Looking to change up the “clang and bang” of traditional weightlifting? Cable machines are a more convenient alternative to dumbbells, plates, and weight sets. Using a pulley system, these machines offer a full body workout without all of the extra equipment. In this guide, we’ll take you through the best cable machines that can actually pull their weight.
Why Buy a Cable Machine?
- Great organization. The weight-training benefits of free weights without all of the clutter. Cable machines have a smaller footprint than most weight racks and other exercise machines. This leads to a more efficient use of workout space.
- Targeted conditioning. Home cable workout systems offer a focused muscle workout. This makes it easier to tone specific muscle groups and individual muscles. They can help you be more deliberate with your workouts than with free weights, giving you the results you want more quickly.
- Quick switches. Moving a pin versus picking up a whole new set of dumbbells. It’s a no-brainer. Quick-sliding pins easily move between weighted plates on the pulley, giving you the ability to change increments quickly. This can help you make the most of your workout time, especially when doing supersets or fast-paced exercises.
- Comfort. Comfortable, ergonomic handles and bars replace the unforgiving feel of traditional weights. This can go a long way in helping you to push your limits. Hand pain is the last thing you want holding you back during an intense muscle workout.
- Upper/lower body balance. Most cable machines can handle workouts for both the upper and lower body, a benefit you may not get with free weights. This means a cable machine has the potential to be a complete home gym. Versatility is a major perk.
Types of Cable Machines
A machine that gives you consistent resistance throughout your entire rep. This means muscle effort will vary throughout the motion: the start of a 75-pound rep will be harder on your muscles than the middle. This type is a great choice if you want to feel the same amount of weight throughout a whole rep. A downside is potentially falling short of target weights you may be able to reach on a variable machine.
Designed to change resistance through the rep, these machines increase the challenge during easier parts of the motion to keep muscle effort, not weight, constant throughout the rep. These can be a great choice if you have trouble with specific parts of reps, most commonly at the beginning or end.
These machines often have a hefty footprint and a heavier-duty frame. Designed for club and professional use, they feature a beefier build quality than residential machines and can stand up to consistent abuse. They usually come at a higher price due to their performance-based features like heavier weights.
Designed for personal use, these machines are lighter and come with a smaller footprint. They often include more home-oriented convenience features for storage or transportation. Normally, they don’t quite have the build quality and weight limits of professional models and may not last as long.
Top Cable Machine Brands
Body Solid has become a top name in cable machines since it was founded in Forest Park, IL in 1988. They’re famous for their Solid Pro models. As a company, they’ve adopted a focus on cross-training and making equipment for specific goals and body types.
An iron-clad name in fitness since its establishment in 2006 in Seminole, FL, Valor is known for their BD-61 in the cable game. They’ve established themselves as a rugged, bodybuilding-driven company. They’re mainly focused on helping people create their perfect home gyms.
A company out of Shreveport, LA. XMark has established itself with its Functional Trainer model and is focused almost exclusively on weight training with equipment tailored for muscle development. Recently, they’ve begun to enter the cross-training realm as well.
Cable Machine Pricing
- $500 and under: Budget machines with basic builds. These may lack in build quality or pulley smoothness and may forego convenience features; pretty much exclusively residential and free-weight (add your own plates) models.
- $500-$1000: Mid-range machines with better builds. They usually feature a mix of weighted stacks (flat, fixed plates that adjust with a pin) and free-weight designs. The range has some low-end commercial models with a fair amount of high-end residential models mixed in.
- $1000-$2000: Mostly pro/commercial machines. Many feature the smoothest pulleys on the market along with better builds overall. Strong steel that’ll stand up to consistent abuse is common. These machines are almost exclusively weighted-stack designs that’ll have high weight capacities.
Stacked weights are the most common form of resistance for cable machines overall. Some, however, may feature free-weight designs that load traditional weight plates instead. This, unfortunately, usually means purchasing your own weights. The weights can either be secured by a sliding pin (weighted stacks) or clamp collars (free weights) for security. The weight type of the machine will affect both the money and effort you have to put into the machine. Make sure the weight type fits your needs and lifestyle.
Handles offer an ergonomic surface for the hands and legs, creating a comfortable and smooth fit. These typically include handles and bars for your arms and Velcro-secured straps for your legs. Most models come with interchangeable handles/attachments for different exercises, grips, or muscle groups.
The connection between you and the weights, pulleys come in double (more convenient) and single (more challenge) setups. Ultimately, the design of the pulleys sets the overall “feel” of the machine. Look for features that help create a smooth pull (like bar-guided pulleys or high-resin designs). Ideally, you should get the smoothest, frictionless experience possible.
