Want the perfect workout program?Take Quiz
Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
October 20, 2021 1 Comment
Any good leg and glute routine will include powerhouse compound exercises such as squats and deadlifts, as well as some assistance and accessory exercises like hip thrusts, lunges, and leg curls. These key moves are perfect for burning calories, building muscle and strength, and getting your heart pumping. Building strength in your lower body creates a strong, stable foundation that helps to keep your body balanced. But, since you are here, the question is, how do you hit your legs and glutes effectively with cable machines?
Believe it or not, the cable machine is one of the most versatile exercise machines for leg and glute workouts. There are tons of cable leg exercises that you can do and the cable machine allows for progressive overload so you can get stronger and build muscle. Moreover, it is very safe. When performing cable exercises for your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, you’re able to hit them from different angles without putting any unnecessary pressure on your spine.
Cables provide you with a fluid and smooth movement that you won’t get from free weights. This takes away the stress from your joints, reducing the risk of injuries and allowing you to do more quality sets and reps. And don't get us wrong, we are not saying cable machines are better than free weights for leg exercises, but the cable machine can and should have its place in a lower body workout, just as it does for many people's upper body workouts.
The cable machine is one of the best ways to train every muscle group in your body, including your legs! You can do an entire leg routine on a cable machine or you can implement the exercises into your workout just like you would any other piece of equipment. We like incorporating it into our legs and abs day in our full body gym machine workout. Not only will it help you to build a strong lower body safely, but it’s the best route if you're getting back into the gym after an injury or you really want to focus on hypertrophy.
The cable machine allows you to attach various types of handles to a cable pulley system. The pulley system is connected to a stack of weights; you choose the appropriate weight and the correct attachment to perform the exercise - squats, deadlifts, lunges, and more. You can easily change the weights by pulling and plugging the pin into the weight stack. The plates will be labeled with the weight amount.
The cable crossover machine has two towers that work independently, both with their own cable pulley and weight stack. You have the ability to use this machine to do a whole-body workout and it will benefit you to incorporate this machine into your leg routines.
Overall a cable machine offers tons of functionality for both lower and upper body workouts that's why we analyzed the Best Cable Machines available today.
Yes, cable leg exercises are a great addition to any fitness routine. Cable leg workouts are perfect if you are really focused on building muscle, are a beginner looking to perfect form safely, or you are just getting back into the gym after an injury. The cable machine will allow you to maintain good form and reduce the stress on the joints, allowing you to really hone in on the muscles you are targeting with quality reps.
The cable machine is arguably the most versatile workout equipment in any gym. It’s a great tool that allows you to build muscle definition and strength, and you’ll improve your form and reduce the risk of injury.
Let’s go deeper into the many benefits of using the cable machine specifically for your legs and glutes:
1. Builds Muscle Definition & Strength
The cable machine provides constant tension, unlike free weights which have an ascending/descending resistance curve. The constant tension allows for more time under tension, which will fatigue the muscles with less total volume, making your workouts very efficient.
When performing cable exercises on your legs you’ll isolate your quad, glutes, hamstrings, and calves and make the individual muscles stronger from a range of angles.
2. Improves Form & Reduces The Risk of Injury
One of the leading causes of injury in the gym is improper form and is most common with free weights. Free weights have no directed plane of motion which causes imbalances and ultimately injury.
But with cables, you can increase the weight without using a spotter because they protect you from injury by providing a more direct plane of motion. This allows you to remain balanced even with heavier weight, and you can train to failure, which improves your strength.
3. Increases Range of Motion
When we use the term range of motion, this refers to how far you can move your joints in different directions. When you perform exercises that move your joints through their full range of motion, you will have greater results in hypertrophy and strength. Moreover, it will help you become more mobile and flexible.
When you change the way that your body is positioned and how the cable is angled, you gain more control over the range of motion. You can make it more or less, allowing you to recruit more stabilizing muscle fibers too.
Free weights require you to stack plates on barbells and take dumbbells off shelves which are both time-consuming. Whereas with cables, you can quickly change the weights by adjusting the pin to the desired weight.
5. Flat Resistance Curve
The tension of the cable is different than that of free weights. With the cable machine, you’ll have a flat resistance curve that creates constant tension throughout an exercise. This is because the load is not acting on gravitational force.
