The cable machine is one of the most versatile pieces of home gym equipment out there.

You can do a huge variety of exercises with a cable machine at home, especially for building core strength.[1]

Its versatility also means that choosing the right workouts can be challenging. For help on how to use the cable machine properly for targeting the core muscles, keep reading.

We'll cover 14 different cable ab exercises specifically meant to build and maintain the abdominals and obliques.

When you think of the abs and core, you no doubt immediately think about the infamous 6-pack, right?

I used to be the same, but there's a lot more to your abs and core than the muscles you see on the front of most fitness magazines. In fact, it can be argued that the muscles you don't see are often the most important. 

Here's some of the muscles that make up your abs and core:

Rectus Abdominis

The rectus abdominis are the superficial muscle that you can see when you're super lean. They're often known as the "6-pack" or "8-pack".

When using cables to train these muscles, you place them under constant tension which increases the stress placed on them, therefore causing them to grow. 

Transverse Abdominis

The transverse abdominis muscles help to protect your organs by keeping them in place. They also act to support your torso, helping you stabilize your spine and pelvis during movements. 

It's key that you don't neglect this area as having strong transverse abdominals will have great carry over to your major lifts such as deadlift, squat, and other compound movements. 

By using cables you can place your transverse abdominals under a lot of tension, strengthening them using constant resistance. 

Anatomy Of Abs & Core

Internal Oblique

Your internal obliques help you flex and bend your body, depressing your ribs during breathing, and helps create intra-abdominal pressure during childbirth, defecation, and micturition. 

As you can see it's a vital muscle which is needed every day, and by training it using cables, you can strengthen your body's ability to function. 

External Oblique

Your external obliques help you compress your abdomen, pulling your chest towards the floor. They give you stability while you perform movements such as bending and rotating (for example walking, running, twisting, etc.).

By using a cable to train your external obliques, as with other parts of your abs and core, you place the muscles under constant tension, giving them the stimulus they need to grow. 

5 Important Tips For Building Abs With A Cable Machine

Before using a pulley machine for cable exercises, there are a few things you should know if you want the best results and, more importantly, no injuries!

Here are a few important training tips - as well as mistakes to avoid - for building abs with a cable machine.

1. Don't Just Work Rectus Abdominis

One of the biggest mistakes for building rock-hard abs is failing to focus on the entire core.

Many trainers target only the rectus abdominis, which is the area between the rib cage that's commonly referred to as the "six-pack."

Instead of only focusing on getting a 6-pack, you’ll want to target all of the muscle groups within your core.

This means building a well-rounded core workout to hit the external obliques, transverse abdominis, and main muscles of the rectus abdominis.

2. Mix Up Your Rep Ranges

Changing up the number of reps you do with specific exercises doesn't just keep things interesting.

Some sources say that low repetitions with heavy weight increases strength, and others say that high repetitions with light weight are better for endurance.

To reap all of these benefits and more, it’s best to mix up your rep range. One day, try to do more reps and less weight with your machine, and the next try fewer reps and more weight.

All in all, try to avoid doing the same number of reps each time.

3. Don't Train Abs Everyday

Giving your muscles a break may seem counterproductive, but it’s actually extremely important that you take rest days.[2]

Taking rest days allows for recovery and growth, and according to Healthline, “it’s a critical part of progress, regardless of your fitness level or sport.

Otherwise, skipping rest days can lead to overtraining or burnout.”

4. Isolate And Integrate Where Possible

Another great tip for using a cable machine is to isolate and target muscles individually.

Instead of simply holding constant tension in the core region, try to specifically isolate certain regions of your tummy.

There’s a lot of value in knowing how to focus different muscles in your core, and you can do so by creating a routine that targets all of them.

5. Use A Controlled Tempo And Peak Contractions

Shaky movements and speedy reps won't do much for your abs workout.

Whether you're doing cable leg raises or reps of the Russian twist, always go through each movement in a slow and controlled manner.

This means keeping a constant tempo, holding each rep at its peak, and slowly returning to the starting position.

