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CABLE MACHINE BUYING GUIDE
The cable machine has long been a staple of the home gym due to its incredible variety of resistance exercises that can work any muscle group.
Beloved by fitness fanatics, it is viewed by many as the perfect machine for combining workouts focused on building strength, whilst also enhancing your power, speed, stability, balance and flexibility.
It allows the targeting of muscles from different angles and directions, enabling movements that you would struggle to replicate by simply using free weights.
Cable Machines are available from some of the biggest fitness brands on the market such as: BodyCraft, BodyMax, Life Fitness, NordicTrack, Taurus and NOHrD, offering both home-use and commercial grade machines. There are numerous types of cable machines available, with differing functions such as High/Low Pulleys, Cable Motion Gyms, Functional Trainers, Dual Adjustable Pulley Systems and Cable Crossovers.
Cable crossover machines can be space hungry, but their versatility more than makes up for their size, and most models come with a wide range of different attachments to enable even more functionality.
Step into any commercial gym and you are guaranteed to find a cable crossover machine. It is true that for a newcomer they can be intimidating to use, particularly when faced with an array of cables, pulleys and adjustable features. However, no other piece of equipment in the gym can provide the sheer range of exercise options.
In this buying guide, we will demystify the cable machine, covering how they function, what exercises work best, buying options and key features and benefits.
HOW DOES A CABLE MACHINE WORK?
Cable machines work in a similar way to any other piece of strength building equipment; by providing the resistance necessary to intensely workout your various muscle groups.
The major difference between cable machines and other strength equipment is that the weight stacks are connected to cables via a set of pulleys, creating the motion that allows for weightlifting.
The cables and pulleys work in harmony so that your muscles are under constant tension during exercises, meaning there is no ‘rest point’ compared to using dumbbells, kettlebells etc. Since muscle growth is directly based on how much tension is placed on the muscle during the workout, exercising with a cable machine will fatigue muscles faster and result in greater strength gains.
Most functional trainers have two weight stacks, connected to two cables via the pulley system. By utilising the space between the stacks, you can choose your distance from the machine when exercising.
The cable crossover machine also allows you to adjust the height of your cable pulleys, which helps to remove muscle strain.
This combination of distance and angle gives you unlimited flexibility in how you exercise, with literally hundreds of workouts available. Not only can you train specific muscle groups, the cable machine is also a great tool for posture correction.
- Allows motion / resistance in many different directions
- Reduce the need for a spotter, suiting those who wish to workout and lift on their own
- Offer stability and versatility to exercise
- Provide continuous tension
- Cause faster muscle fatigue, which is desired for long term muscle growth
- Reduces chance of injury do due to enabling proper anatomical alignment
TYPES OF CABLE MACHINE
Single pulley cable crossover machines have the weight stack connected to a single pulley and cable. The full weight of your weight stack is then positioned onto one cable with one muscle tension focus.
The single pulley system is great for tricep pushdowns, rope face pulls, bicep curls and cable upright rows.
Double Pulley/Dual Adjustable Pulley
The double pulley cable crossover machine features two adjustable cable columns, which can be linked to one or both weight stacks.
The dual cable divides the tension and muscle load between the two cables. This allows for a great variation of strength and endurance workouts. Most dual cable machines come with several handle and grip types.
Double pulley cable crossover machines are a great tool for high-intensity, full motion exercises like overhead cable presses and flys.
Take a look at our recommended Dual Adjustable Pulley.
The compact footprint and freestanding style of this single cable column are ideal for a space restricted environment. The Hi/Lo Pulley features a 2:1 ratio, which means that any selected weight feels lighter by half due to an additional pulley between the user and the weight stack.
Find out more about one of our most popular Hi/Lo Pulleys.
Multi-Station Cable Machine
A ‘Multi-Station Cable Machine’ is a catch-all term often used to describe a cable machine system.
Any single or double pulley system cable machine that comes with weight stacks and sometimes with a surrounding ‘rack’ may be described using this term, often depending on the brand’s phraseology.
This genre of machines which can offer the user countless exercise possibilities rather than one single workout have soared in popularity in recent years due to their adjustability and flexibility.
A real favourite with our customers is the BodyMax CF820.
Cable crossover machines are another superb way to target and train your muscles and joints. These types of cable machines offer a full-range of exercises, with upper body, lower body, back and core workout options.
A cable crossover works the upper and lower body especially targeting muscles in the quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, pecs, trapezius, deltoids, triceps, biceps and core abdominals.
This is down to the design of cable crossover machines, making a variety of pulling options possible as well as exercises such as face pulls, external rotations and rows, which can be further enhanced to lat pulldowns and other common exercises by adding cable attachments. Some cable crossover machines also have pull-up bars built in, offering yet more exercise variations.
One of the most popular choices with our customers is the Taurus Elite Cable Crossover.
OUR TOP FIVE CABLE ATTACHMENTS
Cable machines come with a wide variety of interchangeable attachment options, each one offering you the opportunity to train a different muscle group and maintain a range of grips whilst exercising.
It is worth noting that there are numerous cable attachments on the market but we’ve pulled out five of the most commonly used to give you a flavour of what is available.
