7 Good Reasons to Use the Cable Cross Machine

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A few years ago, you would have been more likely to find me in the weight room than on a treadmill. I loved strength training; I would have done it daily (in lieu of cardio) if possible. But something changed more recently that has me enjoying cardio more and strength training less. Maybe I'm getting bored with the weights, machines and same-old exercises after doing some variation of the same moves since I was a teenager. After all, there are only so many ways you can work your biceps.

But there is one mode of strength training that I almost always enjoy, even when I don't feel like spending time at the gym. It's the cable cross (or cable "crossover") machine. (It's pictured above.) Most gyms have this universal piece of equipment, but I'd venture to guess that most people aren't sure what it's for or how to use it. In fact, the cable cross may be the most intimidating machines at the gym. Don't let this big machine fool you, however; it's deceptively easy to use. Here are seven reasons you should try it yourself, plus tips and workouts you can start with.

It Does Everything. No joke. Name a muscle group or an exercise and you can do with free weights or another machine, and you can do the same thing on the cable cross. It's probably the most versatile piece of equipment in the gym, allowing you to work from multiple angles and directions for endless variety. It's like a one-stop shop to work your muscles!

Spend Less Time in the Gym. Because the cable cross can work every muscle in your body in multiple ways, you can save time by strength training with it. Instead of hopping around from machine to machine, setting them up, adjusting the weights and seats, you can stay on one machine and easily change the pulleys or weight stack in seconds, moving from one exercise to the next. This is a great way to circuit train, too. I'll often move from biceps curls to triceps extensions to a lat pull down (all on the cable cross machine) without resting in between. After one set of each, you can go back to the beginning for your second set, eliminating the resting time between each exercise, therefore getting your workout done in less time.

Get the Best of Both Worlds. Weight machines are good for beginners, and free weights are more advanced. But the cable cross is sort of a hybrid of the two. It's generally safe, but it's a step up from machines in terms of challenge. If you find the idea of using the free weights in the gym too intimidating for you, the cable cross machine might be the next logical step for you.

Work Your Body Unilaterally. A bilateral exercise is one that uses both your right and left side of the body at the same time, such as a standard squat or bench press. A unilateral exercise is one that works one side of your body at a time, such as a single leg squat. Because most people tend to have muscular imbalances between both sides of the body (such as a right leg that's slightly stronger than a left leg), bilateral exercises could allow your weak side to "cheat" (allowing the strong side to do more of the work on a squat, for example). However, if you isolate one side of the body at a time, you can ensure balanced muscular development between both sides of the body. Now, not every cable cross exercise is unilateral, but most of them CAN be. Whether you want to work one arm at a time (such as in this single arm biceps curl exercise) or work both at the same time, using opposite sides of the machine at once (such as this chest fly exercise), you can. That even muscular development can help decrease your risk of injuries related to imbalance, and help you rehab one side of the body that might be weaker due to previous injury.

Challenge Your Core. Using a cable cross machine instead of standard gym machines will activate your core muscles (abs, lower back, hips and obliques) more. That's because most gym machines support you and isolate your muscles for you; your body is locked into place passively, without having to work to stay there. Like free weights, you have to do more work to ensure safety and good form when using a cable cross machine. You have to do the work to engage your abs, keep your posture good, stand upright with a long back and avoid leaning while you exercise. All that work to maintain good form means core activation! In addition, you're using more muscle fibers—not just your core—to perform each exercise in good form. That translates to greater challenge and possibly better results, too!

Make Old Exercises New Again. Personally, I think the cable cross is fun. It's my go-to machine when I don't feel excited about hitting the gym. Why? It's yet another different way to work out. I like how smooth it feels when I lift and lower the weight. I like that I can flow easily from one exercise to the next. Sometimes just trying something different can make a stale workout fun again.

Look Super Cool. The cable cross is a machine that intimidates many people. But when YOU look like you know what you're doing, well, that's pretty impressive! Quickly switching from exercise to exercise and doing moves that trump all the boring machines and exercises you see everyone else doing—that can be motivating to some people. This isn't my main motivation for using the cable cross. But I have to say that I rather feel like a little kid riding my bike with no hands when I use it—like I'm big stuff. "Look what I can do!"

