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One of the most common pieces of equipment you’ll see in a commercial gym is the cable machine. Whether that’s a dual adjustable pulley or a cable crossover, both are very versatile allowing you to carry out a wide range of exercises for a whole body workout.
Due to their versatility, they’re also becoming increasingly popular for home gym owners.
What Is A Cable Machine?
A cable machine is available in 3 main varieties
Dual Adjustable Pulley
This piece of gym equipment features two weight stacks positioned opposite to one another but at an outward angle
High Low Pulley
A single stack machine which can either be freestanding or wall mounted
A machine made up of two weight stacks that sit opposite one another and are connected by a crossbeam.
All of the weight stacks run vertically on linear rails and are pulled by way of cables which run over rotating pulleys.
To maximise the versatility of the cable machine you’re going to need a set of cable attachments. The good news is that there’s many to choose from and most are of an affordable price. By investing in a variety of gym cable attachments you’ll be able to perform many exercises and work all your muscles.
In this article we’re going to be looking at the best gym cable attachments and what exercises you do with them.
Best Gym Cable Attachments
D Handle Attachment
D handles, sometimes called a stirrup handle, are usually of solid steel construction and designed for exercises that will target your upper body. They tend to be available to purchase separately but can sometimes come in pairs. The handles are coated with either zinc, nickel, dipped in rubber or have a ceramic coating such as cerakote applied.
Something to look out for is knurling. If you tend to perform heavy weight exercises, a knurled handle could be useful by improving your grip strength.
Below are some exercises you can perform when using a D handle attachment.
- Pallof Press – to improve core strength and posture.
- Single Arm Tricep Extension – to isolate the triceps increasing mass and strength.
- Bicep Curls – you can use two D handles to work both biceps at the same time or perform the exercise unilaterally.
- Single Arm Overhead Press – to work the shoulders.
- Cable Trap Shrug – you’ll need two handles for this exercise which will activate the upper trapezius muscles.
- High-Low Cable Flyes – to work your upper chest muscles and shoulders.
Tricep Rope Attachment
The triceps rope is a thick and durable rope with rounded rubber stoppers at either end. They are very lightweight and comfortable to use. You can target your upper body muscles including your arms, upper back, and abdominals.
- Overhead Triceps Extension – a good alternative to the skull crusher exercise.
- Tricep Pushdowns – to effectively isolate the triceps.
- Face Pulls – to activate your anterior delts and triceps.
- Abdominal Cable Crunch – to isolate and work your core muscles.
- Cable Pull Through – to activate the glutes and hip extensors.
The ankle strap attachment, sometimes called ankle cuffs, simply attach to the pulley and wrap around the ankle allowing you to perform a range of leg exercises working one leg at a time. They are comfortable to wear being made from thick nylon webbing and can be adjusted to fit and fasten on with Velcro.
- Side Leg Raise – hip abduction movement to work your outer thighs and lower back muscles.
- Cable Glute Kickback – to target your gluteal muscles.
- Leg Extension – to activate the quadriceps.
- Hamstring Curl – for isolation of the hamstrings.
Short Straight Bar Attachment
The straight bar cable attachment is of shorter design allowing you to undertake close grip exercises. Depending on the manufacturer some will have knurling on the handles to improve your grip during exercise or they may feature rubber grips. You can expect to pay more for a knurled handle.
A good alternative to the straight bar attachment is the ez curl bar. These are the same length but have undulated design for different grip positions which keeps stress off your wrist joints. All of the exercise suggested below can be performed with either the straight bar or ez curl bar.
- Cable Deadlift – the deadlift will work the muscles of the posterior including the glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles.
- Lat Pullover – as the name suggests, this exercise will isolate the latissimus dorsi.
- Low Cable Bent Over Row – targets the muscles of the mid back, specifically the traps and rhomboids.
- Cable Upright Row – this exercise will work the muscles of the upper back and medial deltoids.
The V grip attachment is like two D handles but joined together to form a V shape. It allows you to perform neutral, close grip exercises such as the ones mentioned below.
It’s probably one of the least versatile when using on a cable machine. However, aside from using this attachment on a cable machine, you can also perform exercises with a barbell such as t-bar rows and pull ups.
- Seated Low Rows – a neutral grip exercise to work the upper back, lats and biceps.
- Neutral Grip Pulldown – keeps the palms facing in to specifically work the lats.
Lat Pulldown Bar
The lat bar is the longest cable attachment and is either available as a straight bar or with ends that turn down. Its length allows for various grip options whether you choose a wide or narrower grip so that you can effectively target different muscle groups.
- Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns – a good pulling exercise to improve back strength along with posture and mobility.
- Wide Grip Low Row – a good all overall upper body exercises that works muscle of the back, chest, arms and abdominals.
- Upright Rows – performing a wide grip row will prevent your elbows from going too high minimising stress to the joints.
Gym Cable Attachment Features
Before investing in any new cable attachments there are a few things to consider.
Whether you have your very own cable machine or make use of one in your local gym, make sure you know that the attachments will be compatible with the pulley system. Whilst many attachments simply hook on by way of a carabiner, it’s worth ensuring that they will fit properly and not be impeded by the design of the cable machine.
Comfort & Grip
As mentioned above, there are different variations of attachments and some of these will be more comfortable to use when performing specific exercises.
Neutral grip and ez bar attachments are much easier on the joints allowing you to perform exercises with a natural plane of motion. So, if you have any pre-existing issues with wrists, elbows or shoulders consider these ones over straight bar attachments.
Some bars will have a fat grip option and if you want to improve grip and forearm strength whilst you train, these could be a good option for you.
Good quality attachments will often have knurling. This is the crosshatch pattern on the grips which help to improve grip during exercise. In place of any knurling, you would usually have a rubber sleeve like grip. Whilst knurling can wear away over time, especially if it’s quite shallow, it’s still more durable when compared to rubber grips.
Low-cost imports tend to be made with lower quality steel which if often not as strong. High quality attachments can be made with solid steel handles and a good knurling pattern. For rope attachments look at things such as the rubber stops and check for any fraying of the rope.
Also look at the attachment points, are they made with thick steel plate with heavy duty carabiners? If so, these will be much cheaper than those made with thinner material.
If you want to perform heavy lifts, strong attachments are vital to be able to withstand these larger weight loads. Remember, that some weight stacks are 150kg so that’s a lot of force going through these attachments.
Think about the cable exercises you want to perform so that you select the right attachments to meet your training needs. Many of the above attachments can be interchangeable.
For example, a bicep curl can be performed with a straight bar, rope attachment or D handle with some exercises being easier and more comfortable to execute depending on the attachment used.
You can perform a wide variety of different exercises when you have a good selection of attachments to use with your cable machine. You can target muscles from different angles with the weight stacks providing a consistent amount of tension on the muscles during lifting. This leads to greater strength gains and muscle hypertrophy.
Using a cable machine, when compared to free weights, moves much smoother with less chance of injury and stress on the joints. So, if you’re new to training, performing workouts using cables is a great starting point.
Remember to choose attachments that can withstand the weight load you plan on pulling and gives you enough versatility for a whole-body workout.