Why You Should Be Using the Cable Machine for Weighted Abs Exercises

The cable machine is often ignored, but it's one of the best ways to develop abs definition.

When you think of abs exercises, crunches and planks probably come to mind. These movements-and all their variations-are awesome for developing a strong core. But if you're doing them alone, you might not see the results you're looking for in terms of core strength and abs definition. (And remember: Abs aren't just made in the gym.)

"There is a misconception that we don't need or shouldn't use weight when it comes to ab exercises," says Jessica Glazer, a certified personal trainer in New York City. "If we want to increase our overall strength and have a shot at visible abs, then, yes, we need to use weight." That's because the abdominal muscles are similar to any other muscle in the body in that in order to increase muscle mass and strength, they need to be overloaded with weight and/or resistance.

Of course, doing weighted exercises alone won't get you the abs of your dreams. "The majority of 'getting abs' comes from a combination of proper nutrition, lower body fat percentage, and increased muscle mass due to strength training," says Glazer. Also, genetics. In short, it's never as simple as just crunching your way to abs, she says. And while non-weighted crunches, planks, bicycles, and more absolutely have their own unique benefits, adding weighted abs exercises can make a difference if you already have your nutrition and other factors in check.

There are many ways to add resistance to abs exercises, but the cable machine-an apparatus that has largely fallen out of fashion thanks to the rise of functional fitness, is one of the best (and most underutilized) abs tools out there. (It's one of the seven gym machines that are actually worth your time.) It's pretty simple: There's a tower that houses an adjustable stack of weights, an anchor point that moves up and down, and a cable you pull on. You can also switch out the handle you pull on based on the exercise you're doing.

"A cable machine offers a variety of angles, attachments, and variation," Glazer explains. By adjusting the weight, position of the cable, and the attachment, there are virtually endless exercise choices. Here are four to try if you want to spice up your core workouts.

How it works: Exercises can be performed as a circuit (do three rounds) or in addition to your regular strength-training routine (try three to four sets).

When it comes to choosing weights, keep it light. "None of these exercises require extremely heavy weight," says Glazer. "In fact, a lighter weight is best." That way, you can focus on the area you're trying to target and move with control. "The mind-body connection is huge here!"

You'll need: Cable machine, handle attachment, rope attachment (optional), ankle attachment (optional)

Paloff Press

This exercise requires you to keep your entire core engaged as you resist the urge to rotate in one direction or another.

A. Using the handle attachment, position the cable at shoulder height. Stand with the cable on the right side of body and step away from the tower so there is resistance on the cable (about an arms-length away). Wrap both hands around the attachment and stand with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Bring the handle directly in front of the center of the chest, roll shoulders back, and engage core to start.

B. With control, exhale and press the cable away from chest until arms are fully extended. Hold this position for a few seconds, making sure to keep your core tight, arms stable, and shoulders relaxed, allowing for minimal movement.

C. Bring the cable back to chest to return to starting position.

Do 8 to 12 reps; repeat on the other side.

Cable-Assisted Dead Bug

This exercise is especially effective at working the rectus abdominis (aka your "six-pack" muscles). It's all about control, so go slowly, stay stable, and focus on the mind-body connection.

A. Use the straight bar, rope, or simple handle attachment for this exercise. Set the anchor point of the cable up to a height that will be arms-length off the floor. Face away from the tower and scoot away, so there is resistance on the cable.

B. Lie faceup on the floor with head relaxed on the ground. Engage core so that back stays in a neutral position against the floor. Lift both legs up to a 90-degree angle, and think of pulling ribs in toward the floor to keep the entire core active. Extend arms toward the ceiling, stacked over shoulders. Once comfortable, grab the cable attachment and hold it over the chest, keeping arms straight, back neutral, neck relaxed, core engaged, and legs at 90 degrees to start.

C. Slowly extend one leg toward the ground, pressing through the heel, but never allowing it to touch the ground. Keep the rest of the body still. Slowly and with control, bring that leg back to 90 degrees and repeat on the other side.

Do 5 to 10 reps per leg.


This exercise targets your obliques but also recruits the rest of your core.

A. Start with the cable handle or rope attachment hanging high on the tower. Stand facing the side and grab the handle or rope with both hands. Step one arms-length away from the machine and keep arms outstretched and straight to start.

B. With feet shoulder-width apart and a soft bend in the knees, begin to pull the cable down across the body (like a seat belt) while engaging core muscles. Keep back and arms straight while pivoting on the inside foot to get a full range of motion.

C. Maintain a strong stance, straight arms, and engaged core, while slowly returning to starting position.

Do 8 to 12 reps; repeat on the other side.

Plank Knee Tuck

Consider this a supercharged plank variation.

A. Lower the cable anchor point to the lowest possible position and use an ankle attachment if available. If not, use the regular handle and slip one foot in the strap of the handle.

B. Facing away from the tower, hook the right foot into the strap. Move away from the tower to provide resistance on the cable and lower into either a high or low elbow plank position with feet wide. Stack shoulders directly over elbows (or over wrists for a high plank), draw the core tight, squeeze the glutes together, engage your quads, and keep gaze toward the floor so neck stays in a neutral position.

C. Brace core and drive the right knee (the foot in the cable strap) toward chest without rounding the back, lifting hips, or swinging back and forth. Pause at the top of the position, focusing on a full abdominal crunch.

D. Slowly return to starting position. Don't allow hips to sink toward the floor.

Do 8 to 12 reps; repeat on the other side.

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