Ready to up your chest game and achieve some seriously impressive gains but getting a bit bored of the same old barbell and dumbbell routine? Look no further than the trusty cable machine! While the bench press and push-ups are classic choices for building a strong upper body, research suggests that cable chest exercises may actually be more effective for promoting muscle hypertrophy and strength due to a better range of motion during upper body exercises like chest and overhead presses.
And let’s be real, who doesn’t want a massive, defined chest? In this article, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the best cable chest exercises to add some variety to your routine and really target those pecs. From flys to presses, these moves will help you carve out a chest worthy of a superhero. So grab your gym bag and let’s get pumped!
What’s A Cable Machine And Why You Should Train Chest On A Cable Machine
A cable crossover machine is a type of exercise equipment that consists of two towers, each with a cable pulley and weight stack. The towers are independent of each other, so each side can be worked individually. To use the machine for chest exercises, you attach stirrup handles to the cable pulleys and position yourself at the center of the machine, equidistant from both towers.
This allows each side to have an equal range of motion. To adjust the weight load, you can simply pull and insert the pin into the desired hole on the weight stack, with each plate labeled to indicate the amount of weight being used. The lower you go on the stack, the heavier the weight will be.
Talking about the benefits, Cable exercises are effective for building and toning the pectoral muscles and can also aid in reducing chest fat. The cable crossover machine offers a wide range of chest exercises by allowing for manipulation of angles and the use of different attachments. You can also modify your body position or use benches and seats in conjunction with the cables.
From standing, sitting, or lying positions, you can perform a variety of free weight chest presses and flys on the cable machine, and easily adjust the weight load as needed. One advantage of the cable machine is that it provides constant tension, unlike free weights which have a strength curve due to gravitational tension. This means that when performing a cable chest exercise, the muscle is under tension for a longer period of time, which can be beneficial for muscle growth.
Benefits Of Cable Chest Workouts
Cables offer numerous benefits for chest exercises, including the ability to perform a wide range of exercises and variations, constant tension on the muscles, joint-friendly movement, and ease of use with adjustable weight. They provide more flexibility and versatility in terms of movement and angle, and can be safer for the joints due to a natural range of motion.
Cable machines are convenient for both beginners and experienced fitness enthusiasts and mentioned below are their top benefits.
1. Adjustable Origin Point And Loading Angle
The cable towers on a cable machine allow you to adjust the angle of the pulleys to any position from the top to the bottom, enabling you to target your muscles from various angles. This offers greater versatility in your workouts than using free weights alone.
For instance, you can perform a cable fly with the cables angled from above (a high to low fly) to focus on the lower chest, or angled from below (a low to high fly) to target the upper chest. The ability to change the angles, as well as other training variables, allows for a wide range of exercises and added variety in your workouts.
2. Safer Than Free Weights
Cable machines offer several benefits for chest training, including reduced risk of injury and ease on the joints. The weight stack on a cable machine limits the amount of weight you can lift, decreasing the risk of overloading the weights and causing injury.
Cable machines are also generally safer than using barbells, and they allow for easy bail-out from exercises if needed. This makes them a suitable option for training to failure and maximizing muscle growth and strength benefits.
In addition, cable exercises are suitable for beginners as they require less technique and form than barbell or dumbbell exercises, making them a good choice for those who are new to lifting or have difficulty with conventional lifts. Cable chest exercises are also useful for more advanced athletes who want to focus on isolating the pecs. Overall, cable machines offer versatility, effectiveness, and efficiency for training the chest.
The use of free weights puts a significant amount of weight on the joints, which can be problematic for individuals with injuries or weaknesses in the shoulders, elbows, or wrists.
In contrast, using a cable machine involves pulling or pushing the weight, rather than the weight resting directly on the body. As a result, this type of exercise is typically easier on the joints and less likely to cause or exacerbate injuries.
4. Versatile And Easy To Set Up
The ability to quickly adjust the weight and perform a variety of exercises without the need to change equipment makes cable machines a convenient and efficient choice for many individuals. Overall, the versatility and ease of use of cable machines make them an effective and efficient choice for a variety of strength training workouts.
5. Works During Both Concentric And Eccentric Phases
While free weight exercises often primarily target the concentric (contraction) phase of muscle movement, cable machines engage the muscles throughout the entire range of motion, including the eccentric (relaxation) phase. This results in a more complete muscle workout and can lead to increased strength and muscle growth.
Cable machines provide a unique advantage in that they allow for strengthening during both the concentric and eccentric phases of movement, leading to a more well-rounded and effective workout.
Top 10 Cable Chest Exercises
1. Cable Bench Press
Cable machines can be a great alternative to traditional bench pressing with free weights, as they allow for a more continuous and controlled range of motion. The resistance provided by the cables can also provide an additional challenge for the muscles, particularly at the peak of the movement when the muscles are required to maintain tension.
Additionally, the ability to adjust the weight and resistance allows for a customizable workout that can be progressed as your strength increases. Using cables for the bench press can be a safe and effective way to challenge the chest muscles and can be a useful tool for those who do not have access to a spotter or who prefer to work out alone. As with any exercise, it is important to use proper form and technique to ensure safety and maximize the effectiveness of the workout.
