Centr trainer Luke Zocchi performs a cable decline chest fly using the Centr 1 Home Gym machine.
Movement
Centr Team

6 essential cable exercises for your upper-body workout

Centr Team

When every bench, rack and dumbbell at the gym is taken, you might be wondering if you can use a cable machine to get a great upper body workout.

Good news: you can use a cable machine to build your arms, chest, back and shoulders. Cable machine workouts are great for both compound and isolation movements, giving you plenty of variation and control when it comes to effective exercise and targeting specific muscles.

And it’s not just the upper body that can benefit from cable machines. With a large number of attachments and pulleys, cable machines are just as effective on leg day or for working your core as they are on chest day. How’s that for convenience?

Below, we’ve highlighted a few of our favorite upper-body cable machine exercises to build the tricep, bicep, chest, shoulder and back muscles.

From the garage to the gym, max your muscles the efficient way with Cable Builder – the 9-week cable machine workout program.

The big benefits of cable exercises

Considering adding cable machine exercises to your workout routine? Great decision – here are a few reasons why.

Constant tension: Cable exercises maintain constant tension on the muscles throughout the entire range of motion, which can lead to greater muscle activation and growth compared to some free-weight exercises.

Versatility: Cable machines allow for a wide range of exercises that can target every major muscle group, making it easy to switch between exercises during a workout.

Control and stability: The controlled path of the cable provides a stable and predictable resistance, which can help improve form and reduce the risk of injury whether you’re using an underhand grip or neutral grip.

Functional strength: Many cable exercises mimic real-world movements, helping improve functional strength and performance in daily activities and sports.

Adjustable resistance: The weight stack on a cable machine can be easily adjusted, allowing for quick changes in resistance to accommodate different strength levels and types of exercises.

Improved balance and coordination: Engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously with cable machine exercises can enhance balance, coordination, and core stability.

Isolation and compound movements: Cable machines enable both isolation exercises for targeting specific upper body muscles and compound movements that engage multiple muscle groups, supporting both targeted strength training and overall conditioning.

Suitable for all levels: whether you're a beginner or an advanced athlete, cable exercises can be adjusted to match your fitness level, making them a versatile tool in any workout regimen.

6 essential exercises for your cable machine upper-body workout

SAFETY NOTE: When performing exercises using the Centr 1, make sure you are standing on the front plate at all times.

1. Cable row

This upright row primarily targets your back muscles (rhomboids, traps and lats), as well as your biceps and rear deltoids. By strengthening your back and biceps, this exercise will increase your pulling power and improve your posture. It also engages your core muscles, boosting stability and balance.

How to do a cable row:

  1. Set the radial arms at the highest position.

  2. Stand on the front plate facing the machine, and grasp the handles in each hand with an overhand grip.

  3. Keep one foot on the plate, then step the other foot behind you for balance as you lean back so your arms are fully extended. (You can step either foot back – whichever feels most comfortable and steady.)

  4. Keeping your back straight, slowly pull the handles toward your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull back.

  5. Pause for a moment, then slowly extend your arms back to the starting position.

2. Cable straight-arm lat pulldown

Your latissimus dorsi are the biggest muscles in your upper body. This pulldown will strengthen and sculpt those big muscles, as well as your shoulders, triceps and core muscles. It’s also a great move to improve shoulder stability and posture, while enhancing your upper-body coordination.

How to do a cable straight-arm lat pulldown:

  1. Set the radial arms in a high position.

  2. Stand on the front plate facing the machine, and grasp the handles in each hand with an overhand grip.

  3. Keep one foot on the plate, with a slight bend in your knee, and step the other foot back for balance. Lean slightly forward at the hips and engage your core.

  4. Keeping your arms straight, pull the cables from head height down toward your sides by contracting your lat muscles.

  5. Pause briefly at the bottom of the movement, then slowly extend your arms upward to return to the starting position.

3. Cable chest press

The classic chest press targets your pectoralis major and minor, as well as your triceps and anterior deltoids, to develop size, strength and definition. It will also give your upper-body pushing power a lift and enhance shoulder stability.

How to do a cable chest press:

  1. Set the cable pulleys just below shoulder height.

  2. Facing away from the machine, keep one foot on the plate with a slight bend in the knee and step the other leg straight back – as if you were about to perform a lunge. Make sure your feet are planted solidly.

  3. Grab the handles with an overhand grip and bring your elbows to a 90 degree angle, level with your shoulders.

  4. Press the handles forward, extending your arms fully, bringing your fists together in front of your chest.

  5. Squeeze your chest muscles at the top of the movement.

  6. Slowly reverse the motion, bringing your hands back to the starting position with control.

4. Cable bicep curl

With good form, you can get the same pump for your biceps and forearm muscles from the cable machine as you would a set of dumbbells. As well as building your biceps, the curl increases grip strength and will help you nail everyday activities that involve pulling.