BodyMax Tricep Rope Cable Attachment
Probably the most commonly seen or used attachment for any cable machine, the tricep rope cable attachment is normally black, thickly threaded and has rubber stoppers at the ends that act as handles. This type of attachment is excellent for tricep press-downs, face pulls, rope curls and overhead extensions. This attachment is an absolute must-have which you find yourself using on a daily basis.
BodyMax Pro Revolving Straight Bar Attachment
Another commonly used attachment is the revolving straight bar. Normally about 20 inches in width, the bar has rubber handles at the end, offering excellent grip. Straight bars can be used for a wide variety of exercises including upright rows, curls, press-downs, horizontal shrugs and curls.
BodyMax Pro Seated Row Cable Attachment
Normally found on the seated row station, the pro seated row cable attachment can be unhooked and applied to other exercises including; face pulls, standing rows and close-grip lat pulldowns. This is a nice option to have to enhance your training for a relatively low cost.
BodyMax Pro Revolving Lat Bar Attachment
Available as 48 or 36 inch bars, the lat pulldown attachment is a long straight bar, with a slight downward bend at the ends. The bend acts as a natural hand grip, usually covered in rubber over the handles to protect your hands and give you maximum grip. Lat pulldowns are suitable but not limited to; wide-grip cable curls, wide-grip tricep pressdowns, wide-grip upright rows and seated rows. The bar is essential for lat pulldowns and any other exercises you feel are improved by using a wide grip.
BodyMax Pro Single Handle Cable Attachment
With this attachment you can train your upper body in full, with the freely moving eyelet at the top of the attachment, it can be used across all types of movements and exercises. Some of the best exercises this can be used for are; single arm bicep curls / tricep extensions, seated rows and single arm lat pulldowns as well as a range of ab focused exercises. For a relatively small investment you are improving the capability of your cable machine at home; these are also commonly used attachments found in any commercial gym or private studio.
There are a fantastic variety of cable machines on the market, from the most basic entry level machines to those with a huge range of complex features designed to assist you in achieving your fitness and weight training goals.
As with many other products, the higher the price, the better the quality of the machine, from the durability of its cables to the smoothness of motion on the pulley system.
Some cable crossover machines include a number of grip and handle bar attachment options, which can be connected and removed easily and conveniently.
Make sure you choose a machine that can provide you with a wide variety of workout options.
We suggest that before buying, you make a list of your fitness needs to ascertain which machine will work for you.
But remember, for sheer adaptability and flexibility, a cable machine provides a great investment to help you on your fitness journey.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
“CAN I GET A 6-PACK WITH A CABLE MACHINE?”
One of the most common questions asked by fitness enthusiasts is “can I get a six-pack using a cable machine?”
Well yes, you can, cable machines are a superb abs workout partner, let’s take a look at how to best utilise the constant resistance a cable machine offers.
This can be broken down to three stages:
- Getting started is always the hardest part, a great way to begin is exploring the benefits of crunching with cable tension overheard, followed by a couple of torso-twisting exercises that are assisted by controlled arm movements to target both your abs and obliques.
- Once you’ve got to grips with that, you can look to maximise your results by targeting different parts of your abs. Exercises that will help with this include an upgraded cable crunch (whilst lying on your back) reverse crunch targeting your lower abs or a one-arm cable crunch.
- To get to where you want to be, and achieve that 6-pack you’ve been chasing, exercises such as the ‘judo throw’ and double-tension cable tuck crunches help target your entire abdominal area. Another great technique is to add a gym ball to your workout, which helps maximise core strength and stability with a cable leg raise, then unleashing your torso under constant tension with a high-cable wood-chop.
“WHAT ARE THE BEST CABLE MACHINE EXERCISES?”
Cable machines are not only a viable option to build muscle, but they are great for improving flexibility and stability in all the key muscle groups, as well as a useful tool for injury rehabilitation. Whether it’s at home or in the gym, investing in a range of attachments and combining workouts on your functional trainer means you’ll never run out of fun new exercises to try.
From overhead double cable exercises to ab crunches, one-legged cable kickbacks and more, we’ll take a look at three of the most popular full-body exercises to get you going.
Targets your upper body, delivers quick results and is one of the best double cable pulley exercises.
Stand evenly between two pulleys (with stirrups)
- Grab each cable pulley stirrup by the hand
- Keep your arms outstretched with only a minor bend at the elbows
- Step slightly forward with one foot and tighten your core
- Pull both cables downward across your body so that your wrists form an “X” at the waistline
- Carefully return to the starting position and repeat
Overhead Cable Curl:
Targets your elbow joints and upper arm, uses both cables at once but can also be used with 1 cable at a time for added focus.
Stand evenly between two overhead pulleys (with stirrups)
- Hold each cable pulley stirrup by the hand, palms facing inward
- Flexing at the elbows, bring the pulley toward each ear
- Pause and squeeze
- Return to the starting position and repeat
Ab Cable Crunches:
Full-body workout with a focus on your abs
- Attach a rope handle to the pulley
- Kneel and face the cable machine
- Keep your hips high and in a locked position so that most of the movement is coming from your spine
- Grab the rope with both hands
- 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
- Tuck your chin into your chest
- Lower your head to your waist until your elbows hit your upper thighs
- Return and repeat