10 Best Cable Leg Exercises + Sample Workout

best cable leg exercises

If you have access to a cable machine, you may wonder what exercises you can do to target your legs. 

As a strength coach, I can teach you which leg exercises with cables are worth performing and which are a waste of time.

The ten best leg exercises you can do with cables are:

  • Cable Hip Abduction
  • Lying Cable Hip Abduction
  • Cable Hip Extension
  • Cable Pull Through
  • Cable Romanian Deadlift
  • Cable Stiff Leg Deadlift
  • Cable Goblet Squat
  • Cable Single Leg Hamstring Curl
  • Cable Lying Hamstring Curl
  • Cable Sissy Squat

I’ll explain each exercise to help you perform them correctly and provide a sample leg day you can start implementing today.

If you want to build leg muscle and strength, 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 Leg Muscles

The main muscle groups of the legs that you should focus on when building leg muscle are the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and calves.



The hamstrings run along the backside of the legs, above the knee, and below the hips. They are responsible for bending the knee (flexion) and straightening (extending) the hips. 

Training the hamstrings is usually done by adding a movement that requires hip extension, like a Romanian deadlift or good morning, and another exercise that works the hamstring at the knee joint, like a leg curl.



The quads run along the front of the thighs and straighten (extending) the knees after they bend. 

Targeting the quads is usually done by including movements that have the knees bend to their fullest amount, such as deep squats, lunges, step-ups, and even leg extensions.



The glutes cover the back of the hips. These powerful muscles (gluteus medius, minimus, and maximus) extend the hips and stabilize the pelvis during most movements.

Training these muscles can be done by lifting the legs outwards away from the body (train the gluteus minimus), as well as bending and extending the hips (trains the gluteus maximus and medius), such as during Romanian deadlifts, good mornings, lunges, deep squats, step-ups, and hip thrusts.



The calves are the muscles on the back of the lower leg, below the knee. They are responsible for the ankle joint’s plantar flexing (pointing the toes down) and are active in most movements (walking, running, jumping, and lifting). 

You can train the calves using standing or seated calf raise exercises.

Need a workout program? Try Fitbod for Free.

Benefits Of Cable Leg Exercises

Below are three benefits of performing leg exercises with cables. 

Offers Variety Within Your Training

If you struggle to stay motivated and find doing the same old workouts boring (and, therefore, you skip workouts), you can add a cable exercise here and there to spice up your training sessions.

That said, sacrificing a more effective movement for something “new or fun” is not the best idea for muscle or strength improvements; For example, trading barbell back squats for cable squats.

However, if it’s a decision between skipping the workout entirely (i.e., movement restrictions, injuries, etc.) or doing some new exercise, choose the new movements.

Ideally, you should do 80% of your leg training using free weights and machines, with compound exercises like squats, Romanian deadlifts, and lunge variations. The other 20% of your training time can include cables or isolation machines.

May Help Establish Better Movement Coordination

Cables help lifters execute proper movement patterns when lifting by providing constant tension. This guidance can establish better movement coordination and confidence with specific exercises.

For example, a cable RDL may be helpful for lifters who struggle to do normal RDLs, as the cables pull the weight downwards and provide a visual representation of the weight’s path. 

Beginners who struggle to grasp proper movement patterns would benefit from cable variations of compound movements (e.g., squat and deadlift) and exercises that require balance and coordination (e.g., single-leg exercises). There is more room for error when training with free weights.

Progress Loads If You Don’t Have Access to Free Weights or Leg Machines

Suppose you find yourself in a situation where you ONLY have access to a cable machine. In that case, the cables will at least offer you the ability to add external load to lower body movements.

Constant Tension on the Muscle

Assuming you control the cable during the lower phases and do not rely on momentum, you can take advantage of one of the biggest benefits of cables.

Cables allow you to keep constant tension on the muscles, which means you will not allow the muscle fibers to relax or take a break during the movement. This ramps up the time under tension, a potent muscle builder.

Are Cables Better Than Free Weights and Machines for Leg Exercises?

Cables are by no means better than machines or free weights, so I don’t recommend that you replace your machine and free-weight exercises with cable exercises.

The only situations where cables might be more beneficial than free weights and machines are when you’re struggling to isolate a particular muscle group or unable to perform the movement pattern with free weights. 

However, when it comes to getting stronger and building muscle, cables are no match for free weight and machine exercises.

Researchers found that instability exercises had lower force outputs than more stable variations, which may harm absolute strength gains when resistance training. Machines and free weights allow you to set yourself in a more stable position, producing more force through the muscle (because your setup, odd angles, or movement instability do not limit you). 

Related Article: Best Leg Workouts to Build Muscle Without Weights

10 Best Leg Exercises With Cables

The following are 10 of the best leg exercises to do with cables.

The first four are the most effective cable exercises; all other exercises on this list would be more effective with machines or free weights. However, cables would be your best option if you cannot access machines or free weights or cannot do them.