This means that regardless if you’re at the top or bottom of the range, it will be equally difficult. With free weights, you have an ascending or descending strength curve, and the hardest range is in the stretched position.
This is why the cable machine is very popular with bodybuilders doing isolation work.
All in all, cable exercises are great for reaching your leg and glute hypertrophy goals. More time under tension translate to greater growth.
6. Extremely Versatile
Regardless of which muscle group you are training, the cable machine is one of the most versatile on the gym floor. You’re able to target different muscles effectively by changing different variables such as angles (load positioning) and body positioning - you’ll stress your muscles differently and build strength through different ranges of motions.
Most of the muscles in your legs are considered long muscles, which means that they stretch great distances and contract with great force.
Let’s take a look at the different muscles in the legs and their function so you can better understand the exercises to come.
The quadriceps muscles are the strongest and leanest muscles in the entire body. There are four muscles within the quads. The front of the thighs is the major extensor, and these muscles help to extend the leg straight from the knee.
Here are the four muscles:
Three muscles make up the hamstrings. They are located at the back of the thigh, beginning under the gluteus maximus and attaching to the tibia and affecting the hip and knee movement.
Here are the three muscles of the hamstrings,
This is the largest and heaviest muscle in the body and is the main extensor muscle of the hip. It’s located at the posterior aspect of the hip joint, and its primary function is to maintain the erect posture.
Your glutes are divided into three main muscles:
The calf muscles have three major muscles that are pivotal to the movement of the ankle, foot, and toes. These major muscles include,
The Achilles tendon is the most important tendon when it comes to mobility. It connects the plantaris, gastrocnemius, and soleus muscles to the heel bone. It’s a necessary tendon that stores the elastic energy that is needed to run, jump, and perform just about any type of physical activity.
When you’re looking to train the four major muscle groups in the legs, you’ll want to include squats, deadlifts, lunges, calf raises, and hip extensions. These four main exercises will target your quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes.
Squats are one of the best lower-body exercises to perform. They target the quadriceps and glutes most, but they also work the hamstrings, calves, and core muscles. There are different variations of squats that will target different muscles in the lower body. Some of these variations of squats include front squats, back squats, sumo squats, and chair squats. We also can consider lunges in this category.
Depending on your goals, you’ll find that performing squats 2-3 times per week will improve your squat technique, strength, and power.
Deadlifts are another compound exercise that is beneficial to your entire body but is primarily a leg exercise. It involves the extension of the hips and the knees, which engages the hamstrings and glutes most, but the quads are also worked. This exercise also targets other muscle groups, which include the back, traps, and core. They're typically also great as an outer thigh exercise. We will also consider RDLs (Romanian Deadlifts) and Stiff-Leg Deadlift in this category.
Both beginners and advanced lifters can greatly benefit from performing deadlifts 1 to 3 times per week.
Calf raises primarily work the calf muscles, including the gastrocnemius, tibialis posterior, peroneals, and soleus muscles of the lower leg. Building strength in your calves will improve ankle stability and overall balance, and stronger calf muscles will improve endurance and explosiveness.
To build strength, you’ll want to do calf raises 2 to 3 times a week, but make sure to give two days rest in between workouts.
Hip extensions primarily target the glutes and the hamstrings (as these are the two main muscles powering hip extension), allowing you to move more powerfully and preventing injuries. There are a variety of hip extension exercises you can begin incorporating into your routine, such as hip thrusts and cable machine pull throughs.
Performing hip extensions 1-2 times per week will increase your strength and movement. It’s best to do with relatively heavy weights with low to moderate repetitions.
The best rep range and load will depend on what you’re looking to achieve.
If you want to gain size, you’ll find that many suggest using a rep range of 8-12, but when it comes to cable leg exercises, you’ll get better results with squats, lunges, deadlifts, and other exercises with higher reps, such as 15-20. However, this depends on the weight load. If it feels very challenging for you, the 6-12 rep range can be very effective for strength and hypertrophy when using a cable machine.
Overall, it's recommended that you work through a wide spectrum of reps. Perform heavy exercises for 5-8 reps, moderate weight for 8-15 reps, and light weight for 15-25+ reps. This will produce the biggest gains, and this is backed by research.
