10 Best Cable Back Exercises (With Sample Workout)

best cable back exercises

If you’re not training your back with cables, then you may not be targeting your back muscles from all angles and you could be missing out on some key components for growing a bigger and stronger back.

The 10 best cable exercises you can do are:

  • Cable Row
  • Cable Reverse Grip Row
  • One Arm Cable Row
  • Cable Lat Pulldown
  • Cable Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown
  • Cable Straight-Arm Pulldown
  • Cable Pullover
  • Cable Back Extensions
  • Cable Shrug
  • Cable Upright Row

To help you maximize your back training using cables, I’ll teach you exactly how to perform these exercises and share a sample workout that you can use today to shape your back in as little as 6 weeks.

If you struggle to build a bigger, stronger, and more defined back, let Fitbod help. On average, a new Fitbod user who trains 3 times a week for about 45 minutes will see a 34% strength increase after 3 months. Try Fitbod for free.

Anatomy Of Back Muscles

The back comprises a few different muscles: latissimus dorsi, spinal erectors, and traps. Each of these muscles works to pull objects into the body or helps to support the back under load.

Latissimus Dorsi

latissimus dorsi

The lats span the entire upper back and their muscle fibers run diagonally. Due to the angle at which these muscle fibers run, you need to make sure to train the lats with both horizontal (i.e. rows) and vertical (i.e. pulldowns) pulling movements to target them effectively.

Spinal Erectors and Multifidus


The spinal erectors and multifidus muscles make up what is known as the lower back and are responsible for supporting the spine during movement. They also work to extend the back (bend the torso backward) when contracted.

You can train these muscles by doing back raises or any movement that is performed in a “bent over” position. Most workout plans include free weight exercises like deadlifts and squats that work the lower back.



The trapezius muscle spans the entire back of the body and consists of three different parts based on the direction of the muscle fibers, which are classified as the upper, middle, and lower traps.

The upper trap is the most notable section of the traps, running across the upper back, and is responsible for elevating the shoulder blades (shrugging movements, aka scapular elevation).

The middle trap runs along the spine and helps assist the upper traps, and supports good posture.

The lower traps sit lower on the back and help to maintain posture while also keeping the shoulder blades pulled down (scapular depression).



The rhomboids are small yet important muscles that run between the shoulderblades. These muscles help to pull the shoulder blades together (retraction)  as well as support the shoulder girdle during pressing and pulling movements. 

Related Article: How to Get Wide Lats

Benefits Of Cable Back Exercises

Below are three benefits of performing back exercises with cables.

Train in a Non-Fixed Range of Motion

Cables allow you to train the muscles in a non-fixed path, meaning that you can adjust them more easily to suit your needs and preferences. 

This can help increase muscle growth and coordination by working around any movement restrictions or discomfort you may have when training with dumbbells or barbells. 

While free weights are less fixed movements than machines, they still have some limitations. Cables do not directly work against gravity, so you can load the muscle from all angles rather than moving the loads in a vertical up-and-down plane.

Can Train Back from All Angles

Similar to the benefit above, cables allow you to truly attack the back from all angles as you are not working directly against the downward force of gravity. 

If you only train your back using dumbbells or barbells, then it will be tough to isolate all muscle fibers of the back because you cannot do vertical pulling movements with free weights. While you could throw in some pull-ups to supplement your free weight training, not everyone is capable of doing pull-ups for multiple sets.

Using the cables for back exercises allows you to target the back from every angle, regardless of your experience level (beginner, intermediate, advanced) or strength capacity.

Easy to Set Up

Cables allow you to train all back exercises quickly and easily, as all you need to do is change the position of the cable, switch out the attachments, and change the weight on the stack. 

Unlike barbells or dumbbells (which can still be effective for building back muscles), cables allow you to make your workouts more time and space efficient. 

This is ideal when training in circuits or with a partner, as you can easily change the movement or weight without wasting time.

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10 Best Back Exercises With Cables

1. Cable Row

The cable row trains the back muscles in a horizontal plane (pulling towards the chest from the arms out in front position), which helps to grow the lats, rhomboids, and middle traps because their muscle fibers run in this direction.

You can train the back muscles with handles or different cable attachments based on what feels best.

How To Do It

  • Grab hold of the handles with an overhand grip (palms facing down) with both arms extended in front of you and sit down on the bench facing the stack.
  • Place the feet on the foot platform to secure your body so the weight doesn’t pull you forward.
  • Pull the handles towards your torso as you keep your chest up.
  • Once your elbows move past the sides of your body, flex the back muscles, straighten your elbows to extend the arms in front of you to the starting position, and repeat.

Pro Tip

You can allow your upper back to round as you spread your shoulder blades apart and return to the starting position; this will help you get a bigger stretch, which can help improve your mind-muscle connection throughout the movement. Be sure to pull the shoulder blades back together as you pull.

2. Cable Reverse Grip Row

The reverse grip cable row trains the back muscles similar to the regular overhand grip cable row, however, by taking palms up (reverse grip), you can also train the biceps.