As with most exercise equipment, commercial models include heavier-duty frames. Residential frames are narrower and lighter. Heavy-duty steel naturally lasts longer and stands up to more intense workouts. Overall though, stability is the name of the game here for safety and smoothness. Some models come with the ability to bolt frames to the floor for extra security.
- Fixed vs. variable: Variable-resistance models allow you to give more consistent effort throughout the rep. However, this isn’t for everybody. Fixed-resistance models keep the weight steady throughout the whole rep. This can be helpful if you’re looking to conquer more consistent weight. Fixed-resistance options are also generally more common and affordable.
- Weight capacity: 200 pounds is the most common limit for most residential stacked-plate systems. Commercial models commonly go above this mark, however. Free-weight models can also give you higher limits, due to their manual-loading nature. Upgrades are available with some machines to add weight.
- Accessories: These mostly include handles and attachments. In order to unlock the full potential of your machine, it’s best to have both hand and foot handles available. In general, hand handles include bars and grips, while foot handles center around Velcro straps for security. Pulldown and pull-up attachments expand the functionality of the machine, allowing you to tackle body-weight exercises.
- Space: The footprint of a machine depends on its type. Crossover machines (double pulleys, designed for cable crossovers) are larger than most equipment. The overall width can range from 60 to 160 inches. Height is also something to consider since cable machines are often taller than most exercise equipment.
Best Cable Machine Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall / Best Fixed-Resistance Cable Machine: XMark Functional Trainer
- Hands down the XM-7626 is the most versatile piece of...
- Your training possibilities are unlimited with the dual...
- Included accessories: a pair of 8" hand straps, a pair...
- The heavy duty 11-gauge 2" x 3" steel mainframe...
- The XM-7626 provides true isolateral-based movements,...
The XMark Functional Trainer is the ultimate home gym. A heavy-duty build, along with twin 200-pound stacks, mean this machine will stand up to any workout you can throw at it. On top of this, it comes with everything you’ll need from day one: straps, handles, and bars built for many types of exercises.
The commercial-grade pulley weight system delivers one of the smoothest motions on the market. The adjustable frame can adapt to fit your whole family with a few quick changes. On top of the pulleys, the frame also has pull-up/chin-up bars along the top.
A disadvantage is its high price, especially when compared to other models in the commercial range. For home use, this cost might be too much if you only want a straightforward cable machine. If you need something to survive greater use and abuse, however, it has a build quality that definitely matches the price.
Best Residential Cable Machine: Body Solid BFFT10
- FUNCTIONAL TRAINING: Utilize this Body-Solid Best...
- ADJUSTABLE: Features adjustable pulleys which swivel...
- WEIGHT STACK: Includes a single 190 lb weight stack,...
- DIMENSIONS: This equipment measures 55 by 61 by 84 ( L...
- WARRANTY: Body-Solid offers a 3-Year Warranty on Frame...
The BFFT10 has the smallest footprint on this list without giving up weight capacity or convenient features. It comes with two adjustable nylon cable handles that are good for many exercises. Additionally, a chinning bar runs across the top of the unit, an uncommon feature in small residential models.
The price is an astounding value, falling right into the budget price bracket. This price is more common in free-weight models that force you to buy plates on top of the unit. With this machine, you get a slick, all-black design and a dual-pulley system that allows you to do exercises like crossovers.
The build quality of the BFFT10 has been met with mixed reviews. A common complaint is a machine may not handle placing all of its 190 pounds of resistance on one side. This can be an issue if you’re someone who’s looking to do heavier exercises. Overall, though, this is a very feature-rich machine for the price.
Best Variable-Resistance Cable Machine: Valor Fitness BD-61
- HEAVY DUTY CABLE MACHINE- The BD-61 is constructed of...
- ADJUSTABLE- Features 17 adjustable positions and a...
- DOUBLE BAR TRACK- Our Cable Crossover Machine features...
- VERSATILE FUNCTIONAL TRAINER- A fully functional cable...
- ADDITIONAL- Max weight load of 400 lb. Includes 4...
Despite its free-weight design, the BD-61 offers variable resistance for one of the most comfortable lifts out there. It has 17 different height positions, giving each lift a great level of customizability. You also get an accessory pack that lets you hit the ground running: a lat bar, row bar, and a few handles.
One of the BD-61’s biggest perks is its ability to bolt down for increased stability. This could be useful if you’re looking to do a lot of intense pulls or pull-ups. A double-bar track system keeps your reps smooth. The unit also comes with rubber end caps for your floors.