When it comes to choosing the right weight, you’ll want to select the weight stack that is challenging with the rep range you are working in. You want to get as close to failure within the rep range you select as possible.
Be sure to implement progressive overload so you can continue to build muscle and strength over time.
Now, finally, here are best cable machine exercises for legs...
You can perform all of the traditional leg and glute exercises on the cable machine, as well as some cable machine specific exercises. These variations will target the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves just the same as they would with free weights. Let’s take a look at the different exercises to discover how to do them on the cable machine and what muscles they will train.
Squats are one of the best exercises for your quads and glutes. They strengthen your tendons, bones, and ligaments around the leg muscles as well - reducing the risk of injury to your knees and ankles. Plus, they will burn calories and help you lose weight.
Here’s how to perform the cable squat:
Best rep range: 5-20+ reps. You’ll want to perform this exercise a couple of times a week and change up the reps and weights that you use.
Yes, cable squats are one of the most effective exercises to target the quads, hamstring, and glutes. They allow you to perfect the form and reduce the risk of injury.
This Deadlift is just like a hex bar deadlift as it puts your hands in a neutral position at your sides. This makes it like a hybrid of a squat and deadlift.
With this cable lower body exercise, you will target your hamstrings, glutes and quads. It also helps to your core and low back.
Here’s how to perform the cable squat/deadlift:
Best rep range: For strength, 3 to 8 reps per set. For mass, 8 to 12 reps per set.
We have two types of cable machine front squat variations that will help you gain strength and size in your quads. It is mainly a quad exercise, due to the load placement, but your hamstrings and glutes will also be activated well.
Here’s how to perform the cable front squat:
Best rep range: Anywhere from 8-15 reps.
Front squat With Rope
For this variation, you’ll use the rope attachment instead of the bar. This will make the exercise a little more challenging on your core as your core will be more upright:
This exercise is a great way to build up the strength and size in your quads due to the load and body position. It involves less pressure on your hips and more resistance at your knees.
Even if you squat with barbells, this is a great addition to your routine if you need some quad specific work.
Here’s how to perform the cable chair squat:
Best rep range: Anywhere from 8-15 reps.
The cable Romanian Deadlift or RDL helps to develop strength in the gluteus maximus, hamstrings, and hip adductors (inner thighs), as well as your low back.
The goal with this one is to feel a really good stretch in your hamstrings and squeeze the heck out of your glutes at the top. The stretching tension is what really makes the RDL special.
Here’s how to perform the cable RDL:
Best rep range: 6-10 and/or 10-15 reps depending on the weight.
Related: RDL Workout Guide
Single Leg Deadlifts:
Single leg deadlifts are also great for your hamstrings and glutes. Moreover, it'll help you build incredible athleticism through balance and coordination. A lot of people use the cable machine for single leg deadlifts because it is a little easier in terms of balance, allowing you to really hone in on the hammys.
The cable pull-through is a compound exercise that works the hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and lower-back muscles. It's very similar to a stiff-leg deadlift, but the resistance is coming from behind you. So, while it hits the same muscles, it actually allows for more glute activation.
Here’s how to perform the cable pull-through:
Best rep range: Anywhere from 8–15 repetitions.
Related: Cable Pull Through Exercise Guide
Kneeling Pull Through
This variation of the pull through, which is from a kneeling position, will even better target the glutes as it takes the hamstrings out of play more (considering there is less action on the knee joint). It's quite similar to a hip thrust, which means you can get some serious glute contraction tension.
Lateral lunges aid in balance and stability. This exercise works your inner and outer thighs to build strength and muscle. It's also great for your core.
Here’s how to perform the cable lateral lunge:
Best rep range: 10-15 lunges per leg.
Reverse lunges work your glutes and hamstrings most, with the quads in close second (or technically third). It is also great for core stability considering it is a unilateral exercise.
The lunge is also great for people who have difficulty staying balanced or have knee concerns because it reduces the knee joints stress.
Here’s how to perform the cable rear lunge:
Best rep range: 12-15 repetitions on each side.
Rear Lunge with Step Box
This lunge variation increases the difficulty of the cable rear lunge because you’ll go deeper into the lunge.
