Transform your upper body: Back and biceps cable workout

Incorporating back and bicep exercises into your workout routine is crucial for building a strong and balanced upper body. And when it comes to targeting these muscle groups effectively, a cable machine can be your secret weapon.

A cable machine allows you to engage the muscles in a controlled and dynamic manner, promoting growth, strength and stability.

woman in red shirt and black leggings starting reverse cable fly

The back muscles, such as the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids, play a significant role in maintaining good posture, improving overall upper body strength and preventing common issues like back pain. Meanwhile, the biceps, located at the front of the upper arm, are essential for performing daily tasks and providing arm strength.

By incorporating these cable machine exercises into your training routine, you can target and challenge your back and bicep muscles. 

Back and bicep muscles

​The primary muscles involved when training back and biceps include:


Latissimus dorsi (the “lats”) –These are the muscle that extends down the sides of your back and let you pull your arms downward and backward.

Teres major – A small muscle below the shoulder assists with drawing your arms down and back.

Rhomboids – Upper back muscles that elevate, retract and rotate the shoulder blades downward.

Middle and lower trapezius (“traps”) – These muscles retract and depress the shoulder blades.


Biceps brachii. Your primary biceps muscle twists the wrist outward and flexes the elbow. The biceps brachii is composed of two heads: the short head and the long head.

Brachialis. This one lies between your biceps and triceps on the outer side of your arm. It flexes the elbow.

Benefits of cable workouts in training

Research found that adding a cable machine to your back and bicep workouts offers versatility, constant tension, controlled movement, balanced development and progressive resistance for targeting the muscle groups:

  1. Versatility: Cable machines offer a wide range of exercises that target the back and biceps from various angles. With the ability to adjust the height, weight and attachments, you can perform isolation exercises for specific muscles or engage multiple muscle groups at the same time. 
  2. Constant tension: Unlike free weights, cable machines provide constant tension throughout the entire range of motion. This continuous resistance places a constant demand on the back and bicep muscles, leading to increased muscle activation and optimal muscle growth. 
  3. Controlled movement: Cable machines allow for smoother and more controlled movements. This controlled movement pattern is essential for proper form and technique, reducing the risk of injury and ensuring that the targeted muscles are effectively engaged. It also allows for a more focused contraction and extension of the muscles, maximizing the effectiveness of each repetition.
  4. Balanced development: Cable machines offer bilateral movement, allowing both sides of the body to work equally. This helps promote balanced development of the back and bicep muscles, preventing muscle imbalances and reducing the risk of injuries caused by muscular asymmetry. Additionally, cable exercises can target specific weak points or muscle imbalances, allowing for targeted strengthening and correction.
  5. Progressive resistance: Cable machines often have weight stacks or adjustable resistance settings, making it easier to gradually increase the load as you progress in strength. This progressive resistance ensures you can continuously challenge your muscles and muscle growth.

Back exercises with a cable machine

A well-developed and strong back is essential for upper body strength and posture. Cable exercises provide a versatile and effective way to target the back muscles from different angles, promoting muscle activation and growth in your back training.

Seated cable row

The cable row targets more of your middle back muscles. It supports 

  • Attach a V bar to the cable, sit on the bench and place your feet on the footrests.
  • Grab the bar with a neutral grip and push back until your arms are stretched and your knees are slightly bent.
  • Keeping your back straight and chest up with your shoulders forward, pull back through your elbows until your hands are at your sternum.
  • Briefly hold and then slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat

Variations: Single-arm cable row

Bent-over rows

Cable rows a compound exercise that works your back muscles and core muscles

bent over rows for lower back cable exercise
  • Attach a short bar handle straight bar to a low pulley. 
  • Stand back with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width, knees slightly bent and your upper body slightly forward with an underhand grip on the bar and your palms facing up.
  • Pull the bar towards your stomach. Remember to contract your back muscles and core as you bring the bar up to your abdominals.
  • Extend your arms and return the bar to the starting position.
  • Repeat.

Cable Romanian deadlift

  • Place the cable pulley setting on the bottom level of the cable machine.
  • Place your feet hip-width apart and grab the cable bar.
  • Start in an upright position with your knees slightly bent.
  • Hinge forward at the hips while keeping your back and arms straight.
  • Slowly lower the bar until it reaches the middle of your shins. Pause before driving through your heels and pulling the cable bar back up to your waist.
  • Repeat.

Straight arm lat pull down exercise

  • Attach a cable rope attachment or straight bar above head level.
  • Step back so that you can lean forward slightly to reach up with extended arms and grab rope with a neutral grip (bar with overhand grip)
  • Brace your core while pulling down with your arms straight until your hands reach thigh level.
  • Pause, then slowly return to starting position.
  • Repeat

Wide-grip lat pulldown

  • Sit down facing the cable machine with the cable bar overhead.
  • Keep your elbows slightly in front of you with your arms fully stretched upwards. Grip the cable bar with both hands.
  • As you pull the cable handle down, keep your chest up and elbows in line with your hips as you pull the bar down to chest level. 
  • Control the movement and return to the starting position.
  • Repeat

Reverse cable crossover

Reverse cable fly targets your upper back muscles.

woman in red shirt and black leggings starting reverse cable crossover
woman in red shirt and black leggings starting reverse cable fly
  1. Stand in the center of a cable crossover apparatus. Plant your feet on the floor shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly.
  2. Start with hands crossed in front of you at shoulder height, with the left high cable in your right hand and the right in your left hand.
  3. While maintaining a slight bend in your elbows and by using your rear delts, pull your elbows out and back until your arms are in line with your shoulders.
  4. Gently draw the cable ends forwards and inwards to return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the desired number of reps.

Single-arm lat pulldowns

  1. Sit down with your thighs under the leg support, grasp the handle with one hand, keep your chest up, and look slightly up.
  2. Inhale and pull the handle towards your side.
  3. Exhale and slowly return the handle until your arm is extended again.

Biceps exercises with cable machine

When building strong and defined biceps, cable exercises are highly effective in targeting the muscles from different angles and providing constant tension throughout the range of motion in your biceps workout routine.

Cable curl

  • Hook a straight bar attachment up to a cable machine, and set the pulley to the low position.
  • Grab the bar with your arms extended and hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing away from you.
  • Keeping your elbows tucked and your upper arms locked in place, curl the bar as close to your shoulders as you can.
  • Slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.

Cable preacher curl

An alternative to preacher curls using an EZ bar and preacher bench.

  • Start by placing an incline bench in front of a cable machine and attaching a handle to the bottom pulley.
  • Rest your arm against the bench and extend it fully.
  • Using your biceps, pull your arms up until your biceps touch your forearms.
  • Hold for a count, isolating and squeezing the biceps, and then lower the bar back to starting position.
  • Repeat and then switch arms.

Rope hammer curl

Using a rope attachment allows you to target your biceps a little differently than with a bar or handles.

woman in red shirt with black leggings starting cable rope curl
woman in red shirt with black leggings doing cable rope curl
  • Attach a rope attachment to a low pulley and stand facing the machine.
  • Grasp the rope with a neutral (palms-in) grip and stand straight up, keeping the natural arch of the back.
  • Put your elbows in by your side and keep them stationary during the entire movement.
  • Using your biceps, pull your arms up until your biceps touch your forearms.
  • Lower your biceps keeping tension in the cable.

Back and bicep workout with a cable machine

Wide grip lat pull down

Cable row
Rope hammer curl

Reverse cable crossover

Straight arm pull down
Cable preacher curl

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