Cable machine exercises for legs

Typically when you are in the gym you see folks using the cable machine to focus on their upper body for shoulders, arms, back and chest. However, you can train and get a great leg day workout too.

Although free weights are effective, the cable machine provides constant resistance and constant tension that allows you to supplement your leg workouts and your workout routine.

woman doing cable squat using cable leg machine exercises

You can use a cable machine to train your lower body muscles with many of the same exercises you do with free weights. Using a cable pulley machine or cable crossover machine is a great alternative to using free weights for your leg workouts.

Cable machine exercises can relieve you from the added compression by placing weights on your back and shoulders.

For example, whether you do deadlifts or stiff-legged deadlifts with free weights or cables, it is important to use proper form when performing exercises.

Muscle group you will work

  • Glute muscles
  • Hip abductors
  • Hip adductors
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Core muscles

What are the benefits of cable machine exercises?

Provides more time under tension

The cable machine provides constant tension, unlike free weights. The constant tension allows for more time under tension, which will fatigue the muscles with less total volume, making your workouts very efficient. 

Increases Range of Motion

When you change the way that your body is positioned and how the cable is angled, you gain more control over the range of motion. You can make it more or less, allowing you to recruit more stabilizing muscle fibers.

Hits a variety of angles

Using a cable pulley machine, you can work your body diagonally, horizontally and virtually any other angle.

Tools for cable workout

Best cable machine exercises to work your lower body

Cable squats

Targets your hamstrings, quads and glutes

  • Attach the seated row handle to the lowest position.
  • Lower into a squat position by pushing your glutes and hip area back as you bend at your knees – be sure to keep your body weight in your heels and a straight back.
  • Your thighs should be parallel to or just below the floor, hold this position before standing back into the starting position.

Reverse lunge

Targets your glutes and quads

  • Attach a triceps rope handle at the bottom end of the machine and walking the cable out.
  • Facing the cable machine with your feet at shoulder-width and hold the handles about hip level.
  • Take a step back into the reverse lunge, lowering yourself to the floor as you bend your knees.
  • Step back up to restart the process.

Hip extensions

Targets glutes

  • Attach an ankle strap to the lowest position
  • Place your working leg in front and non-working leg back.
  • Grab a comfortable place on the machine to stabilize your body.
  • Keep an upright posture and make sure your leg stays straight at all times.
  • Slowly swing your working leg all the way back until your foot is just beneath the level of your glutes in a controlled manner while squeezing your glutes.
  • Then slowly return leg to the starting position but keep it off the ground so you can swing freely.
  • Repeat for desired sets and reps.
  • Repeat with the opposite leg.

Cable deadlifts

Targets your glutes and hamstrings

  • Attach the handle bar to the bottom of the cable machine.
  • Keep your hands at shoulder-width using an overhand grip.
  • Walk back a couple of steps and stand straight, feet in line with your hips and arms extended. Hinge your hips back, lower your chest and bring the handle back towards the machine.
  • Keep your back straight and your core tight.
  • Use your glutes and hamstrings to pull yourself back up and squeeze your glutes once back in the standing position. 

Cable pull-throughs

Targets glutes and hamstrings

  • Attach a rope handle in the lower position on a cable pulley for this hip hinge exercise.
  • Turn your back against the pulley, with the cable between your thighs, and take a few steps forward.
  • Bend forward by hinging in your hips, and let the rope handle move backward between your thighs.
  • Extend your hip again, and return to standing.
  • Pull throughs target your glutes and hamstrings.

Cable lateral lunges

Targets quads, hamstrings and inner thighs

  • Start by attaching an ankle strap to your left leg and hooking up the cable pulley on the lowest setting.
  • Once hooked in stand with your right shoulder (opposite the leg you have the ankle strap on) facing the cable machine.
  • Make a large side step with your left leg. Your knee should bend into a flexed, lunge position.
  • Hold this for one second.

Single leg deadlifts

Targets glutes, hamstrings and adductors

  • Attach the single handle at the lowest position and face the cable machine.
  • With the hand opposite to the leg you’re working on, extend the arm and keep your feet together.
  • Bend forward in your hips, keep one leg on the ground and the other behind you in the air.
  • Your chest should come down only as much as the leg behind you comes up.
  • Keep your spine straight and tense your core muscles to maintain balance.
  • Use your glute in the working leg to pull yourself back up.

Kneeling hip thrusts

Targets glutes

  • In a kneeling position, position yourself with the straight bar attachment over your lower abdomen and pelvis area.
  • Place your feet together shoulder-width apart and they should form a triangle with your knees.
  • Start by sitting on your feet then lift your body up and out, extending your hips.
  • Squeeze your glutes together at the end range of movement.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of sets and reps.

Kickback

Targets glutes

  • Stand facing towards the cable machine with the ankle cuff around your ankle.
  • For support of your upper body, gently hold the machine.
  • Lean forward halfway and keep a straight back.
  • Bend your left knee slightly and lift the right foot off the floor.
  • You have to push through the right heel and extend your right leg as much as you can behind you.
  • Do not arch your lower back and gradually return to your starting position.

Cable machine lower body workout

ExerciseSetsReps
Cable squats38-10
Kneeling hip thrusts310
Cable reverse lunges312 per leg
Cable pull-throughs310-12
Kickbacks312 per leg

Wrap up

Using cables means that you can train hard without overloading your spine and target individual leg muscles more precisely. Using cables also will add some variety to your leg workouts, and variety is critical for avoiding training plateaus.

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