Essential Upper Body Cable Machine Exercises

Check out some of the best and most effective upper body exercises that you can do on a cable machine for better and quicker gains!

Essential Upper Body Cable Machine Exercises
María Rubio María Rubio
7 min read

Keeping your upper body strong can be challenging because of how many muscles there are. From your abs to your chest, going all the way to your shoulders and arms - plus the huge area that is your back. You just can’t neglect your upper body days, and the best way to keep them fun and fresh is by adding a variety of different movements to your routine, such as cable exercises!

There are plenty of benefits to using a cable machine, but the main one is that it gives you constant tension which allows you to challenge your muscles throughout the full range of motion of any exercise that you perform. This is ideal if your goal is to get stronger and bigger muscles, which is why cable machines are a staple in any strength training routine.

We’re going to show you the most essential exercises to do on a cable machine on your upper body days, so you can get that sculpted physique that you’ve been dreaming of in no time!

Single-arm cable lat pulldowns

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Starting strong with a unilateral exercise, this movement targets your lats, biceps, and middle back. The single-arm cable lat pulldown will help you achieve a stronger and more sculpted upper body one side at a time so you can also build functional strength in the process.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a D-handle to the high pulley of a cable machine and sit on a bench in front of it. (or sit beneath the pulley, like in the video above) Firmly plant your feet on the floor and make sure the handle is at a comfortable height.
  2. Grab the D-handle with your right hand in a neutral grip while you keep your left hand on your thigh for stability.
  3. Keeping your back straight, begin the movement by pulling the handle down until it reaches your right shoulder. Be careful not to lean sideways while you’re pulling from the handle.
  4. Pause for a moment while squeezing your lats, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
  5. Finish your reps and switch to the opposite side.

Side triceps cable pushdowns

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This is another unilateral movement for your upper body and not only that, but it’s also an isolation exercise! The side triceps cable pushdown truly challenges your triceps strength, hitting all three heads: the long head, the medial head, and the lateral head.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a D-handle to a high pulley on the cable machine and stand next to it, with your left side facing the machine. Your feet shoulder be shoulder-width apart and your back straight.
  2. Reach across your body and grab the handle with your right hand in an underhand grip. Your right elbow should be bent with your right hand in front of your left pec holding the handle.
  3. With your left hand on your hips for support, begin the movement by pulling from the handle down and away from the machine until your right arm is fully extended.
  4. Without locking your elbow, squeeze your triceps in this position, then bring the handle back up and repeat.
  5. Finish your reps and switch to the opposite side.

Cable triceps kickbacks

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This is an exercise that you can swap with the side triceps cable pushdown to add variety to your routine since both are effective isolation triceps exercises. This movement also targets the three triceps heads, with a higher focus on the lateral head.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a grip handle to a low pulley on a cable machine and grab it with your right hand, then take a step back and place your feet together on the floor.
  2. Bend at the waist until your upper body is almost parallel to the floor and slightly bend your knees for stability. Your right elbow should be bent so that you’re holding the grip handle to the side of your ribs.
  3. Placing your left hand on your hips or knees for stability, begin the movement by pulling the handle back and away from the machine, driving your elbow up until your right arm is completely extended behind you.
  4. Keeping this position, squeeze your right triceps for a moment, then slowly bring the handle back to your side and repeat.
  5. Finish your reps and switch to the opposite side.

Cable chest flys

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Looking to grow a bigger and stronger chest? The cable chest fly is the perfect movement for that! It will target your pectorals to help you give more definition to your upper body, giving it a dedicated workout that’s perfect to finish your chest days.

How to do it:

  1. Stand between two cable machines with a handle attached to a high pulley on both machines. Your feet should be staggered and your hips slightly bent forward for stability.
  2. Grab the handles with each hand so that your arms are open to your sides. Your elbows should be bent at a 45-degree angle and your hands facing forward.
  3. Bracing your core, begin the movement by bringing the handles forward and to the center so that they meet in front of you without locking your elbows.
  4. Hold this position for a moment, squeezing your pecs, then open your arms to bring the handles back and repeat.

