Here at Fitness Volt, we are massive fans of squats and deadlifts. Why? Because they’re arguably the best exercises for building lower body muscle mass and strength. It’s hard to imagine a leg workout without at least one of these mighty movements.
Squats and deadlifts aren’t easy. In fact, they’re often brutally hard, but that’s why they work.
That said, we also understand that to maintain progress and avoid training plateaus, the best workouts include a variety of exercises so that you can hit your muscles in different ways and from multiple angles.
We also know that heavy squats and deadlifts can take a toll on your body and could even make you shorter, albeit temporarily!
That’s why we like to supplement our leg workouts with cable machine exercises.
With cable exercises, you can target your muscles with laser-like precision and without overloading your lower back. They’re ideal for bodybuilding and improving muscular endurance. Cable leg exercises are ideal for your second leg workout of the week or those days you want to train your legs without compressing your spine or hammering your knees.
So, in this article, we share 12 of our favorite and the best cable machine leg exercises for bigger, more muscular legs. There’s also a workout for you to try so you can experience the power of cable machine leg exercises for yourself!
Leg Anatomy 101
Knowing a little more about the muscles that make up your lower body will help you write better bodybuilding programs and leg workouts and help you choose the best exercises for your goals.
The main muscles that make up your legs are:
Quadriceps – known as the quads for short and located on the front of your thighs, this muscle group extends your knee joint. The four quadriceps are the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. The rectus femoris is also involved in hip flexion.
Hamstrings – located on the back of your thigh, the hamstrings flex your knees and extend your hips. The three hamstrings are the biceps femoris (the leg biceps), semimembranosus, and semitendinosus.
Gluteus maximus – called the glutes for short, this large muscle is basically your butt. It works with your hamstrings to extend your hip.
Hip adductors – located on the inside of your thighs, the hip adductors pull your legs into the midline of your body. There are three adductors: longus, brevis, and magnus.
Hip abductors – the hip abductors lift your leg out and away from the midline of your body. Located on the side of your hip and thigh, the abductor muscles are the gluteus medius and minimus and tensor fascia latae.
Triceps surae – this is the collective name for the two calf muscles: the gastrocnemius and soleus. Together, these muscles extend your ankles in a movement called plantarflexion. There are very few worthwhile cable exercises for the calves. Still, this muscle group is easy to develop using simple bodyweight exercises, such as single-leg standing calf raises on the edge of a step.
The 12 Best Cable Exercises for Legs
Not sure which cable exercises to choose for your leg workouts? Here are 12 of the best!
1. Cable Goblet Squat
Goblet squats are an excellent exercise for building stronger, more muscular quads. Usually done with a dumbbell or kettlebell, you can also do this exercise using a cable machine. With no weights to drop on your feet, cable goblet squats are an excellent exercise for beginners and more advanced lifters who want to train to failure in complete safety.
How to do it:
- Attach a rope handle or straight bar to a low pulley. Hold your chosen handle in front of your chest and just under your chin. Pull your shoulders down and back and brace your core.
- Take a small step backward and stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly outward.
- Bend your knees and squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Do not round your lower back.
- Stand back up and repeat.
- Increase glute engagement by using a booty band around your knees or hit your quads harder by placing your heels on weight plates.
2. Cable Pull-Through
The cable pull-through is a popular exercise with powerlifters who use it as an accessory movement to increase their squat and deadlift performance. Working your entire posterior chain, this is a very back-friendly leg exercise that’s also ideal for general exercisers. Most people tend to feel this exercise most in their glutes, which is why it’s also a favorite among booty-girls (and boys!) looking to develop a shapely jiggly butt.
3. Cable Deadlift
Deadlifts are arguably one of the most productive and essential exercises you can do. In fact, they’re so potent that Victorian exercisers (known as physical culturists) called it the health lift. Generally done with a barbell, you can also do a deadlift variation with a cable machine. This tends to be easier on the lower back and safer for beginners.
4. Cable Stiff-Legged Deadlift
Stiff-legged or Romanian deadlifts work your posterior chain, i.e., your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. Usually done using a barbell or dumbbells, this exercise also works great with a cable machine.
How to do it:
- Attach a bar or rope handle to a low pulley. Then, grab the handle, stand up, and take 1-2 steps back to tension the cable.
- Stand with your feet between shoulder and hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Brace your core and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Push your butt back and hinge forward from your hips, extending your arms out in front of you. Do not round your lower back.
- Drive your hips forward and stand back up, tensing your glutes as you do so.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
5. Cable Squat
Cable squats are pretty similar to cable deadlifts. The main difference is that you must bend your knees more and your hips less. This puts more stress on your quadriceps and less on your gluteus maximus and hamstrings. Cable squats may be more comfortable and easier to master than barbell squats. Subsequently, they’re popular with beginners.