By holding the position when tension is at its highest, you’ll be able to get much better results when it comes to muscle growth.

man flexing abs and chest

Benefits Of Doing Regular Cable Abdominal Exercises

Aside from getting six pack abs and ripped obliques, there are lots of reasons to focus on the abdominal muscles.[3]

Better Stability & Balance

First off, core strength goes hand in hand with balance, and according to Mayo Clinic, “core exercises train the muscles in your pelvis, lower back, hips, and abdomen to work in harmony. This leads to better balance and stability.”

Healthy Back & Reduced Back Pain

Another big reason to keep the core strong is to keep your back healthy.

That’s right…your backside is greatly affected by your front side, and a strong core enhances back strength and agility. It’s even been proven to reduce the risk of back pain and injury.

But why not just do crunches? Or why not target the entire core by holding the plank position? Well, it all comes down to the wide range of motion made possible by using a cable machine.

Doing cable exercises for abs not only means you’re able to keep your core tight and target your abs. It also means you’ll have the ability to strengthen those hard-to-reach obliques, upper abs, and lower abs.

14 Best Ab & Oblique Exercises With A Cable Machine

Before you embark on a cable ab workout at home or in your local gym, try to have a basic understanding of how the pulley machine works. It’s a great machine for so many reasons, but using it incorrectly can lead to injury.

Secondly, it's best to start slow. Even if you know that you're fully capable of handling a great deal of weight, there's no shame in getting used to the machine before going all out. In fact, it's recommended.

Now that we’ve covered some important safety precautions, it’s time to count down the best cable ab exercises for abs. When performed regularly, the following exercises are sure to improve your core strength.

Required Equipment - Best Cable Crossover Machines

1. Standing Cable Pallof Press

man in blue shirt doing a standing cable pallof press

The cable Pallof press is a great choice for anyone who wants to train the obliques and intercostals, which are the muscles between your ribs.

While this workout is great for targeting hard-to-reach muscles, it’s also a good option for beginners looking for the best cable exercises.

I use this movement several times a week as I've found it to be a super useful core exercise to help stabilize my trunk during complex movements like the deadlift.


  • Great for trunk stability. 
  • Excellent for beginners. 
  • Doesn't require a lot of weight.

How To Do It:

  1. Start with the pulley rope attachment at shoulder level and feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold the cable handle with both hands and stand sideways with the machine at arm’s length.
  3. Hold the rope attachment handle securely in front of your chest.
  4. Keeping your arms straight, bring your upper body to a fully extended position directly in front of your body (with no up and down movement).
  5. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't be tempted to load this exercise with a ton of weight. Keep the weight low and aim for slow and controlled movements to get the most from this exercise. 

2. Vertical Pallof Press

Woman Doing Vertical Pallof Press Exercise

This next cable ab exercise is very similar to the previous Pallof press, just with an overhand grip instead of a side-body motion.

It’s great for training the internal and external obliques, TVA (transverse abdominis), rectus abdominis, hip flexors, and lats. - This helps improve your stabilization during complex movements like the deadlift. 

Instead of moving the arms horizontally, this Pallof variation requires you to move the arms overhead.

I've found by doing this, the abs really stretch at the top and are worked through a large range of motion. They remind me a little of the ab wheel you can use in some gyms, it provides a similar feeling.


  • Suitable for all abilities
  • Great for trunk stabilization.
  • Carries over to other movements (like deadlift).

How To Do It:

  1. Start out with the pulley rope attachment at shoulder level and feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the cable handle with both hands and stand sideways with the machine at arm's length.
  2. Hold the rope handle securely in front of your chest with your arms straight.
  3. With the pulley machine handle in both hands, slowly move your arms upwards until they’re fully extended.
  4. Once you’re fully extended, return to the starting position and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

As with the regular Pallof press, this variation doesn't require a lot of weight. Focus on slow and controlled movements during this exercise to get the most from it.  

3. Kneeling Cable Crunch

Man Doing Kneeling Cable Crunches

The kneeling cable crunch works the rectus abdominis, and it’s a very simple motion that shows big results. For six-pack abs, this should definitely be on your agenda.

