cable exercises for legs
Fitness

13 Cable Exercises for Legs That’ll Have You Feeling The Burn

The cable machine is the most versatile piece of workout equipment ever invented. This one machine allows you to get a fantastic workout on every muscle group in your body.

Cable exercises for legs hit the quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves from a range of angles without putting any compressive force on your spine. Here are 13 of the best exercises for legs performed on a cable pulley system gym.

1. Brignole Cable Squat

Muscles Worked

Quadriceps,

Equipment Used

Double Pulley Cable Machine

Training Tips

You may find that standing on a raised heel platform will allow you to be more stable when you do this exercise.

How to Do It

  1. Set the pulleys on a double pulley machine at their lowest setting.
  2. Grab the cable handles and step back about three feet from the machine.
  3. In the starting position, lean back and stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Descend down to a parallel squat position.
  4. Push through your heels to return to the start position. 

2. Cable Leg Extension

Muscles Worked

Quadriceps

Equipment Used

Single pulley cable machine

Training Tips

Lean back as you extend the knee to maximally engage the quadriceps. Do not lock out your knee in the top position. 

How to Do It

  1. Set the pulley on a cable machine at shin level and put an ankle strap on the end of the cable. 
  2. Place an upright bench about three feet in front of the machine, facing away from it. 
  3. Attach the ankle strap to your left ankle and sit on the bench. From a bent knee position, extend your leg up. Stop just short of lockout and return to the start position. 

3. Cable Lying Leg Curl

Muscles Worked

Hamstrings, Glutes

Equipment Used

Double pulley cable machine, ankle cuff

Training Tips

Keep your hips and butt down throughout the movement.

How to Do It

  1. Set the pulley on a cable machine at shin level and put ankle straps on the end of the cable. 
  2. Attach the ankle ankle straps to your lower legs and lie on the floor a few feet in front of the machine, facing away from it. In the starting position, rest on your forearms.
  3. Straighten out your legs and adjust your body position so that the cable is taut.
  4. Curl your heels up to your butt, keeping your hips down.
  5. Lower and repeat.
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4. Cable Machine Calf Raises

Muscles Worked

Calves

Equipment Used

Double cable pulley machine, calf block, belt attachment

Training Tips

Be sure to get a full extension and contraction on the calves, dropping down below the level of your toes. 

How to Do It

  1. Set the pulley to its lowest setting and attach the belt attachment to the end of the cables.
  2. Place the calf block in front of the machine. Attach the belt attachment.
  3. Place your toes on the calf block. Keeping your legs straight (no knee bend), extend your heels as high as possible. Hold for a second and then lower to full contraction.

5. Cable Romanian Deadlift

Muscles Worked

Hamstrings, Glutes, Spinal Erectors

Equipment Used

Single pulley cable machine

Training Tips

Maintain a smooth, rhythmic action as you perform your reps.

How to Do It

  1. Set the pulley on a single stack cable machine to its lowest setting and place a short straight handle on the end of it.
  2. In the starting position, stand about two feet from the machine, facing it and grab the handle with both hands in an overhand grip. Lean back slightly.
  3. Maintaining a straight back push your hips back as you bend at the waist to lower the cable. Do not bend your legs or arms.
  4. Squeeze the glutes as push back to the start position. 

6. Cable Kickback

Muscles Worked

Glutes, Hamstrings

Equipment Used

Cable machine, ankle strap

Training Tips

Get a full extension on the kickback, activating from the hip rather than the leg.

How to Do It

  1. Set the cable pulley machine to its lowest setting and attack the ankle strap to your left ankle. Stand facing the machine and hold it for support. 
  2. Moving from the hip, kick your left leg back to full extension, keeping your back straight.
  3. Reverse to return to the start position. 

7. Cable Hip Abduction

Muscles Worked

Leg abductors, Quadriceps

Equipment Used

Single cable pulley machine, ankle strap

Training Tips

Grab the side of the machine for support.

How to Do It

  1. Set the pulley machine to its lowest setting and attach the ankle strap to it. 
  2. Stand side on to the machine and attach the ankle strap to your outer ankle. Place your feet together.
  3. Extend your straight outer leg our as far as you can.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.
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8. Cable Pistol Squat

Muscles Worked

Quadriceps

Equipment Used

Single pulley cable machine

Training Tips

Use a very light weight if you are new to his exercise and increase as you become more proficient at it.

