A cable machine is one of the best ways to work out your whole body with one machine. However, to be able to do this, you do need some attachments that connect to the cable. The attachment you choose actually has a big impact on which exercises you can do. So which cable attachments are essential to getting a full body workout? Here’s what you need to know
The only five cable attachments you need in a gym to do a full body workout are;
- D handles
- Dual cable barbell
- Ankle straps
- Lat bar
- Triceps rope
With those five you can perform a complete, full body workout on a cable machine.
Keep reading to find out more about these attachments and what you can use them for.
1. D handles
D handles are probably the most used cable attachments. It’s a very simple thing. A nylon strap with a grip on one side and an attachment point on the other. It’s great for all kinds of movements. Just think of what you can do with dumbbells. A D handle allows you to do pretty much all dumbbell exercises plus more.
There are D handles made from metal and others are made from nylon. The metal handles are more durable but I’ve always found the quite uncomfortable to use. The metal cuts into you arms or hands on some exercises and while they have a grip that rotates separately, you actually have to lubricate that grip to make it smooth. The nylon versions are much more comfortable to use, don’t need lubrication and I’ve seen them last for years even in a commercial gym so for at home, the nylon is the better choice especially since they’re also cheaper.
D handles can be used to train one side at a time. This has as a benefit that you can really focus on one thing at a time. If you’ve got two pulleys, you can use both arms at the same time of course.
D handle exercises;
- Bicep curls: Biceps
- Cable crossover: Chest
- Reverse cable fly: Rear delts, Back
- Chest fly: Chest
- Front delt raise: Front of the shoulder
- Cable lunges: Lower body
- One arm rows: Back
- Chest press: Chest, triceps
- Lateral raise: Shoulders
- Triceps kickback: Triceps
Of course there are more exercises you can do with D handles. The beauty of a cable machine is that there are so many possibilities for adjustments. The pulleys can be adjusted in height, your body can be put in a different position and different attachments can target the muscles slightly differently. So this list above isn’t complete but gives a good overview for the most popular exercises you can do with them. The same goes for the exercises given for other attachments below.
2. Dual Cable Barbell
This attachment is only useful if you’ve got a machine with two cable pulleys. If you do have that, it is one you really should get though. This is a straight bar that doesn’t attach to a cable in the middle but on both ends. So one cable attaches to one side and another cable on the other side.
This is the closest you’re going to get to a real barbell exercise with cables. You can do squats, bench presses, overhead presses and more with this attachment. That means it allows you to do some of the best compound barbell exercises but with a cable machine.
Since the cables attach to both sides, you don’t have an attachment point in the middle like other bars that attach to cable machines. That means you can put this bar on your back or get under the bar in other positions without the cable being in the way. Also, because you can attach two cables, you effectively double the resistance. And with compound exercises, you use a lot of muscle mass but that means you can also move a lot of weight.
Compound exercises like the squat, deadlift and bench press are some of the exercises that use the most amount of muscle mass in one movement. So if you’re shooting for a full body workout this dual barbell is one of the best to get.
Possible dual cable barbell exercises (only for dual pulley machines);
- Squat :Lower body, back, core
- Deadlift: Lower body, Back Core
- Bench press: Pecs, Triceps
- Overhead press: Shoulders, Triceps
- Incline bench Press: Upper pecs, Triceps, shoulder
3. Ankle straps
To isolate many muscles in the legs and glutes, you need ankle straps. You could try to get your feet in the D handles but that’s not very secure. Ankle straps wrap around your ankle so they don’t easily slip off.
They are pretty simple attachments. There is a nylon strap, usually covered in something softer to make it more comfortable. The strap can be opened enough to slide your foot through. Then you can tighten the strap and secure it with (usually) Velcro so it won’t slide off your ankle.
It’s possible to train the lower body on a cable machine without ankle straps but not as comprehensively as with them. Without ankle straps, you can still do the big exercises like squats, lunges, etc.
With ankle straps you can add the following exercises to the list;
- Cable lateral lunges: Glutes, Legs
- Straight leg raise: Hip flexors, core
- Hamstring curl: Hamstrings
- Weighted reverse crunches: Core
- Leg extensions: Quadriceps
4. Lat bar
This is a bar that’s bent at the ends to give different grip positions for lat pulldowns. Some are bent in different ways than others but the most common is a straight bar that’s bent at the ends. The cable attaches in the middle of the bar. That means you can use a single pulley but you have to use both hands otherwise the bar won’t be stable. It’s perfectly fine to use this bar for other exercises too though.
The downside is that the lat bar is quite long. For some exercises wehre you put your hands close together, this can be a bit awkward. A short straight bar or EZ curl bar are good additions but if you want something that’s better for bicep curls or overhead tripecs extenttions but the Lat bar will do as well. Or you can use the next one;
Lat bar exercise options;
- Lat pulldown: Lats
- Bicep curls: Biceps
- Tricep pushdown: Triceps
- Upright row: Shoulders, Trapezius
- Seated row: Back
- Straight arm pushdown: Lats, lower trapezius
5. Triceps rope
This one can’t be absent from the list. A favorite and it has been for many years. It’s a thick rope with two round handles at both ends. In the middle there is an attachment point for the cable.
The biggest difference with other attachemnts is that your hand position is different. That targets the muscles in a different way than if you would do them with a lat bar. Also, because the rope is relatively soft (compared to steel) and long, you can use it for exercises where other attachments would limit your range of motion.
Triceps rope exercise options;
- Bicep hammer curl: Biceps
- Tricep pushdown: Triceps
- Overhead tricep extensions: Triceps
- Face pulls: Back, rear delt
- Cable shrugs: Trapezius
- Straight arm pushdown: Lats
- Front delt raise: Front delt
- Cable pullover: Lats
- Pull though: Glutes
- Cable crunches: Core
Do these attachments provide a full body workout?
To do a full body workout on a cable machine, the 5 attachments are enough. The body parts most people want to exercise;
As you can see from the exercises listed for every attachment, there are several exercises for each of those muscle groups. That means it’s absolutely possible to do a great full body workout with those 5 things.
If you’ve only got a single pulley, number 2 doesn’t work for you. There isn’t really a great alternative to the double cable barbell for a single pulley machine so you will miss out on some exercises. With a single pulley, you can do most of those exercises with D handles but of course that will be a bit different.
Are other attachments unnecessary?
Does having this set mean you shouldn’t get any other attachments? No, there are plenty of other options that can add some specific exercise or exercise variation to your workouts. The attachments listed above are enough to get a full body workout with plenty of variety. But everyone is different, has different goals and from time to time you want to try different things. The list above are the most used in any gym around the world and this combination can provide a great full body workout.
The set of attachment above will be enough for a while but you’ll probably find one specific thing that it can’t do for you. At that point you can get another attachment that does that for you. Here are some other attachments that are good for more specific exercises;
- EZ curl bar: For more comfortable bicep curls.
- Double D handles: Good for close grip rows and pulldowns. Single pulley goblet squats are also an option.
- Single Triceps rope: For the same exercises as a normal biceps rope but with one arm. Also good for some core exercises.
- Neck harness: One thing that can’t be trained with the attachment above is your neck. This is usually not part of a full body routine but can definitely help you look bigger when wearing clothes.