Some lifters find that they can engage their middle and lower lat muscles more effectively with this grip because they can keep the shoulders pinned back (not as likely to round the shoulders forward during the pull).

How To Do It

  • Grab hold of the handles with both arms extended in front as you take a palms-up (reverse) grip.
  • Place the feet on the foot platform and sit up tall, ensuring you are not leaning back.
  • Pull the handles towards your torso as you keep your chest up and your elbows tucked into the body.
  • Once your elbows move past the sides of your body (without rolling your shoulders forward or dropping your chest), extend your arms to the starting position, and repeat.

Pro Tip

I like to keep my hips back behind my shoulders and lean slightly forward as I do rows because I find that if I don’t lean back as I pull the weight, I get a much better stretch and contraction of the lower lat muscles.

3. One Arm Cable Row

The one-arm cable row allows you to train the back one side at a time, which is important to include every once in a while to address any muscle imbalances you may have.

I also find that the one-arm row encourages better mind-muscle connection than standard rows (discussed above), which could lead to better muscle activation and growth.

How To Do It

  • Grab the handles with one arm, with your other resting on your thigh.
  • Place the feet on the foot platform and sit up tall, ensuring you are not leaning back. Whichever hand has the handle, turn the palms either down, up, or angled (you can choose what feels best, as long as you just do not have your thumb turned down)
  • Pull the handle towards your torso as you keep your chest up and elbows into the body.
  • Pull the handle past the side of your ribs and extend your arm to the starting position. Repeat for reps with that arm, and then switch arms and repeat.

Pro Tip

I prefer to start with a palms-down position when my arm is in front of me. I will then rotate my palms upwards as I pull back. This helps to lengthen the range of motion of the row, which can contribute to more muscle growth.

Another tip is to avoid twisting your body as you row the weight toward you, your lower body should stay stable throughout the entire movement.

4. Cable Lat Pulldown

The lat pulldown is a staple cable-pulling exercise that trains the back muscles from a vertical angle. 

Training this vertical pulling movement is key to fully developing the back (along with training the back from a horizontal position). It’s also a great progression for those who are working toward a bodyweight pull-up.

How To Do It

  • Attach a bar to a pulldown pulley and grab the bar with a shoulder-width, palms-forward grip.
  • Sit upright on the seat and position your knees under the pad.
  • Pull your ribs down into your body as you reach your arms above your head.
  • Pull the elbows down toward the backside of your ribcage, trying your best not to lean back (stay as vertical as you can without pulling the bar into your head).
  • Once the bar reaches the upper chest, extend your arms back to the starting position, and repeat. 

Pro Tip

Think about pulling your elbows into your “back pockets” without leaning too far back. If you are leaning back or rounding your chest forward to pull the bar down, then the weight is likely too heavy.

5. Cable Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown

The reverse grip lat pulldown trains the back muscles and the biceps. 

This may be a better option for lifters who struggle to keep their shoulders back when they pull the bar down from an overhead position or those who experience shoulder discomfort with regular pulldowns.

How To Do It

  • Attach a bar to a pulldown pulley and grab the bar with a shoulder-width, palms-facing grip.
  • Sit upright on the seat and position your knees under the adjustable pad.
  • Reach your arms overhead and pull your ribs down, making sure not to lean back or arch your lower back.
  • Pull the bar to your upper chest, thinking about keeping the chest up as the bar comes down.
  • Once the bar reaches the upper chest, reach your arms overhead to the start position, and repeat. 

Pro Tip

Think about pulling the elbows straight down to the front of the hips. Keep your elbows tucked into the body as you pull down to keep the tension on your lats.

6. Cable Straight-Arm Pulldown

The cable straight arm pulldown is an isolation exercise that trains the lats and removes the biceps from the movement.

This exercise is a great option for those who struggle to feel their back working because their arms generally give out first. By eliminating movement at the elbow joint, you can place more emphasis on your lats.

How To Do It

  • Place a pulley in the highest position and attach a straight bar to the cable.
  • Grab the handle with a double overhand grip, with your hands wider than shoulder width (2-3” outside the shoulders). 
  • Step back 2-3” and place your feet hip-width apart.
  • Push your hips back and softly bend the knees as you lean forward and reach your hands in front of you with straight arms. You should feel a stretch in the lats. Make sure the weight is suspended as you are in the starting position.
  • While keeping your chest puffed up and arms straight, pull the bar down to your hips in an arcing motion, slowly return to the start position, and repeat. 

Pro Tip

I like doing these slowly for moderate-to-high reps (10-20 reps) and focusing on getting a big stretch as I reach my hands in front of me. As I pull my hands down, I try to flex my back to get a good muscle squeeze with every rep.

7. Cable Lying Pullover

The cable-lying pullover is an isolation exercise that targets the lats, similar to the cable straight-arm pulldown (discussed above) but from a different angle. 

