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 variety of exercises on one of these machines.
With so many variations of cable exercises available when it comes to back workouts it’s great to have an idea of where to start and what works best.
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 tone your back, build muscle, or increase strength, these exercises are here to help in your fitness journey:
1. Seated Cable Row
A simple exercise that’s ideal for building a strong platform to build upon. The seated cable row is a staple in workout routines and the form transfers to multiple other exercises.
Cable rows work 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. This makes it a great alternative for those who may not have free weights available or prefer exercise machines.
As you enter the starting 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 cable row is a variation of the seated cable row which offers a couple of different advantages:
Remember to keep your elbow close to the side of your body as you pull back.
Also, be sure not to overcompensate with the rotation of the spine. The power should primarily stem from the contraction of the back with the rotation of the trunk being stabilized by keeping your core engaged throughout the exercise.
3. Straight-Arm Pushdown
The straight-arm pushdown focuses on one primary muscle group: the lats.
You can use either a rope attachment or the 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.
The next 3 exercises on our list are variations of the lat pulldown. As these back exercises are crucial to strong and toned back muscles we have included a video below to help perfect form.
Check out the video to see all 3 variations:
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 the wide-grip lat pulldown is one of the most effective cable back exercises, 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.
Not to be confused with our next exercise, be sure to keep the palms facing away from the body. Additionally, remember to keep your elbows close to your body as you pull the bar down.
You can use the standard curved lat bar, as seen in the video, or the “V” bar if it feels more comfortable.
6. Reverse-Grip Lat Pulldown
The reverse-grip variation allows you to keep your elbows tighter to the body. This targets the lower lats more directly and provides the opportunity to properly isolate and contract the muscle at the bottom of the rep.
The positioning for this exercise is similar to the others yet the palms face the body, similar to a chin up.
7. Reverse Cable Flyes
The primary muscles for this exercise include the rhomboids and posterior delts.
Although it’s one of the most popular cable machine exercises, 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 too 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 mid-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.
While pulling on the handle the wrist and forearm rotate, changing the angle of the grip during the motion. Be sure to keep the core engaged and don’t overextend the back when lowering the weights.
As always if you’re having to jerk and use body weight during the exercise, be sure to drop weight and focus on controlled, deliberate movements.
9. The Face Pull
Muscles worked in this exercise include the posterior delts, traps, rhomboids, and rotator cuff muscles.
The face pull exercise is often used in shoulder workout programs, but it is also used to develop the upper back muscles.
For this exercise, the cable rope attachment is used. Be sure to grip the rope with palms facing inward as it will increase the range of motion as your hands travel backward.
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. Don’t underestimate your back strength and aim for the 8-12 rep range while nearing exhaustion on your final set.
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:
If you do the following exercises with the proper cadence and rest time, this workout will take between 45 and 60 minutes.
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.
This list of the best cable exercises for back development is 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!