Welcome to our all-in-one guide for mastering chest exercises using just a single cable.
This guide is perfect for those times when you’re aiming to fix muscle imbalances or when you find yourself with only one cable at your disposal.
Cable exercises are not just versatile, they’re also super effective. They offer you a full range of motion and keep your muscles under constant tension, which can lead to some seriously impressive muscle growth and strength.
So whether you’re in a gym with limited gear or at home with a single cable station, these exercises have got you covered.
Table of Contents
- 1 The 5 Best Single Cable Chest Exercises
- 2 Cable Machine Benefits
- 3 Anatomy of the Chest
- 4 FAQs
The 5 Best Single Cable Chest Exercises
- Single-arm cable fly
- Single-arm high to low cable fly
- Single-arm low to high cable fly
- Single-arm cable chest press
- Single-arm incline cable chest press
Single-arm cable fly
Benefits of single-arm cable fly
- Engages the core muscles
- Isolating chest muscles
Engages the core muscles
Performing this exercise requires a solid core to maintain balance and proper form, especially in a staggered stance. This means that you’ll be strengthening your core while performing it, contributing to overall stability and posture. In this sense, many consider it one of the better compound chest exercises out there.
Isolating chest muscles
The single-arm cable chest fly stands out for the way it can isolate and engage the chest muscles, especially the pectoralis major and minor. This isolation allows for concentrated muscle engagement of the middle chest fibers, making it an effective exercise for developing the chest.
How to perform single-arm cable fly
- Begin by setting the cable machine to chest height with a single handle attached. You can stand facing away from the machine with your feet next to each other, shoulder-width apart, or you can use a staggered stance.
- With your body slightly turned towards the cable machine, grab the handle with one hand. Ensure there’s a slight bend in your elbow as you pull the cable across your body to the opposite side.
- Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. Be sure to maintain control of the weight while doing so.
- Hit the target number of reps and sets before you switch sides.
When it comes to any single-arm exercise, form is key. Because we know this, we made sure to throw in a concise video to help you get the form right for the single-arm cable fly:
Single-arm high-to-low cable fly
Benefits of single-arm high to low cable fly
- Enhanced muscular fatigue
- Focused muscle activation
- Core stabilization
Enhanced muscular fatigue
By isolating one side of the chest at a time, this exercise enables you to push the muscle to a deeper level of fatigue. This is key for stimulating muscle growth.
Focused muscle activation
This is seen as one of the best chest cable exercises for targeting the lower chest, mainly because of the unilateral aspect. It ensures that each pec is engaged and activated, leading to more effective development of the lower chest.
The unilateral nature of this exercise is also good for the core. As you perform the fly, your abdominal muscles work overtime to keep your body stable and aligned.
How to perform single-arm high-to-low cable fly
- Select a suitable weight on the machine. Position the pulley slightly above shoulder height and attach a D-handle. Standing facing away from the machine, feet shoulder-width apart, grab the handle with one hand.
- Lean forward slightly, engaging your core while doing so. With a slight bend in your elbow, sweep the arm downward and across your body, targeting your lower chest. Focus on the contraction of the chest muscles at the end of the movement.
- In a slow and controlled manner, return the handle to the starting position. Try to maintain tension in your chest muscles throughout.
- Complete the set number of repetitions before switching arms
Pro tip: Pick a weight that allows you to perform the exercise with consistent form across each set. The weight should still be challenging, so you shouldn’t be able to bang out around 10 reps too easily.
Cable chest workouts aren’t complete without this exercise. So, if you’re trying to make it a staple in your routine, it’s time to nail the technique. To help you along the way, here’s an instructional video:
Single-arm low-to-high cable fly
Benefits of single-arm low-to-high cable fly
- Targets the upper chest
- Promotes muscle adduction
- Improves chest definition
Targets the upper chest
The single-arm low-to-high fly is a great exercise for targeting the upper pecs. By hitting the upper chest fibers, it addresses an area that’s commonly underdeveloped, giving you comprehensive chest development.
Promotes muscle adduction
The movement pattern of bringing the arm across the body to a point beyond the midline is important for driving chest growth. Adduction is a key component of chest development.
Improves chest definition
Besides building strength, this exercise can be a great tool for carving out a more defined and aesthetically appealing chest. This is because the upper chest is a region that many struggle to develop, which this exercise targets well.
How to perform single-arm low-to-high cable fly
- Attach a D-handle to the lowest setting on a cable machine. Stand a foot ahead of the cable station to create tension, with your body slightly turned away from the machine.
- With your shoulders pinned back and chest puffed out, drive the handle up in a diagonal arc across your body. Your hand should end above shoulder level, emphasizing the contraction in the upper chest.
- Control the handle as you slowly lower it back to the starting position. Keep tension in your chest muscles during the whole movement.
- Do the desired number of reps before switching arms.
The single-arm low-to-high cable fly is a great tool for hitting those upper chest muscle fibers. Add it to your cable chest workout and get it right by following this instructional tutorial:
Single-arm cable chest press
Benefits of single-arm cable chest press
- Focused muscle activation
- Correcting muscular imbalances
- Intermediate difficulty
Focused muscle activation
A huge advantage of unilateral training is that it allows for concentrated efforts on either side. This is particularly useful for building the mind-muscle connection.
