Video: A Total Body Cable Machine Workout

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

cable machine workout

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!