Let’s be honest – doing squats and lunges the same way every single leg day gets boring. Apart from that, it could also be counterproductive to your development.
This is precisely why you should start doing legs cable exercises. They can be a game-changer for anyone looking for variety and effectiveness in their lower body workout. Time to say goodbye to monotonous leg days and hello to dynamic, cable leg exercises.
Here are some of the most effective cable exercises for legs, along with an example video with pro tips to maximize your gains.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Best Cable Exercises for Legs
- 2 Cable Machine Benefits
- 3 Anatomy of the Legs
- 4 FAQs
The Best Cable Exercises for Legs
- Cable Romanian deadlift
- Cable pull through
- Cable lying hamstring curl
- Cable squat
- Cable glute kickback
- Cable reverse lunge
- Cable hip abduction
Cable Romanian deadlift
Benefits of cable Romanian deadlifts
- Better posterior chain activation
- Lower back safety
- Improves stability and balance
Better posterior chain activation
This is one of the best cable leg exercises for targeting the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back.
Lower back safety
With the barbell or dumbbell Romanian deadlift, there’s a much lower margin for error and risk of injury. The cable version provides a more controlled movement, reducing strain on the lower back.
Improves stability and balance
This cable leg workout engages the core muscles well, which can enhance your overall stability and balance.
How to perform cable Romanian deadlifts
- Attach a straight bar to the low pulley, then stand facing the cable machine with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip, maintaining a partial bend in your knees.
- Hinge at your hips, pushing your glutes back while keeping your back straight.
- Lower the bar towards the floor, keeping that slight bend in your knees and a flat back.
- Drive through your heels to return to the beginning position. Concentrate on using your glutes and hamstrings for this. Inhale as you lower the weight and exhale as you lift.
- Perform the desired number of reps and sets. Ensure your form is consistent throughout.
Pro tip: Adjust the weight to a level that challenges without you having to sacrifice form.
If you’ve read our instructions about how to do the cable Romanian deadlift but still aren’t getting it, then we suggest having a look at the video below. It breaks down the form and technique required to get the most out of this leg exercise:
Benefits of cable pull-throughs
- Enhanced hip hinge mechanics
- Core stability
- Lower back safety
Enhanced hip hinge mechanics
The range of motion of cable pull-throughs can improve the functional movement of hip extension.
The cable machine pull through also strengthens the core muscles, aiding in overall body stability.
Lower back safety
Traditional deadlifts tend to put a lot more strain on the back, making this exercise a good alternative to avoid injuries.
How to perform cable pull-throughs
- Position the cable machine at the lowest setting and put a rope attachment on.
- Stand with your back to the cable machine with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend over and reach through your legs to grab the rope with both hands.
- With a moderate bend in your knees, hinge at your hips so that your torso moves forward.
- Drive your hips forward, pulling the rope through your legs while straightening your body. While doing this, keep your back straight and core tight throughout the movement. Inhale as you hinge at the hips; exhale as you pull through.
- Perform however many reps and sets you’re targeting.
The cable pull-through is kind of tricky to integrate into your cable leg workout. So, watch how fitness legend Mountain Dog breaks it down:
Cable lying hamstring curl
Benefits of cable lying hamstring curls
- Targeted hamstring engagement
- Improved muscular balance
- Deep muscle activation
Targeted hamstring engagement
The range of motion for this exercise specifically focuses on the hamstrings which are crucial for knee stability and lower body strength.
Improved muscular balance
Doing this leg exercise regularly can help correct muscular imbalances between the quads and hamstrings.
Deep muscle activation
Although you might feel it a little in your calf muscles, the cable machine puts constant tension on your hamstrings. Research has found that constant tension is key to increasing muscle protein synthesis, leading to muscle growth.
How to perform cable lying hamstring curls
- Start by attaching a foot strap to a low pulley cable machine, secure the ankle strap to one leg, and then lie face down on a bench.
- Position yourself so that one knee is just off the bench.
- Start with your leg fully extended.
- Flex your knee to curl the weight towards your glutes. While doing this, focus on contracting the hamstrings. Exhale as you curl up.
- Slowly return to the first position in a controlled motion to keep tension on the hamstrings. Inhale on the way down.
- Perform the target number of reps and sets.
Pro tip: When lowering the weight, avoid letting the plates in the weight stack touch each other; this will keep tension on your hamstrings. Also, this exercise can be done as a cable standing leg curl, if need be. If this doesn’t work then there are plenty of other cable hamstring workouts to try.
