A functional trainer is a big and expensive piece of equipment. But which exercises can you actually use it for? Can you do full body exercises or just isolate muscles on a functional trainer? Let’s find out.
A functional trainer can be used to work out almost all muscles in the body. The amount of functional trainer exercises is almost limitless since you can vary; pulley height, body position and cable attachment. Functional trainer exercises use the whole body if performed standing on your feet.
Below you can find a list of some of the best exercises on a functional trainer for each body part.
Functional trainer exercise list
Below you can find a list of the best exercises on a functional trainer that focus on a specific body part. Performing these exercises on your feet will involve your whole body but the main driver of the exercise will still be targeted the most. Find more about full body vs. isolation exercises at the bottom.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. A functional trainer allows you to change so many variables that it would be impossible to list all variations. The biggest variables you can change are; pulley height, body position, cable attachment.
Click the name of the exercise to find a video showing exactly how to do it.
Functional trainer exercise list
|Muscle group||Exercise options (Click link for video)||Single or double pulley||Best cable attachment|
|Legs||Cable squat||2||Cable barbell, D handles|
|Cable lunges||1||D handles|
|Ankle strap front/back/side lunge||1||Ankle strap|
|Straight leg raise||1||Ankle strap|
|Single leg squat||2||D handles|
|Hamstring Cable Curl||1||Ankle strap|
|Calf raise||2||Cable barbell, D handles|
|Donkey kickback||1 or 2||Cable barbell, D handles, ankle strap|
|Pull Through||1||Triceps rope|
|Core||Kneeling Cable Crunch||1||Triceps rope|
|Hanging leg raise||0||Pull up bar|
|Standing Cable Pallof Press||1||D handle|
|Standing cable crunch||1||Triceps rope|
|Kneeling Oblique Cable Twists||1||Triceps rope|
|Reverse cable crunch||1||Strap|
|Plank cable row||1||D handle|
|Wood chop||1||D handle|
|Back||Lat pulldown||1 or 2||Straight/bent bar|
|Standing row||1 or 2||Straight bar/ D handles|
|Seated row||1 or 2||Straight bar/ D handles|
|Single arm row||2||D handle|
|Straight arm pushdown||1 or 2||Straight bar|
|Reverse cable fly||2||D handle|
|Face pull||1||Triceps rope|
|Shoulders||Lateral raise||2||D handles|
|Front Delt Raise||2||D handles|
|Rear delt fly||2||D handles|
|Leaning Single-Arm Lateral Raises||1||D handles|
|Shoulder press||2||D handles|
|Upright row||1||Straight bar|
|Rear delt crossover||2||D handles|
|Cable shrug||2||D handles|
|Chest||Cable crossover||2||D handles|
|Cable fly||2||D handles|
|Low cable fly||2||D handles|
|Unilateral cable press||1||D handles|
|Bench cable press||2||Cable barbell, D handles|
|Incline cable press||2||Cable barbell, D handles|
|Cable iron cross||2||D handles|
|Biceps||Standing curls||1 or 2||Ez bar, straight bar, D handles|
|Cable preacher curl||1||Ez bar, straight bar, D handles|
|Cable hammer curl||1||Tricep rope, Single grip tricep rope|
|Incline bench cable curl||2||D handles|
|Overhead cable curl||2||D handles|
|Reverse EZ bar curl||2||EZ bar|
|Triceps||Triceps pushdown||1||Triceps rope, straight bar|
|Cable overhead extension||1||Triceps rope, straight bar|
|Horizontal tricep extension||1||D handle|
|High pulley overhead extensions||1||Triceps rope|
|Triceps kickback||1||Single grip triceps rope, D handles|
|Reverse tricep pushdown||1||Straight bar|
Can a functional trainer provide a full body workout?
Can a functional trainer be used for a full body workout?
The whole reason a functional trainer is called ‘functional’ is because it provides a workout where you’re standing on your feet. That means if your arms do something, your whole body has to work together to properly do the movement because the only way to stabilize yourself is by contracting all the muscle mass. This way of training incorporates a certain movement into your whole body and doesn’t just grow strengthen a certain muscle.
Working out on your feet creates real world strength and athleticism. You strengthen your body in a way that is functional in the real world. So pretty much all exercises on a functional trainer which are performed standing are full body exercises.
Can a functional trainer isolate muscles?
So if a functional trainer uses a lot of muscles for a single exercise, it is actually possible to focus on one muscle?
In most cases, it’s quite difficult to completely isolate a single muscle even with very specific gym machines. You’ll almost always use some other surrounding muscles to perform an exercise. With a functional trainer, you can make exercises more isolated but you’ll need to be a bit creative and probably a weightlifting bench.
Because the force of the resistance has to go to the floor, on most standing exercises, you’ll use the whole kinetic chain of muscles from your arms to the floor. If you want to cut this chain short, the best way is to find seated or laying down alternatives for the exercises you want to do.
For example, to train your chest on a functional trainer, you will probably do some variation of a standing cable press or cable crossover. You stand on your feet and push both cables forward. That does use your chest and triceps the most but, you also have to engage your core, glutes and legs to efficiently transfer the resistance to the floor, otherwise your body would move and not the weights.
By adding a weightlifting bench to a functional trainer, it becomes easier to isolate muscles. Take the chest example: By laying down on the bench and then doing the same press with your arms and chest, you take all the muscles below the chest almost completely out of the exercise. That means those muscles are isolated.
Benefits of isolation exercises on a functional trainer
The benefits of doing isolation exercises is that you can grow and strengthen muscles more specifically. You can focus on some muscles you want to grow or strengthen.
Isolating muscles can be great for a few reasons;
- You can focus on one specific muscle and get more results because of that focus.
- A certain muscle is lagging behind others and isolation is a good way to bring them up.
- You want to accentuate a certain muscle more in your physique
- It can help with rehabilitation if a certain full body exercise is not an option
- Doing an isolation exercise is much easier to recover from
Of course the downside is that isolating a certain muscle and growing it out of proportion is not going to make you much stronger in the real world.
In the end doing both full body and isolation exercises will get you the best rounded strength and physique. This way you can use isolation exercise to gain strength and size in certain muscles and then use the full body exercises to integrate that strength into your whole body.
Best Cable Machine Accessories
Make your cable trainer experience even better with these accessories.
- Attachments: No cable machine is complete with a good set of attachments. Click here to find the best set of attachments
- PlateMate: One or two platemates (Amazon link) can help you increase the weight more gradually on your weight stack. Just stick them onto your weight stack.
- Bench: A good adjustable weightlifting bench like the CAP Deluxe (Amazon) adds many exercise options to a cable machine like bench presses and shoulder presses.
Find the most complete functional trainer that includes most of these accessories by clicking here.