Here’s how to perform the cable lunge with step box:
Cable front lunges target the front side of your legs more - the quads! But you’ll also engage your calves, abs and glutes as well.
Here’s how to perform the cable front lunge:
Best rep range: 12–15 reps on each leg.
This exercise works the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae - the hip abductors!
The hip abductors are often forgotten about, but this important muscle aids in our ability to rotate our legs, stand and walk. Without strong hip abductors, your hips will not be stable.
By simply adjusting the position of your toes - straight, inwards, or pointed out, you can alter the way the hip abductor muscles are stressed.
Here’s how to perform the cable hip abduction:
Best rep range: 8-15 repetitions.
Related: Best Hip Abduction Exercises
Donkey kicks target your gluteus maximus and improve both stability and toning to give you the shaped toned look you desire.
Here’s how to perform the donkey kick:
Best rep range: 10-20 reps is ideal. Really squeeze your glutes hard each rep. If you aren’t feeling a burn, you’ll want to do the cable hip extension or add ankle weights to alter this exercise.
Cable Hip Extension
Here’s how to perform the cable hip extension:
Hip adductors support balance and alignment by strengthening the muscles in your inner thigh. It's an area often overlooked, yet an important one nonetheless.
Here’s how to perform the cable hip adduction:
Best rep range: 8-15 repetitions.
Related: Best Hip Adduction Exercises
Leg curls isolate your hamstrings. It will promote muscle growth and strength in the hamstrings beautifully, which will aid in better squats and deadlifts. Allowing you to go deeper into squats and hamstrings and with increased weight.
Here’s how to perform the cable leg curl:
Best rep range: Your goal will depend on how many reps and sets you do and the amount of weight you choose.
To build strength, 8 to 10 reps and three sets are perfect. To build endurance and stamina, you’ll use higher reps of 12-15 and less weight. For both, you’ll want to select a weight that will allow your muscles to reach failure by the last rep.
Standing calf raises make your calves stronger and leaner. Performing calf raises will improve your balance and muscle structure. There are two different versions of the standing calf raise, one leg and two leg calf raises.
By working one leg at a time, you’ll prevent muscle imbalances and it can allow you to work with a great resistance.
Here’s how to perform the standing cable calf raise:
Best rep range: 10-20 reps. You should really feel a burn with this exercise. Keep rest time short, around 30 to 60 seconds rest between sets.
Cable Hamstring & Glute Exercises
Cable Quad/Glute Exercises
Cable Glute Specific Exercises
Cable Calf Exercises
Yes, it’s possible to do a leg press using a cable machine.
Begin by laying on your back with the cable connected to your ankle. Your head will be closest to the machine. Then you’ll bring the knee towards your chest without lifting your hips off of the ground.
You’ll then push your leg away from your chest until it’s straight. Be sure that you are squeezing your quad when your leg is extended. This is one rep, and you’ll want to repeat for 10-20 reps for this one due to the weight not being very heavy for a leg press.
Related: Best Leg Press Alternatives
Incorporating cable leg and glute exercises into your routine is not different than incorporating any other equipment into your current routine. Make sure your workouts are well rounded, with both compound and isolation exercises that together target all of your leg muscles.
If you want to do just a cable leg workout, it's as simple as creating a workout just like you would with free weights. So, instead of doing squats and deadlifts with dumbbells or a barbell, you are doing cable squats. It’s possible to do a complete leg routine with a single cable machine.
Let’s take a look at a few routines that you can do using just the cable machine.
We’ve discussed many different exercises that will increase your lower body’s strength, development, and size. And the importance that each muscle group has on the overall function of your lower body. Now it’s time to put it all together.
Here are a couple of sample cable leg workouts that you can start today...
Workout Session A:
Workout Session B:
If you have any questions about cable leg and glute exercises or workouts, please feel free to comment below or reach out to us. We are always happy to hear from our readers! Remember, if you train smart, cable machines can be highly effective for training your legs, or any muscle group for that matter.
Comments will be approved before showing up.
At SFS we strive to equip you with the tools and knowledge needed for your fitness journey. Sign up to get the latest on sales, new releases, killer workouts, actionable fitness content and more. As our motto goes - "You don't have to get ready if you stay #alwaysready!"