1. Cable Hip Abduction

The cable hip abduction is an exercise that targets the outer part of the hips, the glute medius. 

This isolated exercise is similar to the side-lying leg raise and allows you to add external resistance rather than using a band or simply lifting your leg.

How To Do It

  • Stand with your ankle in a strap, the cable running in front of you, turned 90 degrees from the cable machine, and the pulley set in the lowest position.
  • With your outer leg straight (ankle strapped), stand on your inner leg and hold on to the cable post for support.
  • Without leaning outwards, lift your outer leg using the outer hip, pulling the cable out and lifting the weight.
  • Lift your outer straight leg as high as possible, then slowly lower it under control, maintaining tension on the cables at all times.

Pro Tip

You can lean your upper torso into the post to increase the range of motion and get a more significant stretch on the muscle at the bottom of the movement.

2. Lying Cable Hip Abduction

Another option is the lying version of the standing cable hip abduction, which is good if you have someone who struggles to maintain enough stability to do this standing on one leg or cannot perform it without leaning.

Lying down removes the ability to shift the body to gain momentum, which is necessary to isolate the muscle.

How To Do It

  • Lie down on your side and place the ankle of the top leg in the strap, with the pulley set at that height.
  • With the top leg straight, lift the leg upwards without moving the bottom leg or torso.
  • Lift your outer straight leg as high as possible, then slowly lower it under control, maintaining tension on the cables at all times.

Pro Tip

This exercise has slightly less range of motion than the stiff one, so to make up for it, you can lie on a bench instead of the floor and position yourself so that your top leg hangs off the end. Using a bench allows you to lower the top leg in front of your body (cross your legs over one another) to get a few more inches of range of motion at the bottom of the movement.

3. Cable Hip Extension

The cable hip extension is a standing single-leg movement that targets the gluteus maximus.

If your pulley does not reach low enough on the track to line up with your ankle, you may need to stand on a small, elevated surface.

How To Do It

  • Stand before the pulley, facing the weight, and place your foot into the strap.
  • Shift your weight onto the other leg so you are not standing on the strapped foot.
  • With a slight lean forward (flex the hips), swing the strapped leg backward in an arcing motion, finishing with a back kick to feel the glute contract.

Pro Tip

If you struggle to feel the glutes, try pushing your foot back while pulling your toes towards your knees. This cue will prevent plantar flexion (toes pointing away from you) and keep the calves out of the movement, placing more emphasis on the glutes.

4. Cable Pull Through

The cable pull-through is a hamstring and glute exercise that is effective for high-rep sets. You can use short ranges of motion to target more glutes or go fuller into the range of motion to target more hamstrings.

How To Do It

  • Attach a rope or D handle to a low cable.
  • Stand 2-3 feet from the cable and face outwards, grabbing the handle with both arms as the cable runs between your legs.
  • With a flat back and slightly bent knees, push your hips back and load the hamstrings and glutes with the cable tension.
  • Stand up using your glutes and hamstrings, keeping your elbows straight so that you do not use your arms to lift the load.
  • Slowly return to the start position and repeat.

Pro Tip

This exercise can be awkward because the cable runs between the legs, but you should be fine if you keep your arms extended and knees slightly bent. If you find that the cable is running along the groin, make sure you are not overarching your lower back.

5. Cable Romanian Deadlift

The cable RDL is a hamstring exercise that is a dumbbell or barbell Romanian deadlift variation. The angle of this movement is slightly different, with the cable being in front of you rather than below you at the start. This angle will load the glutes. 

How To Do It

  • Stand facing the cable machine, with the pulley set to the lowest notch and a bar attachment on the pulley.
  • Stand as close as you can to the machine while providing enough room for your head not to hit the machine as you bend forward.
  • With a flat back and knees almost straight (very slight bend), bend down and grab the handle.
  • Stand up straight with a flat back. Push your hips forward, keeping your knees almost straight the entire time.
  • Keep the knees as straight as possible (don’t lock out, though), as this will help you load the hamstrings as much as possible.

Pro Tip

If you can access a belt squat machine, you can use it instead of a standard cable machine. The belt squat machine will be better for loading the hamstrings as the cable is directly below you rather than in front.

6. Cable Stiff Leg Deadlift

The cable stiff leg deadlift is similar to the cable Romanian deadlift; however, the knees are less bent throughout the movement, placing most of the loading on the hamstrings (rather than the hamstrings and glutes). 

You may not be able to go as low as you can during the RDL, so only go as low as your hamstring flexibility allows without rounding your lower back.

How To Do It

  • Set the pulley up so the cable is at the lowest setting and a bar or rope handle is attached.
  • Stand facing the stack as close as you can without hitting your head as you bend forward.
  • With straight knees (no bend) and an arched or neutral spine, push the hips back and grab the handle.
  • While feeling all the tension and stretching in the hamstrings, stand up and slowly lower yourself back to the start position, always keeping tension on the cables at the bottom.

