12 Best Cable Machine Exercises For Legs – GarageGymPro

Do you want to build bigger and stronger legs?

Cable machines offer many advantages over free weights and other traditional resistance training equipment. Plus, they’re easier to use than conventional weights.

If you've been looking to include cable exercises that do more than just stretch your hamstrings, we’ve compiled a list of the best exercises for legs that will help you increase your strength and grow your leg muscle.

Continue reading to learn more about cable leg workouts and their benefits!

1. Cable Goblet Squat

Squats are perhaps one of the best lower body exercises you can do to build bigger and stronger quads.

While the load position in a standard back squat puts you at a higher risk for injury, a goblet squat eliminates that risk while still targeting the quads and glutes.

Goblet squats are often done using a dumbbell or kettlebell. However, using a cable machine is not only more convenient, but you're also able to sit back further and achieve a deeper squat.

Cable goblet squats are a great workout for beginners and more experienced lifters alike.

For maximum glute engagement, you can use a resistance band around your lower quads. To target your quads more, you can place weight plates underneath your heels.

How To Do A Cable Goblet Squat:

  1. 1
    Using either the rope attachment or a close grip handle - set it to the low cable pulley position.
  2. 2
    Take a step backward and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. 3
    Bring the handle to your chest, holding it below your chin.
  4. 4
    With your core engaged, retract your shoulders.
  5. 5
    Drop down into the squat position until your legs are parallel to the floor.
  6. 6
    Hold for 2-3 seconds and slowly return to starting position.
  7. 7
    Aim for 4 sets of 10-15 reps.

Related Article - Do Squats Make You Shorter?

Cable Goblet Squat

2. Cable Pull-Through

If you’re looking for the best glute exercises, cable pull-throughs are a great option!

The main advantage of this cable machine exercise is that you’re able to load your glutes and hamstrings without placing a lot of strain on your back.

Additionally, cable pull-throughs help to strengthen your hip hinge movement (which is needed for exercises like deadlifts).

This exercise is excellent for your glutes. If you want more exercise idea to blast your butt, check out our guide to the best gym equipment for glutes.

How To Do A Cable Pull-Through:

  1. 1
    Start by setting up the rope handle on a low pulley cable machine.
  2. 2
    Standing with your back to the weight stack, step forward until you feel adequate tension.
  3. 3
    With the cable between your legs, assume a wide-stance position.
  4. 4
    Hinge forward, allowing your arms to travel back between your legs. Be sure to keep your arms straight and avoid rounding your back. Maintaining a neutral spine, go until you feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings.
  5. 5
    Pause for 2-3 seconds, and then drive your hips forward, back to the starting position.
  6. 6
    Aim for 4 sets of 10-15 reps.
Cable Pull-Through

3. Cable Front Squats

The front squat is similar to the goblet squat, except that your hand positioning will differ slightly.

Where goblet squats are ordinarily done using a dumbbell, front squats are done using a barbell. This means that you’ll want to mimic using the barbell by using a straight bar handle instead.

Some people find this cable machine leg exercise more difficult than the barbell version since it can be difficult to maintain your balance and keep the bar stable against the resistance of the cable.

This exercise is a great alternative to barbell front squats if you only have a cable machine or functional trainer at home.

How To Do Cable Front Squats:

  1. 1
    Using the straight bar handle, set the cable machine to the low cable pulley position.
  2. 2
    Take a step backward and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. 3
    With your palms facing up, bring the cable attachment up to your collar bones.
  4. 4
    With your core engaged, retract your shoulders.
  5. 5
    Drop down into the squat position until your legs are parallel to the floor.
  6. 6
    Hold for 2-3 seconds and slowly return to starting position.
  7. 7
    Aim for 4 sets of 10-15 reps.
Cable Front Squats

4. Cable Deadlift

Deadlifts are perhaps one of the more effective exercises you can perform.

In fact, a 2018 study conducted on the health and performance benefits of the squat showed that deadlifts have numerous mechanical properties that are beneficial for enhancing functional strength and athletic performance.[1]

Using a cable machine for deadlifts is ideal for beginner lifts. Not only is it safer, but it's also easier on the lower back.

Deadlifts work a wide range of muscles at once and the cable machine version is no different.

With this cable machine leg workout, you’ll be training your entire posterior chain.

This includes your quads, glutes, and calves - as well as your back and core muscles too. To target your hamstrings more, try a stiff leg deadlift instead.

How To Do A Cable Deadlift:

  1. 1
    Begin by setting up the straight bar attachment to the cable pulley at its lowest position.
  2. 2
    Take a step backward until you feel tension on the cable, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. 3
    With your arms straight, hinge forward with a slight bend in your knees.
  4. 4
    Stop right before the point at which your back wants to round and hold for 2-3 seconds.
  5. 5
    Get your back and floating leg parallel to the ground before you drive up, returning to the original standing position.
  6. 6
    Repeat for the desired reps ( aim for 4 sets of 10-15 reps).
Cable Deadlift

5. Cable Squat

Cable squats (also sometimes called cable squat rows) are a great compound exercise that targets both the upper body and lower body.

