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7 Cable Back Exercises to Supercharge Your Workout

Here's 7 of the best exercises to enhance your cable back workouts

I’ve tested these exercises myself and I’ve found that each of them has its own benefit to enhance your back. whether it’s width or back thickness you’re looking for.

Most workout articles online broaden the range of exercises that you can use in the gym. While that may sound great, my 5 years of experience in the gym tells me it’s better to have a few good things rather than a lot of subpar things.

I’ve structured this guide so that anyone, from beginner to advanced, can take advantage of these exercises.

Always make sure to consult a fitness professional to understand how to add new exercises to your training regimen safely.

How To Supercharge Your Cable Back Workouts

The list here is worth so much that I find it criminal if you skip this. If their names frighten you, they won’t once you read what they mean.

Mind-muscle connection

Many scientific studies support the fact that internally or visually focusing on the muscle group you’re training, increases its muscle activity. More so than if you didn’t consciously focus on it. In short, focus on that tensed muscle feeling while training. It helps to close your eyes.

Controlled range of motion

Rather than trying to get the exercise over and done with, controlling the range of motion means to control the weight with each repetition. Especially when you’re going back to the starting position. In short, take it slow.

Isolating the muscles

Compound lifts such as deadlifts and barbell rows are great to hit your back overall but that doesn’t mean it’s hitting each part of your back effectively. In the list below you’ll find exercises that will allow you to isolate specific parts of your back to effectively train them.

Time Under Tension (TUT)

TUT is the duration in which you do a set of repetition. It’s not too important to understand but if you control your range of motion and work on mind-muscle connection then it will be most effective for muscle growth. TUT can translate into repetitions which you may hear as 8 to 12 reps or 6 to 15 reps, etc.

Elbow position and angles

How big the angle is between your side and elbow decides whether you’re working the lats or the upper back muscles. Elbows tucked to your sides will work your lats (the V shape muscles). However, the further out your elbows go, e.g. 30 up to 60 degrees, the more you’ll work your upper back muscles such as the traps and rhomboids.

#1 – Wide Grip Lat Pulldown

Compared to the traditional lat pulldown, the wide grip stance boasts increased activation of the upper back muscles. Like I’ve said before, the angle between your side and elbows have a huge impact on muscle activation. This exercise is great if you want a balance between thickness and width for your back since both the upper back muscles such as the trapezius and rhomboids, and the lats are being engaged in this exercise.

How to:

  • Attach the lat pulldown handle to the machine. Adjust your seat so that the support presses against your quads.
  • Grasp the outer handles with an overhand grip.
  • Start the movement by pulling the bar down to your upper chest as close as possible. emphasize control of the weight.
  • Once the bar is at your chest, hold for a second before coming back up for your next repetition.

Key Tips:

  • You’ll notice that when the bar is close to your chest, your elbows form an arc of 30 to 45 degrees from your side.
  • It is important that you depress the shoulder blades before pulling down. Focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together once the bar is close to your chest.
  • A slight lean back is acceptable when doing this exercise. Anything more than 20 degrees may be a result of too heavy weight. I.e you’re forcing the weight down. I.e. You’re cheating.
  • Don’t allow your head to push forward as you pull the weight down.

#2 – Cable Wide Grip Row

If you want to fill your shirt (or perhaps rip through it) the wide grip row is one of the most efficient exercises for promoting the thickness of the upper back. Since it is a compound exercise, you’ll find activation of your rhomboids, trapezius, and rear deltoids. With the addition of the cable, the exercise has the benefit of control and getting a better squeeze on the muscles. In short, better muscle activation.

How to:

  • Attach a bar to the seated row machine. The bar should allow you to hold it outside of shoulder width. E.g. lat pulldown bar or a straight bar.
  • Grasp the bar so that your hands are outside shoulder width. How far? You’ll want your elbows to be 30 to 60 degrees away from your side when you pull back. It’s best to test out different widths yourself or with the help of a professional
  • Pull the weight off the stack slightly so that your back is straight and knees are slightly bent before you start the movement.
  • Shoulders back, sit upright and pull the weight towards your lower chest.
  • Once the bar is as close to you as is safely possible, hold for a second before coming back to the starting position for your next repetition.

Key Tips:

  • The closer your elbow arc is to 60 degrees, the more activation you’ll have of your upper back and the less activation you’ll have of your lats.
  • Avoid using momentum, leaning forward, or leaning too far back.
  • Always keep your shoulders back.

#3 – Lat focused row

The lat-focused row is one of the most effective movements to grow those upper and lower lats. It’s best done after heavy compound lifts like deadlifts or barbell rows. You’ll find that it is great for improving your mind-to-muscle connection.

How to:

  • Attach the V bar to the seated row machine. You may also use most other bars but remember that you’ll be tucking your elbows in during this movement.
  • Grasp the bar with an overhand or neutral (sideways) grip.
  • Pull the weight off the stack slightly so that your back is straight and knees are slightly bent before you start the movement.
  • Shoulders back, sit upright, and pull the weight towards your lower chest while keeping your arms tucked in.
  • Once the bar is as close to you as is safely possible, hold for a second before coming back up for your next repetition.

