Most commercial gyms will have at least one cable station. What are they good for and should you get one for your home gym? I’ve put all the information together and here is the answer.
If you’ve got the space and money, a cable station is a great addition to any home gym. A cable station provides an easy and different training impulse compared to free weights. A cable station should be used together with free weights for the best results so it’s not a standalone option.
I’ll go into more depth about the pros, cons and different types of cables stations below. Keep reading to find out what the differences in the training impulses are and what’s best for you.
Is a cable station right for your gym?
Do you need a cable station in your home gym? Well, maybe. There are some great benefits to having a cable machine both for beginners and more advanced lifters.
A cable machine provides a different training stimulus compared to free weights for experienced lifters while also being easier to use for people new to fitness. You can use a cable machine to isolate muscles in a different way from free weights. The drawback is that it can cause muscle imbalances is used improperly. This can be prevented by also using free weights.
If a cable station is right for your gym depends on two things;
- Do you want to take advantage of the benefits of a cable machine? Or are free weights enough for you?
- Do you have the space to fit one into your gym next to all the other equipment?
If you’ve got the space, a cable station is an awesome addition to your home gym. While it shouldn’t be the only piece of equipment in your gym it provides enough pros to justify getting one. Especially if used in conjunction with free weight exercises it will help you create a better body.
Cable stations are pretty big. If you don’t have a lot of free space in your home gym there might be a solution. There are different types of cable machines that have different sizes. In general the bigger machines have more functionality and flexibility. If you’re just looking for an option to do some simple cable exercises, a power rack pulley add-on can help you out.
This option is pretty cheap and doesn’t take up a lot of space. You attach it to your power rack in a fixed position. This means you can’t adjust it but as a solution for a few exercises it’s a good option.
A full sized two sided cable station will provide the most flexibility and exercise options but also takes up the most space and costs the most.
Make sure to check out my eBook! I shows you exactly how to build a great home gym in a limited space.
What is a cable station?
You might be wondering what a cable station is in the first place. If you’ve ever been to a commercial gym, you probably know already but for those who don’t, allow me to explain.
A cable station is a piece of gym equipment that uses a system of cables and pulleys to move weights. The weights are attached on one side of the cable while you grab the cable (usually with an attachment) with your hands. Then you can move your hands to perform a ton of different exercises. You move your hands and this moves the cable. The cable is attached to the weights which will give you the resistance that give you a great exercise.
You need some attachments to be able to use a cable station. Read this post which 5 cable attachments are the best and what you use them for.
A picture is much clearer than any description so check the picture below.
Pros and cons of cable stations
Let’s dive into it a little bit more. Of course every piece of equipment has pros and cons. Cable stations are no different. While there are different types of cable stations there are some pros and cons that are the same across the different types.
What are the pros and cons of cable stations?
- Different resistance curve than free weights. Free weight exercises don’t provide the same resistance in all spots of the range of motion (ROM). Some exercises are heavy at the bottom of the movement but easier at the top. A bicep curl is an example of that. A cable machine is heavy in different parts of the ROM than free weights. This provides a different training impulse.
- More exercise variability. A cable machine just provides an opportunity for different exercises. Even though you might perform the same movements as with free weights, they still provide a different training impulse. Besides that you can just do different exercises that you can’t do with free weights.
- Possibilities to isolate different muscles. Since you can move the cables in different directions, you can isolate muscles that would be more difficult to isolate with free weights.
- Exercise many different angles. Cable stations are very adjustable. That means you can do exercises in a few different angles to provide different training stimuli.
- Provides a different training stimulus. The combination of different strength curves, angles, exercises and more, provides a different training stimulus. Different training stimuli mean you get faster/better results from your workouts. Doing the same thing over and over again yields diminishing returns. Providing a new stimulus can give your fitness goals a boost.
- More beginner friendly. Free weights exercises provide quite a challenge for beginners. You really need to do practice the movements before you can perform them perfectly. With cable exercises it’s easier to get started since there is less you can do wrong. It still takes a little practice but not as much as free weights.
- Less coordination is necessary. One of the reasons why it’s easier to perform cable exercises is because you need less coordination. You can push against the cables with less coordination than free weights because they just can’t go as many places as free weights. The cables can only move within a limited range so you need less coordination to keep it from going in the wrong place.
- No need for a spotter. With free weights you’re often lifting the weights over your head or body. When using a cable station the weights are off to the side. That means that there is no risk of them falling on you. As a result of that, you don’t need a spotter. A spotters’ job is to make sure you don’t hurt yourself when you can’t lift the weight under your own power anymore.With a cable machine there is no risk of the weights falling on your head or body so a spotter isn’t necessary. This is certainly a big benefit in a home gym where people often work out alone.
- Less injury risk. Since cable exercises are easier to perform and you don’t need perfect coordination like with free weights and there is no need for a spotter, there is a smaller risk that something goes wrong. No injuries means more time spent in the gym which results in better results.
