Focus On: the scary cable pulley thing

It’s no wonder many people fear the weight room… some of the equipment in there can look like forms of torture devices.


Example A: the cable pulley.

Back in the day, I didn’t mess around with these things for a looooong time. The fact that everything was adjustable (height and handles) intimidated me, and I had no idea how to use it. If I was feeling brave, I do some tricep pressdowns or bicep curls, the most common exercises I’ll see using this machine.

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Realistically, they’re surprisingly easy to use and there are SO many exercises that can be done on the cable pulley.

One of the nice things about them is that they’re basically the intermediary between dumbbells and weight training machines- with machines, your movements are guided to a specific point and range, and with dumbbells, you can do whatever the heck you want (which can be dangerous for those who aren’t sure of proper form). Cable pulley machines fall right in the middle- they guide you along while still providing freedom as far as movement goes.

So what are they?

A machine utilizing a cable pulley system for resistance. You use your own boy to stabilize and can perform push, pull and rotational exercises. It’s a common piece of exercise equipment at gyms and a great option for a home gym, since it’s so versatile.

A similar option is the cable crossover machine, which can be used the same way.

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Some of my favorite cable exercises:

Kneeling cable kickback


Cable woodchop


Cable deadlift


(feeling fancy? add an upright row at the top)

Lateral raise


The possibilities are endless….

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Some tips:

Before venturing into the pulley world, make sure you know what proper form should look like. If you don’t, ask a trainer- they should be happy to help

No matter what, contract your core to stabilize

Careful not to pinch your fingers switching out handles 😉 A fun and easy way to change things up is to use a different handle for your favorite exercise, or changing emphasis on the movement (down slow, up fast and vise versa)

Is there any gym equipment that you’re still apprehensive about? I used to LOATHE the assisted pull-up machine, but as soon as I saw what it did for my back, I changed my mind.

What’s your favorite cable pulley exercise?

Hope everyone is having an amazing day <3

See ya later tonight!



More Focus On faves:

Tabata training

Step aerobics

Stability balls

Resistance bands

Something to think:

“He who gains a victory over other men is strong; but he who gains a victory over himself is all powerful.”

Lao Tzu quotes

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  1. Ali @SeeAliEatSeeAliRun on January 11, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Maybe you could do a Bosu ball focus post? I don’t seem to remember if you have yet or not. I love that thing and am always looking for more ways to utilize it!

    • Julie on January 12, 2012 at 7:30 pm

      Agree! I love it.

  2. Stephanie on January 11, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    I love to use the Bosu in conjunction with the cable pulley. I usually do squat rows or just straight rows while using the Bosu. I love the Bosu too and try to incorporate it where ever I can.

  3. Steffany on January 11, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    I used to love the cable pulley for tricep exercises and such. (: Haven’t used one in a while due to work schedule having me work out a lot from home (Insanity, daily runs, P90X, BodyRock, ToneItUp, etc)

  4. Sarah @ w30 on January 11, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    JUST found your blog and LOVE it! Your baby is truly adorable … but how in the heck are you putting these great posts up so fast? I a) don’t have a baby, and b) didn’t just give birth – and I haven’t been able to get a post up since Sunday! I have a cat and an office job and that is my big excuse. You are putting me to shame. 🙂 *shakesheadamazed*

  5. Shannon on January 11, 2012 at 6:36 pm

    I always feel the burn so much more when I use these pulleys than when I do regular free weights or machines. I think its because I don’t do them all that much but I’m definitely a fan. I’m still hesitant to move everything around a lot, but I can manage some basic upper body moves.

  6. Michelle on January 11, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    I remember being so intimidated by the cable machine when I first started going to the gym! I had no idea what I was supposed to do, or the proper way to do it. Thanks for making the info more accessible!

  7. Laura @ Running on Pie on January 11, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    I’ve been doing cable woodchops recently and I always feel like the cable chafes! I also saw a woman the other day doing sideways leg raise things (it looked like a Pilates style move) that looked hard and effective…I might try that one soon!

  8. Ali @ Peaches and Football on January 11, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    I’m scared, a little about the back muscle thingy. Not sure the technical name, but it’s supposed to strengthen the back. All it seems to do is cause me a lot of pain, so I skip it!

  9. kara on January 11, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    “You use your own boy to stabilize and can perform push, pull and rotational exercises.”
    i would DEFINITELY like to use my own boy for those sorts of exercises… haha! i cracked up when i read that. great typo!

    • Carolyn on January 11, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      Exactly what I thought!

    • Ali on January 12, 2012 at 12:07 am

      ME TOO! All I could think of was……”That’s what she said” LOL 🙂

  10. Melissa on January 11, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    My favourite is te Pallof Press (you will have to look it up on you tube, its hard to describe), It looks totally easy but it works so many muscle groups!

  11. Kelly @ Vegolosophy on January 11, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    I have always wanted to use the rower in the gym, but it intimidates me a little. It looks super fun, but I get nervous I may look like a dork and not know how to start and/or use the machine 🙂

  12. Katherine on January 11, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    THANK YOU! I’ve had a few gym buddies try to introduce me to this device but its IS scary. With this info I think I’ll be confident to approach the beast! 🙂

  13. Allison on January 11, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    Thanks for this post! I am getting less intimidated by the cable machines, but I definitely don’t use them to their full potential. I have never used the assisted pullup machine. That one is way intimidating to me! Maybe that could be the subkect of a Focus On post?

  14. ashley on January 11, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    hey gina! just letting you know, your family page is completely gone. 🙁

    • Fitnessista on January 11, 2012 at 10:53 pm


      • Jennifer on January 12, 2012 at 1:14 am

        It’s gone for me too, Gina. Says ‘Oops this page couldn’t be found’.

