It’s pretty frustrating when you’re having a great workout but you’re limited by the resistance your gym machine can provide. The pin is already in the heaviest plate but you need more weight. What can you do?
The best way to add resistance to a gym cable machine is to get an extended weight stack that’s specifically made for the machine. If an upgraded stack is not available, adding a magnetic weight, putting a dumbbell on top of the stack or using a peg pin are ways to add extra weight.
Want to find out more about each of these options? I’ll explain them in detail below.
If you’ve run out of resistance on your cable trainer, the best way to increase the resistance is to get an upgraded weight stack. Many machines (especially functional trainers) have an option to add weights. For example, your machine comes with a 150 lbs. weight stack as standard but the manufacturer offers a 50 lbs. upgrade to the stack.
Of course manufacturers don’t offer this option for every machine. Sometimes it’s just not possible because of space constraints and other times it’s just not something enough people need to produce it.
A weight stack upgrade has to be specific to the make and model of machine you’re using. All weight stacks are different and mixing and matching weight plates from different stacks has a pretty low chance of success.
Look up the brand of your cable machine online and see what options they have available. Maybe even call/email them to ask what they can offer. If there is no upgraded weight stack available, look at one of the next options.
Platemate is a brand that sells add-on weights. They are magnetic so they can be added on to pretty much anything metal like dumbbells, barbells, and also most weight stacks.
Don’t expect to get a lot of extra weight though. 5 lbs. is what these things weigh. But 5 lbs. can just be that little bit extra you need. And it’s the most secure way to add extra resistance. Since It has a strong magnet inside, it will stick to any metal surface pretty well so if put in the right place, it won’t fall off.
You could get a couple of Platemates to add up to some extra weight although at some point it will be difficult to stick them anywhere.
Plate peg pin
The peg pin is an interesting thing. It replaces the selector pin of a cable machine with one that has a plate peg instead of a knob on the end. This allows you to select the weight you want and then add a weight plate as well.
In some cases, this can work really well. But, that really depends on your situation. First off, the pin has to be the right length and diameter. Most pins will work reasonably well but if they’re too short, they won’t catch the cable, if they’re too thick, it doesn’t fit and if it’s too thin, it feels loose. However, in most cases the pin part works reasonably well.
The peg part is another story. If your machine has shrouds that only show a small part of the weight stack, the peg will probably run into them. The peg and weight plate can also interfere with the movement of a cable machine. Sometimes there just isn’t enough space to use it.
If you decide to try this thing out, make very slow movements the first time you use it. If the peg or plates hit something during the movement, you want that impact to be as soft as possible.
The good thing is of course that you can use several heavy plates and add a significant amount of weight to the stack.
Dumbbell on top
Another way to add a bit more weight to your stack is to simply put a dumbbell or other heavy thing on top of the stack. Whatever you place on top shouldn’t stick out wider than the stack to prevent it from hitting anything.
Also, be aware that the range of motion could be shortened. The dumbbell will hit the top of the machine earlier than the weight stack and when it does, you can’t move any further. So the first few reps, go slowly.
Putting two dumbbells on top, one on either side of the cable is even better as long as there is enough space. Putting the same weight on both sides of the cable means a more even spread of the weight and therefore more stability.
Use two stacks
Do you have two weight stacks/pulleys but need more resistance on an exercise that only uses one pulley? This can be the solution. You’ll need a functional trainer for this to work properly because the pulleys have to be reasonably close to each other.
Connect the second cable to the same attachment and you’ll have double the resistance. Let’s say you’re doing seated rows with one cable. Attach the second cable to the same row attachment. This can be a bit difficult because you’ll have to lift one of the stacks a little and work the carabiner at the same time.
If you manage it, it’s best to position yourself in between the pulleys so the weight stacks are at the same height.
Of course this doesn’t work in situations where there is only one pulley or both pulleys are already used for an exercise. It’s not a very easy solution but if you can get it to work, you’ll have significantly more weight to lift.
Not all attachments will work with two cables though. Find the 5 essential cable attachments here.
Change your workout
Do you really need a heavier weight stack? Sometimes you do but often you can change up your workout in a way that the same weight actually becomes more intensive.
There are a few ways you can use to quickly change the intensity of an exercise besides changing the weight;
- Rest periods
- Amount of sets
Of course weight is something that makes it really easy to track progress and it feels good to get that next plate. But depending on what your goals are, this isn’t the only way to make progress.
If you’re going for all out strength, you will lift as heavy as you can for 1-5 repetitions and long rest periods. Once you become reasonably strong, you’ll probably max out any cable machines’ weight stack on some exercises.
Muscle growth is related to strength but it’s not the same. To grow a muscle, you need more volume (repetitions x sets). Many people recommend 8-15 repetitions per set for muscle growth. Increasing your repetitions per set to the upper range will decrease the need for resistance. Then shorten the rest period to about 1 minute between sets and increase the number of sets. It’s also an option to slow down the eccentric part of the movement.
All these things combined can make the same resistance much more intense. Of course even if you’re training for muscle growth and use all the modifiers to make it more intensive, an exercise should feel challenging. If you’re not challenging the muscle, it won’t grow.
All of the modifiers above don’t make your workout intensive enough, it’s best to take a look at some other equipment. Barbells are the best way to lift heavy weights. Most barbells can handle up to 1000 lbs. as long as you have enough weight plates. There are not many people on this earth that need more than that. Since you likely will only max out the weight stack on a few exercises, get a barbell setup for those exercises and still use the cable machine for the rest of your workout.
How much weight can you safely add to a weight stack?
It’s quite difficult to add extra weight to your weight stack if the manufacturer doesn’t provide any upgrades. But let’s say you found a good way to do so, how much weight can you safely add?
It depends on the quality of the cable machine and its components. Most cable machines use cables and pulleys that are rated to hold much more weight than the weight of the stack. Of course you still want to keep a conservative safety margin between the maximum load of the cable and the weight of the stack but 50 lbs. extra really isn’t going to be a big problem for the cables and pulleys.
But let’s say you double the weight (if you could do that). You’ll likely run into some problems. The cables and pulleys can wear out faster because they’re under a lot of extra stress. If you would drive your car only at full throttle, things would wear out much quicker than if you take it easy. Moving parts in gym equipment is similar.
In most cases the frame will be able to handle quite a bit of extra weight but again, it depends on the quality and construction of your machine. When you add extra weight, make sure to keep an ear out for strange noises and check if everything carefully after use.