Beyond Dumbbells – The Top 10 Best Cable Back Exercises

Back, Strength Training

Cable machines are beloved by personal trainers, but are often overlooked by new weight trainers who are more familiar with dumbbells and free weights.  If you want to get specific about which muscles you’re training, or just try something new to spice up your back workout routine, you won’t want to sleep on cable back exercises.


The Effectiveness of Cable Back Exercises

Cable back exercises can be highly effective for targeting and strengthening the muscles of the back, particularly for someone who is just starting with strength training. Compared to dumbbells, cable machines provide constant tension throughout the entire range of motion, which ensures that the muscles are engaged throughout the exercise.

Cable exercises also offer a variety of different angles and positions that can be easily adjusted to target different muscles in the back. This makes them an invaluable addition to any strength training routine. While rumors circulate about the effectiveness of machines, it’s been proven time and again that the results are consistent, no matter what tools you use.


Our Step-by-Step Training Video


Extra Benefits of Cable Back Exercises

Beyond their effectiveness, cable machines have lots to offer weight trainers. They are:

  • Underrated – With less demand for these versatile machines, you can be sure there won’t be a line at the gym
  • Safe – Cable machines give you the same results as free weights without any danger or need for a spotter
  • Versatile – You can change everything from the position of the pulley to the kind of grip you use, giving you complete control over your workout and allowing you to focus on a variety of muscle groups


There’s a lot to be gained from taking the risk and trying something new next time back day rolls around.


Top 10 Best Cable Back Exercises (in no particular order)

If you’re trying the cable machine for the first time, it can be pretty intimidating. Here are ten of the most effective, beginner-friendly cable back exercises to get you started.


1. Seated Row (Low, Mid, or High)

Seated rows target the entire back, including the lats, traps, and rhomboids, as well as the biceps and forearms.

  1. Pulley at low, mid, or high height depending on which area of the back you want to target.
  2. Sit facing the machine with your feet resting on the platform and your knees slightly bent.
  3. Grasp the handles and pull toward your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  4. Slowly release and repeat.

Variations of the seated row can also be done with a wide grip, narrow grip, or single arm to target different areas of the back.


2. Face Pulls

Face Pulls are a great exercise for targeting the rear deltoids and upper back. They also engage the biceps and the muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint.

  1. Pulley at chest height with handles.
  2. Face the machine and grab handles, palms facing inward, arms fully extended.
  3. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the handles toward your face.
  4. Keep your elbows parallel to the ground, and pull until the handles are next to your ears.
  5. Slowly reverse the movement, keeping your back muscles engaged.

Adding this to your routine will improve posture, shoulder strength, and stability.


3. Lat Pulldowns

Lat pulldowns primarily target the latissimus dorsi muscles but also engage the biceps, trapezius, and rhomboids.

  1. Wide grip bar attached to top.
  2. Sit on the seat facing the machine, leaning back slightly as you grasp the bar.
  3. Pull the bar down to your chest, keeping your elbows close to your sides.
  4. Slowly reverse the motion.

Variations of lat pulldowns can be done with a narrow grip, reverse grip, or one arm at a time to target different muscles in the back.


4. Lat Pullovers

If you’re looking to work both your back and your chest, you might want to try a pullover as opposed to a pulldown.

  1. Pulley at the highest setting.
  2. Face the machine, grab the attachment, and take a few steps back, bending your upper body forward 45 degrees.
  3. Scoop the bar down toward your pelvis, lifting your chest slightly.
  4. Slowly return to the starting position.

The key to this exercise is maintaining a consistent posture as you work.


5. Single Arm Bent Over Row

This exercise targets the lats, rhomboids, and biceps.

  1. Pulley at knee height.
  2. Facing away from the machine, with the handle in your left hand. Step forward with the right foot.
  3. Bend forward at the hips, keeping your back straight and your left arm extended behind.
  4. Pull the handle toward your chest, then slowly return to starting position.

Make sure you do equal reps on both sides for the best results.


6. Cable Shrugs

Cable Shrugs target the upper back, traps, and neck muscles, which are often neglected in other back exercises.

  1. Pulley at the lowest setting.
  2. Face the machine and grab hold of the attachment, arms fully extended.
  3. Keeping your arms straight, shrug your shoulders towards your ears, engaging your traps.
  4. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly release.

To make this exercise more challenging, you can increase the weight on the cable machine or use one arm at a time.


7. Twisting Standing Row

Any exercise with twists helps target the obliques, which whittles away at the waist.