If you’re looking for cable hamstring exercises, this is a great option!

The primary muscles worked include your lats and quads, while secondary muscles worked include your hamstrings, calves, biceps, and abs.

How To Do Cable Squats:

  1. 1
    Using the rope handle, set the pulley of the cable machine at its lowest position.
  2. 2
    Take a step backward until you feel tension on the cable.
  3. 3
    Bend your knees, ensuring that your knee joint doesn’t go past your heels, and drive your hips backward. Maintain a straight back and engage your core.
  4. 4
    Drop down into the squat, pausing at the bottom of the rep.
  5. 5
    Drive up, pushing your heels into the floor, to return to the starting position.
  6. 6
    Aim for 4 sets of 10-15 reps.
Cable Squat

6. Standing Cable Hip Extension

The standing cable hip extension is an excellent cable-only leg workout that targets the glute and hamstring muscles.

It’s a great isolation exercise that trains one leg at a time, focusing on just these muscles without involving another muscle group.

This ankle strap leg exercise is simple and easy to do, making it an ideal option for beginners.

How To Do A Standing Cable Hip Extension:

  1. 1
    Attach the ankle strap to your right leg and assume a standing position in front of the cable machine. Hold onto the cable machine for stability.
  2. 2
    While balancing on one leg (your supporting leg/left leg), drive your right leg backward and up. Ensure that you keep your legs straight and avoid kicking backward.
  3. 3
    Pause at the top of the rep before slowly returning to the starting position.
  4. 4
    Without letting your foot touch the ground, repeat the movement using the same leg.
  5. 5
    Repeat for the desired amount of reps before switching to your left leg.
  6. 6
    Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps per leg.
Standing Cable Hip Extension

7. Standing Cable Calf Raise

Standing cable calf raises are a great way to train your calf muscles. When creating your list of workouts incorporating cable leg exercises, this one is a must-have!

With this exercise, you can either train one leg at a time to prevent muscle imbalances or train both legs with increased resistance cables.

To get the most out of the exercise, ensure that you drop your heels below your toes at the bottom of the rep.

This will help you to train with a full range of motion, extending and contracting the calf muscles as much as possible.

How To Do A Standing Cable Calf Raise:

  1. 1
    Begin by setting up the belt attachment to the cable pulley at its lowest position.
  2. 2
    Place a block or step in front of the machine and step up onto it, with your heels off the edge of the step. Hold onto the machine for stability.
  3. 3
    Rise up into the calf raise, pausing at the top of the rep for a second.
  4. 4
    Then, lower your heels down, allowing them to drop below the step. You should feel a good stretch in your calf muscle. Pause at the bottom of the rep before driving back up for another rep.
  5. 5
    Aim for 4 sets of 10-15 reps.
Standing Cable Calf Raise

8. Cable Hip Adduction (inner thigh)

The hip adductors are situated in your inner thighs and consist of three muscles: adductor longus, adductor brevis, and adductor magnus.

This exercise is an excellent way to isolate and train these muscles exclusively.

How To Do Cable Hip Adduction:

  1. 1
    Using the ankle strap, set the pulley of the cable machine at its lowest position.
  2. 2
    Standing beside the weight stack, attach the strap to the leg closest to the machine.
  3. 3
    Take a step away from the machine so that your training leg is positioned at a 45-degree angle.
  4. 4
    Hold onto the machine for stability and place your other hand on your hip.
  5. 5
    Then, keeping a neutral spine and straight leg, sweep your training foot in front of the other.
  6. 6
    Slowly return to its original position and repeat for the desired amount of reps.
  7. 7
    Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps per leg, alternating legs between each set.
Cable Hip Adduction (Inner Thigh)

9. Cable Hip Abduction (Outer thigh)

While the previous exercise (hip adduction) worked the inner thigh, this one (hip abduction) targets the outer portion instead.

The hip abductors also consist of three muscles: the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae (TFL).

These muscles are important for moving your legs away from your body, as well as helping to rotate the legs at the hip joint.

How To Do Cable Hip Abduction:

  1. 1
    Using the ankle strap, set the pulley of the cable machine at its lowest position.
  2. 2
    Standing beside the weight stack, attach the strap to the leg farthest from the machine.
  3. 3
    Hold onto the machine for stability and place your other hand on your hip.
  4. 4
    Then, keeping a neutral spine and straight leg, lift your leg out laterally.
  5. 5
    Slowly return your leg to its original position and repeat for the desired amount of reps.
  6. 6
    Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps per leg, alternating legs between each set.
Cable Hip Abduction

10. Cable Standing Leg Curl

Unlike regular leg curls, this exercise combines both knee flexion and hip extension to create a more thorough hamstring workout.

