9 Best Cable Back Workouts and Exercises

cable back workouts
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Building a big, wide, barn-door-like back takes a lot of work.

If it was easy, everyone would have it. but don’t make that discourage you, as with a little (or a lot) or diligence, you too can develop impressive back muscles.

The back is arguably the largest muscle group in the upper body by virtue of the number of individual muscles that comprise it and require training for adequate stimulation.

You won’t craft an impressive back with only pull-ups or rows; but rather via a combination of several exercises that each target a segment of the back.

The first step to success is to have a plan and to formulate that plan you need to know which exercises are a good fit.

In terms of cables, all the major parts of the back can be worked using a good cable station and assorted attachments.

And contrary to popular opinion, free weights are not always the best. In fact, sometimes cables are a much better option.

Why You Should Include Cable Exercises In Your Back Workout

1) Range Of Motion

One of the main advantages of using cable machines is that you can achieve a greater range of motion than with free weights.

This is especially true when working muscles like the lats, which are notoriously difficult to target with traditional exercises.

Cables also allow you to change the angle of pull, which can be helpful in targeting different areas of the back.

For example, when doing rows you can use a high pulley to target the upper back or a low pulley to focus on the lower back.

2) Isolation

Another great benefit of cable exercises is that they allow you to isolate specific muscles.

This is extremely important when trying to build a well-rounded back.

The continuous tension it offers enables great isolation in man.

For example, when doing free weight rows, your biceps and traps will get involved to a certain extent.

However, when doing the same exercise with cables, you can use a pronated (overhand) grip to completely isolate the lats.

3) Versatility

Cables are also very versatile.

There are a wide variety of exercises that can be done and virtually any muscle group can be targeted.

This makes them ideal for both beginner and advanced lifters alike.

This is also an important consideration when funds are tight and you can’t afford a gym membership.

With a few simple attachments, you can turn any door into a makeshift cable station.

Now that we’ve gone over some of the benefits of cable exercises, let’s take a look at some of the best cable back workouts and exercises.

9 Terrific Cable Exercises for Your Back

1) Seated Cable Row

Watch Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzoCF_b3cIY

The seated cable row is a great all-around exercise for the back.

It targets the lats, middle back, and rear delts.

If you’ve ever seen a back that looks thick when viewed from the side, this is the exercise that helped achieve the muscle mass.

The seated position also allows for greater isolation of the back muscles than a bent-over row which recruits several supporting muscle groups.

To Perform:

  • Attach a straight or lat pull-down bar to a pulley affixed to the seated row bench.
  • Sit with your back straight, chest up, and shoulders down and back.
  • Grip the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing down) just outside shoulder width.
  • Row the bar to your mid-upper chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.
  • Slowly stretch and return to the starting position.
  • Perform 10-12 reps and 3 working sets.

The single arm cable row can also be substituted by using a D-handle attachment.

2) Reverse Grip (Underhand) Lat Pulldown

Watch Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-aYXhHBDI8

The lat pulldown is another excellent exercise for targeting the lats.

It can be done with a variety of grips (wide, narrow, neutral) to target different areas.

The underhand or reverse version is considered the most effective for building the lats, but some lifters find it puts too much stress on the shoulders.

The overhand and neutral grip versions are a bit easier on the shoulders but still very effective.

To Perform:

  • Attach a wide or narrow grip lat pull-down bar to a pulley at about shoulder height.
  • Sit with your back straight, chest up, and shoulders down and back.
  • Secure your legs under the pads provided and lean back slightly.
  • Pull the bar down to your upper chest, keeping your elbows close to your sides.
  • Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
  • Perform 8-10 reps and 3 working sets

3) Bent Over Rows

Watch Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yd6Jzcncn48

The bent-over row is a great exercise for targeting the middle back.

As an added bonus, it also works the lats, biceps, and rear delts.

In order to achieve the bent-over position with this cable machine exercise you need to use the low pulley position, but the choice of attachment depends on the specific area of emphasis.

This can effectively replace the barbell bent over row.

To Perform:

  • Attach a single handle or EZ bar to the low pulley of a cable machine.
  • Bend over and grasp the handle with an overhand grip (palms facing down).
  • Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, row the handle up to your mid-upper chest.
  • Pause and squeeze your shoulder blades together, then slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8-10 reps and 3 sets.

4) Cable Shrugs

Watch Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7Mqfu4F5Qw

The shrug is an often overlooked but very important exercise for building the traps.

The traps are responsible for stabilizing the shoulder girdle and also play a role in neck and head movement.

Strong traps give the appearance of wider shoulders and a thicker upper back. In fact, they are the hallmark of a well-forged body.

The cable shrug is an effective way to target them.