How To Do Cable Bench Press
To perform the cable crossover bench press using a cable machine:
- Place a flat bench in the center of the cable crossover machine and adjust the handles to the lowest setting.
- Lie on your back on the bench, grip the handles, and bring them up to the level of your chest.
- Engage your core and contract your chest muscles to push the handles upward, extending your arms. It is important to stop before your elbows fully extend.
- Hold at the peak of the movement for a moment, focusing on engaging the chest muscles.
- Slowly lower the handles back to the starting position, taking care to control the movement. Hold for a moment at the bottom before repeating the exercise.
- Repeat the movement for the desired number of reps.
It is important to use proper form and technique when performing this exercise to ensure safety and maximize the effectiveness of the workout.
2. Standing Cable Fly – High To Low
The standing cable fly (high to low) is a chest exercise that involves using a cable machine to perform a fly motion from a high to low position. This exercise targets the lower head of the pectoralis major muscle and the inner chest, similar to other fly exercises. To perform this exercise, you can stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in a bilateral stance or adopt a staggered stance with your torso slightly leaned forward. Both stances can be effective for working the chest muscles, although the staggered stance may allow for heavier weights.
How To Do Standing Cable Fly – High To Low
- Stand facing away from the cable machine, with the cables set at the highest point and the handles attached.
- Grip the handles with a palms-down grip, and step forward far enough to create tension in the cables.
- Engage your core and keep a slight bend in your elbows as you bring the handles down and in until they meet at the bottom out in front of your hips, in a controlled and fluid motion.
- Squeeze your chest muscles and then bring the handles back to the starting position.
- Repeat the movement for the desired number of reps.
3. Standing Cable Fly – Low To High
The standing cable fly (low to high) is a chest exercise that involves using a cable machine to perform a fly motion from a low to a high position. This exercise targets the upper chest and front deltoids, as the movement involves shoulder flexion and adduction.
How To Do Standing Cable Fly – Low To High
- Stand with your back toward the cable machine with the handles attached and positioned at hip level, with your arms down and back and a slight bend in your elbows. Engage your core and retract your shoulder blades to create a stretch in your chest muscles.
- Exhale and bring your arms up and in until they meet at about shoulder height, squeezing your chest muscles.
- Slowly return your arms back to the starting position, feeling the stretch in your chest muscles. Be sure to keep your chest up and your shoulder blades back throughout the exercise.
- Repeat the movement for the desired number of reps.
4. Mid-Cable Chest Fly
Like the dumbbell fly performed on a flat bench, the cable fly targets the pecs and front deltoids in isolation. The resistance curve is flat with cables, meaning you get a consistent load on your pecs over the whole range.
Assemble the equipment by putting the handles at a level just below shoulder level. You should stand in the center of the crossover machine and take a small forward step to extend your pecs and front delts at the outset of your workout.
How To Do Mid-Cable Chest Fly
- Stand facing the cable machine with the handles attached and positioned at shoulder level, with a slight bend in your elbows and your arms brought back as far as you comfortably can. Engage your core and retract your shoulder blades to create a stretch in your chest muscles.
- Exhale as you bring your arms to the center, keeping your elbows fixed and your shoulders pinned back. Use your chest muscles to power the movement by contracting them.
- Squeeze your chest muscles as your arms reach the center, then slowly return your arms back to the starting position, feeling the stretch in your chest muscles.
- Repeat the movement for the desired number of reps.
5. Cable Standing Chest Press
The standing chest press, as well as the kneeling chest press, can be a more functional and effective option for horizontal pressing exercises compared to supine or pushup variations. This is because they require greater core strength and rotary stability, as the trainee must maintain their own balance and alignment without the support of a bench or other rigid structure.
In addition, the freedom of the shoulder blades during these exercises allows for greater protraction, leading to a greater contraction of the pectoral muscles and increased activation of the serratus anterior. Overall, the standing and kneeling chest press variations can be a valuable addition to a strength training routine for their functional benefits and targeted muscle activation.
How To Do Cable Standing Chest Press
- Stand in the middle of the cable machine with a handle in each hand and step forward a few feet to create a staggered stance, with one leg in front of the other. Your back foot should be on tiptoes, but your front foot should be planted firmly on the floor.
- Retract your shoulder blades and bring your arms to a 90-degree angle, with your head up and your core engaged. This is your starting position.
- Press forward through elbow extension until your hands meet at the center, squeezing your chest muscles.
- Slowly return to the starting position, feeling the stretch in your chest muscles at the bottom range.
- Repeat the movement for the desired number of reps, remembering to switch which leg is leading on the next set.
6. Seated Cable Chest Press
The seated cable press is an exercise that involves using a cable machine to perform chest presses while seated. This exercise can help to isolate the pectoralis major muscle and can be a good option for those looking to focus on this muscle group.
The back rest provided by the seat can provide increased stability during the exercise, although it may slightly limit the range of motion. Despite this, the seated cable press can still be an effective isolation exercise for the chest muscles.