Since the cable machine does not offer support, you’re forced to stabilize your entire body during the movement. This makes it a more challenging workout too.

This exercise is the perfect alternative to standard leg curls, which often require a specialized machine.

How To Do A Cable Standing Cable Leg Curl:

  1. 1
    Begin by attaching the ankle strap to one leg with the cable pulley at its lowest position.
  2. 2
    Stand facing the machine, holding onto it for stability.
  3. 3
    With your working leg off the floor, pull the cable backward by bending the knee until fully flexed.
  4. 4
    Slowly lower the weight stack, bringing your foot in front of you until almost fully extended.
  5. 5
    Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps per leg, alternating legs between each set.
Cable Standing Leg Curl

11. Cable Front Lunges

When it comes to quad cable exercises, front lunges are an excellent choice! This exercise focuses primarily on the quads, but the glutes, abs, and calves are also worked.

Although cable lunges do require you to have good balance, they work all of the same muscles as cable alternating step-ups do, without the need for a step.

This makes them the better option of the two.

How To Do Cable Front Lunges:

  1. 1
    Using the rope handle, set the pulley of the cable machine at its lowest position.
  2. 2
    Standing faced away from the cable, hold the rope with both hands using an overhand grip. The rope should be positioned at your shoulders.
  3. 3
    Keeping your upper body straight, take a step forward and bend your knees to create a 90-degree angle. Ensure that your front knee does not extend past your toes.
  4. 4
    Drive your leg back up to the starting position and switch legs.
  5. 5
    Aim for 4 sets of 10-16 reps, alternating legs between each rep.
Cable Front Lunges

12. Cable Squat Walk Outs

As the name suggests, this squat variation exercise entails walking in a squat position. While simple, it’s a tough and leg-burning exercise!

This exercise targets your quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

How To Do Cable Squat Walk Outs:

  1. 1
    Using the rope handle, set the pulley of the cable machine at its lowest position.
  2. 2
    With an overhand grip, hold the rope, and take a few steps back. Your arms should be straight out in front of you.
  3. 3
    Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  4. 4
    Ensure that your upper body remains in an upright position and avoid rounding your lower back. Engage your core and retract your shoulders.
  5. 5
    While remaining in a squat, take 6 steps backward and then 6 steps forward to complete the rep.
  6. 6
    Alternate the starting leg with each set.
  7. 7
    Aim for 4 sets of 3-5 reps.
Cable Squat Walk Outs

Benefits Of Using A Cable Machine For Legs

Increases Strength & Muscle Definition

Compared to free weights, the cable machine offers constant tension.

This means that your workouts will be more effective since the constant tension allows for greater muscle fatigue with less overall volume.

Cable machines allow you to isolate each leg muscle (including your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves) from a variety of angles for optimal muscle gains.

Improves Form & Decreases Risk Of Injury

Improper form, which is most prevalent when using free weights, is one of the main reasons for injuries in the gym. This is due to the lack of a fixed plane of motion.

Since cable machines offer a more direct plane of motion, they offer a decreased risk of injury. This means you’re able to increase the weight (without needing a spotter) and train to failure.

Increased Range Of Motion

When you perform exercises that allow your joints to move through their complete range of motion, you will experience greater results in both muscle growth and strength.

Additionally, it will enable you to become more flexible and mobile. By altering your body position and cable angle, you have more control over the range of motion.

This allows you to use more stabilizing muscle fibers as well.

More Efficient

Using free weights can be time-consuming since you have to rack the weights each time.

However, using a cable pulley machine is more time-efficient since you’re able to quickly switch between weights by just changing the pin to the desired weight.

Constant Tension

As mentioned, one of the greatest benefits of using a cable pulley machine is that there is constant tension, regardless of the portion of the lift you’re in.

With free weights, the resistance curve is either ascending or descending, with the extended position being the toughest part of the lift.

However, with the cable machine, the lift with be equally difficult in both phases of the lift.

Versatile

The cable machine is one of the most versatile machines on the gym floor, regardless of the muscle area you are training.

By simply adjusting factors like load and body position, you can efficiently target a variety of muscles through various ranges of motion.

Suggested Equipment - Best Cable Crossover Machines

Cable Machine For Legs Benefits

Tips For Incorporating Cable Leg Exercises Into Your Workout

According to recent studies, there is little difference between training the main muscle groups once per week versus three times per week when striving to maximize muscle growth.[2]

Instead, the volume of your resistance training (the number of sets and reps you're performing) is what impacts your muscle growth most.

Working the same muscle area more than once a week tends to result in worse results than sessions with higher volume (such as 3 sets of 12 reps or even 4 sets of 8 reps).

