Want to develop bigger chest muscles? These popular chest exercises with cables are a great way to start! Will have you seeing results in no time.
If you’re tired of the same old chest workouts, there’s good news! While traditional exercises like bench press, dumbbell press, and dumbbell flies are effective for building chest muscles, they don’t activate all your muscle fibers. Plus, they can get repetitive over time.
To mix things up and get the most out of your workouts, check out this comprehensive list of chest exercises with cables. These movements will help you achieve maximum strength and size gains while adding variety to your routine.
Table of Contents
What Are Chest Exercises With Cables?
Cable machines can be used to perform a variety of resistance training exercises. This equipment consists of a cable attached to a weight stack that runs through pulleys and connects to handles.
Moreover, you can use the cable machine to specifically target your chest muscles using a variety of chest fly and chest press movements.
Why You Need to Do Chest Exercises With Cables?
The main reason that chest exercises with cables—or any cable exercises, for that matter—are so good is due to the constant tension placed on your muscles.
When you lift free weights, there are certain points in the exercise where a) the load on your muscles is reduced, or b) your bones and joints lockout to support the weight.
An incorrectly performed Bicep Curl is a great example of the former. When you reach the top of the curl and the weight is curled, there is virtually no load on your muscles, so you get a miniature “break” between the concentric and eccentric phases of the exercise.
You get the latter with a Bench Press. At the pinnacle of the push, it’s easy to lock out your elbows and let the weight rest momentarily on your skeletal structure. Again, you get a miniature “break” between the two phases of the exercise.
With cables, however, there is no “break”, only continuous time under tension. The constant tension increases the strain on your muscles, leading to faster fatigue which is potentially beneficial for stimulating muscle growth.
Benefits of Chest Exercises With Cables
Chest exercises with cables offer a number of considerable benefits over and above the traditional barbell or dumbbell bench press. Here are some of the key ones to look out for Improved shoulder stability & mobility: Cable exercises are fantastic for targeting many of the smaller stabilizing muscles around the shoulder joint, which is a key structure in chest-focused pressing movementsSafer & less stressful for joints:
Chest exercises with cables tend to place less load, and therefore less stress, on your joints than bench pressing or chest pressing. So, these are perfect for anyone with a pre-existing injury or weakness in this area–or someone looking to rehab before moving back to their typical weight
- Improved posture & core strength: Most cable exercises target your back and core because the majority of exercises are performed in a standing position. This will strengthen the muscles that support your spine and your shoulder blades, all of which will have positive carry-over to other full-body exercises and general improvements in posture (for a killer TRX chest / full-body workout, check out this tasty little superset involving the TRX Atomic Push-up and a Kettlebell Swing!)
- Elicit a better / more targeted pec contraction: You get a more effective pump when you’re able to isolate the chest muscles. Cable exercises are an effective way to target the chest specifically, so they’re perfect for refining the shape and structure of the chest. Cable chest exercises are also a great option for ‘superset training’ when combined with a compound movement such as a barbell or dumbbell chest press
- Eliminate imbalances: Cable exercises work unilaterally. For example, they provide isolated resistance to both sides of the body at once. Therefore, it’s impossible for one arm/side to compensate for any weaknesses in the other. This helps build stability and also keeps one side from being stronger than the other.
- Increased time under tension: The constant resistance from the cables means that it is impossible to rest completely until every set is complete. This creates far more time under tension in each exercise and, therefore, has a greater hypertrophic muscle-building effect
Muscles Worked by Chest Exercises With Cables
Before getting into the chest exercises with cables, it’s vital to understand a little about muscle anatomy. This way, you’ll know which exercises to use to target specific areas of your chest.
The pectorals are the largest muscles of your chest, composed of several fiber bundles. And these muscle fibers attach to your sternum, clavicle, and upper arm bones.
To visualize a muscle’s function, it helps to think of the fibers as a rubber band. When the band contracts, it pulls the two ends together. So contracting the chest muscles pulls your upper arm closer to your sternum.
It’s important to note that not all fiber bundles are necessary for every movement, and the specific muscle fibers used depend on the angle of arm movement.