We know that some of you out there are visual learners and our instructions about how to do the cable lying hamstring curl might not be enough. If we’re right, then check out the video below for visual instructions:
Benefits of cable squats
- Better lower body strength
- Versatility in squat variations
- Safe for all fitness levels
Better lower body strength
Squats are pretty much the holy grail of lower body exercises, although the benefits of leg extensions could give them a run for their money. They’re a great way to increase the strength of your lower body muscles as they employ a variety of stabilizing muscles simultaneously.
Versatility and stability in squat variations
The cable machine allows you to perform a variety of squat variations, like the cable goblet squat, with relative ease because of the extra stability it gives you compared to using free weights.
Safe for all fitness levels
Barbell and dumbbell squats can be dangerous for inexperienced gym goers, mainly because of the weights dropping and having to re-rack the weight. The cable squat offers a much more controlled movement and a safer way to fail. This significantly reduces the risk of injury.
How to perform cable squats
- Attach a rope or bar to the cable machine at the lowest setting. Set it to a weight that will challenge you but allow you to maintain consistent form.
- Stand facing away from the machine, with a shoulder-width distance between your legs.
- Hold the cable attachment with both hands at chest level.
- Begin by pushing your hips back and bending your knees.
- Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep your back straight and chest up throughout the exercise. Inhale as you lower into the squat, exhale as you rise.
- Drive through your heels to return to the starting position.
- Hit the target number of sets and reps.
Pro tip: Ensure your toes are pointed slightly outwards while performing the squat. This is vital in terms of preventing knee injuries. You can also alternate your leg width distance between narrow and wide stances to hit different parts of your legs.
When in doubt, YouTube is your best friend. Take a look at how the cable squat is performed in this video:
Cable glute kickback
Benefits of cable glute kickback
- Targeted glute activation
- Fixes muscular imbalances
Targeted glute activation
As the name suggests, this exercise specifically focuses on the gluteus Maximus. This can be good for targeted muscle development.
Fixes muscular imbalances
Because this exercise requires you to do one leg at a time, you’re able to discern which leg is stronger or weaker to fix imbalances.
How to perform cable glute kickbacks
- Attach an ankle strap to a low pulley cable machine.
- Face the machine, holding onto it for support, and attach the strap to one ankle.
- Keep your supporting leg slightly bent for stability.
- Extend the strapped leg back and up, focusing on contracting the glutes. Exhale as you kick back, inhale as you return to the start position.
- Slowly return to the starting position. Maintain tension on the glutes while doing so.
- Perform the target number of reps before returning to the starting position and switching legs.
Pro tip: To properly fix an imbalance, start with your weaker side on the cable machine. Do as many reps as you can on your weaker side to give you a point of measurement. Perform the same number of reps on your stronger side, don’t exceed it. You’ll have to do this consistently for some time to correct the imbalance.
You can master the cable machine glute kickback in a matter of minutes if you watch the video below:
Cable reverse lunge
Benefits of cable reverse lunge
- Unilateral lower body strength
- Enhanced glute activation
Unilateral lower body strength
Can enhance the strength and balance in each leg individually.
Enhanced glute activation
Using a wider stance in the lunge position can increase the engagement of the glute muscles.
How to perform cable reverse lunges
- Attach a D-handle to the cable machine at the lowest setting. Select an appropriate amount of weight.
- Stand facing the cable machine, holding the handle with one hand. Step back with one leg into a lunge position, keeping your front leg stationary.
- Lower your rear leg until the rear knee almost touches the ground and your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Inhale as you step back into the lunge, exhale as you return to the start position.
- Keep your upper body upright and core tight.
- Push through the heel of your front foot to get back to the start position.
- Perform the desired number of reps, then switch legs.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, cable machine leg exercises can be a little confusing sometimes. If you’re confused about how to do the cable reverse lunge, then hopefully the video below will clear things up. It shows you exactly how to perform the goblet cable reverse lunge:
Cable hip abduction
Benefits of cable hip abductions
- Targeted gluteus medius strengthening
- Improves lateral movement
- Reduces risk of injury
Targeted gluteus medius strengthening
The gluteus medius is essential for hip stability. Thankfully, the cable hip auction helps immensely with targeting it.
Improves lateral movement
Can improve your ability to move from side to side, which is crucial for many different sports.
