Although you’ll never hear the gym rats at the juice bar admit it, free weights aren’t the be-all, end-all of weight training. You can get great results using machines and pulley racks. In fact, you can get a full chest workout using only the cable and pulley rack, as long as you use the right routines with good form.
The cable row works the upper, outer and middle pectorals, along with the deltoids and traps. Use a single-grip handle and put the pulley on each side of a dual-cable rack at chest-level. When you do your reps, lean forward a little bit and keep your feet together. The wider your stance, the less your work your chest will do. Use a pyramid rep progression. Do one set of 10 reps, then increase the weight one notch. Do a set of eight reps, then increase the weight another notch. Do four reps, increase the weight, then do two reps. Reverse the pattern, working backward to another set of 10 reps.
Pull Down Rows
Pull down rows use resistance to work the outer and upper pecs; each rep also works the deltoids, the traps, the obliques and the forearms. Pull down rows require a single cable rack, or you can use one side of a dual-cable rack. Set the pulley cable all the way to the top and attach the rope-handle grip. Stand with the handle slightly behind your left shoulder and grip the rope handle with both hands. Pull the cable down and across your body, from above your left shoulder to your right hip. Pull with your chest and oblique muscles. Use a simple rep progression and do three sets of 10 reps for each side of your body.
Cable flyes mimic free-weight chest flyes, but each rep is done from the standing position rather than lying on a bench. Standing places more stress on stabilizer muscles, while working in the upper and outer pecs, along with your triceps. Set the cable pulleys for each rack to chest level. Use the single-grip handle for each cable, and bring both handles in across your body so that they come together just in front of your chest. Hold the handles there for a moment, then slowly release them back to the racks. For best results, use a pyramid progression, or change up the whole routine with a five-two-two progression. To do a five-two-two, set the weight plates to a weight that comes close to your max. Do five reps, then two reps, then another two reps. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat the five-two-two, rest another 30 seconds, then do one final five-two-two set.
Cable and pulley exercises let you safely lift more weight than you could with free weights. Still, they are not machine exercises and you’re just as likely to get the form wrong if you’re not careful. Like free weights, make sure that you use fluid, controlled motions. Don’t try to build momentum by going too fast, especially with cables. If you let the cable slip from your grip, you not only risk injuring yourself, but anyone else standing nearby.
- Optimizing Strength Training: Designing Nonlinear Periodization Workouts; William J. Kraemer, Steven J. Fleck
- Getting Stronger, 25th Anniversary Edition; Bill Pearl
- Strength Training Anatomy; Frédéric Delavier
Bobby R. Goldsmith is a writer and editor with over 12 years of experience in journalism, marketing and academics. His work has been published by the Santa Fe Writers Project, "DASH Literary Journal," the "Inland Valley Daily Bulletin" and WiseGEEK.