There’s a reason why cable machines are always being used in your gym. Much like weight benches on international chest day (otherwise known as Monday), cable machines are immensely popular tools for building muscle all over your body.
But it’s not all about cable crossovers and curls to carve out a strong upper body. The cable machine is also an underrated tool to build muscle and strength in your lower body. The multiple attachments you can use (ropes, D-handles, and ankle straps) allow you to train your lower body with different angles for better total muscle development.
Cable machines are found in most commercial gyms and are great for athletes from the newbie to the hardcore competitor. Here are the best cable machine leg workouts for any experience level.
Best Cable Leg Workouts
- Cable Leg Workout for Beginners
- Cable Leg Workout for Intermediates
- Cable Leg Workout for Advanced Lifters
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Cable Leg Workout for Beginners
When you’re a fresh face in the gym, the cable machine can play a big role in learning fundamental movement patterns like the squat and hip hinge. Combining these exercises will set an excellent foundation to help increase strength, stability, and muscle mass.
You’ll start with a simple-to-perform exercise in the belt squat. This squat variation is easy on your lower back and allows you to up the load quickly once you have the form down.
Add more straightforward isolation exercises (which only target one muscle group targeted) and an exercise that establishes a good hinge pattern, and you’ll have all your bases covered.
- Belt Squat: 3 x 12-15
- Straight-Leg Hip Extension: 3 x 12 per side
- Cable Pull-Through: 3 x 12-15
- Unilateral Cable Kickback: 3 x 12 per side
- Unilateral Cable Leg Curl: 3 x 12 per side
These unilateral moves will set you up for avoiding as much strength and muscle imbalance as possible, but they’re still relatively easy to perform for beginners.
Cable Leg Workout for Intermediates
Once you’ve built a solid training foundation as a beginner, you’ll up the intensity of your intermediate workout by reducing your stability to improve your balance and reduce strength imbalances between sides.
Unilateral exercises like the reverse lunge are more dynamic than those featured in the beginner workout. They’ll help you avoid performing lopsided bilateral moves like the squat while improving core stability, hip mobility, and balance.
Traditionally, you’ll perform a goblet squat with a dumbbell or kettlebell. Here, you’ll be using a triceps rope attachment or a V-handle. Increase the tension on your core by performing this move a few steps back from the machine so that the cable is pulling you forward.
Throw in the donkey kick to isolate your glutes with a heavier Romanian deadlift (RDL) variation to smoke your hamstrings. You’ll be increasing intensity here by changing up your exercise angles, adding more complex movements, and tossing in a finisher.
- Goblet Squat: 3 x 12-15
- Donkey Kick: 3 x 12-15 per side
- Lateral Leg Raise: 3 x 6-10 per side
- Cable Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 12
- Reverse Lunge: 2 x 15-20 per side
Treat the reverse lunges as a finisher, going all out at a high intensity to really exhaust your muscles before your cool-down.
Cable Leg Workout for Advanced Lifters
When you’re ready to take the next step with your leg workouts, you’ll sprinkle in intensity-boosting techniques like 1 ½ reps, tempo training, and drop sets.
The first two techniques will dramatically increase your time under tension, which is crucial for stimulating hypertrophy. Drop sets will quickly bring your legs to the edge of failure.
Take advantage of the benefits of working with a cable machine here. You can perform drop sets with cables with a lot less transition time since you’ll only have to adjust the pins. You’ll be a better gym neighbor and eliminate the need to litter the area with multiple sets of dumbbells.
- 1 ½ Rep Goblet Squat: 3 x 12
- Cable Romanian Deadlift: 3 x 8-12 per side*
- Cable Calf Raise: 3 x 20-25 per side*
- 1 ½ Forward Lunge: 3 x 8 per side
- Cable Split Squat: 3 x 15 per side**
*Perform each set with a 4110 tempo (four-second eccentric, one-second hold, one-second concentric, and zero-second hold).
** Use drop sets during your last set on each side.
First, hit the prescribed number of reps with a weight that will take you toward failure by the last rep. Immediately adjust the pins to reduce the weight by 25 to 50 percent. Hit failure again and repeat the process until you reach an ineffectually light weight.
How to Progress Your Cable Leg Workouts
A tried and true way to progressively overload your workouts is to increase the load and do more sets and reps more often. But you can’t add weight and slap on more volume forever. Instead, try these techniques to bring your leg day to the next level.
