The cable deadlift may not be quite as famous as the free weight version, but you can rest assured that if you want an effective alternative, it’ll do the job well. Of course, there are a few drawbacks to using cables for the deadlift such as a limited amount of resistance, and less development of stabilizer strength.
But it’s a variation that serves a purpose for those looking for another way to do the deadlift. Because let’s face it, the barbell deadlift isn’t necessarily for everyone, and that’s entirely OK.
So stick around because we’ve provided the essential basics for maximizing this exercise to help you build muscular legs, a strong core, well-developed back, and iron grip.
Here’s a guide to the cable deadlift…
In This Exercise:
- Target Muscle Group: Gluteus maximus, quadriceps
- Type: Strength/hypertophy
- Mechanics: Compound
- Equipment: Cable
- Difficulty: Beginner/intermediate
There may not be an exercise that can work as many muscles at once as the deadlift. The cable variation is no different. We’ve detailed the muscles involved during this movement below…
The deadlift works all leg muscles from the quads to the hamstrings, glutes (butt), and calves. Because the deadlift requires knee and hip flexion and extension, it’s going to engage the quads to a large degree while also loading the hamstrings. And we know that the glutes are responsible for the extension of the hip joint.
The deadlift is so effective for building and strengthening the leg muscles that it’s an acceptable replacement for the squat, which is often called the king of leg exercises.
Pulling weight off the floor will engage every muscle from the toes all the way up the kinetic chain. The deadlift is a hip hinge exercise (torso is bent forward at the hips). Therefore, the back extensors, lats (stabilize the arms during the deadlift), rhomboids (stabilize shoulder girdle and scapula), traps (stabilize and move the scapula), and other back muscles are heavily engaged.
While the deadlift is a phenomenal leg exercise, you could say the same about its effectiveness in developing the back muscles.
The core muscles involve the abs, obliques, and even the lower back. Without a strong core, there would be no deadlifting but it also builds the core by the same token. The transverse abdominal is a deep core muscle that acts as a weightlifting belt during deadlifts, compressing the abdominal contents to ensure your core remains rigid and conducive to heavy lifting.
The adductor magnus is one of the hip adductor muscles located on the medial and posterior portion of the thigh and is shaped like a large triangle. It functions to pull the hip toward the midline of the body, while also extending the hip and stabilizing the pelvis.
The soleus is a calf muscle that runs from just below the knee to the heel where it joins with the gastrocnemius (other calf muscle). It’s a very important muscle for walking and standing.
How To Do The Cable Deadlift
To ensure you do this exercise safely and effectively, we’ve provided step-by-step instructions below…
- Attach a long bar handle to the lowest point on the cable machine.
- Stand facing the machine with a comfortable, stable stance and grip the bar with hands about shoulder-width or wider.
- Bend your hips until your upper legs are slightly above parallel to the floor and hinge at the hips keeping your back straight.
- Retract your shoulder blades, lift your chest, tighten your core, and flex your lats.
- Drive your feet through the floor to lift the weight and then move your hips forward to finish off the movement strong. Squeeze your glutes tight at the top.
- Lower the weight as shown in the video and repeat.
Here’s a video example…
Cable Deadlift Tips
- Do not round your back or arch it excessively. Try to keep it flat throughout.
- Use your legs to power up the weight and drive the hips forward at the top portion of the movement. Do not lift with your back.
- Do not yank the weight up. This is a good way to injure yourself. Take your time and ensure your form is correct.
- Your shoulder blades need to be held tight and rigid throughout the cable deadlift. This will ensure your safety and maximize the effectiveness of the movement.
- Keep your lats flexed and pulled into your sides for the same reason mentioned above regarding the position of the shoulder blades.
- Move as close to the machine as you can while still being able to execute the exercise with proper form and a full range of motion.
- The cable deadlift should not replace the conventional deadlift if your goal is to build maximum size and strength using this movement.
2 Cable Deadlift Variations
Here are two effective cable deadlift variations that you can do to mix things up and continue making progress.
Cable Romanian deadlift
The Romanian deadlift is a phenomenal variety of this movement. It’s undoubtedly a better option for really emphasizing the hamstrings and it’s an effective back builder as well. Use can effectively do this exercise using the cable system as well. You’ll definitely benefit from interchanging the Romanian deadlift with the conventional version regardless of your training tool of choice.
The cable pull-through is similar to the Romanian deadlift and there are a few different ways that you can do it. It does work the same muscles and is less taxing on the body than deadlifts but it’s not the best option for building maximum strength. However, when it comes to resistance training, we use different tools (exercises) for different purposes.
How To Incorporate The Cable Deadlift Into Your Training Routine
The deadlift, in general, is best done at the beginning of your training as it is a compound exercise. But the cable variation is a little different than conventional because it’s not typically an exercise that you’d be pulling maximum poundages with, especially because cables have a limit as far as how much weight you can use.
The conventional deadlift can be very taxing on the body and is usually done on its own. But depending on how you structure your training, you might be able to pair the cable deadlift with another compound movement.
If you choose to go this route, adjust your training volume, and pay attention to your recovery to avoid overtraining.
- We recommend 3-4 sets x 6-15 reps on average
As for rest in between sets, the cable deadlift may not be as taxing on the body. So, you may be able to get away with taking shorter rest periods. However, you’ll have to determine an appropriate rest period based on your abilities. Although, we’d recommend taking no longer than two minutes rest between sets on average.
The cable deadlift is a viable option if you’re looking for a deadlift alternative. It may not be as useful for everyone, however, it has its place like anything else. But you’ll have to determine how to fit it into your training and we hope that this information was useful so that you can effectively do so.