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If you haven’t considered using cable machines for lower-body strength training, you’re missing out on an effective workout. One compelling reason to station yourself at the cable machine is the added shape it will give your muscles. You can target the muscles from different angles, meaning that different aspects of your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves will be worked, resulting in better all-around definition. Cable exercises also engage stabilizing muscles — including your core — especially when working from a standing position.
Get out of the mindset that cables are just for your triceps or biceps, and try this approach for a better view from the rear. Do this routine three times a week on non-consecutive days. For a bigger challenge, use timed sets; for each exercise, work for 30 seconds, rest for 30 and repeat two times.
1. Cable Lunge
Muscles emphasized: gluteus maximus, quadriceps
How to: Grasp a D-handle or straight bar attached at hip height and stand facing the cable-station weight stack. Holding the handle with both hands, keep your feet spaced hip-width apart. Step one leg behind you and bend both knees to lower into a lunge. When your rear knee is an inch or two from the floor, return to the start, resisting the pull of the weight as you stand. Repeat. After completing one set, repeat on the other leg.
Performance tip: Take a small step back before you start; this will create tension in the cable.
Tip: Don’t lean to the rear — that puts stress on your back.
2. Cable Squat
Muscles emphasized: gluteus maximus, quadriceps
How to: Stand in front of a low-pulley station with a straight bar attached. Hold the bar with an overhand grip and take a step back so that there is some tension in the cable. Bend your knees to squat until your thighs are about parallel to the ground. Slowly stand and repeat.
Performance tip: Your torso will be more upright than with a free-weight squat, since the weight of the stack will counterbalance you. Also, don’t lift your toes off the floor.
3. Cable Leg Extension
Muscles emphasized: quadriceps
How to:Attach an ankle cuff to a low-pulley station. Secure it around your left ankle and turn away from the stack. Bend your knee to raise your thigh parallel to the floor. Extend your left knee to straighten your leg; reverse the motion to return to the start, then repeat. After doing all the reps on one side, switch legs to complete a set.
Performance tip: Don’t let the foot of the working leg touch the floor. For safety’s sake, make sure the ankle cuff is properly fastened!
4. Cable Leg Curl
Muscles emphasized: hamstrings
How to: To work the right leg first, tighten a cuff attached to a low-pulley station around your right ankle. Face the weight stack and hold on to one of its uprights or posts with both hands and step back a bit, straightening your arms. Extend your right foot in front of you slightly and then flex your right knee to bring your foot toward your glutes. Slowly return to the start, extending your leg back to its slightly forward position, then repeat. Complete a set and then work the other leg.
Performance tip: Your torso should remain motionless throughout this exercise. Contract your abs and keep your chest up.
5. Cable Unilateral Calf Raise (not shown)
Muscles emphasized: gastrocnemius
How to: Place an exercise step in front of a cable station and stand on the step. Attach a D-handle to the low pulley, holding it in your right hand. Slowly lift your right heel. Pause, then lower, extending your heel toward the floor. Repeat, and when you’ve completed a set, switch legs.
Performance tip: Try this exercise with a waist-belt attachment instead of a D-handle. Don’t bounce at the bottom of the movement.
• Choose the right weight: With cable machines, you should test for the right weight because what feels like 20 pounds on one machine might feel heavier or lighter on another.
• Fasten the cuff securely: If an ankle cuff uses a Velcro closure, make sure it is tight enough to keep it on (but don’t pinch yourself by making it too tight).
• Keep your core engaged: Think about bringing your navel in toward your spine to keep your stabilizing muscles engaged during the movements.
• Avoid jerking: Control your movements when you’re lifting the weight. Quick or halting motions can increase your risk of injury.
• Focus: Unlike most other weight-training machines, cables require that you pay attention to the way you’re moving. You are the one controlling the motion.
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