Can You Replace Cables On Gym Machines? When And How?


Gym machines with cables need more attention than a simple barbell. And a failing cable can not only scare you but even damage your machine or cause injury. You really don’t want that to happen. When do you have to replace the cable and how can you best do this? Find out.

Gym machine cables are wear parts and should be replaced when necessary. The best way to do this is with an official replacement cable from the manufacturer but it’s also possible to make your own replacement cable in most cases. DIY cables can void warranty though.

Find out exactly when to replace the cables and how to do it below.

When to replace gym machine cables

Do you have to replace the gym machine cable or can you fix the existing one? It depends, here are some guidelines to know if you should replace the cable.

  • If the cable is broken, it obviously should be replaced.
  • If the protective sheath is tearing or punctured, replace the cable
  • If there is any serious corrosion, replace the cable.

If the cable is in good shape but doesn’t move smoothly or there is too much slack, the cable likely doesn’t have to be replaced. If there is too much slack in the cable, you can adjust it 99% of the time. usually there is a place to take the slack out on top of the weight stack. If the cable doesn’t move smoothly and the outside of the cable looks fine, it’s probably an issue with the pulleys.

Fixing the nylon sheath with tape or glue is not a good idea because it will make the machine action feel strange and fail pretty quickly.

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Where to find gym machine replacement cables

If you’ve determined that a cable has to be replaced on your gym machine, the next step is to find a replacement. They aren’t usually found in a random supermarket so where can you find the right cable?

There are two ways you can go;

  • Find the official replacement cable
  • Create your own replacement cable

The best and easiest way to go about it is to find the correct replacement cable from the manufacturer. Contacting the manufacturer or your local distributor will likely have the right cable for you. This is the best way to go because you can be sure the cable fits exactly and is the same quality and strength as the original. These cables can be a bit pricey and are sometimes hard to get a hold of.

The other option is to make your own replacement cables. How much you need depends on the specific machine. A cable is attached on two sides. Usually those attachments will be reusable. If so, you can take a cable that is the same strength and diameter and make your own cable. You’ll probably have to cut it to the correct length though. So make sure the cable you buy is easily long enough as well as the same diameter and strength as the original one.

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How to replace gym machine cables

Of course every gym machine with cables is different. However, there are some general instructions that will work for every machine.

Here’s how to replace the cable on most gym machines.

You’ll need some tools. For most machines a screwdriver and a set of hex keys is enough although sometimes you’ll need a few different wrenches as well.

  1. Remove shrouds: The first thing to do is to get rid of any plastic shrouds that are covering up the insides of the machine. Take them off and put them in a safe spot.
  2. Clean: The inside of the machine probably hasn’t been cleaned for a while so there could be a lot of dust. Clean it out with a vacuum cleaner and a damp cloth before doing anything else. A clean machine will make the rest of the job a lot more pleasant.
  3. Take pictures: You want everything to go back in exactly the same place as before. Take pictures of the cable routing and even any other parts you might have to remove.
  4. Take any load off the cable: Make sure there is no load on the cable. Taking the pin out of the weight stack should be sufficient.
  5. Disconnect cable from stack: Now disconnect the cable from the top of the weight stack. You usually need a hex key or wrench for this. Sometimes the attachment hardware is covered up.
  6. Pull out: Now you’re ready to pull out the cable by pulling on the other end. If that other end isn’t attached to a handle but something like a lever or seat, disconnect that first.
  7. Take any hardware off: If you are building your own cable, the attachment hardware is sometimes not included or compatible. Take anything that’s not on the new cable off.  
  8. Cut new cable: Now you have two naked cables. Put them next to each other and check the diameter and length. Cut the new cable to the length of the old one. Just go with the old length at first. If that leaves too much slack to adjust, you can always cut a bit more off later. The easiest way to cut these cables is actually with a grind wheel. Pliers are going to have a hard time.
  9. Attach ball end: If there isn’t a ball end on the new cable yet, attach it now. Leaving the attachment hardware on the other side of the cable off for now is easier in most cases.
  10. Re-route: Now start at the front of the machine and route the new cable through all the pulleys just like it was before.
  11. Attach to stack: When it’s in place, attach the cable to the stack.
  12. Check:  Check if the machine works like before and if the slack has to be adjusted.

It’s not actually that easy if you’re doing it for the first time and you can see why an official replacement cable takes a lot of the DIY work out of this process. Take it slow and triple check everything before doing something you can’t reverse.

Cable maintenance

Is there anything you can do to make your gym machines’ cables last longer?

Cable lifespan mainly depends on how much a machine is used and the conditions it’s in. Of course a machine that lives outside is going to last a lot shorter and so are the cables. While there isn’t too much you can do to extend the normal lifespan of a cable, there are some things you can do to prevent premature failure:

  • Regular cleaning and inspections: Wipe down the cables and pulleys with just a damp cloth regularly. Also take that time to inspect the cable and sheath.
  • Adjust the slack: Cables breaking is not a common problem at all. However, the nylon sheath getting damaged is much more common. If there is too much slack in the cable at rest, there is a bigger chance to damage the nylon cover. You want about 1 cm/0.5” of slack. If it’s more, adjust it. Too much slack can cause the cable to pop out of its track and get stuck next to the pulleys.
  • Be careful with pulleys: If a cable gets wedged next to a pulley wheel, be careful getting it out, this is when many tears happen. Spraying some silicone lubricant on the stuck spot might help get it loose. If the cable slack is set correctly but cables keep popping out, check if all the pulleys are aligned and tightened correctly.

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What about cable pulleys?

Cables run on pulleys. The pulleys guide the cables and apply the resistance at the cable from the right direction. These pulleys are almost as important to a well-functioning gym machine as the cables are. When the pulleys are not rotating as they should, the movement of the machine will feel inconsistent and jerky. That’s not a good workout experience.

The pulleys do not have to be lubricated since the bearings inside are sealed so nothing should be able to get in or out. The best thing you can do to keep them in good shape is regular cleaning. Don’t only clean the outside of the pulley wheel but also around the axle. This is where a lot of debris builds up which can act as kind of a brake on the pulley. Take the pulley out of the housing and get rid of everything around it. Taking it out makes cleaning next to the axle a lot easier since they are usually concealed.

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Of course this isn’t something you do every week because it’s quite a pain to do. So if you’re replacing your cables, definitely take the opportunity to take out the pulleys and clean them as well. Also check if the bearing is still good. If it’s not smooth, it’s time to replace the pulley. Of course if a pulley wheel is cracked, it should also be replaced.

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