  1. Pulley at shoulder height.
  2. Stand facing the machine and grab the handle with both hands, arms extended out in front of you.
  3. Pull towards your chest, keeping your elbows close to your body.
  4. Twist your torso to the left as you pull, then twist to the right as you release. Repeat on both sides.

This exercise adds an element of rotational stability and works both sides of the body, making it an effective exercise for overall back strength.


8. Cable Deadlifts

Cable Deadlifts are a great exercise for targeting the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.

  1. Pulley at the lowest setting.
  2. Stand facing the machine and grab the handles, arms extended down in front of you.
  3. Hinge at the hips, keeping your back straight, and slowly lower the handles towards the ground.
  4. Engage your glutes and hamstrings to lift back up to the starting position.

Make sure to keep your core tight and your back straight throughout this exercise.


9. Bent Over Rows

Bent Over Rows are a compound exercise that targets the back muscles with the additional engagement of the biceps and core.

  1. Pulley at waist height.
  2. Bend forward at the hips, arms fully extended towards the machine.
  3. Pull the handles towards your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  4. Slowly release and repeat.

This exercise can use different grips to target slightly different muscle groups.


10. Kneeling Cable High Rows

This exercise primarily targets the upper back, including the traps and rhomboids, as well as the biceps and core muscles.

  1. Pulley at chest height.
  2. Kneel facing the machine and grab the handles above your head.
  3. Pull the handles towards your chest, keeping your elbows close to your sides.
  4. Slowly release and repeat.

Cable high rows can also be performed standing, but kneeling can help with stability and better isolate the back muscles.


Top 3 Pieces of Workout Equipment to Check Out


1. Valor Fitness Cable Machine

Valor Fitness Cable Machine

Check Best Price Amazon


2. WNOEY Cable Machine Attachment Set 

WNOEY Cable Machine Attachment Set 

Check Best Price Amazon


3. ER KANG Cable Station

ER KANG Cable Station

Check Best Price Amazon


Different Cable Attachments You Might Need

Cable attachments are versatile pieces of equipment that you can use when targeting your back muscles using cable machines; helping you perform a wide range of exercises. Here are some cable attachments commonly used for back workouts:


  • Straight Bar Attachment: Ideal for exercises like lat pulldowns, cable rows, and straight-arm pulldowns. The straight bar allows for a neutral grip, targeting different areas of the back.
  • Lat Pulldown Bar: Specifically designed for lat pulldown exercises, the pulldown bar offers a variety of grips, helping to target different parts of the back, especially the latissimus dorsi.
  • V-Bar Attachment: Great for close-grip pulldowns, cable rows, and seated cable rows, the V-Bar provides a close grip, emphasizing the middle and lower traps, rhomboids, and rear deltoids.
  • Single D-Handle Attachment: Useful for unilateral exercises like one-arm cable rows and single-arm lat pulldowns., the Single D-handle allows for independent arm movement, helping to address muscle imbalances.
  • Rope Attachment: Effective for face pulls, triceps pushdowns, and cable curls, the flexible rope allows for a wide range of motion, engaging different muscles in the back.
  • Cable Crossover Handles: Suitable for cable crossovers and various rotational exercises, the cable crossover handles enable a free range of motion and can be used for exercises that engage the entire back.
  • Rotating Straight Bar: Useful for exercises where wrist rotation is beneficial, such as face pulls, the rotating feature reduces wrist strain and allows for a more natural movement pattern.
  • Wide Grip Bar: Effective for wide grip lat pulldowns and wide grip cable rows, a wide grip bar targets the outer edges of the latissimus dorsi and helps in developing a wider back.


When incorporating cable attachments into your back workout, consider varying your grip and the exercises performed to ensure comprehensive development of the back muscles. Always prioritize proper form and control to maximize the effectiveness of your workouts and minimize the risk of injury.


Cable Back Exercises are Safe for the Back

While both cable exercises and free weights are valuable components of a well-rounded strength training program, cable exercises offer certain advantages that may be considered superior in specific situations. Unlike free weights, cables provide you with constant tension throughout the whole range of motion. This is beneficial for 2 main reasons, first, it provides increased muscle activation, and secondly, it limits the jerkiness, and risk of injury, you have with free weights.  Furthermore, the greater advantage of using cables is the fixed path of motion that doesn’t allow you to display proper form or lifting too heavy.


The Bottom Line

Whether you’re a seasoned weight trainer or new to the gym, incorporating cable back exercises into your routine can be a game changer for targeting specific muscles and keeping your workouts interesting and safe. Don’t be intimated by all of the attachment options, follow our advice above and give them a try this week to take your back training to the next level.

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