I remember discovering this exercise in the early 2000s and I can assure you it WORKS, my abs looked great back then...maybe I should start doing them more often again. 


  • Simple to perform 
  • Doesn't require a lot of space. 

How To Do It:

  1. Position the rope attachment at its highest setting.
  2. Hold both handles with your left hand while kneeling in front of the machine, directly facing it.
  3. Start with your arms above your head, then crunch down to contract your abs. While doing so, twist in a controlled manner to the opposite side.
  4. Reverse the action to return to the starting position.
  5. For the best results, keep the body rigid, especially the core, once you’ve reached the bottom position.

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't have a cable machine? You can perform this movement using a resistance band, making it an ideal exercise if you're on the move.  

Related Article - Best Cable Glute Exercises

4. Standing Cable Crunch (With Straight Bar Or Rope Attachment)

Man Doing Standing Cable Crunch (With Straight Bar Or Rope Attachment)

Many people assume crunches are done while lying on the floor, but that's not the case with this next workout.

With the standing cable crunch, you'll be doing crunches, all while standing and building tension with a weight stack. As you're standing, you won't place as much strain on your knees (as you might during the kneeling cable crunch). 

This exercise is fairly easy, especially for feeling the burn in the upper abs, but it does require some balance. It’s best to keep a wide stance to keep from toppling over.

This exercise is also an excellent alternative to standard cable crunches and it also greatly improves stability!


  • Less strain on your knees. 
  • Simple to perform. 
  • Doesn't require a lot of weight.

How To Do It:

  1. Stand in front of a high cable machine facing toward the weight stack. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and your legs in a straight line with a slight bend in the knees.
  2. Using an underhand grip with palms facing shoulders and elbows generously bent, grab the straight bar attachment (or rope handle) and hold it securely.
  3. As you slowly bend at the waist, tighten your core and bend downwards until your torso is parallel with the ground.
  4. Pause and keep the main muscles of the core tightened, then slowly return to the start position and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Looking to improve stability? Perform this movement several times a week as part of your core workout.  

5. Seated Cable Crunch

Man Doing Seated Cable Crunches

The seated cable crunch is basically the same as #4 of the best cable exercises with one major difference. Instead of standing, this exercise requires you to crunch while seated.

You probably won’t be able to use the floor for this one. It’s best to stay seated on a raised surface, like an exercise bench, stability ball, or even a Bosu ball if it’s high enough off the ground.

There are machines that replicate this movement such as the ab crunch machine, but I prefer the cable crunch as it places constant tension on your core muscles throughout the movement.


  • Less stability needed.
  • Less strain on your knees. 
  • Excellent for beginners.

How To Do It:

  1. Set the pulley at its highest setting with a rope handle attached to the cable.
  2. Grab the handles and sit on the bench, stability ball, or Bosu ball with your back towards the machine.
  3. Ensure that you are far enough away from the machine to fully extend the arms.
  4. With your arms above your head and a firm grip on the rope handle, crunch down to contract your abs.
  5. Reverse the action slowly and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Always place the cable high enough so the cable doesn't pull your hair or rub against your scalp. Trust me, it doesn't feel great, especially mid way through a set.  

6. Kneeling Oblique Cable Twist

Man Doing Kneeling Oblique Cable Twists

Training the external obliques on a cable machine is best done with the kneeling oblique twist.

This exercise can also be performed in a standing position, but for now, let’s focus on the kneeling version.

The movement is very similar to a kneeling cable crunch, only you’ll be adding alternating oblique twists into the mix.

This is one of my favorite movements to substitute for Russian twists because it adds even more tension by using the resistance of the weight stack.


  • Strengthens your torso against rotation. 
  • Improves other lifts like squats, deadlift, and military press. 

