Weight Loss

5 Best Back Cable Exercises For Massive Strength And Muscle

Strength and size come with a constant variable – time under tension. The cable pulley does exactly that. More time under tension means more muscle fiber stimulation, which directly influences muscle growth and hypertrophy. We’re going to talk about the best cable exercises for your back, to build more muscle and stack more gains.

Back Anatomy

Your back is composed of several different muscle groups, including the latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius (traps), Levator scapulae (scaps), rhomboid minor, and rhomboid major.

Generally, your back is divided into three groups; superficial, intermediate, and deep muscles also known as intrinsic muscles.

Your lower backis comprised of two main muscles, the erector spinae and transversospinales, which collectively make part of your core. The erector spinae, which helps keep the spine erect and provides functionality for rotation, is composed of three smaller muscles and tendons, specifically the — iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis. 

The transversospinales are a group of three muscles covering the lumbar and sacral region of your lower back. They work together to achieve rotation and extension of the vertebral column. These muscles are small and have a poor mechanical advantage for contributing to motion as compared to other dominant back muscles. They include the three semispinalis muscles – rotatores, multifidus, and semispinalis spanning 4-6 vertebral columns.

RELATED ARTICLE The 5 Best Lower Back Exercises

Back Cable Exercise Benefits

1. Functional Strength

Perhaps the biggest benefit of utilizing the cable pulley for back exercises, is developing upper body and back strength. Cables allow you to increase time under tension, which is one of the crucial variables, in addition to range of motion, that actively recruits muscle fiber and fosters muscle development and growth. Cable pulleys also assist in greater range of motion, to elongate muscle fiber and increase strength. You can also angle the cables to allow for greater emphasis on specific areas of your back, which is a distinct advantage over free weights.

2. Greater Muscle Isolation

Cables provide more versatility through direct muscle control and isolation. With greater isolation, you can focus on building specific muscles and muscle groups, for enhanced muscle development and hypertrophy. You can target a wide array of muscle groups with the cable pulleys as opposed to free weights, giving you more options, to build a bigger and stronger back.

Isolating specific muscles can help overcome muscular imbalance and aesthetic imbalances, developing better body composition and functional strength.

3. Time Under Tension

As I mentioned a huge variable to muscle growth and strength is time under tension. There is no better way to increase time under tension, than using the cable pulley. Cables also allow you to manipulate rep timing and count, increasing the pace to further coincide with your fitness goals.

Best Cable Back Exercises

1. Seated Cable Row

The seated cable row utilizes a cable pulley workstation. Seated at a bench with your feet shoulder width apart in front of you, seated cable row is an excellent back exercise, which will help strengthen the latissimus dorsi, forearms, biceps, and dynamic muscle stabilizers.

Musculature stimulation studies use EMG (Electromyography), to determine the best exercises for each muscle group, based on stimulation from contraction. An EMG device measures extremely small amounts of electric stimulation generated by muscles below the surface of the skin.

The American Council On Exercise (ACE) found that the seated cable row, is one of the best exercises to stimulate the middle traps [R]

How To Do Seated Cable Row

Sitting on the bench/platform place your feet shoulder width apart with your knees bent and grasp the cable attachment.
Often times, the grip will be a triangle handle, for a close grip position, but it also may be switch out for a bar, in case you want a wide-grip variation.
Brace your core with your feet firmly planted into the platform foothold and pull the handle and weight back.
Pull the weight back, with your hands placed at the top of the attachment, towards your belly button or lower abdomen, keeping your back straight with a slight 10-degree angle and minimal movement.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together on the concentric (pulling) portion of the movement, and retract your scapulae
Return the handle forward, until you feel a stretch in your lats, and shoulders keeping your back straight, until your arms are fully stretched in the eccentric phase and return and repeat.

2. Lat Pulldown

The Lat Pulldown is one of the most popular cable back exercises and for good reason. Studies have shown that the lat pulldown is extremely effective at targeting and isolating the lats to enhance muscular development and strength. The lat pulldown is not a compound exercise by traditional standards, however like many other exercises it does stimulate other muscles within the arms, back and shoulders such as the deltoids, rhomboids, and stabilizers such as the rotator cuff [R]. Lat pulldown provides a wide variety of benefits and should place a large part in your back day training split.