Reps and Sets for Muscle Strength

For improving muscle strength, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) suggests that the best reps and sets for strength are:[3]

  • For compound exercises
    2-6 sets of 6 or fewer reps (with a 2-5 minute rest between sets).
  • For isolation exercises
    1-3 sets of 8 or fewer reps (with a 90-second to 2-minute rest between sets).

Reps and Sets for Muscle Hypertrophy

For improving muscle size (hypertrophy), use a set and rep range of 3-6 sets of 6-12 reps, with a break between sets of 30-90 seconds.

Rest intervals also influence whether you're concentrating on increasing muscle mass or strength, with strength workouts often requiring longer recovery time than workouts that promote hypertrophy.


The Anatomy Of Your Legs – Learn To Target Specific Muscles

I often hear the question, "but are cable leg exercises effective?" The answer is yes - and adding cable leg exercises to your training program is a great idea!

The cable machine is an extremely versatile piece of equipment, allowing you to work just about every muscle group, including all the leg muscles.

What makes a cable leg workout so great is that you're able to target the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves without exerting any compressive stress on your spine.

Understanding the anatomy of your legs will help you to learn how to target specific muscles. Here is an overview of each muscle and its function:

Quadriceps

One of the strongest muscles in the body is the quadriceps. As the name suggests, the quadriceps (or quads) are made up of four individual muscles.

This includes the three vastus muscles and the rectus femoris. The main extensor is located in the front of the thighs, and it aids in straightening the leg at the knee.[4]

Hamstrings

The hamstrings are made up of three muscles, the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus.

They start under the gluteus maximus at the back of the thigh, attach to the tibia, and control hip and knee movement.

Glutes

The glutes are made up of three main muscles - the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.

Situated at the back of the hip joint, their primary function is to keep the body in an upright position.

Calves

The calves are essential for the mobility of the ankle, foot, and toes.

They also consist of three major muscles - the gastrocnemius, soleus, and plantaris. Interestingly, not everyone has the plantaris muscle as it’s absent in about 7-20% of individuals.[5]

man and woman flexing leg muscles

Cable Machine Leg Exercises – Your Questions Answered

Can you do leg press with a cable machine?

Yes, you can! To do a leg press with a cable machine, you’ll lie on your back with your head closest to the machine and the ankle strap attached to your ankle.

Then, without raising your hips off the ground, you’ll bring your knee up to your chest.

Straighten your leg to complete the rep, ensuring that you contract your quad when your leg is extended.

Can you do leg extensions with cables?

Yes, you can do leg extensions with cables. You’ll need to place an upright bench in front of the cable machine and attach the ankle strap to your ankle.

Sitting on the bench, extend your leg out - ensuring that you stop before your knees lock. Hold for a second and return to the starting position to complete the movement.

Repeat for the desired amount of reps.

Can you grow glutes with a cable machine?

Absolutely! Cable machines are an excellent way to grow your glutes since they allow you to target all three glute muscles (Gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus) using a single machine.

By doing various glute-focused cable exercises, you’ll be able to grow your glutes in no time!

How long does it take to tone legs?

After starting a leg workout, you can start to see some results in as little as 2-4 weeks. Your endurance will improve, and your legs will appear slightly more toned.

Overall though, it does take 3-4 months for any significant results - depending on your level of fitness when starting.

How do you hit your quads on a cable machine?

There are several cable machine exercises you can do to hit your quads. This includes exercises like cable squats and squat variations, lunges, deadlifts, and more.

Check out our list of the best cable leg exercises for some excellent quad-focused cable exercises.

What is a functional trainer?

It’s just another term for a cable machine.

Since the cable pulley system allows for an unlimited range of motion, it offers a wide range of options to safely strengthen and improve injured muscles.

For this reason, it’s often used for rehab exercises and for doing functional training.

Our Favorite Functional Trainer - REP Fitness FT-3000


Conclusion

That wraps up our guide to the best cable leg exercises. Using a cable machine for leg workouts allows you to train your leg muscles through their ideal range of motion.

The different resistance angles are perfect for increasing targeted tension on the muscle.

Additionally, you’re able to do exercises like squats without the stress placed on your spine when using a barbell.

Now that you know what the benefits are, how to incorporate cable leg exercises into your workout routine, and what the best cable leg exercises are -  you’ll be able to achieve your weightlifting goals in no time!

References:

1. http://medcraveonline.com/MOJYPT/MOJYPT-03-00042.pdf
2. https://shapeamerica.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02640414.2018.1555906#.YupAKnZByUl
3. https://www.nsca.com/store/product-detail//INV/9781718210868/9781718210868
4. https://teachmeanatomy.info/lower-limb/muscles/thigh/anterior-compartment/
5. https://www.physio-pedia.com/Plantaris

Last Updated on November 10, 2022