How To Do It:

  1. Using a high pulley rope attachment, kneel about 2 feet from the machine facing outwards. Grab the rope with both hands and position it behind your head with your hands close to your ears.
  2. Keeping your hands and arms in the same position, begin to contract your abs downwards with the rope remaining securely behind your head.
  3. Once you’re about halfway down, begin rotating one of your elbows to the opposite knee.
  4. Slowly rise back up to the starting point, and repeat on the other side. Alternate sides as you continue your reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Place a mat on the floor and kneel on it. This will prevent any unnecessary knee aggravation.  

7. Cable Woodchop

Woman Doing Cable Woodchops

Cable woodchops work the external and internal obliques as well as the transverse abdominis. All you need is a cable pulley machine, a rope attachment, and some willpower.

The name “woodchop” says it all; the motion involved in this exercise is very similar to that of chopping wood.

That means this is the perfect exercise for channeling your inner lumberjack!


  • Strengthens your obliques.
  • Develops your transverse abdominals.
  • Suitable for most ability levels.

How To Do It:

  1. Set the pulley to its highest setting and attach a rope handle to the end of the cable.
  2. Stand facing sideways near the machine, then reach up to grab the handle so that it’s positioned above the nearest shoulder.
  3. Draw the cable across and down your body towards the opposite hip.
  4. Return to the original position and repeat. Switch sides once you’ve completed your reps.

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't overload the cable machine with too much weight. The last thing you want is to be using momentum to move the weight rather than your core.  

8. Cable Reverse Crunch

Man Doing Cable Reverse Crunches In The Gym

Strengthening the lower portion of the rectus abdominis can be tricky. This is where the cable reverse crunch comes into play.

It’s very similar to a standard reverse crunch, but it’s done with a machine, weight stack, and ankle attachment (aka ankle strap).

I love pairing this movement with the regular cable crunch for a killer ab superset. Try it out, it's awesome. 


  • Develops your lower abs.
  • Simple to perform.

How To Do It:

  1. Secure an ankle attachment to the low pulley of your cable machine.
  2. Start by lying on the floor facing the direction of the machine. Place your feet through each ankle strap and keep your knees bent.
  3. Place your hands just above your ears. Avoid grasping behind the head; this can put additional pressure on the spine.
  4. As you crunch forward, pull your knees inwards toward your torso. Hold, then lower slowly and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

Always use ankle straps for this movement. Don't be tempted to use a "makeshift" ankle strap. The last thing you need is an injury. 

9. Cable Seated Ab Twist

Man Doing Cable Seated Ab Twists

Seated cable twists are ideal for training the obliques - both internal and external - and they’re a beginner-level workout that pretty much anyone can do.

It’s best to use a bench for this, but a chair will also work. Although you can use a seated row machine (as pictured above), I've used this method several times throughout the years. 


  • Suitable for beginners.
  • Strengthens your obliques.

How To Do It:

  1. Start out by setting the pulley to shoulder height when seated. Keep your feet planted firmly on the ground while straddling a bench or chair.
  2. Twist your torso so that you can grasp the rope with both hands. Then, straighten out your back and keep your arms parallel to the floor.
  3. Keeping your core and arms straight, slowly rotate your torso to one side while exhaling.
  4. Pause briefly, then return to the original position while inhaling.
  5. Repeat until you’ve finished your reps, then move on to the opposite side.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you don't have a cable machine handy, or you're on the move, you can use a resistance band instead. This gives you a lightweight way to perform this ab strengthening movement. 

Related Article - Best Cable Arm Exercises

10. Cable Russian Twist

Man Doing Cable Russian Twists In The Gym

Cable Russian twists may sound exotic, but it’s actually a very simple exercise to work the obliques and intercostal muscles.

Russian twists have long been one of my go-to exercises for strengthening my obliques. I used them to great effect during my boxing training, giving my rather pronounced obliques. 

There are a few ways to do it, including using a ball or bench to lie flat, so let’s focus on that method.


  • Develops strong obliques.
  • Suitable for all abilities. 
  • Great for sports such as boxing or MMA. 