How To Do Lat Pulldown

Start out by adjusting the lat pulldown machine to fit your body, with the seat and pads.
Adjust the pads, so that your knees are placed securely below with your feet flat on the floor and the hips and knees at a 90° angle.
Reach up and grasp the bar slightly wider than shoulder width.
Draw in and brace your core, tightening your muscles for better spinal stability
Slightly lean back your torso 20°-30° to match the line of the pull down with your latissimus dorsi
Keep your spine in a neutral position and avoid excess lumbar extension
Pull the bar down to your chest, bringing your elbows back focusing on your scapulae retraction/depression (squeezing your shoulder blades together).
Lower the bar until you feel a slight stretch in the pectorals and your lats fully contract your scapulae retract together.
As you let the weight raise back up, keep your trunk and core stabilized and avoid swinging through the movements, keeping good posture and fluid motion throughout the lift
Maintain full control over the bar and weight when allowing the bar to rise, to enable an ideal eccentric muscle contraction.

3. Single-Arm Cable Row 

The single-arm cable row is a unilateral isotonic exercise, meaning only one side of the body is used to produce muscle contraction. Traditionally, the single-arm cable row is performed seated at a workstation, however you can also stand while using a cable. The seated single-arm cable row will provide more stabilization to lift heavier loads by providing optimal core and spinal stabilization.

How To Single-Arm Cable Row 

Sitting on the bench/platform place your feet shoulder width apart with your knees bent and grasp the cable attachment (handle) with one hand.
Brace your core with your feet firmly planted into the platform foothold and pull the handle and weight back.
Pull the weight back, with your hand placed firmly on the handle and pull keeping your elbow tight and tucked close to your body, keeping your back straight avoiding any additional movement.
Squeeze your shoulder blade and contract, holding for 1-2 seconds.
Return the handle forward, until you feel a stretch in your lat, and shoulder keeping your back straight, then repeat.

4. Cable Rope Pulldown/Pullover

Rope pull over targets multiple muscle groups in the upper back, most notably the rear delts and latissimus dorsi or lats. Rope pull over will help improve overall physique and widen your back since it directly stimulates your lats, which are a key muscle group to foster muscle growth.

Your delts or shoulders, are separated into three separate heads—the anterior, lateral (medial), and posterior. The anterior and lateral heads of the deltoid are often worked far more than the posterior, or “rear delts,” because they’re involved in pushing and pressing exercises, often used in exercises such as shoulder press, front raises, lateral raises, and bent over flys. Without working the rear delts sufficiently you can create muscular imbalances, resulting in injury and a forward arching posture. The rope pulldown is one of the best back cable exercises to stimulate your rear delts and develop the back of your shoulder for a better physique and cut.

How To Cable Rope Pull Over/Pull Down 

Set up the cable pulley, so that the pulley system is positioned at the top above your head.
Reach up and grasp the rope handles with both hands with your palms facing out. Step back until your arms are fully extended.
Facing the pulley grab the rope and take a big step back. Stand with a 30-40 degree bend at the hips, with your chest face down.
Tighten and engage your core, then pull the rope down, driving your elbows back, until you feel your lats and shoulders engaged. 
Reverse the movement and slowly extend your arms without allowing your shoulders or chest to roll forward as you extend maintaining good posture throughout the exercise.

5. Cable Rope Face Pulls 

Face Pulls are an effective and fun accessory back and shoulder movement, designed to target the upper lats and posterior deltoids, by using the rope attachment on the cable pulley, for a full retraction of the scapula. Adding in face pulls to your back day training split is a great way to build more muscle and strength through an isolated movement. Face pulls are an amazing accessory workout, to help square the shoulders and pull them back, which helps develop a more natural posture. 

How To Do Cable Rope Face Pulls

Set up the cable pulley, so that the pulley system is positioned at the top above your head.
Reach up and grasp the rope handles with both hands with your palms facing out. Step back until your arms are fully extended.
Tighten and engage your core and lean back slightly at a 20-degree angle.
Pull the rope toward you just enough to start lifting the weight from the stack, then engage your shoulders.
Pull the handles of the rope toward your forehead. Retract your scapula (squeeze your shoulder blades together) and engage your rear delts and traps. Keep your palms facing in as your elbows flare outward toward the sides.
Reverse the movement and slowly extend your arms without allowing your shoulders or chest to roll forward as you extend maintaining good posture throughout the exercise.

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