To better understand this, we can divide the chest into upper, middle, and lower sections. However, remember that these divisions are not distinct but rather overlapping zones.
- Middle Chest – The central part of your chest contains muscle fibers attached to your sternum. These fibers (S1-S5, as shown in Figure 1) are primarily engaged when you extend your arms straight across your body.
- Upper Chest – The upper chest muscles comprise fibers that attach to the clavicle bone (CH) and the upper part of the sternum (S1). These muscles help lift and pull the arm inward.
- Lower Chest – The lower chest comprises the fibers that connect to the lower sternum and rib cage cartilage (S4-S6). This area mainly pulls your arms down and across your body.
Moreover, we can target certain areas of the pectoral muscles by utilizing specific arm angles during chest exercises. The image below illustrates how body position affects the part of your chest work.
Chest Exercises With Cables
1. CABLE CROSSOVER
Cable crossovers are a staple chest exercise and you’ve probably seen people doing this exercise at your gym. The benefits of cable crossover are that it tests your shoulder and chest strength at the end range of motion. This causes a deep pec contraction to develop a sharpened chest.
How to Do:
- Stand in the center of the machine with feet shoulder-width apart, taking hold of a handle in each hand
- Bend your torso forwards slightly, keeping your spine neutral and back straight, and bend your elbows slightly as well, with your wrists facing the floor
- Keeping your core engaged, pull both handles down and across your body to squeeze the pecs together
- Slowly open the arms and return the cables to the start position
2. SEATED CABLE CHEST PRESS
Because you’re sitting down, a seated cable chest press offers a stable position from which to safely achieve a good chest workout. Furthermore, this exercise mimics familiar movements such as the dumbbell bench press so it’s great for beginners.
How to Do:
- Sit with your back firmly supported against a bench
- Grasp the cable handles and position your hands level with your mid-chest region, positioning your feet firmly on the floor to stabilize your body
- Brace your core to stabilize your spine and perform a pressing movement, extending your arms forward until your elbows are fully extended, but not locked, maintaining contact with your back and shoulder blades against the backrest
- Pause momentarily, then slowly return to your starting position, allowing your elbows to bend in a slow, controlled manner
3. STANDING CABLE CHEST PRESS
The other variation of the cable chest press is the standing cable chest press. You guessed it. You’re no longer sitting down during this exercise. Due to the standing position, you’ll be using your core and focusing on posture more. The exercise also focuses on building your shoulder joints and rotator cuffs.
How to Do:
- Stand between the cables and set the handles to shoulder height, before facing away from the machine and grasping one handle in each hand in an overhand grip (palms facing down)
- Step forward and plant your feet in a split stance with one foot forward and one back, ensuring that your feet are slightly further than shoulder-width apart
- Brace your core to stabilize your spine and perform a pressing movement, extending your arms forward until your elbows are fully extended, but not locked, and your hands come together, ensuring that the cables are running over your shoulders rather than under
- Pause momentarily, then slowly return to your starting position, allowing your elbows to bend in a slow, controlled manner to bring the handles back toward your shoulders
4. CABLE SINGLE-ARM ROTATIONAL CHEST PRESS
The one-arm rotational press provides a few unique benefits. It allows for full protraction of the shoulder, which allows you to fully activate your serratus anterior and maximize contraction of your pec major. Furthermore, it brings your core into play to a higher degree as it moves you through the transverse plane, challenging you for both rotational stabilization and strength and giving your obliques and transversus abdominis some special attention. Overall, it’s a multiplanar exercise that turns the cable chest press into a bigger compound movement.
Muscles Emphasized: Pec Major, Front delt, Serratus Anterior, Obliques, Triceps.
Set Up: You will only be using one pulley and one arm at a time. Set the handle height to a little lower than the shoulder height and stand in the center of the cable crossover machine.
- Grip the handle palm down with your right hand.
- Step your right foot forward to get into a staggered stance. Your back foot should be on tiptoes, but your front foot should be planted firmly on the floor.
- With your elbow out at 45˚ from your side, extend through your elbow pressing all the way forward. As you reach full extension, protract your shoulder blades and extend even further by bringing your shoulder forward while rotating your torso in the direction of the press (think about it like you are throwing a punch).
