13 Best Cable Back Workouts for a Wider, Toned, & Sexy Back!

In this post, I lay out 13 of the best cable workouts you can do for strengthening, toning, and building your back muscles in no time.

I used to be too focused on exercising my biceps, triceps, and chest – all because these muscles are highly visible and easier to flex to everyone you meet.     

But, I realized that there was something lacking. These muscles were not enough to give me the overall jacked physique I wanted.

It dawned to me that there’s more to bodybuilding than just having large arm or chest muscles. I knew I also needed to workout my back to unleash my ultimate physique.

I tried all the back exercises I saw on the internet, but there was a particular machine at the gym that helped me see the results I wanted — the cable machine.

They look intimidating at first, but doing cable machine back workouts is an excellent way to get that sexy back without straining your spine.

Cable exercises also allow your arms to move freely while maintaining constant tension on your muscles — something that dumbbells can’t do.

I put together 13 of the most effective back exercises that you can perform on a cable machine. Each one of these exercises target specific muscle groups in your back, including the traps, rhomboids, lats, deltoids, rotator cuff muscles, serratus.

The 13 Best Cable Workouts for Your Back:

  1. Straight-Arm Pulldowns
  2. Face Pulls
  3. Close-Grip Lat Pulldowns
  4. Wide-Grip Lat Pulldowns
  5. V-Bar Pulldowns
  6. Reverse Grip Lat Pulldowns
  7. Seated Cable Rows
  8. Wide-Grip Seated Cable Rows
  9. Cable Reverse Flys
  10. Shotgun Rows
  11. Cable Upright Rows
  12. Cable Shrugs
  13. Single-Arm Cable Rows

Straight-Arm Pulldowns

The straight-arm pulldown exercise is a variation of the classic lat-pulldown.

This exercise is done while standing and keeping your elbows locked out the whole time. Straight-arm pulldowns are great for training your lats, upper back, rear deltoid, triceps, chest, and core.

How To Do It:

  1. Attach a wide-grip or lat bar to one of the higher points on the cable machine.
  2. Grab the handle with an overhand grip. Your grip should be slightly wider than your shoulders.
  3. Take a few steps away from the cable machine to lift weight off of your cable stack.
  4. While keeping your arms outstretched,  tighten your lats and pull the bar downward toward your hips. Make sure that your shoulder blades move naturally.
  5. Squeeze your lats at the bottom position.
  6. Begin the upward movement while maintaining alignment, gradually allowing your arms to return to their starting position.

Face Pulls

Face pulls are perfect for exercising your rear deltoids, trapezius, upper back, and rotator cuff muscles. Aside from strengthening your back, face pulls also help keep your shoulders squared. So you don’t develop a pulled-forward look from all your chest workouts.

How To Do It:

  1. The pulley system of your cable machine should be slightly higher than your head. Use a rope attachment that has2 hand-holds.
  2. Grasp the handles with both hands, your palms facing in.
  3. Pull the rope toward you, with just enough force to lift the weight from the stack.
  4. Engage your shoulders, rolling them back to achieve good posture.
  5. Pull the handles toward your forehead.
  6. Reverse the movement and slowly extend your arms without making your shoulders or chest roll forward.

Close-Grip Lat Pulldowns

Compared to traditional lat pulldowns, the close-grip lat pulldown trains your lats to a greater effect. This is an intense workout for your mid-and lower back muscles. Your core, biceps, shoulders, and upper back muscles also get engaged the entire time.

How To Do It:

  1. Use a close-grip attachment for your cable machine.
  2. Sit on the pulldown bench while facing the cable machine, and grab the close grip attachment with your palms facing each other.
  3. Slightly lean back, brace your core, bring down your shoulder blades, and pull the attachment until it touches your chest.
  4. Pause briefly at the bottom, squeeze your lats, and gradually return to your starting position.

Wide-Grip Lat Pulldowns

As its name implies, this back exercise engages your lats and upper back muscles. You also get to workout the secondary muscle groups of your traps, rhomboids, and deltoids when you do this cable machine exercise. Your lats do most of the hard work for this exercise, with help from your biceps and forearms.

How To Do It:

  1. Sit down facing the cable machine and make sure that your lower body is steady     .
  2. Stretch out your arms to grab the bar at the widest grip position, your palms facing away from you.
  3. Lean back slightly, brace your core, bring your shoulder blades down, and pull the bar down until it touches the top of your rib cage.
  4. Pause briefly at the bottom, squeeze your lats, and slowly return to the starting position.