A downside of this machine is the need to purchase plates for extra weight, which can add up in total cost. Users have also complained about parts arriving damaged, warped, or missing. This is something to keep in mind to avoid additional, unnecessary headaches.
Best Commercial Cable Machine: FreeMotion EXT Crossover
- STATE-OF-THE-ART STRENGTH TRAINING EQUIPMENT- Step up...
- VERSATILE AND DURABLE DESIGN - Its durable and...
- ENDLESS VARIETY OF STANDING STRENGTH EXERCISES -...
- FREEMOTION SYSTEM FOR A MORE CUSTOM WORKOUT - The...
- DAZADI MONEY BACK GUARANTEE and WARRANTY - Your item...
Let’s be honest: when you’re a professional looking for a commercial model, you want a heavy-duty tank of a machine. The EXT is definitely that thanks to a 7/11-gauge steel frame built to survive constant use. It also has two independent 210-pound weight stacks, giving it one of the highest weight capacities available.
A 3-to-1 cable ratio gives you a wide range of motion. The pulleys are designed with heavy, high-speed motion in mind and use guiding bars for increased smoothness. The machine offers good counterbalance in the arms to make sure positioning is easy, smooth, and stress-free.
A disadvantage of the machine is its high price that fits its commercial build quality. This, however, is to be expected given the extra weight and heavy-duty, powder-coated steel frame. If you’re a gym owner looking for a double cable machine that can stand up to anything, this is it.
Best Value / Best Cable Machine for the Money: PowerLine PCC090X
- QUALITY: Adjustable machine features sturdy...
- VERSATILITY: This equipment offers a wide variety of...
- SMOOTH: Includes patented nylon bushing technology and...
- BUILD MUSCLE: Workout in your home gym, and store...
- DIMENSIONS: Measures 112 x 39 x 82 inches (L x W x H)...
This free-weight trainer comes with the lowest price on this list. Its wide-open design provides plenty of space for a full range of workouts. It comes with one of the best warranties available with ten years of coverage on the frame. The pulleys also give you over 180 degrees of movement.
While the PCC090X may not come with everything you need on day one, it includes two handles and an ankle strap. The high-resin top and bottom pulleys offer a smooth pull. The tall, wide design also gives you extra space to incorporate exercise balls or even a training partner.
The frame has been known for less stability than other options. Users have reported swaying and tipping. It also ships without assembly instructions, forcing you to call or go online – an extra step between you and your completed machine. Finally, it lacks the bars and extra handles many other models include.
Cable Machine Tips
- Use lighter weights when going for more reps to help curb muscle fatigue. You never want to go too heavy when reps are your main focus, as they can add too much resistance for the exercise.
- Use a bench or chair to perform exercises like cable rows. Not only will a bench make certain exercises more comfortable, but they can also unlock possibilities for new exercises as well.
- Alternate handles to isolate each arm. Even machines with double pulleys will allow you to focus on one side and develop your isolateral strength. This allows you to target the specific muscles you want.
- Be sure to use both upper and lower body workouts using the appropriate grips/handles. One of the main advantages of a cable machine is the versatility for working the whole body.
Cable Machine FAQs
Q: How difficult is a cable machine to assemble?
A: Because there are so many moving parts, assembly of these machines can be challenging. Be sure to follow the instructions in the manual. If applicable, professional assembly can save a lot of time and energy.
Q: Is it possible to add more weight to my cable machine?
A: Yes. For plate-stack models, there are add-on weights that rest on top of the stack. For free-weight models, adding additional plates is always an option. NEVER add more weight than your machine is equipped to handle. This can cause the cables and pulleys to fail.
Q: Do I need other equipment for a complete home gym?
A: A cable machine is easily the most versatile piece of equipment you can buy. However, there are gaps you still can fill. For example, while a home cable gym may take care of your strength training needs, you may still want something for cardio work.
Q: Do I need pulleys that can rotate 180 degrees?
A: This depends on the workouts you plan on doing. Some exercises require wider rotation to get through the full motion.
Cable machines are a centerpiece of any home gym. Their versatility is unmatched, helping you work practically every inch of your body.
The XMark Functional Trainer takes the cake here for being the toughest, most complete package. Additionally, the Body Solid PCCO90X offers the best value for your money as an incredibly solid, well-rounded machine at an amazing price.
Do you use a cable machine in your home gym? What are your favorite cable machine workouts? Like what we’ve found? Let us know in the comments!