Cable flye

Free weights are the absolute best way to build total-body, behemoth mass. But they’re not the only way. Machine work is typically advocated for beginners because it teaches movement patterns and allows for safe, predetermined ranges of motion. As lifters gain experience, they move toward an almost exclusive diet of barbells and dumbbells. But if you take some of that newfound strength and size back to machine row, you could really augment your training efforts and trigger new gains.

And in the realm of iron-laden machinery, cables may be king. Cables offer a smooth, constant tension on exercises that might otherwise be very awkward or tough to do. They also have that air of safety that really allows you to go heavy and challenge yourself without a spotter. The following six moves – some common, some not so much – allow you to target key muscle groups with fantastic efficiency, sans free weight. Build these moves into your normally scheduled bodypart work and you’re sure to notice a difference in your muscular size and density in no time flat.

1. Flat-Bench Cable Flye

This cable move allows you to hammer your pecs – particularly the inner pecs – with laser-like precision. The best part is that you don’t have to worry about dumbbells ripping your pecs from their insertions when you begin to fail because the pulleys are set right at chest height. The focus is on the squeeze more than the stretch. One of the biggest gripes about standard dumbbell flyes is that you lose some of the tension at the top. Not so with this cable variation.

Do it Right >> Move a flat bench in between two low pulleys so that your chest will be lined up with the pulleys when you lie down on it. Lie back on the bench with your feet on the ground and grasp the handles with your palms up, as in a dumbbell flye. Extend your arms to your side with your elbows slightly bent, your upper arms parallel to the floor. Pull the handles through in an arc to a point right above the centerline of your chest. Squeeze your pecs hard and return to the start.

2. Two-Arm High-Pulley Cable Curls

When someone asks for you to “make a muscle,” you are most likely to show them your biceps. This pose isn’t just for show, however. It’s a great way to train your biceps’ peak because of the arm position and it allows for excellent isolation of the biceps as a whole

Do it Right >> Start by standing directly in the middle of two cable pulleys and attach two D-handles. Adjust the height level of the pulleys so that they are about 8-10 inches above the tops of your shoulders. Grasp one handle, then walk over to the opposite stack to grab the other and position yourself in the center of the apparatus with your palms facing up, your upper arms parallel to the floor. From there, curl the weight toward your head, making sure that your upper arms remain parallel to the floor throughout each rep.

3. Cable Shrug

While big-weight barbell shrugs are your best bet for building higher, thicker traps, the cable shrug is a great alternative because it allows you to slightly vary the angle of pull. You can take a step or two back to shift the emphasis to your middle and lower traps or you can stand directly over the pulley for a near-vertical pull. Since most stacks are limited in weight, this is generally best used as a higher-rep finisher or as your go-to on a high-volume traps day.

Do it Right >> Grab a cable bar attachment that is fastened to a low pulley and grab it with a shoulder-width grip, palms down. Keeping your arms at full extension, elevate your shoulders to lift the bar as high as possible. Squeeze at the top for a count and lower (under control) back to the start.

Cable Pressdown

4. TNT Pressdown

You do dips for triceps mass. But is there a cable cousin that offers the same benefits? Yes. You’ve probably seen some people doing this – although not on purpose – to get through a set of heavy triceps pressdowns. They allow their elbows to flare out from their sides and “press” down on the bar, as if to detonate a stack of dynamite. The TNT pressdowns calls for you to do this, like, on purpose, in order to handle more weight than normal. Because you are bending at the elbows, shoulders and wrists, you allow more muscle groups to get in on the act, including your pecs and delts.

Do it Right >> Your set-up is the same as a standard cable pressdown…until your first rep. Going about 10-20% heavier than you would on your normal 10-rep set of pressdowns, get “over” the bar and press it down to full extension, keeping the cable on one side of your body. The cable should actually gently brush your neck and collarbone. From there, flare your elbows out and allow the bar to come to about chest level before aggressively extending your arms to press the weight to full extension. Take care to keep your elbows above your wrists throughout the move.

5. Cable Deadlift

Blaspheme you say? Not so. The traditionalists have it right on this one – a true, barbell deadlift is the best exercise for your body, ever. Period. It can never be replaced but it can be augmented. The cable version of the deadlift allows you to train this fundamental move more safely and without the lunk alert going off. As with the cable shrug, you can also slightly vary the muscular emphasis by adjusting your distance to the stack.

Do it Right >> Ideally this move should be done in a Freemotion station where you have access to two stacks that are close to each other. This allows you to use the most weight. Move the cables to the bottom of the towers and select an appropriate weight. Stand directly in between the uprights with the handles held at full extension. Keep your lower back slightly arched and shift your hips back and down. After you reach the bottom, drive through your heels extend your hips and knees, keeping the handles at full extension. Make sure your head and chest are held up throughout the movement.

6. Single-Leg Squat Pull

This is essentially a one-legged squat followed by a lat pull. But don’t be so quick to file this move in the “functional” file. Working unilaterally allows you to engage up to 20% more muscle and the use of multiple joints in your upper and lower body makes for a greater caloric burn and higher hormonal response than if you were to break this into its individual components.

Do it Right >> Position the levers at chest height, shoulder-width apart. Hold a handle in each hand in front of you, arms extended and palms facing floor. Lift your left foot off the floor in front of you and squat down on your right. Squat aggressively back to the start position, while simultaneously pulling the handles straight down to your sides, just below your pecs. Alternate legs each rep.


Mehmet Edip is an internationally published fitness model, writer, actor and competitive athlete. He is a one of the UK’s leading fitness models and has worked with some of the best photographers in the industry. He has been featured as a fitness model in publications such as Muscle & Fitness, FLEX, Ultra Fit, XF Sports, The Beef, and Miami Pro. As a writer, he has contributed to ​Muscle & Fitness, Mens, Ultra Fit Magazine, XF Sports Magazine and Miami Pro. You can visit his personal website, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.