To Perform:

  • Attach a single handle or EZ bar to the low pulley of a cable workout station.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
  • Grasp the handle with an overhand grip (palms facing down) and let it hang at arm’s length in front of you.
  • Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, shrug your shoulders as high as you can.
  • Pause and squeeze your shoulder blades together, then slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 10-12 reps and 3 sets.

Alternatively, it can be done using two D-handle attachments secured to alternating sides between a cable crossover station.

5) Cable Face Pulls

Watch Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBY9Zdv600I

The face pull is an excellent exercise for targeting the posterior delts, and rotator cuff muscles, but more than that it also hits important and sometimes neglected parts of the back such as the rhomboids.

This exercise is a great way to prevent imbalances that can lead to shoulder pain, especially when lifting heavy with barbell movements such as deadlifts.

To Perform:

  • Attach a cable rope attachment handle to the high pulley of a cable machine.
  • Grasp the rope with your palms facing each other and pull it toward your face, keeping your elbows high and out to the sides.
  • Pause and squeeze your shoulder blades together, then slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 12-15 reps and 3 sets.

The goal of this exercise is not to move the weight as heavy as possible, but to focus on the squeeze of the upper back muscles and getting a good stretch at the fully extended position.

6) Cable Back Extensions

Watch Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmQZuyewiqU

Strengthening the muscles of the lower back, including the erector spinae, is a crucial part of your routine in order to minimize injury risk and enhance stability.

Deadlifts often come to mind when training lower back, but sometimes it might not be appropriate.

Alternatives such as good mornings or back extensions are perfect substitutes.

We will be looking at cable back extensions in this case.

To Perform:

  • Sit at the edge of a flat bench, or at a seated row station.
  • With feet planted firmly on the ground and torso upright, grab a v-handle attachment with moderate resistance.
  • Lean back, keeping your chest upright throughout, so that you form roughly a 45-60 degree angle with the bench.
  • Slowly resist the weight as it pulls you back to the start position.
  • Be sure to choose a weight that is not too heavy that it compromises your stability or makes it hard to stay in touch with the ground.

7) Close Grip Lat Pulldowns 

Watch Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_eJFvdAcUw

The close grip lat pulldown, when combined with the reverse grip lat pulldown should really form the bread and butter of your lats workout since they are the most effective combo.

Pull-down or pullup type movements are necessary to develop the coveted V-taper of the back, which looks great when coupled with a small waist and big thighs.

The extra range of motion it offers can help stimulate the primary and secondary muscles beyond what a straight bar or even pullup can do.

It can also be done with a rope attachment.

To Perform:

  • Attach a close grip (V-handle) handle to the lat pulldown machine and sit down, securing your thighs under the pads provided.
  • Keeping your chest up, back straight, and abs tight, pull the bar down to your collarbone, leading with your elbows.
  • Pause for a second at the bottom of the movement and squeeze your back muscles, then slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8-10 reps and 3 sets.

It is important to not pull solely with your bicep muscles, but rather to lead with your elbows.

8) Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns

Watch Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lueEJGjTuPQ

Is it any surprise that we’re met by yet another pulldown variation?

The fact of the matter is, that pulldowns are some of the best cable machine exercises you can do to target your lats.

The wide grip lat pulldown variation targets the outermost fibers of your latissimi dorsi, giving you that wide v-taper look.

To Perform:

  • Attach a wide grip (lat pulldown bar) handle to the lat pulldown machine and sit down, securing your thighs under the pads provided. Grasp the bar wide, almost to the ends of the cambered bar.
  • Keeping your chest up, back straight, and abs tight, pull the bar down to your collarbone, leading with your elbows.
  • Pause for a second at the bottom of the movement and squeeze your back muscles, then slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8-10 reps and 3 sets.

As with the close grip lat pulldown, be sure to lead with your elbows and not your biceps.

It is important to not focus on any one pulldown type to ensure complete lat development.

9) Wide Grip Seated Cable Rows

Watch Tutorial > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9oe5qbN0jo

In comparison to the standard version of the seated cable machine row that utilizes a V-handle attachment, this uses a long bar, like that used to do wide grip pulldowns.

The advantage this version possesses over the narrower grip is that it allows you to use a little bit more weight and really stimulates growth in the upper back area.

To Perform:

  • Sit at a cable row station with your feet planted firmly on the footpad, knees slightly bent.
  • Bend forward at the waist and grasp the bar with an overhand grip, hands wider than shoulder-width.
  • Keeping your back straight, pull the bar towards your midsection, leading with your elbows.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for a second at the top of the movement, then slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for 8-10 reps and 3 sets.

Final Words

The back responds well to low-moderate volume training, with moderate-heavy resistance.

Cable exercises make that possible since they maintain constant tension for proper form throughout sets.

If capable, add in free weight exercises with dumbbells or barbells such as deadlifts and rows as this helps recruit a larger amount of muscles for superior growth.