V-Bar Pulldowns

V-bar pulldowns primarily target the lats, and also engage the rhomboids, serratus, shoulders, biceps, and mid-back muscles. The main difference between the V-bar pulldown and the close-grip pulldown is that the V-bar pull requires neutral hand placement.

How To Do It:

  1. Sit and grab the V-bar attached to the pulley.
  2. Slightly bend backwards without bending your waist.
  3. Keep your arms outstretched, slowly bend your elbows, and pull the V-bar to your chest.
  4. Exhale while you pull and inhale as you return to the starting position.

Reverse-Grip Lat Pulldowns

This back exercise mainly engages your lats and rhomboids. You’ll need a wide bar handle on your cable machine to do this workout. Make sure not to let the weight pull you up too quickly as this can cause injury.

How To Do It:

  1. Grab the bar slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Lean back slightly while maintaining a neutral spine as you start pulling the weight towards your chest.
  2. Tuck your elbows and lower your shoulders as you pull down.
  3. Focus on contracting your lats as you perform each rep.

Seated Cable Rows

Your lats and rhomboids are the main movers when doing the seated cable rows. You also get to exercise your trapezius and bicep muscles with this cable machine workout.

Keep in mind to slightly bend your knees, tuck your elbows in, straighten your back, and perform the exercise slowly.

How To Do It:

  1. Sit on the platform and hold the cable attachment.
  2. Pull the weight towards your lower abdomen, making sure not to move the torso backward with the arms.
  3. Keep your back straight and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you row.
  4. Return to starting position while keeping your back straight, even while you are flexed at the hips.

Wide-Grip Seated Cable Rows

Wide-grip seated cable rows work great for training your lats, traps, and rear deltoids. Secondary muscles that also move during this exercise are your biceps, forearm flexors, and rotator cuffs.

How To Do It:

  1. Grip a bar slightly wider than shoulder width.
  2. Inhale and pull the handle towards your abdomen, while leaning back slightly.
  3. Exhale and slowly return to the starting position by outstretching your arms and leaning forward.

Cable Reverse Flys

This cable machine exercise primarily engages your mid-back, rhomboids, and posterior delts. This exercise also targets your chest and shoulders to a lesser degree.

How To Do It:

  1. Set up two cable pulleys at chest height and attach a stirrup handle to each cable.
  2. Stand between both cables, grab the right cable with your left hand, and the left cable with the right hand.
  3. Stand in between the two pulleys with your arms crossed over your chest. Keep your back straight and your feet shoulder width apart.
  4. Uncross your arms so that they end up parallel to the ground, while making sure that your shoulder blades are pinned back together.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position.

Shotgun Rows

The shotgun row is a variation of the standard row. It is a terrific exercise for developing your lats and mid-back muscles, and makes a good alternative to seated cable row workouts.

How To Do It:

  1. Attach a single handle to a cable stack, and do a split stance with the ipsilateral elbow on the forward knee.
  2. Grasp the handle and lean slightly forward, while allowing the shoulder blade to protract.
  3. Retract the shoulder blade and row the handle to your chest, while stretching out your upper back.
  4. Pull the handle towards your rib cage and drive your elbow behind your body as you flex the lat and upper back.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position.

Cable Upright Rows

Cable upright rows mainly involve movements from your upper back and lower traps, as well as your abs and shoulder muscles. This exercise is a good example that cable machines are a great alternative to free weights. The cable’s angle of resistance makes the upright row more effective and safer for the shoulder joints.

How To Do It:

  1. Attach a lat pulldown bar to your cable machine. Grasp the bar with a shoulder-width, overhand grip.
  2. Stand fully upright with your knees slightly bent, and your arms fully extended in front of you.
  3. Bend your elbows to pull the bar straight up your body. As soon as your upper arms reach parallel with the floor, slowly return to your starting position.

Cable Shrugs

One of the best exercises for isolating the traps, the cable shrug should be in your back-strengthening workout program.

You will only need one cable pulley, and either a straight bar, an EZ bar, or a rope attachment for this exercise.