How to Do It

  1. Set the pulley at its highest setting and attach a shirt bar to it.
  2. Stand a feet feet in front of the machine, facing it and grab the handle in both hands with an overhand grip.
  3. Lean back and lift your straightened left leg off the floor.
  4. Descend down into a parallel squat.
  5. Push through the heel to return to the start position.

9. Cable Split Squat

Muscles Worked

Quadriceps, Glutes, Hamstrings

Equipment Used

Cable Crossover Machine

Training Tips

Use a relatively light weight until you have established good balance and coordination on this exercise.

How to Do It

  1. Set the pulleys at its lowest setting. Place a bench between the cables.
  2. Stand between the pulleys, grab the handles and place your rear left foot on the bench behind you.
  3. Descend down into a parallel squat.
  4. Push through the front heel to return to the start position. 

10. Single Leg Cable Reverse Hyper

Muscles Worked

Glutes

Equipment Used

Single cable pulley machine, Steep angled bench, Ankle strap

Training Tips

Make sure that the bench is set to a steep angle in order to isolate the glutes. Do not bend your knee.

How to Do It

  1. Set the pulley to its lowest setting. Place an ankle strap onto the end of the pulley.
  2. Place a steep angled bench in front of the machine, facing towards it.
  3. Attach the cable to your right ankle and lie upside down on the bench so that your butt is high and your head is low.
  4. Extend your right leg back and up to full extension.
  5. Lower and repeat.

11. Cable Reverse Lunges

Muscles Worked

Hamstrings, Quadriceps

Equipment Used

Single cable pulley machine

Training Tips

Do this exercise one leg at a time to provide the benefits of unilateral training to your quads.

How to Do It

  1. Set the pulley to its lowest setting. Grab the handle and take a step back. Stand with feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Take a large step back with your left leg and drop the knee to the floor.
  3. Push through the front thigh to return to the start position.

12. Cable Lunges

Muscles Worked

Quadriceps, Hamstrings

Equipment Used

Single cable pulley machine

Training Tips

Do this exercise one leg at a time to provide the benefits of unilateral training to your quads.

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How to Do It

  1. Set the pulley to its lowest setting. Grab the handle and take a step back. Stand with feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Take a large step forward with your left leg and drop the knee to the floor.
  3. Push through the front thigh to return to the start position.

13. Cable Pull Through

Muscles Worked

Glutes, Hamstrings

Equipment Used

Single cable pulley machine, rope handle attachment

Training Tips

Squeeze the glutes tightly as your drive your hips forward. 

How to Do It

  1. Set the pulley to knee level and attach a rope handle.
  2. Stand in front of the machine, facing away from it. Grab the rope handle in both hands between your legs.
  3. Staring with your knees slight bent and your lower back neutral, thrust your hips forward to drive your arms up.
  4. Lower and repeat.

Conclusion

Working your legs with cables allows you to work your leg muscles through their ideal biomechanical range of motion. The varied angles of resistance are ideal to provide enhanced targeted stress on the working muscle. Cables also allow you to perform squat-like exercises without putting compressive pressure on your spine.

The 13 cables leg exercises provided here provide you with all you need to work your legs to the max for years to come. Choose three or four exercises that cover your key lower body muscles – quads glutes, hamstrings, and calves – and perform a total of 16 sets, with reps ranging between a heavy six and a light thirty. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are cable machines good for legs?

Yes, the cable machine is excellent for working your legs. They allow you to hit your legs from a variety of unique angles that better engage your lower body muscles than barbells and dumbbells. 

Can you do squats with a cable machine?

Yes, you can do squats with a cable machine. In fact, squats on a cable pulley machine are more effective as a quad builder than any other version. That’s because you are able to lean back to more directly involve the quads while also removing stress from the lower back. You can do a number of squat variations, including the Cable Single-Leg Squat and Cable Squat Walk-Outs.

Can you do leg extensions with cables?

Yes, you can do leg extensions with cables. It will require placing an upright bench in front of the cable and putting ankle straps on the end of the cable. You will then be able to work each leg unilaterally. 

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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