Reduces risk of injury
This exercise strengthens the hip abductor muscles that support the hip joint. This joint is very susceptible to injury, so stronger supporting muscles around your hip can lower your injury risk.
How to perform cable hip abductions
- Attach an ankle strap to the pulley on the cable machine.
- Stand sideways to the machine, attaching the strap to the leg closest to the machine. Bend your standing leg slightly for stability.
- Lift the strapped leg away from your body, focusing on moving through the hip.
- Slowly return to the start position, keeping tension in the hip muscles. Exhale as you lift your leg, inhale as you return to the first position.
- Do however many reps you’re aiming for before switching legs.
Watch this video to see exactly how the cable hip abduction is done. You’ll quickly start noticing that a lot of gym goers have been doing it wrong all along:
Cable Machine Benefits
Machines offer a bunch of benefits for those doing cable leg exercises, which is why they’re such a good thing for both beginners and seasoned gym-goers. Here are five key advantages:
Ease of use for beginners
When it comes to leg workouts, machines are usually an easier place for a beginner to start compared to free weights, especially if you’re talking about an exercise like the barbell squat which relies heavily on stabilizer muscles. The intuitive design, fixed path of motion, and sometimes printed instructions of machines can help users focus on proper form pretty easily.
Focused muscle group training
Machines allow users to concentrate on a particular muscle group with high precision. With cable leg workouts, you can easily switch between isolating specific muscles like the quads or hamstrings.
These machines are a lot safer than free weights as they minimize the risk of dropping or using bad form. This is very important for those who are new to strength training or are recovering from injuries.
Lower impact on joints
Compared to free weights and compound barbell movements, cable exercises can have a much lower impact, especially on the knee joints. They take the stress off the joints and stabilizing muscles, making them ideal for lower-body exercises that require constant tension.
Because their settings are super customizable, machines allow you to perform a variety of exercises – and variations of them. This versatility is perfect for comprehensive leg workouts, as you can target the legs from various angles and with different intensities.
Anatomy of the Legs
If you’re looking to get the most out of your leg workouts, then understanding the anatomy of the muscle group is a good place to start. The leg muscles are divided into upper and lower groups, each with distinct functions and sub-muscle groups.
The anterior muscles of the upper leg, mainly the quadriceps, are the powerhouses for knee extension. They play an important role in movements like squatting and lunging. In the lower leg, the anterior muscles lift and lower the foot, extending the toes which is important for keeping you balanced while walking or running.
In the upper leg, the medial muscles, including the adductors, make hip adduction possible, bringing the leg toward the body’s midline. They assist in flexing, extending, and rotating the thigh, contributing to stability and mobility.
The posterior muscles (or hamstrings) in the upper leg are crucial for moving the leg back and forth, as well as rotating it at the hip socket. The muscles in the lower leg have superficial and deeper layers that play a key role in toe flexion and extension, as well as jumping, running, and maintaining good posture.
Think twice before skipping leg day. Training legs is important, not just for a symmetrical physique but for boosting overall fitness, improving balance, and even managing stress. Skipping it means missing out on these benefits, plus the extra calorie burn and muscle building that comes with working larger muscle groups like those in your legs.
If you’re aiming to build stronger, more muscular legs, then hitting leg workouts two to three times per week is the sweet spot. This frequency gives your muscles enough time to recover and grow. Remember that muscles need about 48 hours to recover, so avoid back-to-back leg days for optimal growth and performance.
Absolutely! These machines are a great tool for leg workouts and are one of the best machines for legs. A cable leg workout can give you a nice mix of stability and range of motion, which helps with muscle targeting and engagement. They’re also a lot safer than free weights, allowing you to reach muscular failure without injuring yourself through improper re-racking or dropping the weight.
Yes, you can definitely build muscle with cable leg workouts. Studies have shown that both free-weight exercises and cable machine exercises are effective for increasing muscle mass and strength.
Although free weights offer more instability, which helps with getting your stabilizing muscles involved, cable leg workouts have advantages like matching your strength curves, making them incredibly valuable for muscular development.
The ideal rep range for leg training mainly depends on your individual goals. For muscle growth, aim for 6-12 reps per set, focusing on moderate to heavy weights. If endurance is your aim, then higher reps (15-20+) with lighter weights might be more effective. You have to see how your body responds to what you’re throwing at it and progressively overload, as needed.