Pro Tip

Remember that the goal here is to get an aggressive stretch on the hamstrings at the bottom, so don’t try to go too far that you start to round the lower back. I often tell clients to pause in the bottom stretched position for 2-3 seconds before returning to the upright position to enhance the muscular stretch and stress on the hamstrings.

7. Cable Goblet Squat

The cable goblet squat is a front-loaded squat exercise that trains the quadriceps so you can stay more upright. This variation is a great way to squat when back squats cause lower-back discomfort, as a more vertical torso will minimize strain on the lower back.

How To Do It

  • Attach a D handle to a low cable, and stand in front facing the machine.
  • Grab the handle and hold it in front of you, with the cable pulling down on the handle as you support it by your chest.
  • With your chest up, squat down deep, resisting the cable’s desire to pull your torso forward.
  • Stand up without letting the hips shoot back, forcing the quads (front of the thighs) to work harder.

Pro Tip

This exercise can be challenging with a lot of weight, as the cables can be cumbersome to set up when very heavy. To combat that, I often have lifters do very high reps on this and slowly lower themselves into a squat, taking 3- 4 seconds to sit down, increasing the time under tension.

8. Cable Single Leg Lying Hamstring Curl

This movement is a single-leg isolation exercise that targets the hamstrings. Training one leg at a time helps you address any muscle imbalances. Ideally, you will do this lying on a bench (chest down), as this will help you stabilize your torso to maximize force. 

How To Do It

  • Place a bench in front of the cable machine, and set the pulley height 2-3 inches above the bench’s height.
  • Lay your chest low on the bench and place one ankle into the cable strap. Make sure the cable pulls forward on the ground.
  • Bend your leg so that the hamstrings are actively working to lift the weight. Bend it as far as you can until the cable hits your shin.
  • Slowly lower the weight, keeping tension on the hamstrings, and repeat.

Pro Tip

At the end of the exercise, the cable may get in the way, limiting how far you can curl the leg. This interference is one limitation of the exercise. However, just focus on doing as much range of motion as possible, and always slowly lower the weight (2-3 seconds) to keep tension on the hamstrings on the way down.

9. Cable Lying Hamstring Curl

This movement is the double-leg version of the cable single-leg hamstring curl and is an excellent way to train both hamstrings at once if you are short on time.

How To Do It

  • Place a bench in front of the cable machine, and set the pulley height 2-3 inches above the bench’s height.
  • Lie chest down on the bench, and place both ankles into the cable strap (or attach two straps simultaneously, one for each ankle)
  • Bend your legs so that the hamstrings are actively working to lift the weight. Bend them as far as you can until the cable hits your shins.
  • Slowly lower the weight, keeping tension on the hamstrings, and repeat.

Pro Tip

Lower the weight slowly to maximize tension on the hamstrings. This exercise should be done for moderate to higher reps, as it can be tricky to set up when using heavier loads.

10. Cable Sissy Squat

The sissy squat is a quad-focused exercise often challenging enough without external loading; however, cables can help establish better balance. I often find these are helpful for people also trying to learn how to do sissy squats, as they can use the cable weight as a counterbalance.

How To Do It

  • Face the cable machine and grab the pulley bar attachment, which should be at waist height.
  • With your feet 6-12 inches apart, stand on your tippy toes and squat down, pushing your knees forward over your toes. You can lean back slightly against the weight and use that as a counterbalance.
  • Lower yourself as low as you can, and then stand up by straightening your knees.

Pro Tip

Always do these slowly on the way down, as you want to load the muscles and build better control in the deeper range of motion. These can also help you improve connective tissue health as you progressively improve your depth in the sissy squat.

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.

Sample Leg Workout With Cables

best cable leg exercises

Below is a sample leg workout you can implement when cables are your best option for added resistance.

Note: These workouts are not found in the Fitbod app as they are written below; however, you can use this sample training plan as a template to create your own workouts within the app. All exercises are in the Fitbod app, complete with how-to videos. 

  • Cable Single Leg Hamstring Curl: 3 sets of 15 reps per leg
  • Cable Goblet Squat: 5 sets of 15 reps
  • Cable Romanian Deadlift: 5 sets of 15 reps
  • Cable Hip Abduction: 3 sets of 15 reps per leg

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Cables Good For Leg Training?

No, they are not the best tool for leg training. Barbells, dumbbells, and leg machines are far more efficient and effective. Cables can be challenging to set up, hard to load with heavier loads, and can limit the overall intensity at which you can push a muscle. That said, they are better than doing no leg exercise.

Can You Build Bigger Legs Using Only Cables?

If your only option is to use cables for your legs and you are a beginner who has never trained them, then yes. However, growing bigger legs using cables will be challenging if you are a stronger, more advanced lifter.

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.