How To Do It:

  1. Secure the pulley to its lowest setting and position a fitness ball or weight bench approximately 3’ in front of the machine.
  2. Lie flat on the fitness ball/bench and hold the handle with both hands. While holding on, fully extend your arms directly above your chest.
  3. As you contract your core, start bringing your arms down to the left side of the ball. Be sure to keep them straight, but avoid hyperextending.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't let momentum take over. Keep the movement slow and controlled throughout the exercise.  

11. Plank Cable Row

Woman Doing Plank Cable Row In The Gym

Holding the plank position is one of the best equipment-free exercises for toning the abs.

However, adding equipment to your plank game - such as a cable machine - can help you to ramp things up a notch.

I know what you're thinking... "The plank doesn't need to be any tougher", and you're right. 


By performing plank rows using a pulley system, there will be no stopping you when it comes time to train the obliques and rectus abdominis muscles. They're an excellent movement best suited for more advanced gym-goers. 

This exercise is a great alternative to renegade rows. It works your abs and simulates the rowing machine you would normally get with dumbbells.


  • Suitable for more advanced gym-goers. 
  • Trains your rectus abdominis and obliques.

How To Do It:

  1. Position the pulley so that it’s set to the lowest point. Lying on the floor, face the machine with your forearms in the plank position. You also have the option to hold the side plank position resting on one arm and perform the side plank cable row instead.
  2. The cable should be taut when your arm is outstretched, and always maintain a straight line with your body.
  3. Once you’ve found a comfortable - yet challenging - plank, reach for the cable handle with your right hand.
  4. Keeping your core engaged, row inwards toward your rib cage.
  5. Bring it back to the starting position, switch sides, and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you're travelling and don't have a cable machine, you can use a resistance band instead. It's a great exercise for anybody on the move.  

12. Cable Side Bend (High & Low)

Man Doing Cable Side Bends (High & Low)

Still looking for ways to strengthen and tone the obliques? Look no further than cable side bends.

These can be done with both high and low pulley systems, but no matter which one you go with, be prepared to feel some soreness in your side body due to the lateral flexion.

Below we’ve outlined the steps for cable side bends using a low pulley system.


  • Strengthens your obliques. 
  • Suitable for all ability levels. 

How To Do It:

  1. Set the pulley to its lowest setting and stand sideways to the machine. Hold the handle in the hand closest to the machine with your feet spread apart and a slight split stance.
  2. Start arching your body towards the ground by bringing your outer hand (the one without the pulley) towards your ankle. Avoid bending the knees or using a split stance.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position, and switch sides once your reps are complete.

Tips From A Trainer!

Don't think this exercise will help you "burn fat" from your waist... It doesn't. I see this far too often in the gym, so don't make the same mistake others are making.   

13. Cable Tuck Crunch

Man Doing Cable Tuck Crunches

Another 6-pack-worthy exercise is the cable tuck crunch.

This is great for the rectus abdominis, but just be aware that you need a double pulley system with an ankle attachment and rope handle to do it properly.

The cable tuck crunch uses a wide range of motion training your lower and upper abs as the same time. It gives you a lot of bang for your buck. 

You can also do cable leg raises using a similar method.


  • Works your rectus abdominis through a wide range of motion. 
  • Suitable for more advanced lifters.
  • Doesn't require a lot of weight. 

How To Do It:

  1. Attach the ankle attachment to the low pulley, and secure a handle on the high pulley.
  2. Lie on the floor between the two towers, facing away from them. Remain far enough away from the machine to get a full arm extension.
  3. Secure the ankle attachment over your ankles and hold the rope handle with your hands. Extend your arms up while keeping your legs straight.
  4. As you bring your straightened arms overhead, draw your knees toward your torso.
  5. Lower down slowly, and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

If you want to get the most from this movement, keep the weight low and the reps slow.  

14. Cable Judo Flip

Man Doing Cable Judo Flip Exercise In The Gym

This last one isn’t for beginners who are new to the cable machine. It’s a bit more advanced, so you’ll definitely want to work your way up to the Judo flip ab workout.

Once you are ready to start Judo flippin’, your obliques and intercostals will thank you.


  • Suitable for more advanced gym-goers. 
  • Works your intercostals and obliques. 