- Pause at the end for a moment, then slowly return back to the starting position with your shoulders even and squared forward and your elbow back at full flexion, then repeat.
- After you do a set number of reps, perform the same movement on the opposite side
5. CABLE FLAT BENCH PRESS
The bench press using cables is a good way to target your chest with constant tension throughout the entire range of motion. It will definitely penetrate your pec major in a unique way, which can be a nice change if you always use barbells or dumbbells.
Muscles Emphasized: Pec Major, Triceps, Front Delts
Set Up: Place a flat bench right at the center of the cable machine and lower the handles all the way to the bottom.
- Grab the handles using a neutral grip (your palms facing toward your body). Note: If you bring the bench forward in front of the cable pulley machine, your grip will change to a standard overhand grip.
- With your arms at 90˚, brace your core, retract your shoulder blades, and press up till your arms are fully extended. You can bring your arms more straight up or toward the center to meet. See how both feel in terms of pec activation.
- At the top, squeeze your pecs, then slowly lower your arms back down through elbow flexion.
6. CABLE INCLINE PRESS
The cable incline press offers an alternative angle for training your pecs. In doing so, you’ll be able to target the upper chest and shoulders. Like the seated cable chest press, its stable lying position makes it safe for beginners to use in their workouts.
How to Do:
- Place a bench in the middle of two low pulleys at a 45º angle with the pulleys at the bottom of the cable crossover station (ensure the bench is positioned so that when you grab the handles the resistance is in line with your chest)
- Grab each handle with palms up (supinated) grip, lay flat on the bench, and keep your feet on the ground – position the handles at the side of your chest, tucked in a little with a 90º bend in your arms
- Press out and extend your arms to move the handles up and inwards until your hands meet at the top
- Squeeze your chest at the top of the movement and then inhale as you slowly release back to the starting position
7. CABLE DECLINE BENCH PRESS
The cable decline press can be done standing/kneeling by simply setting the handles at the top (or near the top) of the towers and then pressing down and inward at an angle. OR, you can set up a bench in a decline position to mimic that of a decline dumbbell or barbell press. With the bench, you can really hone in on your pec major, and more specifically, the lower head, as decline presses do.
Muscles Emphasized: Pec Major (Lower Head), Pec Minor, Triceps
Set Up: Place a bench with a 15-30˚ decline at the center of the cable machine. You’ll want the bench to be in front of the pulleys, so the cables are angled behind you. Lower the handles all the way to the bottom of the pulley towers.
- Grab the handles with your arms at 90˚, brace your core, keep your back firmly against the bench.
- Exhale and move your arms up and in at an angle that brings your hands to a little below chest level when you reach the top of the press.
- Squeeze your chest, then inhale as you slowly bring your arms back down. Really feel the stretch at the bottom, then repeat.
8. CABLE MIDDLE FLY
This is the standard cable fly variation. The cable fly is an isolation exercise for the pecs and front deltoids, which are the same muscles activated with a flat bench dumbbell fly. The difference with cables is the resistance curve is flat with cables, so you get a constant load on your pecs throughout the whole range.
Muscles Emphasized: Pec Major, Front Delt
Set Up: Position the handles a little lower than shoulder height. You will need to stand directly in the middle of the crossover machine and step forward so that you can start from a position that is stretching your pecs and front delts.
- With your hands at about shoulder level, put a slight bend in your elbow, and bring your arms back as far as you comfortably can. You should feel a nice stretch of your pecs. Brace your core and retract your shoulder blades. This is the starting position.
- Exhale as you bring your arms to your center. Your elbow should remain in a fixed position and your shoulders pinned back. Use your pecs to power the movement by contracting them.
- Squeeze your pecs hard when your arms at your center, then slowly return your arms back as far as they can comfortably go. Again, really feel that stretching tension.
9. CABLE STANDING FLY (HIGH TO LOW)
With this cable fly variation, you are performing the fly motion from high to low. With that, you are emphasizing the lower head of your pec major, as well as your inner chest as with all flys.
