Why Every CrossFit® Gym Needs a Cable Crossover Machine

A piece of equipment usually reserved for the $10/month gym, the cable crossover machine has a spot in any functional fitness setting. The ability to focus in on strengthening individual muscle groups and improve the range in which you can use your muscles will help increase your main lifts, enhance the quality of your movement, and aid in injury prevention.

Injury Prevention

Think about the typical injuries you hear of in functional fitness. Not the ones that necessarily require surgery, but the ones that sit your workout partner on the sideline for a few weeks at a time. Tight or overly sore shoulders that cause some tension when lifting a barbell or kettlebell overhead? T-rex arms after a lot of pull-ups? Take it to an extreme and look at the prevalence of pec tears in some fitness competitions.

A lot of these injuries can be avoided with some low weight-high rep isolation (single joint) exercises [1]. While you can grab a dumbbell and do bicep curls, a free weight has varying degrees of leverage and offers more or less resistance at specific ranges in the movement. A cable provides constant and constant tension over the full range of motion. This resistance provides the connective tissue and the muscle with more stress, more blood flow, and more oxygen. Over time this leads to a much healthier and stronger muscle and joint reducing the likelihood of injury.

The Current Accessory Work Craze

More and more on Instagram, you see functional accessory work with kettlebells, barbells, and gymnastics implements. A cable crossover machine allows you to work on many of those same movements often focusing on your individual points of weakness. Want to work on bar muscle-ups? Lat pulldowns, straight-arm pulldowns, and face pulls could be a fun little cluster to help you get up over the bar.

Variation in Training Movements

Locking out a jerk or a snatch takes a lot of timing, speed, and strength. Even if everything lines up correctly, your triceps need to be strong enough to support the bar overhead as you stand up or finish the overhead squat. Using a cable crossover machine, you can focus in on these key areas, which has huge transfer over to your big lifts. This specificity is the entire premise of the conjugate system made popular by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell.

Target Weak Areas

For me, and maybe for a lot of you, I find that my arms get sore when I do a lot of kipping pull-ups. With the way our bodies are designed to move, I should be getting sore through my lats and my upper back, not my biceps.

Is it plausible that my lats are just too big and strong? Doubt it.

It’s much more likely that my lats aren’t activating fully and my biceps are doing a significant amount of the work as my elbows move through flexion. You can use something like a one arm straight arm lat pull down on the cable crossover to target your lats and teres major (a small muscle tucked up above your lat that attaches to your scapula humerus) and completely remove the bend from the elbow. This exercise stimulates the lat through the range of motion of a pull-up but eliminates the elbow and bicep [2].

Generally speaking, more muscle means more strength. In this case, the cable crossover can help you add power to your weakest points. It can give you volume in infrequently used or under activated muscles.  

It can also potentially reduce the likelihood of injury by providing equal tension across full ranges of motion, which provides a lot of blood flow to those muscles and the supporting connective tissues. Bodybuilders and weekend warriors alike have been doing this for years at their discount globo gyms. It’s time to bring the cable crossover machine back to the scene and give one a home in every CrossFit® box.

1. Eccentric Training for the Shoulder External Rotators Part 2: Practical Applications. Chaconas, Eric J. PT, DPT, CSCS; Kolber, Morey J. PT, PhD, CSCS; Strength & Conditioning Journal: April 2013 – Volume 35 – Issue 2 – p 8–10

2. Do Single-Joint Exercises Enhance Functional Fitness? Schoenfeld, Brad MSc, CSCS; Contreras, Bret MA, CSCS; Strength & Conditioning Journal: February 2012 – Volume 34 – Issue 1 – p 63-65

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured image: Silver Wolf Nutrition on YouTube