These may be good reasons to use it, but I know what you're thinking: How? Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Ask a staff member to help you find it and figure out how to use it or check out some of SparkPeople's Cable Cross demos.

  • There are three things to adjust for each exercise:

    1. The weight stack: Select the level of weight you want to lift, as you would any machine but adjusting the pin in the weight stack. Start low to master the exercise then add weight later. Many cable cross exercises are more challenging, so you might lift less weight than you might think you can handle.

    2. The handle or attachment: You can choose from bars, ropes, cuffs, handles and attachments of all kinds. There are no rules here about what's right or wrong for an exercise or whether you should use a wide bar or a short bar, so don't be intimidated. Pick any of them and attach it with the carabineer hook. Experiment with different handles for added variety.

    3. The handle height: After you've attached the handle or bar of your choice, adjust the height of the machine. You'd keep it low for exercises where you lift weight up, such as a biceps curl. You'll raise it up high for exercises that you pull down, such as lat pulldown or triceps extensions. You'll keep it mid-level for something like a chest fly or shoulder rotation. Don't be afraid of messing this up. Try a level and if it doesn't work for your intended exercise, simply adjust it up or down until it does.

  • Watch what other people do. Keep in mind that not everyone who uses this machine will necessarily be working out safely or effectively. But you can get some ideas if you scope out what other people use the machine for. If you feel just clueless about what to do or how to adjust the machine, attachments or handles, just watch someone do it and pick up whatever tips you can. And don't be afraid to ask! Most people at the gym are happy to help others and share their knowledge.

For a few cable cross workout ideas, check out SparkPeople's Workout Generator. Here are a couple basic upper body and lower body routines you can start with.

What do you think about the cable cross machine? Does it seem less intimidating now that you've read this? Are you going to try it?

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CECELW 6/4/2020
i feel like i have read this before Report
KHALIA2 11/26/2019
Will certainly give this one a try! Report
It is kind of intimidating. Report
Great workout! Report
Looks like fun! Report
I love the cross cable machine. This is a great article. I also recommend to get someone at the gym to show proper form and some basic and simple exercises to do on it. Report
Our Y seems to have the cable machines sequestered off in the "ManCave" part of the gym, with the heavier weight plates and dumbbells (not over in the larger section with the individual machines - which I don't like.). They also have a similar set up called Qeenex (sp??) - which has a variety of looped ropes, bars, rings etc. and uses body weight to add your variable "weight". Can be both unilateral or bilateral. I hope to use more of them now that I'm about finished with the Livestrong program at the Y. Report
This is the most popular machine at the gym. To the point, it never seems to be available. I love it when I am able to use it! Report
I am not familiar with this machine. Will be certain to ask about it at my gym. Report
Absolutely great Report
I have never used this machine, but I think I will try it. Report
Perfect timing -- interested in using cable crossover, but not sure how! Now I have some guidance...thanks. Report
Looks like a great workout! Report
Wow! Looks fun! Report
I've stayed away because I don't know how to use it. I'll definitely give it a go! Report
Coach Nicole, that looks like a great gym you belong to. I like the treadmills all facing outside; it's the second best thing to actually being outside. Report
I will try it... My husband has been trying to get me to use this for awhile now.. Report
It is usually being used at my gym by the gym rats or muscle heads...I like it on the weekends, not as crowded Report
It does look intimidating, but I would try it. Report
i think i would need someone to show this to me in person
I'd love to see a review of the TRX suspension system, which I've been using on and off for a few months now. It has many of the advantages of this machine, and is highly portable (fits in a suitcase). I use it rather than my bands, nowadays. Multiplanar exercises are a nice variation on the 'usual' :) Report
I love to read such articles.
It helps me and encourages me to continue.
Thanks Report
Yay - thanks for posting this! I am returning to the gym, having moved to MI from CA, where I could work out outside and at home all year round. I abhor the gym, but maybe learning to use this will help? I've signed up for a training session on the cable cross machine in October - looking fwd to it, and will check out your demos in the meantime. Report
WHERE has this machine been all my life?! LOL! Unilaterally... who'd a' thought? Makes extremely rational scientific logic!! I don't think I've EVER checked out SparkPeople's Workout Generator or I'd NEVER forget it!! This is the BEST BEST BEST feature!! Color *me* PLEASED with this entire article this morning, Nicole!! LOVE IT!! Report
I don't have a gym membership but it sounds like a good workout. I just wanted to say Nicole that I've been doing your exercise band workouts for upper and lower body. The nurse that gave me my flu shot yesterday called me buff. Boy did that make my day! Thanks for the awesome videos!!!!!! Report
Do a video on this and put it on YouTube. Report
After reading your article, Nicole, I'm tempted to use it. I got bored with the regular machines, and now only do classes (8 per week) including 2 classes with barbell weights (Zumba for most of the other classes).
If I feel brave, or maybe when I recruit a friend, I'll give the cross cable machine a try. It's also in the area of the heavy weights and serious weightlifting guys, so intimidating. Report
Thank you! I've recently tried the cable cross machine but I knew there was more I needed to learn about it. This article really helped! Report
My gym doesn't have this machine. It looks like it would be worth trying. Report
I used to use the cable machines fairly regularly, but got away from them when I started using more free weight exercises. I may give them a second try. The problem I always had with the machines was the line ! It seemed like everyone was queuing up to use them.

