The path to getting beautifully sculpted legs isn't easy. Luckily, we know a ton of tips and techniques to help you maximize your lower body gains. And one form of training that we feel often gets ignored in the leg and booty department is cable machine exercises.
Cable machines don’t get enough credit for their versatility for both upper body and lower body workouts. Free weights, squats, and deadlifts are all great for building your leg and glute muscles, but adding more exercise variations over time is key for maximum muscle growth!
So, we want to help you utilize the cable machine at your gym more by providing you with a full cable leg workout and we'll even give you some warm-up tips to help ensure you have an effective and safe workout.
Skipping your lower body warm-up before a workout is the worst thing you can do for your muscles, especially the glutes. Strong glute muscles are beneficial for everyone, not just athletes and bodybuilders. After all, we use our glutes every day when we’re walking, sitting, or picking things up.
Long periods of inactivity cause the posterior muscles to relax and weaken, which increases the risk of having issues like:
Glute activation exercises help wake up and prep these muscles before a lower-body workout. Here are some great stretches to include in your leg-day warm-up repertoire:
Standing glute kickback
Downward facing dog
Another tip we recommend for leveling up your warm-up is using a resistance band. Resistance bands create just enough tension to help deepen the movements and increase your flexibility. Our UPPPER resistance bands come in a variety of tension levels including light, medium, heavy, and extra heavy (only available for our long bands). We carry long and short bands in all kinds of designs and colors!
If you’re new to using resistance bands, start off with these two glute activation exercises below to become more familiar with them!
Glute bridges w/ light or medium UPPPER resistance band
- Lie down on your back and lay your arms straight along your side. Bend your knees with your heels slightly pulled toward your glutes.
- Put the resistance band around your thighs so it sits right above your knees.
- Strengthen your core, lift your hips up toward the ceiling, and squeeze the glutes at the top of the stretch. Make sure your arms and shoulders aren’t lifting up off the ground.
- Hold the pose for 2-3 seconds and slowly lower back down into the starting position.
Fire hydrant w/ light or medium UPPPER resistance band
- Loop the resistance band above your knees.
- Bring yourself to a tabletop position by getting on your hands and knees. Keep your back straight and tighten your core to maintain balance.
- Carefully lift one leg out to your side while keeping the knee bent. Be sure you aren’t compromising your form to get your leg higher. Instead, focus on using the gluteus medius (side butt) to move your leg, but don’t bring it past your hip.
- Hold for a few seconds, lower the leg back down, and repeat on the other side.
Your One Machine Leg Workout
Cable machines provide constant resistance and tension while still allowing you to add more weight. You can also attach different workout tools to perform exercises at various angles. Some of these cable leg exercises will require ankle straps, but since most gyms don’t supply these with the machine, you’ll need to purchase your own set. Our new UPPPER ankle straps are extremely comfortable and easily adjustable so they wrap perfectly around your ankles.
Once you've warmed up, got your cable attachments ready, you can get started on our killer cable leg workout! We will be giving you a recommended set and rep range, but everyone's fitness level is different, so feel free to adjust the numbers if needed! As for the weight, pick a weight that is challenging enough that your muscles are working hard to fight the tension, but your form isn't giving in.
Tip: Increase the weight if you can do 12-15 reps without breaking a sweat or your form!
Side leg raises
Side leg raises are also called ‘standing abductors’ because your pushing the leg away from your midline. This move works out the hip abductors, outer thighs, and the gluteus medius and minimus. There are other variations for this exercise, but cable leg rises will really have you feeling the burn!
Stand shoulder-width apart with one shoulder next to the cable machine. The ankle cuff will be on the leg opposite from the cable machine.
Place one hand on your hips and hold the machine with the other for support.
Lift your weighted leg out to the side as far as possible, but avoid leaning into your standing leg to try and raise your leg higher. Concentrate on only using your outer thigh and gluteus medius muscles.
Lower your leg down and complete your set reps before switching to the other leg.
Perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps (depending on weight used).
The great thing about cable squats is that they target other muscle groups besides the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. You’re also using your abs, arms, and the middle back/lats. Compared to barbell squats, cable squats don’t put as much weight on your lower body. However, the combination of cable weights with your own bodyweight still helps with muscle hypertrophy in the legs and glutes by continuously keeping the tension throughout your whole body.
Attach a narrow grip handle to the lowest rung on the cable machine so that the bar is lower than your knees.