This is a good option for lifters who want to train the lats more directly without allowing the biceps or shoulders to get involved.

How To Do It

  • Place an incline bench (45 degrees) 1-2’ in front of the cable machine with the pulley set 1’ above the end of the bench.
  • Lie back on the bench with your head closest to the weight stack, and grab the rope attachment handles. Make sure you are far enough away from the cable machine to have tension on the cables.
  • With the elbows softly bent, pull the arms down towards the front of the ribs without bending the elbows further. This should be done by using the lats and moving at the shoulders.
  • Once the hands get down to the sides of the ribs, slowly release your arms back to the starting position, and repeat.

Pro Tip

Try to keep your shoulders and head on the bench at all times, especially when you pull your hands down to the front of the ribs. This will keep the front of the shoulders and biceps out of the movement to better isolate the lats.

8. Cable Back Extensions

The cable back extension is a lower back exercise that targets the erectors and multifidus muscle groups. 

These mimic back raises and can be done with heavy loads for more strength development or lighter loads for more muscle growth and endurance.

How To Do It

  • Sit on a cable row machine with your feet on the foot platform and a straight bar attached to the pulley.
  • Grab the bar with a double overhead, shoulder-width grip and sit upright with your hips pushed behind you and your back flat.
  • Lean forward with a flat back, keeping tension on the cables
  • Without letting your hips slide forward, lean back and pull with the lower back, keeping your arms straight and chest up. 
  • Lean back as far as you can, and then slowly control the weight down and repeat.

Pro Tip

You can allow light rounding of the middle and upper back if you are more advanced. As you lean forward, roll your chest towards your belly button to slightly flex the lower back. Then, lean back and extend the back. This is called spinal extension, which, when done under control, can help improve lower back strength and resiliency.

9. Cable Shrug

The cable shrug is an exercise that targets the traps, primarily the upper traps because their muscle fibers run in the direction that you’re pulling the weight.

This is a great exercise for adding more training volume to the traps to give them a more pronounced shape.

How To Do It

  • Stand in front of the cable machine with the pulley set in the lowest position. Attach a straight bar or EZ bar handle to the pulley.
  • Step back 6-12” away from the weight stack and grab the bar with a double overhand grip. Your hands should be slightly narrower than your shoulder width. Note: you can vary this grip based on what feels best on the traps.
  • With straight arms and the bar resting on your thighs, pull the shoulders up and backward as you look slightly downwards (not at the floor, just a few inches down).
  • Once you get to the top of the shrug, pause, and then slowly lower the shoulders and repeat.

Pro Tip

Do not roll the shoulders forward or move the head as you shrug. Many lifters fail to remain in control of the shrugging movement which can lead to neck pain, so take your time, and always control the lowering phase.

10. Cable Upright Row

The cable upright row is for the upper traps and shoulders (mainly the rear deltoids, which can contribute to a V-taper physique).

A more developed upper back means your traps and rear delts will be wider, which makes your waist and hips appear to be slimmer (the V-taper).

How To Do It

  • Position a cable at the lowest setting and stand in front of the cable with a shoulder-width stance.
  • Grab a straight bar handle with a double overhand grip, and step back from the base 1-2’.
  • Pull the bar to a spot that is 2-3” in front of your chest, making sure to keep the elbows up above the wrist at all times. Do not drag the bar into your body.
  • Control the movement back down, and repeat.

Pro Tip

A narrower grip (closer than shoulder width apart) will target more upper traps, whereas a wider than shoulder width grip will target more of the rear delts. If you take a narrow grip, do not go any narrower than 6” apart as this can impinge the shoulder.

Related Article: Build the Best V-Taper Physique with These Workouts

Sample Back Workout With Cables

sample back workout with cables

The following is a sample back workout you can do with cables using some of the exercises described above.

The workout allows you to train the back from all angles (vertical pulling, horizontal pulling, and everywhere in between). 

You could repeat this exact workout twice weekly, doing 8-10 reps one day and 12-15 the other.

Note: This workout needs to be found in the Fitbod app, but many of the exercises are found in the app. You can use this workout as a template to build your own cable back workout in the app. The Fitbod app will help you progress your workouts weekly to ensure you get the best results.

  • Reverse Grip Lat Pulldown: 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets
  • Seated Cable Row: 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets
  • Cable Upright Row: 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 90 seconds between sets
  • Straight Arm Lat Pulldown: 3-4 sets of 15 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Cables Good For Back Training?

Cables are great for building back muscles as they allow you to train the back at all angles while keeping tension on the muscles at all times. If you can train the back with various loads and the weights are heavy enough, you could do all your back workouts with cables and get great muscle growth!

Can You Build A Bigger Back Using Only Cables?

Yes, if you do both pulldown and rowing exercises multiple times a week with various rep ranges and loading, you can 100% get a bigger back. Many lifters prefer cables because they keep constant tension on the muscle and help you train the back from all angles easily (by adjusting the pulleys).

About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.