How To Do It:

  1. Position the pulley to the lowest setting and attach a handle to the cable.
  2. Stand facing away from the machine and grab the handle in both hands, bringing it behind your right shoulder.
  3. Pull the cable down and across your body and down to the opposite hip (imagine you are doing a Judo flip).
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side. 

Tips From A Trainer!

A simplified version of this movement would be to kneel on the floor as you would during a cable crunch. This removes some of the stability that you need while standing.  

Example Cable Ab Workout To Try

Circuit training has been proven to be one of the most effective techniques for getting in shape.[4]

If you’re unfamiliar with circuit training, it is very similar to HIIT and involves performing circuits of 5-6 different exercises with short periods of rest between each one.

The following cable ab circuit is extremely effective, and some might even say it’s fun!

Of course, just be sure to warm up and stretch before you get started and cool down at the end of your workout.

Cable Machine Circuit For Core Muscles

Once you’re ready to grab the cable handle, perform each exercise in the circuit with 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps for each.

Before moving on, take a short 1-minute break, then start the next of the cable exercises.

You can do the entire circuit as often as you want, although keeping your ab workout to 30 minutes should suffice.

One-Arm Cable Row:
  1. Start with a one-arm row with the arm of your choosing.
  2. For this, you’ll stand in a split stance, holding a low cable in the opposite hand to your front leg.
  3. Then, twist your torso away from the machine and bring the cable towards your side.
One-Arm Cable Row (Opposite Side):
  1. Do the same motion with your other arm.
  2. Starting with this motion will not only activate your muscles but also get your blood pumping and improve endurance.
Low Cable Crunch:
  1. Once you’ve completed your rows, move on to 3 sets of low cable crunches.
  2. Start by lying on your back with your feet furthest away from the machine and hold a low cable in both hands just above your forehead. 
  3. Then, curl your shoulders off the floor, pause for a moment, and lower slowly.
Cable Reverse Crunch:
  1. This next exercise is ideal for the lower abs or transverse abdominis.
  2. Lie on your back with your feet towards the machine and strap a low cable handle around your ankles. 
  3. Hold your legs so your thighs are vertical to the floor and your knees are bent at 90 degrees.
  4.  Curl your hips up off the floor, lower them slowly, and repeat.
Cable Russian Twist:
  1. To finish up the circuit, you’ll need a stability ball or Bosu ball.
  2. Begin your reps by lying backside-down on the gym ball. 
  3. Turn your torso towards the machine with a low cable in both hands out in front of your chest. 
  4. Keeping your arms straight, twist your torso and draw the cable across to the other side of your body.

No cable machine? No problem! You can build a DIY pulley system yourself for effective at-home cable training.

Cable Machine Ab Exercise FAQs

Is it enough to do only cable exercises for the abdominals?

Yes, as long as you have a versatile routine to target all core muscles, all you need for strong abs is a cable machine. That’s because cable exercises fully stimulate the abs through their full range of motion, and you can keep things challenging when you add resistance.

How many cable crunches should you do?

The number of cable crunches you do depends on your current fitness level. The general rule of thumb for the cable crunch is to do 2 or 3 sets of 10 to 20 repetitions with the weight you can handle.

How long does it take for ab workouts to show results?

The time frame for seeing results with your cable push-pull machine ultimately comes down to how motivated you are. With intense, frequent workouts, you could have a stronger core in as little as 1 week.

What is a good alternative to a cable machine for ab exercises?

A good alternative to a cable machine is a simple set of resistance bands.[5] You can attach a band to either the top or bottom of a door to mimic some exercises you can do with a high or low cable pulley machine.


You don’t have to be a gym owner or weight lifting junkie to know how to train your abs effectively with a cable machine.

Any of the cable exercises for abs listed above is a great addition to any ab fitness routine, especially if you have a pulley machine at home.

Having a cable machine at home isn’t feasible for all of us, but the good news is that every commercial gym has a cable crossover machine.

If signing up for a gym membership isn’t for you, another alternative is to buy a set of resistance bands and go to town.


Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.