World's Biggest Bodybuilder's Guide To Cables

June 20, 2012

By Joel Stubbs, IFBB Pro

[Q] Joel, my training partner likes to try to use heavy weight all the time – even when using cables. Are cables effective as mass-builders? 

[A] Unfortunately for you and your partner, cables don’t work so well for building mass. To effectively build mass, heavy multijoint movements (also called compound exercises) are always the way to go. These movements not only allow you to overload the target muscle with more weight, but they also call into play assisting muscle groups and other stabilizers. With few exceptions cable movements are, by and large, single-joint movements that allow you to work only whatever muscle group you’re focusing on at the time. For example, let’s say you wanted to build bigger legs. You’d do better to do squats and leg presses that hit the quads, glutes and hamstrings all at the same time instead of trying to focus on movements that work only the quads or hamstring, such as leg extensions and curls. Have you ever heard of a person doing leg extensions or leg curls with 400 or 500 pounds? Not likely. However, 400- and 500-pound squats and leg presses aren’t exactly a rarity.  

[Q] What’s the biggest benefit of using cables? 

[A] Cables offer maximum isolation and constant tension on the muscle throughout the entire range of motion as opposed to barbells and dumbbells, which can become a little easier to use during certain parts of the range of motion (like toward the top of the movement). For me cable work is most effective at the end of a workout, particularly after I’ve finished all the hard and heavy work. This is when cables are very effective in ensuring you get every last little bit of power that’s left in that muscle without using excessive weight loads. You can use them to burn out and fatigue those remaining muscle fibers from slightly different angles (remember, the line of pull is coming from the side) that you may not have fully taxed with the previous exercises.     

[Q] Do you like to use more cable movements when getting ready for a show?  

[A] Yes, I do utilize more cable movements during a contest phase, but I never neglect the heavy compound movements. If anything, I add cable movements to my workout. I supplement. I don’t substitute. I find they’re very beneficial in isolating individual muscle groups, helping etch in striations and fine detail into the muscle. I don’t have to tell you how important this is for bodybuilders on contest day or anyone trying to maximize a lean, muscular look. 

[Q] Do you have any advice for getting more out of my cable work? 

[A] Taking the time to feel the muscles contracting and stretching, and also making sure they’re working as hard as possible, produce the best results. Cables aren’t supereffective for building mass, so the amount of weight or trying to quickly get through the movement shouldn’t be of primary concern. Instead, try to use a full range of motion and contract the muscle as hard as possible. Your muscles will be sure to thank you with skin-splitting pumps and round, bursting muscles that look as if they’re ready to pop. Be sure to take your time and do the movements deliberately.   

Joel's Favorite Cable Exercises

Bodypart  Exercise
 Chest  Cable Crossover
 Back  Seated Cable Row
 Biceps  Two-Arm High-Pulley Curl
 Triceps  Rope Pressdown
 Shoulders  One-Arm Cable Lateral Raise