Correcting muscular imbalances
Because you’re performing this exercise unilaterally, you’re able to give equal effort to each side at a time. By individually targeting each side of your chest with seated or standing cable chest presses, you can correct muscular imbalances.
The seated or standing cable chest press is made much more difficult when performed single-handedly. This makes it an ideal exercise for experienced lifters or anyone who has hit a plateau.
How to perform single-arm cable chest press
- Set the cable at chest height, attach a D-handle, and select a manageable weight on the weight stack.
- Stand sideways to the cable machine with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Grab the handle with your hand that’s closest to the machine.
- Press the handle forward until your arm is fully extended. Try to think of pinching your chest muscles together when doing this.
- Pause for a moment at full extension.
- Slowly bring the handle back to the starting position.
- Do the target number of reps and sets that you’re aiming for before switching to the other arm and repeating the steps above.
Pro tip: To properly fix muscular imbalances, start with your weaker side first and track the number of reps you’re able to do on it. Do the same number of reps on your stronger side, being sure not to exceed that initial number.
For those looking to add some variety to their chest routine, the single-arm cable chest press offers a unique challenge. Check out the video below from Seriously Strong Training; it shows you exactly how to do it:
Single-arm incline cable chest press
Benefits of single-arm incline chest press
- Great alternative exercise
- Improves core strength
Great alternative exercise
This exercise is a great alternative to other cable exercises that target the upper chest. It’s also a much safer alternative to a barbell or dumbbell incline bench press.
Improves core strength
The single-hand cable incline bench press is another exercise that requires significant core engagement to stabilize you during the movement. This helps significantly in building the core muscles.
How to perform single-arm incline chest press
- Set up an incline bench facing away from the cable machine. Attach a D-handle to one pulley. Lie back and grab the cable with one hand in an overhand grip, positioning the cable level with your chest and elbow bent at 90 degrees.
- Press the cable straight out in front of you, extending your arm fully until you feel a strong contraction in the upper chest. Hold the position briefly at the peak of the movement.
- Slowly return to the starting position.
- Perform the desired number of repetitions before switching arms.
Believe us, the more cable chest exercises you know, the better your session will be. But, knowing them is just one part of the job, as you also have to know how to do them. This video breaks down the technique to ensure you’re maximizing muscle growth:
Cable Machine Benefits
When it comes to muscle and strength development, cable machines can be your best friend, especially for building solid chest muscles. They’re easily one of the best gym machines for chest which is also why they’re the go-to for both professional bodybuilders and casual gym-goers alike. Skeptical? Let’s take a look at five key advantages.
It doesn’t matter where you are in your fitness journey, safety is always key. Thankfully, cable machines present a much lower risk of someone using the incorrect form, especially compared to free weights. This minimizes the chances of an injury occurring while maximizing your potential gains.
One of the greatest advantages of cable machines is just how many exercises you can do on them. This adaptability is super important for focused training programs. These machines can target specific muscles, like those in the upper chest, with ease. The result? A more complete physique.
Cable machines are great at ensuring that your muscles remain under tension throughout each exercise, resulting in muscle engagement from start to finish. This is important as research suggests that prolonged muscle tension significantly boosts muscle growth.
These machines have a knack for replicating everyday movement patterns, so they can also boost functional strength. Apart from chest exercises, they’re excellent for enhancing lunges, squats, and rotational movements, which can improve your overall balance and coordination.
Because of the way cable machines are designed, they’re much softer on the joints compared to barbell and dumbbell exercises. They alleviate pressure on joints and the muscles that keep you stable, making your workout experience much safer overall.
Anatomy of the Chest
The chest muscles do a lot more than just being aesthetically appealing. They’re a complex network of muscles that power your upper body, facilitating a wide range of movements. Let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of the chest:
The pectoralis major takes up most of the space within the muscle group. This large, fan-shaped powerhouse originates from the sternum, extending all the way to the clavicle. It plays an important role in arm flexion and rotation. When you do exercises like the single-arm cable chest press, it’s the pectoralis major that takes most of the load.
You’ll find the pectoralis minor underneath the pectoralis major. As the name suggests, it’s smaller, but this doesn’t mean that it’s not important. Stretching from the ribs to the scapula, this muscle is crucial for scapular movements, like depression and protraction. It acts as a foundational support, keeping your shoulder blades steady during your chest workout.
The serratus anterior completes the pectoral muscles, anchoring the upper ribs to the scapula. It’s key for arm elevation and keeping a strong posture. You’ll find it working quite significantly during exercises like the cable fly.
Can you build your chest muscles with only cables?
Yes, you can build a muscular chest solely using cables. They offer a unique advantage in that they put constant tension on the muscle fibers throughout the range of motion and constant tension is key for muscle growth. By adjusting angles and loads, you can effectively target and optimize muscle fiber recruitment for a well-rounded chest workout.
Are isolation exercises better than compound exercises?
Isolation and compound exercises both play important roles in ensuring your workout routine is balanced. Although isolation exercises are great for targeting specific muscle groups and addressing imbalances, compound exercises are typically more efficient for overall strength and muscle mass gains.
For optimal hypertrophy, try incorporating a mix of both isolation and compound exercises.