includes upper and lower body exercises and the simplicity and speed with which you can switch between workouts.


Since the majority of workouts resemble basic movements likes pushes, pulls, lunges, squats, and twists, but with the tension of added weight, a cable machine is also safer and exercises more controlled. With cables suspending the weights, the risk of serious injuries is substantially reduced, as happens with dropped weights.

Summing it Up

A cable machine may at first seem an intimidating piece of kit, but one that finds its place in any gym. It allows for a comprehensive workout, strengthening the core and stabilising muscles through dozens of different exercises. The range of versatility and adjustment can suit complete newbies or gym junkies that need that bit more.