You’ve been training hard and have run out of heavier settings on your weight stacks. Now you’re wondering if it’s possible to add some extra weight on top of the standard stack. I’ve done some digging and found out for you.
There are several ways to add extra weight to a cable machine weight stack. Weight plates or magnetic weights are both good options. That way it won’t be possible to add a large amount of weight. An upgraded weight stack is best for large increases but that is not available for every machine.
I’ll go into more detail on how to add weight to your cable stack below. There are also some other alternatives if you don’t want to go down that route.
Adding weight to a home gym weight stack
So what are some of the details of adding weight to your all in one home gym or other cable stack? Is it safe to do and how can you do it? Keep reading to find out.
The most important thing to think about before stacking extra weight on top of your weight stack is if your machine can actually handle this. A broken machine is worse than a weight that’s too light.
By putting extra weight on the stack, you put more stress on several parts of the machine;
- Cable connection to the stack/eyelet
- Selector pin
- Cable attachments
The selector pin and cable attachments are unlikely to be the problem. What could cause issues are the cable, connections and the pulleys. Cable machines are designed to handle the weight they come with. Putting more weight on it than they’re designed for can cause the machine to fail. Either over time or immediately. This is something you obviously don’t want to happen.
In the end it’s very difficult to know if you can add extra weight and how much. Manufacturers won’t tell you to do it because that is just a lawsuit waiting to happen. You don’t know exactly which parts they used and until what weight they’re rated to handle. That means you’ll never know exactly what your machine can handle.
That leaves it up to your risk appetite and how you asses your machine. Some machines are clearly built better and stronger than others. All machines will have a certain safety margin built into them. They’re not about to collapse if you add one ounce extra. How big that margin is, is anybody’s guess and different machines have different margins. It’s very hard to say what amount of weight you can add on.
That said, online you’ll be able to find plenty of stories of people that have added on weights without any issues.
Overdid it and broke your cable? Check out this post to see how to fix your cable machine.
Let’s say your machine can handle some extra weight or you’re willing to take the risk. How can you actually do it? There are a few ways to add some extra weight to your weight stack.
Manufacturer weight stack. The first thing you should do is talk to the manufacturer of your machine. Some manufacturers, actually make bigger/heavier weight stacks for their machines. If this exists for your machine, that’s the best option. It’ll also be the most expensive option. But since it’s produced and sold by the manufacturer you can be sure it’s safe and you don’t compromise your warranty.
Manufacturer add-on. Some manufacturers can provide small weight plates (Amazon link) that fit exactly on top of the normal stack without interfering with anything. These are of course completely safe to use since they’re made for the purpose. Often they are pretty light. These are made to fill the gaps between the steps in the normal weight plates. Usually cable machines have 5 lbs. steps up. The add-ons are 2.5 lbs. so you can make that gap smaller.
But of course you can still add it on to the highest setting, which might help you progress for a few more weeks.
Fixed dumbbell. A simpler option is to just put a fixed dumbbell on top of the weight stack. You probably have dumbbells in your gym anyways, so you don’t have to buy anything extra. Just put the dumbbell on top of the stack with the flat side down so it doesn’t roll away. Since in this position it’ll be taller than wide, it might fall over if you move the weights too quickly. Some Velcro or a magnet can help it stay in place. The benefit is that you likely have dumbbells in many different weights so you’ve got a lot of options.
Weight plate. If you’ve got plates that you’d otherwise use on a barbell, in some machines you can make these work in a cable stack. Stick them in between two weight stacks.
You can do this by putting the pin in a light weight. Lift the weight until you can see the bottom of the selector pin. Put the weight plate in between the two exposed weight surfaces in a position where the pin goes through the hole in the plate.
This isn’t possible on all machines since the pin is too long or there isn’t enough space next to the weight stack to fit a round weight plate. You might also lose one weight stack plate at the bottom since the pin isn’t long enough to pick that one up anymore. You can counteract this by using a heavier plate you add on.
Magnetic micro weights. The final option is to get some magnetic weights. Usually these are used to put onto dumbbells to create small weight increments before you move onto the next dumbbell. But of course the weights in a cable weight stack are also made of metal so you can put them on there as well. These weights range from 0.25 lbs. to 5lbs. This isn’t a lot compared to a whole weight stack but it could make your machine challenging for a bit longer.
PlateMate is a brand that makes all kind of magnetic weights for different purposes. Here is a 5lbs. brick (Amazon) that’s specifically designed for use on top of weight stacks. It has strong magnets so you can just stick it to the side of a weight stack.
If you can’t add weight to your cable stack or you don’t feel comfortable doing so, there are a few other things you can do.
Slowing down your movement makes any weight more challenging. Especially the eccentric portion of the movement you can slow down quite a bit and it’ll be very challenging. Every movement has an up and a down portion. Or better said, a portion where you contract the muscle and make it shorter and a part where you relax the muscle and make it longer. For muscle growth the relaxing (eccentric) portion is actually pretty important. Slowing that down and making it more difficult can be pretty effective.
Use 1.5 reps to make a movement more difficult. For example, on a chest press, you can move the weights all the way forward/up. Then only go halfway back, stop the movement for a moment and then go back to the top and then finally go all the way down.
With this technique you’ll increase your time under tension and have to have more control to manipulate the weights instead of just using momentum to throw them around.
Move to free weights
The best thing to do if you’ve progressed past the weight of selectorized machines, is to move to free weights.
Free weights don’t have the weight limits cable stacks do. If you get a barbell that’s decently high quality, it’ll be able to handle more weight than 99% of the population can ever dream to lift. You just buy the weights you need, when you progress you can just buy some extra plates. It’s very easy to upgrade.
Free weights might seem daunting in the beginning but in the long run your results will probably be better. With free weights you need to use way more stabilizing muscles than when using a cable machine. This means you’ll have more muscle development overall and it’ll be more balanced.
Cable machines tend to isolate muscles a bit more. This means you train that specific muscle but not the surrounding ones. Do this over a long period of time and you might develop some muscle imbalances.
Because free weights are inherently unstable, you need to use the smaller surrounding muscles to stabilize the weight. Developing these will reduce the injury risk over time. But if you’re coming from purely training on machines, it’s important to build the weight up slowly.
Since the stabilizing muscles are relatively weaker than the main one you’re training, you might be able to lift a certain weight but not control it. If you can’t control it, there is a higher likelihood you could get injured or hurt.
Free weights are more technical and you’ll need some practice to get the movements right. The benefits are that you’ll develop a more complete muscular system and you’re practically not limited in the weight you can lift.
If you’re not sure what you need for a free weights home gym, read this post. It outlines everything you need to know.