Add Pauses and 1 ½ Reps
Staying in the most challenging position of an exercise increases your muscle’s time under tension. It makes the concentric contraction harder because the muscle’s stretch reflex is removed. To get this effect, you can perform 1 ½ reps — complete one rep, come halfway to the finish, then back to the toughest part of the exercise to finish a single rep.
This technique, as well as pauses, will be particularly effective at the bottom of squat and lunge variations. Even if you’re performing the beginner’s workout described above, sprinkle in some two to five-second holds at the bottom of your range of motion to make your moves a lot more advanced.
Use Tempo and Drop Sets
Adding tempo training to the mix puts all your attention on your timing. More often than not, you’ll use tempo to add valuable seconds to the eccentric (lowering) portion of your lift. You can also lengthen the concentric component or add holds to the top of bottom of each rep. Any of these strategies can help boost your strength and muscle-building capacity.
You’ll also deploy drop sets the more advanced you become. With these, you won’t need endless monotony to push you toward failure — drop sets are the quick and dirty way to exhaust your muscles as much as you need. You can deploy these to advance pretty much any workout.
Increase Your Range of Motion
One of the most significant advantages of working with cables is how easy it can be to modify your exercises. For example, with moves like the reverse lunge, forward lunge, and split squat, you can elevate your front or rear foot on a step or weight bench. This will increase your range of motion and boost your return on investment in terms of both mobility and muscle growth.
Lower Body Anatomy
Leg day spans your entire lower body. When you’re working with cables, you can isolate each leg muscle group in turn.
Sometimes, building the glutes is talked about as mainly an aesthetic endeavor. But strong glutes form the basis of powerful lifts from the squat all the way to the mighty deadlift.
The primary function of your glutes is to extend your hips and externally and internally rotate your hip joint.
Strong hamstrings are the foundation of heavy deadlifts and strong squats. Their primary function is knee flexion, but they assist in hip extension, too — hence why they help out in both lifts.
The four quadriceps muscles (vastus lateralis, medialis, intermedius, and rectus femoris) are among your body’s strongest muscle groups. These four muscles on the front of your thigh are powerful knee extensors and assist in hip flexion. They’re essential for powerful lower body movements and strength.
The muscle group making up your adductors is found on your inner thighs. These muscles’ primary role is to adduct your hips and thighs — move them toward the midline of your body. Your adductors also assist in hip flexion and play a vital role in knee health.
Your calf muscles are what allow you to run, jump, and rise to your tip toes by extending your feet and ankles. You’ll have to train them in higher rep ranges and use tempo — emphasizing the eccentric lowering portion — to get them strong and muscular.
Benefits of Cable Workouts
There is plenty of excellent workout equipment in your average commercial gym. Here’s why there’s almost always a wait for the cable machine, even when there are so many other strength training toys to play with.
Training implements like cables provide more consistent tension throughout the range of motion. With free weights, the force you need to generate throughout each point of the lift is not constant due to the changing joint angles. When you’re working with cable machines, the cables will keep your muscles working more consistently across the range of motion of each rep.
Increased Muscle Growth
Because of the constant tension, your muscles will spend more time under high-quality tension. Cables also provide relative freedom of movement and the ability to change the height and grip attachments.
Any of these factors on their own will be a big help in the muscle-building department. But putting them all together means you’ll maximize your potential for muscle development. And that doesn’t just have potential aesthetic impacts. Bigger muscles can also help increase your lifting potential, especially when you’re paying attention to sometimes overlooked muscle groups.
Cable machines make it easy to modify movements to best suit your needs as an athlete. This might mean adjusting the angle of pull so that you’re stimulating whatever area of your muscles you’d like. It also means giving yourself more leeway to accommodate your body type and needs.
For example, a dumbbell or kettlebell goblet squat might be a little tougher if you have a large chest. But by using a cable machine, you can provide external resistance without facing that particular obstacle.
Space and Time-Saver
All things being equal, cable machines are likely to save you time and space. They host a very wide range of weight within a contained footprint. When you base some of your workouts around one piece of equipment, you’ll limit transition time between exercises and finish your workouts faster.
Get a Leg Up With Cables
The cable machine doesn’t just provide a nice pace change from your regularly-schedule barbell training. If it’s leg day and you’re short a squat rack and weight plates, you can give yourself a solid muscle-building workout without all the fuss of changing weights around. Incorporate different intensity boosters to give yourself a solid cable leg workout at any experience level.
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