5 Best Cable Back Exercises

Sure, dumbbells, barbells, and other free weights are great options as far as back exercises are concerned. You'll see plenty of people doing rowing and dumbbell pullovers whenever you go to the gym

But, if you want to build a well-rounded back then you will want to make sure you use a cable machine on back day.

There are several benefits of using cables for back exercises that we will cover in greater detail below. But in short, cables create a constant resistance which forces your muscles to engage through the entire set, unlike free weight exercises.

A cable machine is one of the best back exercise tools around. So, we're going to take a look at some of the best cable back exercises that you can do, along with all of the major muscle groups in your back that these exercises will work.

Table of Contents


The Major Muscles in Your Back

Major Muscles in Your Back

Before we talk about all of the different cable back exercises that you can do, it's important for you to know what all of the different muscles in your back are, and what functions they perform.

Knowing what muscles you are targeting during specific exercises helps you contract them better, and that means faster results and bigger gains.


Upper and Lower Traps

The first muscle group we want to talk about are the upper and lower traps, also known as the trapezius muscles.

The trapezius muscles effectively form a diamond shape over the upper portion of your back.

As far as your upper traps are concerned, they start right at the base of your head and extend down to the neck, attaching to the collarbone.

Shrugging your shoulders or raising your arms over your head activates those upper traps.

We then have both the middle traps and the lower traps, which start at the mid-spine and are attached to the shoulder blade. These are important muscles for lifting your arms up and pushing the shoulder blades down.


Rotator Cuff

Next on the list of muscles that you can target in your back using a cable machine is the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff actually consists of several different muscles, including the teres minor, the infraspinatus, and the supraspinatus.

You might have heard people complaining that they have a rotator cuff injury, but what does the rotator cuff really do?

Well, one of the most important functions of the rotator cuff is external rotation, and your rotator cuffs offer stabilization during virtually any shoulder movement, whether it be pulling, pushing, lifting, or anything in between.



Your lats, also known as the latissimus dorsi muscles, are very large muscles in your back that range from the lower back all the way up to the mid back.

This primary muscle starts at the spine, moves outwards, and attaches to your humerus, the side of the upper arm bone, creating that classic winged look.

There are a few important functions that your lats serve, with shoulder extension being one of them. When you push your arm backwards or bring it down from a raised position, that's your lat at work.

Two other functions that your lats serve include internal rotation of the shoulder, as well as shoulder adduction, which means that your lats assist you in bringing your arms closer to your body. We'll take a closer look at some of the best lats back exercises you can do with the cable machine further below.


Erector Spinae – The Lower Back

Right next to your spine, you have what is known as the erector spinae muscles. These are a large group of muscles and tendons that extend from your lower back and sacrum to the base of your head. 

This is one of the most important muscle groups as far as your back is concerned because it performs many different functions.

First, these muscles are responsible for spinal extension, which is when you stand up and straighten your back after being bent over, or when you move your head to look upwards.

Your erector spinae muscles are also very important for rotational movement of the spine, lateral flexion, which is when you bend to the side, and they're important for helping to protect the integrity of your vertebrae as well.


The Teres Major

The final muscle in your back that you can effectively target using a cable machine is known as the teres major. This is a small and thin muscle located on the back of your shoulder. It acts as a helper to the latissimus dorsi muscles.

 If you have trouble finding your teres major, start by looking at your armpit, move backwards towards your spine, and up just a little bit.

The teres major is a very important muscle for a variety of reasons, with shoulder extension being one of them. Furthermore, this muscle is also responsible for the internal rotation of your arm, as well as adduction, which is when you bring your arm down towards your body from an elevated and extended position.


The Benefits of Using a Cable Machine for Back Exercises

Cable Face Pull

Something else that we quickly want to do before we talk about the best cable back exercises you can do is to take a look at the various benefits of using a cable machine for these exercises.

First of all, cable machines are very versatile. With a single machine, you can perform dozens, if not hundreds of exercises, many of which are for your back.

Adjusting the angle, height, and the attachments you use are all possibilities. The fact is that there are both compound exercises and isolation exercises that can be done with a cable machine.

Perhaps the biggest benefit that you get from using a cable machine for any kind of exercise is that it provides you with constant tension.

Unlike free weights, where the tension varies depending on where in the movement you are, cable machines always provide you with steady resistance.

This generally leads to better muscle activation.

Next up, when compared to traditional weights, cable machines generally offer you a greater range of motion. You can move further than you can with barbells and dumbbells, which is great for your flexibility and balance, as well as for executing a variety of complex exercises that require you to fully extend a specific muscle.

Because a cable machine features a controlled nature, it means that you can stay stable during exercise. It's a great machine if you want to prevent injuries from occurring.


The 5 Best Cable Back Exercises

Now that we know why using a cable machine can be so beneficial for back exercises, and what all of the major muscles in your back are, it's time to take a closer look at the best cable back exercises.


1. Lat Pulldowns

Lat Pulldowns

If one of your main goals is to grow some wide lats, then one of the best possible exercises you can do is the lat pulldown. If you want to target your latissimus dorsi muscles as much as possible, then doing wide-grip lat pull-downs is the best way to go.

Generally speaking, the wider your grip is, the more you'll target your lats. Also important to note is that this is a good exercise for targeting your biceps.

What's nice about this exercise is that it can be done on a cable machine or with a dedicated lat pull-down machine.


