If you’re looking for an easy piece of gym equipment to use, cable machines are a great place to start.
Exercises with cables promote smooth, fluid form, there are generally more than enough machines in a given gym, and it’s easy to create a large variation of exercises on one of these machines.
So, where do you get started?
In this post, we’ve compiled 10 terrific cable-centric exercises to help you tone your back and gain muscle where you want it.
10 Cable Exercises for a Toned Back
Whether you’re looking to increase tone or build existing muscle, these exercises are here to help:
1. Seated Cable Row
A simple exercise that’s ideal for building upon in the long-term, this works a variety of primary muscles: including your lats, middle back (rhomboids), and traps. Secondary muscles targeted include the biceps and posterior deltoids.
The seated cable row is comparable to exercises like the dumbbell and barbell bent-over row.
As you enter the position, keep your back straight and your elbows tight to your body throughout the exercise.
Don’t let your spine hunch forward! Maintain a neutral spine and a strong core.
2. Single-Arm Seated Cable Row
The single-arm variation of the seated cable row offers a couple different advantages:
- You can achieve a further range of motion and maximize the back contraction
- The trunk rotation gives your core an additional workout
Remember to keep your elbow close to your body as you pull back.
3. Straight-Arm Pushdown
The straight-arm pushdown focuses one primary muscle group: the lats.
You can use either a rope or bar, but the rope will help you maximize your range of motion.
Remember, this is the “straight-arm” pushdown. If you start bending those elbows, you’ll be moving towards a tricep pulldown.
To maintain proper form, keep your weights light enough to move without excess strain. Aim for a rep range anywhere between 8-12 reps.
Here is a video showing the next 3 exercises on our list: variations of the lat pulldown.
4. Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown
The primary muscle group for this exercise is the lats, while the secondary muscles include the traps, rhomboids, and delts.
While this exercise is effective, it’s also one of the easiest to fumble in terms of form.
To do it correctly, be sure the movement is slow and fluid – no jerking or raising yourself up to push down with your body weight.
Your butt should stay rooted to the seat!
5. Close-Grip Lat Pulldown
Some argue that the close-grip variation feels more natural than the alternatives.
Regardless, remember to keep your elbows close to your body as you pull down.
You can use the standard curved lat bar, as seen in the video, or the “V” bar.
6. Reverse-Grip Lat Pulldown
The reverse-grip variation puts more focus on the lower lats by allowing you to keep your elbows tighter to the body.
7. Reverse Cable Flyes
The primary muscles for this exercise include the rhomboids and posterior delts.
Make sure you start with a low weight so you really get the full range of motion and the pinching in the shoulder blades.
Go to heavy, and you’ll likely only work your arms and delts, neglecting the rhomboids.
8. Shotgun Row
The primary muscles for this exercise include the lats and middle back.
This is a great alternative to the seated cable row exercises! Most gyms only have 1 (2 max) seated row machines, so this exercise can always be an option instead.
9. The Face Pull
Muscles worked in this exercise include the posterior delts, traps, rhomboids, and rotator cuff muscles.
This face pull is often used in shoulder workout programs, but it is also used to develop the upper back muscles.
This exercise is difficult for beginners, but it’s great for developing balanced shoulders and preventing future shoulder injuries.
10. Standing Cable Row
The primary muscles in this exercise include the lats, rhomboids, and posterior delts, while the secondary muscles are the biceps and core.
You can use the straight bar or you can use the ropes to further extend your range of motion.
For this exercise, you can’t go too heavy. Aim for the 8-12 rep range.
Target Your Upper and Lower Back with Specific Exercises
As you can see from the exercises above, you engage a lot of primary and secondary muscles during back workouts.
To build balanced strength, you’ll need to make sure you’re doing a variety of back exercises to specifically target your upper and lower back muscles.
Upper back exercises target the lats and the upper-middle portion of the back. When choosing exercises for your upper back, choose a variety of high pulling exercises, like rows and reverse flyes.
To target the lower back, focus on exercises like low-cable rows and cable pulldowns.
You’ll need to balance these exercises to make sure you build a well-developed back. To help, I organized a workout below from the cable exercises listed in this article. This cable workout for back is designed to increase your strength and muscle mass—it’ll also translate to greater gains with primary lifts like the deadlift and military press.
Example Cable Workout for Back | Balance Is Key
Start with the upper back and work your way down. I tend to include posterior deltoid movements in my back workout because I feel like it plays an important role in developing a complete back.
Here is how to perform the exercises:
- Perform 6-8 reps for each exercise. Focus on proper form and take it slow.
- Rest for 2 minutes.
- Perform 3 sets.
If you do the following exercises with the proper cadence and rest time, this workout will take between 45 and 60 minutes.
- Reverse Cable Flyes
- Face Pulls
- Seated V-grip Row
- Single-arm Seated Cable Row
- Wide-grip Lat Pulldown
- Reverse-grip Lat Pulldown
If you perform each of these exercises, you’ll efficiently build strength in your entire back.
After you’ve performed this workout for a few weeks, analyze your sets, reps, and how you feel. If you find your lower back isn’t developing as fast as your upper back, then increase lower back sets to 4 and upper back sets to 2 until you feel balanced.
Continue building, analyzing, and changing! Each body is different and finding what works for you is the name of the game.
These cable exercises for back development are a great addition to any back workout program.
It can be hard to maintain proper form while going heavy on cable exercises, so make sure you still incorporate other key heavy lifting exercises – like the deadlift and the t-bar row.
Put in the hard work now so you can reap the benefits later!
For more exercises, see these compound back exercises.
Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. Many times the content is not written by a single author, instead it is usually a team effort.