6. Standing Cable Hip Extension
Adding an ankle cuff to your cable machine leg workout means you can do a much larger range of lower body exercises. Cable hip extensions target your glutes. Unlike things like pull-throughs and stiff-legged deadlifts, this exercise involves minimal lower back stress and allows you to focus all your attention on your butt, training one side at a time.
7. Cable Hip Adduction
Your hip adductors are located on the inside of your thighs. Three muscles make up this group: adductor longus, adductor brevis, and adductor magnus. While these muscles are involved in most lower body exercises, they tend to work as stabilizers.
With cable hip adduction, they’re promoted to a starring role. If you want to focus exclusively on your inner thighs, this is the cable exercise for you.
8. Cable Hip Abduction
Where your adductors are on the inside of your thighs, the abductors are on the outside of your legs and butt. Consisting of your gluteus minimus and medius, as well as the tensor fascia latae, these muscles lift your legs out and away from the midline of your body. Using a cable machine and a cuff is one of the most effective ways to train the abductors.
9. Cable Standing Leg Curl
Leg curls isolate your hamstrings. However, regular leg curls only involve knee flexion, which is just one of the functions of this mighty muscle group. Cable leg curls combine knee flexion with hip extension to provide a more comprehensive hamstring workout.
How to do it:
- Put a cuff around your ankle and attach it to a low pulley machine. Stand facing the weight stack and use your arms for balance.
- Shift your weight onto your supporting leg and brace your core.
- Extend your leg backward and simultaneously bend your knee, curling your foot up toward your butt.
- Lower your foot back to the floor and repeat.
- Do the same number of reps on both legs.
10. Cable Prone Leg Curl
The leg curl machine is arguably the most convenient way to isolate your hamstrings, but it’s not the only way. Cable machine prone leg curls might not be quite as straightforward, but they’re just as effective.
How to do it:
- Put a cuff around both ankles. With your feet nearest the pulley, lie on your front next to a cable machine. Rest your head on your folded arms for comfort.
- Ask your training partner to attach the low cable to your cuffs. Move forward to tension the cable if necessary.
- Bend your legs and curl your feet up to your butt.
- Extend your legs and repeat.
11. Cable Lunge
Lunges are a very effective exercise, and using a cable machine makes them even better! With this lunging variation, the cable pulls you forward, so you’ll have to work harder to decelerate as you descend and also as you push back off your front leg to return to the starting position. This overloads your quads, leading to a more challenging workout.
How to do it:
- Attach a D-shaped handle or rope handle to a low pulley. Hold it with both hands and then take 1-2 steps back to tension the cable. Stand up tall, brace your abs, and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Take a large step forward, bend your legs, and lower your rearmost knee down to within an inch of the floor.
- Push off your front leg and return to the starting position.
- Do your next rep with the same leg or alternate sides as preferred.
12. Cable Squat Walkouts
This exercise is a variation of the wall sit. The only difference is that you’ll be moving forward and backward in a static squat position instead of leaning against a wall. This exercise should leave your legs burning and begging for mercy!
How to do it:
- Attach a rope handle or straight bar handle to a low pulley.
- Grab the handle, extend your arms, walk back 1-2 steps.
- Get into a squat position with your thighs roughly parallel to the floor and your torso upright. Do not round your lower back. Brace your core and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Maintaining the squat position, take 5-6 steps small backward followed by 5-6 steps forward.
- Keep your weight on your heels for maximum glute engagement. Make sure that your knees don’t collapse inwards.
- One trip forward and backward is one rep, so keep going!
Cable Machine Leg Workout
While you could just pick a few cable leg exercises and hope for the best, you’ll get better results if you follow a more prescriptive training program. Do this workout 1-2 times per week to develop the lower body of your dreams. If you do it twice, make sure there are a couple of days between workouts to allow time for repair and recovery, e.g., Monday and Thursday.
Before you start, make sure you warm up your legs with a few minutes of light cardio followed by dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises for your ankles, knees, hips, and lower back.
All of the exercises in this program are described above.
|1||Cable goblet squat||4||8-10||90 seconds|
|2||Cable stiff-legged deadlift||4||8-10||90 seconds|
|3||Cable lunge||3||10-12||60 seconds|
|4||Cable prone leg curl||3||10-12||60 seconds|
|5||Cable hip abduction||2||12-15||45 seconds|
|6||Cable squat walkouts||2||6-8||45 seconds|
Don’t think for a moment we’re telling you to give up squats and deadlifts; that would be sacrilegious! However, if you want to develop a strong, muscular, well-balanced lower body, supplementing your free-weight leg workouts with some cable exercises should help.
Using cables means that you can train hard without overloading your spine and target individual leg muscles more precisely for optimal balance and function. Using cables will also add some variety to your leg workouts, and variety is critical for avoiding training plateaus.
Of course, you could go all cables, all the time, especially if you need a break from heavy barbells. Try our cable-only leg workout to experience the power of these exercises for yourself.