      1. Using an overhand grip, which means that your knuckles are facing you and your palms are facing away from you, hold the attachment firmly in your hands. Make sure that your hands are about shoulder-width apart, or slightly wider.
      2. Sit down in the seat, or on a bench if needed, and make sure that your head is in a neutral position, which means that it is facing forward.
      3. When you do this exercise, the main point is to pull the bar down to about your chin, but the trick is that you need to focus on using your lats instead of your biceps because many people will focus on their biceps more during this exercise, which is somewhat of a mistake.
      4. As you pull the bar down, to get it below your chin, you'll need to lean back just a little bit.
      5. Hold the position for one or two seconds, and then slowly return the attachment up to its starting position in a slow fashion.
      6. Aim to do anywhere between 10 and 15 repetitions and 3 sets.


2. Single-Arm Cable Row

Single-Arm Cable Row

If you're looking to fix some muscle imbalances, you want to work out those lats, traps, and biceps alike, then doing a single-arm cable row is a great exercise to consider.

What many people like about the single-arm cable row is that it's also fairly gentle on your rotator cuffs, something which really can't be said for many other back and shoulder exercises.

Remember, because this is a single-arm exercise, you'll need to switch sides so you can effectively target both halves of your body.


      1. To do a single-arm cable row, you'll want to place a flat bench in front of the cable machine so you can easily sit down on it. You can also sit down on the ground with your feet resting against the posts of the cable machine.
      2. The important part is that when you adjust the pulley, it should be at chest level, whether you're sitting on a bench or on the ground. Make sure that you're sitting far enough away from the cable machine so that your arm is straight when you're holding the handle.
      3. Attach a single-hand attachment to the cable machine.
      4. Keep your head neutral, slightly bend your knees, and make sure that your feet are roughly at hip width.
      5. To start the motion, retract your shoulder blades and puff your chest forward, and then use your back muscles to pull the attachment closer to the side of your body. Make sure that your elbow stays tucked in close to your side.
      6. With the handle at your side, hold the position for a second or two, and then move back to the starting position in a controlled manner.
      7. Aim for at least 10 repetitions and 3 sets, and then switch sides.


3. Cable Shrugs

Cable Shrugs

If targeting all three parts of your trapezius muscles is what you are going for, and you want that thick neck, then doing cable shrugs is the way to go. 

Although many people may do shrugs with dumbbells, many prefer the cable machine to the constant tension and stability it provides.


      1. First, adjust the cable machine so that the pulley is at its lowest position, and then attach either a straight bar or a rope. A rope tends to be the more comfortable option.
      2. Using a neutral grip, with your palms facing towards each other, hold the rope and step away from the machine so that there's already a bit of tension on it before you do the shrug. However, if you are using a bar, you'll need to use an overhand grip.
      3. Stand with your feet just a bit narrower than your shoulders, and make sure to keep your arms straight. You also want to contract your glutes and your core, while keeping your head neutral.
      4. Shrug the attachment upwards by using your traps. To visualize how to do this movement, imagine moving your shoulders as close up towards your ears as possible.
      5. Hold this position for a few seconds, and then slowly move back to the starting position.
      6. Aim to do anywhere between 10 and 15 repetitions, and up to 4 sets.


4. Seated Cable Row

The seated cable row is an excellent exercise because it works various muscles. These include your lower traps, your lats, your erector spinae, and your rhomboid muscles. On that note, you'll also exercise your core, your triceps, and your biceps.

It's a really great compound exercise that works out many different muscles. What's also cool is that using a seated cable row allows you to use a variety of attachments, so you can use different grip types and target slightly different muscles with a single exercise.


      1. Choose the attachment that you want to use for the seated cable row, with most people using the V-grip, although some people also use a wide bar or straight bar.
      2. Sit down on the ground and adjust the pulley so that it is at chest level.
      3. Sit so that your knees are slightly bent, with your feet resting against the machine or a bench, and your chest puffed up and outwards.
      4. To take hold of the attachment, lean forward a little bit, while keeping your arms straight. While holding the handles, retract your shoulder blades and then pull the attachment towards your chest in a slow and controlled manner.
      5. End with the handle nearly touching your chest, and then return to your starting position in a slow manner.
      6. Try to repeat this exercise for at least 12 reps for 3 sets.


5. Cable Face Pull

If you're looking to target your rotator cuff muscles, your rear deltoids, and your rhomboids, then doing cable face pulls is one of the best exercises for you. 

Face pulls don't just exercise all of these muscles, but they also assist with strengthening your shoulder stability, while increasing the overall size and strength of your upper back muscles.


      1. To do a cable face pull, start by adjusting the pulley so that it is at its highest position.
      2. Although some people may choose to do this exercise sitting down, it's most common to do it standing up. So, stand with your feet at shoulder width apart, and lean backwards slightly to balance.
      3. Using a neutral grip, which means that your palms are facing each other, grab the rope.
      4. Step backwards until your arms are extended, and so there is already tension on the cable.
      5. In a steady manner, slowly pull the rope towards your face while keeping your palms facing inwards. As you get closer to your face, move your hands apart, so you don't hit your face, raise your elbows slightly, and finish the movement with your hands beside your head.
      6. Hold this position for roughly one or two seconds, and then slowly return to the starting position.
      7. Repeat this motion for up to 15 times, and aim for up to 3 or even 4 sets.


Final Thoughts

Of course, there are always more back exercises that you can do, although as far as the cable machine is concerned, these five are by far the best.

As long as you have a good deal of variety in your back workouts, you should be able to achieve that muscular and defined look that you've always dreamed of.

Author's Photo

William Parrett

Will, co-founder of Home Gym Supply, launched the company in 2019 after 15-years in the fitness industry. His expertise stems not only from his professional background but also from his athletic pursuits. A former competitor in the World Beauty Fitness & Fashion (WBFF) and a competitive rugby player, Will has always been dedicated to health and fitness.