- Very quick to adjust weights. With a barbell it takes a bit of time to adjust the weight. Taking off the plates and putting other plates on takes a bit of time. Not much time but more than just putting the pin in another weight like you can on a cable station. Although this isn’t true for all cable machines. Many weight machines have a weight stack but some are loaded by the same plates as barbells.
- Use fewer stabilizing muscles. The flipside of needing less coordination is that you use fewer stabilizing muscles. When you don’t use the stabilizing muscles you don’t train them. This can cause some problems down the road.
- Muscle imbalances. That problem can be muscle imbalances. Using free weights in conjunction with cable machines can prevent the imbalances from getting too big. If one muscle is too strong compared to one next to it, you might be able to lift a free weight but you won’t be able to stabilize it. That means you can get hurt.
- Shouldn’t be used in isolation. The combination of the previous two factors means you shouldn’t exclusively use a cable machine for your workouts. Muscle imbalances can lead to quite a few problems and you want to prevent them.
- Big piece of equipment. A cable station is a big piece of equipment. You need a decent amount of space to be able to fit one. Sure there are different types with different sizes so you might be able to find a machine that fits your gym. Below there’s more information about different types of cable stations.
- Expensive. While not extremely expensive or more expensive than other pieces of equipment, it’ll still a couple of hundred bucks. It really depends on what your budget is if it’s attainable for you.
Types of cable station
There are a few different types of cable stations. Of course there are the full sized cable stations you see at the gym but there are a few other options as well. There are three main types of cable stations you might see in a home gym;
- All in one home gym
- Two sided cable station
- Single side cable station
- Power rack add-on
Besides those different shapes there are different ways of actually attaching weight to the cable;
- Weight stack
- Place loaded
Two sided cable station
This is the commercial cable station type. There are two posts with two weights stacks and cables on either side. You can adjust the heights, weights and attachments of both sides separately. These machines are huge and take up a lot of space in your gym.
Some of these machines are plate loaded and some have integrated weight stacks. More on the differences below.
Single sided cable station
As the name suggests, this type only has one side. These look like they have two cables but most of the time they just lead to the same weight stack or plates. That means you can’t really independently train your arms. Not all of these machines do it like that but the cheaper versions certainly do. This somewhat limits the benefits of a cable machine.
Power rack pulley add-on
The cheapest, simplest and probably least flexible option is the power rack pulley add-on. It just consists of a pulley and a cable. You mount the pulley high or low on your power rack and just use it in that position. Attach weights on one side and grab the other side. This type doesn’t have any adjustability so you don’t have the flexibility to perform many different exercises. If you’re just looking for a cable option for a single or a limited amount of exercises, this could be a good option that doesn’t break the bank and doesn’t take up a lot of space.
Power rack full add-on
The final type is the power rack add-on. The previous version was just a single pulley. This type is a full double sided cable station but it’s bolted onto the power rack. Of course you need the correct power rack and cable station that go together. Not any power rack can be extended by any cable station.
Usually this type makes the power rack wider and bigger. It extends sideways and forwards from the front posts of the power racks. This means it takes up a lot of space. It does not impede the usefulness of the power rack in any ways. They are built in a way so you can still squat, deadlift and do everything you would want to do in a power rack.
If a separate dual sided cable station or power rack add-on is better depends on the layout of you gym and what you can fit.
There are two common loading mechanisms for cable machines;
Weight stack. This is the type you commonly see in commercial gyms. There is a stack of weights that comes with the machine and stays with the machine. The weight plates are stacked up and you can easily select the weight you want by putting a weight in the hole with the right number. It’s very easy to use and you don’t have to worry about loading and unloading plates. This type is more expensive since weights are actually pretty expensive. They are a bit smoother to use in general.
Plates. For home gyms, many of the options are plate loaded. That means you use the same weights as you do on your barbell. This makes the machine itself cheaper since they don’t have to provide the weights. If you’ve got the weight plates anyways, this is a good way to save some money. One downside of this type is that the movement is a bit less smooth at times.
All in one home gym
The final type is the all in one home gym. These machines are not only cable machines but aim to integrate as many exercise movements and modes into a single piece of equipment. BowFlex is one of the most well-known brands in this space. Some of these are good pieces of equipment and some are not very good at anything.
If you’re looking for the functionality of a cable machine, it’s better to choose one of the other options. Since the all in one machines try to combine everything into one machine, you’re paying for things you don’t use. If it’s the only piece of equipment you want, then go for it. Just don’t expect it to do everything as well as separate pieces of equipment.
Do cable exercises build muscle? Yes, a good cable workout routine can build muscle. Cable stations provide resistance and with enough resistance and volume you will build muscle. It’s best to combine cable exercises with free weights to prevent muscle imbalances that can exist if you’re only using cable exercises.
Can you train legs on a cable station? Yes, there are plenty of exercises that target your leg muscles on a cable station. Cable squats, pullthrough, donkey kicks, and more. To facilitate these exercises it can help to get a special attachment that straps around your legs. This can make leg exercises much more comfortable.