Key Tips:

  • Gain a stronger mind-to-muscle connection by squeezing or tensing your lats once the bar is close to your chest.
  • Extend your arms at the end of the rep to get a good stretch on the lats. This is great for activation and mind-to-muscle connection.
  • Avoid using momentum, leaning forward, leaning too far back.
  • Always keep your shoulders back.

#4 – Lat Pulldown

The go-to exercise for lats. This exercise emphasizes growing width over thickness of the back. Similar to the pull-up movement.

How to:

  • Attach the lat pulldown handle to the machine, and adjust your seat so that the support presses against your quads.
  • Grasp the bar slightly outside of shoulder width with an overhand grip.
  • Start the movement by pulling the bar down to your upper chest as close as possible. Emphasize control of the weight.
  • Once the bar is as close to your chest as it can safely be, hold for a second before coming back up for your next repetition.

Key tips:

  • It is important that you depress the shoulder blades before pulling down. Focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together once the bar is close to your chest.
  • A slight lean-back is acceptable when doing this exercise. Anything more may be a result of weight that’s too heavy.
  • Don’t allow your head to push forward as you pull the weight down.

#5 – Straight Arm Pulldown

Another great exercise to isolate the lats and get a great mind-to-muscle connection. For this exercise, you can use the tricep rope, EZ bar attachment, and any straight bar. Since it isolates the lats it may be better to do it later in your back workout routine.

  • Attach one of the bars or ropes mentioned earlier to a cable stack.
  • While standing, grasp the handles with an overhand grip at around shoulder width.
  • Lean forward and bend your knees slightly
  • With Elbows slightly flexed, shoulder blades depressed and shoulders extended. Pull the bar down to your thigh fully contacting the lats in the process. Maintain form and keep your arms straight.
  • Squeeze your lats at the bottom of the movement before coming back up for your next repetition.

Key tips:

  • Imagine yourself in the third person. What you want to do is form a nice curving line as you bring the weight down from the top of the movement to your thighs.
  • Extend your arms at the end of the rep to get a good stretch on the lats. This is great for activation and mind-to-muscle connection.
  • Gain stronger activation by controlling the weight as you bring the weight back up.

#6 – Cable Reverse Fly

If you want a strong-looking V taper, you can’t ignore the rear delts. The reverse fly using the cable machine has the benefit of isolating the rear delts as well as improving the symmetry of the upper back muscles.

  • Position 2 cables at chest height. You can attach a handle to each cable optionally.
  • Reach across your body and grab one cable by the rubbery end  (if you don’t use a handle). Repeat for the opposite arm.
  • Pull the cables so that they’re directly by your shoulders. Left cable -> Right shoulder. Right, cable -> Left shoulder.
  • Pull the cables across to your side with a slight bend in your elbows, ending with a T position.
  • Hold for a second before bringing the cables back to the starting position.

Key Tips:

  • If you can’t lift much weight on this exercise, don’t worry, it’s normal. The real delts can’t lift as much weight when compared to the lats or traps.
  • If you find that your traps are being engaged a lot, you may want to lower the weight, reduce how far back you’re pulling the cables across, or lower the cables.
  • This exercise is about mind-to-muscle connection and control. Avoid going heavy as a beginner or intermediate lifter.

#7 – Cable Single Arm Bent Over Row

I’ve left this for last because there are a lot of other types of rows that are better than this. However, there is one aspect in which this exercise shines and that is isolation. It will allow you to isolate your lats or upper back muscles depending on the arc between your side and elbow. Think back to the lat focused row compared to the wide grip row. This exercise could be a great way to completely tire out the muscle of your choosing and I’d recommend it towards the end of your workout.

  • Attach a handle to a cable stack.
  • Stand so that the cable is in the front middle of you.
  • Bend your knees about 30 degrees, lean forward with a straight back, and reach out to grasp the handle
  • To engage the lats, keep your elbow tucked as you pull the cable to your side.
  • To engage the upper back, create an angle of 30 to 45 degrees between your side and elbow.
  • Do your repetitions and repeat for the other side.

Key Tips:

  • This exercise is about mind-to-muscle connection, control, and time under tension.
  • Make sure to squeeze the muscles being engaged at the top of the movement.
  • Extend your arms at the end of the rep to get a good stretch on the lats or upper back. This is great for activation and the mind-to-muscle connection.

Wrap up

With that, I hope you implement some of these cable-back workouts into your routine. Some you may have seen people use in the gym and some you may not have. They work. Combine them with the Tools from the first section and they’ll work even better.

P.S. I’m currently using the Lat-Focused Row, Lat Pulldown, and Reverse Cable Fly in my workouts.

If you’re training back it only makes sense to work biceps too. Want to know what are the best bicep exercises? Check out our article on the best bicep exercises for the best bicep workout.

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