The cables at my gym are always filled with big guys. I have used them when I am with friends working out, but I can't get over being intimidated when I am by myself! Report
It is a great machine for doing several things. We have one here at the job and people use it for everything from strength training for legs to chests and abs. I use it for chest. Report
Cable? We have cable, but not Showtime. Report
I've used the cable cross machine at my gym and I love using it. The trainers also love it - the biggest problem is that it's pretty heavily used so it's not always available without a bit of waiting. It's a really versatile machine. But it is one where if you are unsure about how you should use it, ask! The trainers and gym personnel are always more than happy to show you the proper techniques, this helps to avoid injury and makes happier clients! Report
That is like my Bowflex workout.. Thanks Report
Excellent article! Well organized, written, and presented. Loved all the embedded links. One of the best I have seen on here!
I am going to try some of these cable exercises! Report
What a timely article for me. Just yesterday, my workout with my PT was using the Cable Cross Machine. It really does add a great amount of variety and helps mix things up. I've used it sitting on the ball, using a bench, sitting on the floor, standing, etc. Many many ways to mix it up. And I LOVE anything that helps me work my core a bit more. Report
Thank you so much for posting this!!!!! I've been passing by it lately and it INTRIGUES me so much that I have to try it, now I have this article as the push I needed to get over its scariness. ;-) Report
Thanks for this! I've been going to the gym very regularly for the past few months, and have just started to get bored with the weights and machines I have been using. I was intimidated by the Cable Cross before, but now it doesn't seem so bad. I think I will try it next time I am at the gym! Report
I think I might try it. I think I've seen it at the Y before. I'm pretty sure thats there. I have a trainer who can help me because she's been on it before. Report
I exercise at home and have not been in a gym in a long time. If I ever hve the opportunity to try this machine, I wil. Report
I really like this machine, but I don't do anything on it that my trainer hasn't already done with me. (Some people at my gym use it in real scary ways.). I use it most on days when I'm feeling burned out and lazy, because I have to keep an eye on my form and can't cheat. Report
I would love to use our cable crossover machine. I do sometimes, but it seems like everytime I go to the gym it's being hogged by the same three beefy men for set after set of lat pull downs. Report
What an awesome gym that is. It sure looks state of the art. Report
i dont like the idea of machines without instruction there i want things to do with a group or on my own im almost 67 and dont want to heard myself or have to go somewhere else to exercise Report
Yeah, id have to def agree. Quite intimidating...thank god i just got a PT bc im SURE he will sooner or later put me on this thing lol Report
Have used a couple of times. Will use more after reading this. Report
I will try it. Report
Have tried it. Yes, it's good to try new things. Report
This was timely - I'm ALWAYS thinking about using the cable cross but always getting too freaked out by it. Well, that and the fact that the big guys at the gym tend to hog it. Sounds like I need to strong-arm my way in to try it (pun only a little bit intended). Report