Overhead biceps curls

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Similar to the cable chest flys, the overhead biceps curls will have you standing in between two cable machines to perform the bilateral movement. The difference will be in how you hold the handles, this time focusing on your biceps so you can grow stronger arms.

How to do it:

  1. Stand between two cable machines with a handle attached to a high cable pulley on both machines. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and firmly planted on the floor.
  2. Grab the handles with each hand so that your arms are open to your sides, completely extended while holding onto the handles with your hands facing upward.
  3. Keeping a straight back, begin the movement by curling your arms upward, bringing the handles up until they’re at each side of your head. The movement should mimick a flexing of the biceps.
  4. Squeeze your biceps in this position, then bring the handles back to the extended position and repeat.

Rear delts cable row

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When it comes to upper body exercises, it’s essential to include some deltoid exercises in there so you can strengthen your shoulder area. Focusing on your posterior deltoids not only will help you develop more rounded shoulders, but also a stronger back!

How to do it:

  1. Attach a rope handle to a high pulley on the cable machine, then grab each end of the rope with both hands and take a step back until your arms are extended in front of you. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and firmly planted on the floor.
  2. Begin the movement by driving your elbows out and back, pulling the rope to your chin until your elbows are slightly past your back. Make sure you’re not tucking in your shoulders.
  3. Hold this position while squeezing your delts, then slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

Cable front raises

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Now focusing more on the front portion of your shoulders, the cable front raises give your posterior deltoids a killer workout, as well as the rest of your shoulders and upper back for a more sculpted upper body.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a bar handle to the lowest setting on the cable machine and stand with your back close to the machine with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Reach for the bar handle from between your legs, grabbing it with both hands in an overhand grip, and stand back up with your back straight. The bar should be resting on your thighs.
  3. Begin the movement by pulling the bar upward, keeping your arms straight and extended throughout the movement until the bar reaches shoulder level.
  4. Squeeze your posterior delts in this top position, making sure you’re not arching your back, then bring the bar back down and repeat.

Cable bent-over row

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Out of the many compound movements that are great for your upper body, the bent-over row is probably among the best because of how effective it is. It targets both your upper and lower back as well as your arm and shoulder muscles.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a bar handle to a low pulley on the cable machine and grab it with both hands in an overhand grip so that your arms are extended and pointing down to the base of the machine.
  2. Bend at the hips and knees for stability and place your feet at a shoulder-width distance from each other.
  3. With your back straight, begin the movement by pulling the bar toward you, driving your elbows up and back until the bar almost reaches your abdomen. Make sure your arms stay close to the sides of your body.
  4. Keeping your hips and knees bent, squeeze your muscles in this position, then slowly drive the bar back down and repeat.

Cable behind the back lateral raises

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This is another effective unilateral exercise for your upper body, this time targeting your deltoids and your trapezius muscles. A huge part of your upper body is just your back, so making sure you have plenty of exercises that target different back areas is the best way to go for a stronger and more muscular body!

How to do it:

  1. Attach a D-handle to a low pulley on the cable machine and stand next to it, with your left side facing the machine. Your feet shoulder be shoulder-width apart and your back straight.
  2. Reach across your body and grab the handle with your right hand, then step in front of it so that the cable goes behind your back. Your right hand should be down to your side while holding the handle.
  3. With your right elbow slightly bent and your left hand on your hips or holding onto the machine for stability, begin the movement by raising your right arm upward and to the side until the handle is past shoulder height.
  4. Without locking your elbow, squeeze your muscles in this position, then slowly drive the handle back down and repeat.
  5. Finish your reps and switch to the opposite side.

And there you go! Cable machine exercises can be a great addition to your strength training workouts, so try to add a few of these to your upper-body days so you can get closer to your goals. And remember to always use a weight that’s appropriate for your fitness level – you don’t want any unwanted injuries!

Need some help adding cable machine workouts to your fitness routine?

The Fit With Iulia app is the place to look!

Iulia creates weekly goal-focused workout plans to help you get the best results for your strength training journey with a mix of bilateral, unilateral, compound, and isolation movements. Try your first workout for free by downloading the Fit With Iulia app, choosing a goal, and starting your first workout with Iulia – no subscription required!