Hold the straight bar in your hands and walk two or three steps back from the cable machine until there’s no slack in the cable pulley.
Tighten your core, keep your back straight, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Lean your hips back and lower into a squat position. Stop when your thighs are parallel or slightly lower to the floor.
Hold for a few seconds at the bottom of the squat and then push through your heels and legs to a standing position.
Perform 4 sets of 10-15 reps (depending on weight used).
Staggered stance cable Romanian deadlift
Staggered stances, also sometimes called ‘the b-stance’, is akin to a split leg or single-leg squat variation, except you’re still using both legs during the exercise. You do this by staggering your stance and keeping your back leg’s big toe even with the heel of your front foot. This stance gives you extra support and balance in your back leg while allowing you to squat deeper.
Romanian deadlifts target your entire posterior muscle group, including the hamstrings, quads, and glutes. Doing this move with the cable machine is ideal for those with lower back problems. It puts less strain on the area compared to using a barbell or dumbbell.
Grab a straight bar in both hands and stand up straight. Adjust your stance so the toes of your back leg are aligned with the heel of your front leg. Slightly bend your back knee so your heel is lifted off the floor.
Bend forward at the hips while the resistance from the cable machine pulls your hands down to your feet.
Lift yourself back up through your hips to a standing position while keeping your back straight through the whole movement.
Perform 4 sets of 10-15 reps on each leg (depending on weight used).
Cable reverse lunges
The backward motion of reverse lunges puts a lot of emphasis on balance and coordination. It’s also a great variation if you have knee pain since your momentum is moving you backward instead of forward, thereby putting less strain on the knee joint. The exercise might seem difficult at first for beginners because of the resistance caused by the cable machine. Try practicing the reverse lunge without the machine a few times until you feel you’ve mastered the flow of the movement. Cable reverse lunges work your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves while maintaining tension in the upper body, especially the arms.
Connect a straight or w-shaped bar to the second or third rung on the cable machine.
While holding the bar, step back until there’s resistance in the pulley and stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Bend both knees to 90-degrees as you move one leg back into a lunge. Be sure to land on the ball of your foot and keep your core engaged.
Push through your front heel and repeat the exercise on the opposite leg.
Perform 3 sets of 20 reps, or 10 reps on each leg (depending on weight used).
Cable pull-throughs are a compound exercise that involves the glutes, hamstrings, and most of your lower back muscles. It’s also a great practice move to prepare you for other hip hinge movements like deadlifts and barbell hip thrusts. Glute isolation is key with this exercise and is considered to be one of the best moves for increasing glute hypertrophy.
Using a rope or grip bar pulley, attach it to the cable machine and set it to the lowest rung.
Turn away from the machine and straddle the cable pulley with your feet slightly wider apart than your hips.
While keeping your knees slightly bent, hinge at your hips so your upper body is parallel with the ground and reach your arms through your legs to grab onto the pulley.
Drive your hips forward and engage your glutes to bring yourself to a standing position while pulling the rope between your legs. Your arms and back should remain straight throughout the movement.
Hinge at the hips again to lower back to the starting position.
Perform 4 sets of 10-15 reps (depending on weight used).
Cable hamstring curls
Hamstring curls, obviously, engage your hamstrings, along with your glutes and calves. Many people will tell you it’s hard trying to grow your hamstring muscles. Some bodybuilders neglect this muscle group more than they should in favor of bigger quads or glutes. But working your hamstrings is important for muscle balance in your lower body.
Typically, hamstring curls are done lying flat on a leg curl machine and using both legs at once. Doing this move on a cable machine allows you to isolate the exercise to one leg at a time and really focus on your form.
Wrap an ankle strap around your ankle and connect it to the cable machine.
Stand facing the machine while holding on to it with one hand for balance with your other hand resting on your hip.
Use your weighted hamstring to lift your foot as high as you can. Try bringing your heel as close to your glutes as possible without straining your hamstring.
Lower your leg back down and complete your reps before switching to the other leg.
Perform 3 sets of 10-15 reps on each leg (depending on weight used).
Power up your leg day workout routine with these cable exercise variations!
See how much cable machines have to offer to your leg days? Cable leg workouts target all the right muscle groups while allowing for more isolated movements and attention to form. And don't forget to cool down! Cool downs will help improve your recovery, so try these glute stretches after your leg day. And if you're in need of a pair of comfortable, durable Ankle Straps, Resistance Bands, or other lifting gear - check out our UPPPER Gear Collection!