  15. Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga on January 11, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Ahh the cable pulley machine is one I havent used in…ages. I quit the gym about 18 mos ago and havent set foot in one since. Just do my running and at-home yoga these days but I do love a good cable pulley sweat sesh. That thing is so versatile!

  16. Allison on January 11, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    I often see the kneeling cable kick back suggested as an exercise in Oxygen, but I would never do it in my very male dominated gym. If the isn’t an exercise that screams ” look at me”, I don’t know what is.

  17. Stephanie @ on January 11, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    thanks for posting this, so informative. I am such a novice lifter with some of these machines. I’ve used them all plenty of times (undergrad. soccer lifting sessions) but it was always with a trainer and I definitely zoned out or did not pay attention enough to remember how to do any of it by myself.

    thanks for such an informative post!

  18. kaila@ healthy helper blog! on January 11, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    I like this focus on post!! I am always intimidated by that machine so this takes a little of the fear away! I will definitely have to try it out next time I’m at the gym!

  19. Morgan on January 11, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Ugh that pulley machine has ALWAYS left me wondering “Wth?” I have avoided it like the plague anytime I go to the gym…now I want go try it!!

    • Fitnessista on January 11, 2012 at 10:52 pm

      don’t be afraid! 🙂

  20. Katie @ Katie Gets Fit on January 11, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Love the ideas! Definitely going to try the kickback next time I use the cable pulleys!

  21. Lauren @ Fun, Fit and Fabulous! on January 11, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    I LOVE tricep pull downs with the pulley machine. Once I got the hang of it the cable machine became one of my favorites in the weight room!

  22. Ashley on January 11, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    Yes I can’t find the family page either 🙁

    • Fitnessista on January 11, 2012 at 11:55 pm

      So weird! It’s showing up here- try typing and let me know if it still isn’t working!

      • Quinn on January 12, 2012 at 1:21 am

        It’s not working 🙁

        Typing in directs me to

        • Jennifer on January 12, 2012 at 3:52 am

          Same here.

          Gina, is the FAMILY link in the header at the top of your main page supposed to link to
          What comes up when I hover over it or click on it is and it goes to the ‘page not found’ message.

  23. Melissa on January 12, 2012 at 1:18 am

    When I enter the address it worked but the ‘Family” link is broken when I click it.

  24. Melissa on January 12, 2012 at 1:27 am

    Correction: When I physically typed in the family link it shot me to a post from 2009… I read the whole thing and was really confused until I looked at the date. Weird.

  25. georgina on January 12, 2012 at 5:26 am

    GINA!!!! I go on holidays to see my mom for a couple of weeks and I come back… You’ve had your precious baby??? I’ve been waiting for this to happen for 9 months, reading you every single day and when I stop doing it for a f3ew days it happens… Oh life! Ok, I better stop because it must sound wierd reading all these things from a spanish girl considering you don’t know me.
    Congratulations and QUE SEÁIS MUY FELICES!!!


  26. Amanda P. on January 12, 2012 at 6:09 am

    I used to be a little intimidated by the weight machines and would only use them when the fitness room at my condo was empty for basic movements. One day there was a guy there who got talking to me about what I was trying to get in shape for and showed me how to use everything. On the cable pulley I remember one where he had me sit on the ground and do sort of the movement of a rowing machine. I believe it’s the second row second from the right in the pictures.

  27. Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin on January 12, 2012 at 8:32 am

    Thanks for this post! I’m still pretty iffy about using the cable pulley because I’m scared I won’t know how to adjust it properly and I’ll look like an idiot. 😛 But this post helped make it a little less scary!

  28. TA on January 12, 2012 at 9:25 am

    I’m a newbie when it comes to the gym. Machines still intimidate me and my trainer is having me do some exercises using them. So I hope this will help me overcome my fear of machines.

  29. Cat @Breakfast to Bed on January 12, 2012 at 11:03 am

    I had a VERY embarrassing experience with getting my foot caught in one and then falling off the bench in a “life alert” commercial fashion.

    It is some third world country’s torture chamber.

  30. Kelly @ Laughter, Strength, and Food on January 12, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Pulley systems definitely can be scary if you don’t know how to use them! I was always too nervous to try and then I would avoid reading the side of the machine and the instructions because I didn’t want to look like a newbie that didn’t know what she was doing!

    We have a big pulley machine in our gym at home and it’s one of my favorite things to use. 😀

  31. Allison on January 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    I have always wondered what to do on those “gangly arm-like” [very technical, haha] machines! I want to [rather, need to] incorporate more weights into my gym routine and would like to do some mat moves but have nooo clue what to do… Focusing on the upper body and core!

  32. Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed on January 12, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    I am pretty confident with most of the machines in the gym but yet I am still kind of intimidated by this machine! I use it for lat pull downs, tricep pull downs, and some rowing… but otherwise, not so much! I was definitely glad when I started using the assisted pull up/dip machine, it’s so challenging, but worth it!

  33. Michelle on January 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    I love cables! My favorites are kickbacks, cable ab crunches and cable chest flies. I love the resistance they give and they certainly give your muscles a change from dumbbells. I’ve never tried a cable deadlift. I’ll have to try it out! Great post.
    — Michelle

  34. Anna @ The Guiltless Life on January 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    I have also had a fear of the machines at some point or another – I loved the Smith machine when I did some squats on it with my trainer but as soon as she left me to my own devices I was too scared to try using it haha in case I looked foolish.

    I love the assisted pull-up machine and the cable machine, so awesome! But I feel guilty sometimes about doing those exercises that require both cables as I feel like I’m being greedy…!

  35. Julie on January 12, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    I’ll put these on my list of things to try. I haven’t used the assisted pull up machine often or any machine in that case, but I want your back, especially in the picture from the hotel room workout(?).

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