How To Do Seated Cable Chest Press
- Hold each handle with a pronated grip, keep your back tight against the bench and pull your shoulder blades back. Put your arms in line with your wrists so that the movement comes from your elbows. This is where you’ll start.
- Extend your elbows and press from the middle of your chest.
- Stop when your hands meet or just cross them at the end of the movement and squeeze. At the end of the move, you don’t have to lock your elbows to get a full contraction.
- Slowly move back to where you started. Less quickly is better. At the bottom range, really feel the stretch in your chest, and then do it again.
7. Single Arm Seated Cable Press
The seated single arm cable press is an isolation exercise that involves using a cable machine to perform chest presses with one arm at a time. This exercise allows you to focus on one pectoral muscle at a time and can be performed using medium weights to maintain unilateral tension.
It is important to engage your core and maintain proper form and technique throughout the exercise to ensure safety and maximize the effectiveness of the workout. This exercise can be a useful tool for targeting and strengthening the chest muscles and can be modified by adjusting the resistance to match your strength and fitness level.
How To Do Single Arm Seated Cable Press
- Set the pulleys so that they are at shoulder height and put a bench with a back about three feet in front of them. The back of the bench should be facing away from the machine.
- Sit on the bench with your feet flat on the ground and grab a single handle with an overhand grip. In the starting position, your elbows are at shoulder height and at a 45-degree angle to your upper body.
- To reach full extension, press your arm forward and a little bit inward.
- The above marks one rep, repeat for prescribed number of reps.
8. Cable Flat Bench Fly
Cable flat bench flys can be an effective exercise for targeting the outer and inner chest muscles because they involve constant tension on the muscles throughout the entire range of motion. Unlike dumbbell flys, which have a “break point” at the top of the concentric phase where the muscles can rest, cable flat bench flys maintain tension on the muscles throughout the entire exercise.
To perform this exercise, you should adjust the handles of the cable machine to an angle slightly above the level of the bench and raise and lower the handles while keeping your arms almost fully extended. This will help to isolate and engage the chest muscles, particularly the outer and inner areas.
How To Do Cable Flat Bench Fly
- Set both pulleys as low as they can go, place a flat bench in the cable station, and choose the weight you want to lift.
- Sit on the flat bench’s end and grab each handle one at a time. Lay back, move into place, and hold the handles at chest height.
- Press the handles all the way to the lockout position as you flex your pecs and extend your elbows.
- Keep your elbows slightly bent, move only at the shoulder joint, and slowly open your arms as you stretch your chest.
- Bring the handles back together at chest height and flex your pecs to get back to the starting position.
- Slowly move back to the starting position and repeat for the required number of reps.
9. Cable Incline Bench Press
The incline cable bench press is a variation of the traditional bench press that focuses on the upper chest and front deltoid muscles. To perform this exercise, you will need to set up a bench at a 30-45 degree angle in front of the cable machine, with the cables angled behind you.
To start, you will lower the handles all the way to the bottom of the pulleys and then press upwards, at an angle, to complete the concentric phase of the exercise. This angle of motion will emphasize the muscles of the upper chest and front deltoids, making it a great exercise for targeting these areas.
How To Do Cable Incline Bench Press
- Grab the handles with your arms bent at a 90-degree angle, brace your core, and keep your back against the bench and your feet firmly on the floor.
- Place the handles on either side of your chest, then breath out and move your arms up and in until your hands touch.
- At the top of the movement, squeeze your chest, and then breathe in as you slowly bring your arms back down. Feel the stretch at the bottom and then do it again.
10. Cable Decline Bench Press
The cable decline press is an exercise that targets the lower portion of the pectoralis major muscle (or “pec major”), as well as other muscle groups of the chest. To perform this exercise, you will need to set up a bench in a decline position, with the backrest at a 15-30 degree angle, in front of the cable machine.
The cables should be angled behind you. To begin the exercise, you will lower the handles all the way to the bottom of the pulleys and then press upwards, using your chest muscles to lift the weight. This exercise can be an effective way to build strength and size in the lower chest, as well as other muscle groups of the chest.
How To Do Cable Decline Bench Press
- Grab the handles with your arms bent at a 90-degree angle, tighten your core, and keep your back against the bench.
- Exhale and move your arms up and in at an angle so that when you reach the top of the press, your hands are just below chest level.
- Squeeze your chest, then take a deep breath as you slowly lower your arms. Feel the stretch at the bottom and then do it again.
Cable machine exercises can be an effective way to work out the chest muscles, as they allow for increased “time under tension” and can help to target specific areas of the chest, such as the upper, lower, inner, and outer regions.
Cable exercises can also help to improve overall strength and fitness by recruiting the shoulder, triceps, and core muscles during the movements. If you are looking to see significant strength gains in your chest and improve your overall physical fitness, consider incorporating cable chest exercises into your workout routine.
Rahul is a sports and performance consultant. Over the course of his 15-year career in the fitness sector, he has held positions as a strength and conditioning instructor, gym owner, and consultant.
He is deeply committed to assisting people in finding happiness and feeling good about themselves.
Rahul has a master’s degree in exercise science and is a certified NSCA CSCS and CISSN.