How to do a cable bicep curl:

  1. Set the radial arms at a low position, at around a 45 degree angle from the frame.

  2. Stand up tall, facing away from the machine, with one foot on the front plate and the other stepped slightly back for balance.

  3. Grab the handles, with your arms fully extended and palms facing forward.

  4. Keeping your upper arms stationary and elbows tucked in beside your ribs, slowly curl the handles toward your shoulders.

  5. Squeeze your biceps at the top of the curl, then gradually lower the handles back to the starting position with control.

5. Cable tricep pushdown

This exercise targets the triceps at the back of your upper arm to strengthen and tone. As well as pumping up your arm definition, it improves pushing and throwing power to give your sporting performance a lift.

How to do a cable tricep pushdown:

  1. Set the radial arms at a high position and attach two D handles (or a rope handle) to one side.

  2. Stand on the front plate, your feet around shoulder width apart, facing the cable with the two handles.

  3. Take a handle in each fist, arms bent at 90 degrees and elbows tucked in by your sides.

  4. Engage your core, then, keeping your upper arms stationary, press the handles down toward your thighs until your arms are fully extended.

  5. Pause briefly at the bottom, focusing on feeling the squeeze in your triceps.

  6. Slowly return to the starting position with control.

6. Cable chest fly

The tried and tested chest fly primarily targets your pectoralis major and minor, along with your shoulders and triceps. Every rep will be strengthening and shaping your chest, as well as increasing your pressing power.

How to do a cable chest fly:

  1. Set the cable pulleys just below shoulder height.

  2. Facing away from the machine, keep one foot on the plate with a slight bend in the knee and step the other leg straight back – as if you were about to perform a lunge. Your torso should be leaning forward slightly.

  3. Grab the handles with an overhand grip, bringing your arms out to the sides at just below shoulder height.

  4. Core engaged and keeping a slight bend in your elbows, slowly bring your hands forward in a bear hug motion – until your fists meet together in front of your chest.

  5. Feel the contraction in your chest muscles, then reverse the motion with control to return to the starting position.

Answering your cable machine questions

What workouts can you do on cable machines?
Cable machine workouts are best for strength and muscle building. You really can work your full body using a cable machine – it’s one of the most versatile pieces of workout equipment out there.

How effective are cable exercises?
Cable exercises can be very effective. But like any exercise, your form and choice of weight will determine exactly how effective they are. To build strength and muscle, you need to keep increasing your weight over time. Remember: form is everything.

Can you build muscle with just cables?
You sure can. We’ve even built an entire program – Centr 1 Strong – around cable machine exercises. Remember that you need progressive overload for muscle growth, which means you’ll need to add more weight over time to keep challenging your muscles and clocking gains. As long as you’re sure to increase the weight you’re lifting on the cable machine, you’ll come out on top.

The best cable machines from Centr

Looking for a cable machine that can be used for the entire range of cable exercises? Check out a few great options below, all of which come with a three-month digital subscription to Centr.

The Centr 1 Home Gym Functional Trainer: This powerful, compact functional trainer packs a 160lb (73kg) weight stack, frictionless pulleys and unique radial arms. Whether you’re looking to build, tone, or strengthen, you can perform hundreds of different exercises and access customized workout programs on the Centr app. The setup includes two D-handles, phone/tablet and water-bottle holders and hooks for accessories.

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Available from shop.centr.com and select retailers, the Centr 1 has a streamlined, low-profile design allowing it to fit into almost any room.

The Centr 2 Home Gym Functional Trainer: Call your favorite workout buddy because this innovative cable machine, which is suitable for any level, can be used solo or with a partner at the same time. Centr 2 comes with two 165lb (75kg) weight stacks (330lb/150kg in total), a built-in pull-up bar, a phone/tablet holder and 30 vertical swivel pulley positions. The unique design of the pulley system delivers an extended range of motion, giving you all the cable you need for any dynamic movement.

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Looking for a cable machine that includes a pull-up bar? The Centr 2 from shop.centr.com has what you need.

The Centr 3 Functional Trainer with Selectorized Smith Bar: You’ll struggle to find a more versatile home gym option than the Centr 3. Combining a functional cable machine, with a Smith machine and a pull-up bar, the Centr 3 takes all the features of the Centr 2 – pull-up bar, phone/tablet holder, a variety of pulley positions – and adds the option of squats and presses.

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With the Centr 3, available from shop.centr.com, you can keep your favorite cable machine exercise – cable crossovers, for example – then load up on a bench press to push your upper body further.

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