Like any standing cable fly, you can either stand straight up in a bilateral stance or you can get into a staggered stance with your torso leaned slightly forward. Both are going to work your pecs in a similar manner, but the staggered stance is going to allow you to go heavier than the “T” form. We recommend trying both to see what feels best for you.
Muscles Emphasized: Pec Major (Lower Head), Front Delts, Pec Minor
Set Up: Position the handles at the top of the cable towers. Stand directly in the middle and step forward so that you can start from a position that is stretching your pecs and front delts.
- With your arms up and back, a slight bend in your elbow, and your hands at about shoulder level, brace your core and retract your shoulder blades. This is the starting position. You should feel a nice stretch your pecs.
- Exhale and bring your arms down and in until they meet at the bottom out in front of your hips.
- Squeeze your pecs hard, then slowly return your arms back as far as they can comfortably go. Again, really feel that stretching tension.
10. CABLE PULLOVERS
You’ve probably seen this exercise done with dumbbells before. While it’s a good chest exercise, it is equally as good for your lats and abs. That said, this exercise is typically done on chest days (or if you do push-pull superset workouts), as it does a great job of activating the upper chest.
Set Up: Position a flat bench in front of one cable tower. It should be directly in line with it. You can use a rope attachment or a straight bar. The rope will allow for a close grip, which is better for activating your chest, whereas the straight bar will place slightly more emphasis on your lats.
- Lie down on your back with your head towards the cable machine and grab the rope with a neutral grip
- Starting with your arms stretched out back behind your head with elbows slightly bent, pull the rope straight over your head until your arms are up directly above your chest.
- Slowly return your arms back behind you and feel a good stretch in your lats and chest, then repeat.
BEGINNER Chest Exercises With Cables
This workout is designed to mimic the dumbbell (or barbell) bench press and dumbbell fly movements, which most beginner gym-goers will be familiar with. Mastering these fundamentals of cable chest exercises is a good starting point before exploring the wider possibilities:
- A1 – Cable Bench Press x 8-10
- A2 – Flat Cable Flys x 12-15
- Perform these two exercises as a superset (one directly after the other) for three sets
- Aim to have a heavier weight for A1, then a lighter weight for A2 – try to keep these weights consistent for both exercises across all three sets
- Take 60-90 secs rest between each set
Coaches Tip: Once you’re comfortable with these movements, try adding a strict tempo of 3 seconds to the eccentric (lowering) phase of each rep to increase the time under tension (T.U.T.) and thereby increase their hypertrophic (i.e. muscle building) effects
INTERMEDIATE Chest Exercises With Cables
This workout is designed to provide an additional stability/core element by removing the support of a bench. It also begins to introduce the variety of angles through which you can train on the cable pulley machine to target specific parts of the chest:
- A1 – Standing Cable Chest Press x 12-10-8-6
- Perform this as a standalone exercise for four sets in the descending rep pattern shown above, aiming to increase the weight with each set
- Take 60-90 secs rest between each set
- B1 – High-to-Low Cable Flys x 10
- B2 – Low-to-High Cable Flys x 10
- Perform these two exercises as a superset (one directly after the other) for three sets x 10 reps on each
- Take 60 secs to rest between each set
Coaches Tip: Aim to establish whether your high-to-low or your low-to-high cable fly is stronger to identify any imbalances or weaknesses in a particular range of motion. Then you can work on rectifying this as you train with the cables more
ADVANCED Chest Exercises With Cables
Once you’ve progressed through Beginner and Intermediate stages, you’re ready to challenge your muscles and joints under load through their greatest range of motion, and with the lowest level of stability. This workout introduces both of these elements to truly level up the intensity and ensure continued progress
A1 – Cable Crossover x 10
A2 – Unilateral Cable Press x failure
A3 – Single Arm Crossover x failure
Perform these three exercises as a ‘tri-set’, i.e. all three exercises back to back
Beginning with the bilateral (two limbs) Cable Crossover in A1, you then move to the unilateral (single limb) exercises in A2 and A3
Coaches Tip: Aim to work to failure on A2 and A3 to truly exhaust the muscle group and achieve that level of intensity you’re after