How To Do It:

  1. Stand in front of your cable pulley, with feet distanced at shoulder-width, your core tight, and your lower back flat.
  2. Hold the cable bar and let it hang in front of you, while keeping the weight close to your body.
  3. Exhale and raise your shoulders towards your ears, without using your arms.
  4. Hold the position at the top, then slowly return to your starting position.

Single-Arm Cable Rows

This exercise mainly targets your middle back, while also training your triceps and shoulders. By working out the majority of your back muscles, this exercise is one of the best ways to develop your entire back.

How To Do It:

  1. Lower the pulley on your cable machine and attach a stirrup handle. Sit down with your feet braced and knees slightly bent.
  2. Grab the handle with your right hand with an overhand grip. Sit straight with your arm held out in front. This will be the starting position.
  3. Exhale as you pull the handle towards your waist, rotating it so that your palm faces inwards when it reaches your side.
  4. Hold the position and slowly return to the starting position.

How An Ideal Back Workout Regimen Looks Like

Building your back workout shouldn’t be frustrating. You just need to make sure that you perform exercises that target each of the four areas of your back:

  • Upper and outer lats
  • Lower lats
  • Middle back
  • Lower back

To workout your upper lats, I suggest performing wide-grip lat pulldowns and seated cable rows. Perform 3 sets each with 12, 10, and 8 reps.

To engage your lower lats, straight arm lat pulldowns and cable upright rows are terrific exercises to start with. Perform 3 sets each with 8, 10, and 12 reps.

For your middle back, add V-bar pulldowns and cable reverse flys to your exercise regimen. Perform 3 sets each with 8, 10, and 12 reps.

Lastly, to engage your lower back, I recommend taking on close-grip lat pulldowns and reverse-grip lat pulldowns. Work on 3 sets each with 12 reps each.

Final Thoughts

Next to the legs, the back is one of the hardest body parts to train. But sticking to an effective back-focused workout plan is the key to building that V-shaped physique that you’ve always been dreaming of.

If you want a more-confident appearance and have that sexy back instead of looking slouchy, better start working out your back muscles, bud!     

Try the 13 cable machine back workouts I’ve mentioned, and I promise you’re never turning back once you see those back muscles pumping! 😉

Frequently Asked Questions:

1 – Are cable machines better than free weights?

Both can be effective at helping you build muscle.

Cable machines are designed to focus specifically on one muscle or muscle group.

Given their stable design, cable machines can also make an exercise feel easier to perform.

Some cable machines, however, lock you into specific planes of movement. So, it could prevent you from developing full-body strength, balance, and control.

Free weights encourage you to find your balance without any support. They help you improve your strength and stability on your own.

However, free weights have been shown to cause injuries, often as a result of overestimating strength, using poor form, or dropping the weight on yourself — ouch!     

2 – What muscles do cable pulls work?

Depending on the exercise, you can do cable pulls to workout your upper, middle, and lower back muscles. Some even engage your core, arm muscles, and glutes.

3 – How can I tone my back fast?

Make sure to regularly perform exercises that focus on all the muscles of your back. But more than your exercise regimen, the right diet and adequate sleep are important in achieving your body goals.

4 – How long does it take to tone your back?

Depending on the intensity and consistency of your workout, it can take about 4 to 8 weeks to fully tone your back muscles.

5 – Can you build muscle with cable machines?

You can definitely build lean muscle with cable machines, as long as you also have a good workout program and an effective diet regimen.

6 – How do you do a rear delt cable fly?

You need a cable machine with handle attachments.      

  1. Set the pulleys of the cable machine to a height just above your head. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Grab the left handle with your right hand, and the right handle with your left hand.
  3. With your arms crossed, take a step backwards to create tension in the cables.
  4. Tighten your core and bring your arms backward until you feel a pinch in your shoulder blades.
  5. Slowly return to your starting position while maintaining a slight bend in your arms.

7 – What machines work out your back?

Assisted pull-up machines, pullover machines, T-bar row machines, low seated row machines, and back extension machines are great for exercising your back.

8 – What is the best exercise for the back?

There is no single exercise that is best for your back. Combining different exercises that target a variety of back muscles is the most effective way of strengthening your back.

Imad Deryan

My name is Imad, and I struggled to gain mass in the past due to my metabolism and being very skinny. In this blog, I share the best reviews and advice when it comes to gaining weight and mass, for all the people that are struggling like I was.

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