Equipment Swap: Cable Machine

Cut the cord with these 7 alternative exercises.

Timing is everything when you’re fitting in a training session before work, between meetings, or on a lunch break. So when the equipment you need is taken, it can really throw a kink in your plan. That’s why Furthermore introduced Equipment Swaps, a mini-series that offers alternative exercises when your fitness tool of choice is unavailable. 

The cable machine is a great one-stop shop, allowing you to build mobility and strength in pretty much every muscle group. The problem is that other people know this too, and if you don’t have extra minutes to wait around for them to finish their sets, then it’s easy to just walk away feeling frustrated. But you don’t need to be tied to the machine. In fact, you can get even more benefits from stepping away from your comfort zone every now and then.

“You actually get more efficiency out of your muscles—and work more stabilizers—when you’re freestanding,” says Danielle Gray, a Tier 3+ trainer at Equinox Marina Del Rey in California, who has grown accustomed to finding alternatives for her cable-loving clients. “These exercises also require a minimal amount of space, but you’ll want to carefully choose weights that are challenging, yet still allow you to perform each rep using proper form, since you can’t rely on the cables to do it for you.”

Try one (or all) of the seven exercises below as a swap for some of the most common cable machine moves. Perform 3 to 5 sets of each move.


1. Triceps Dips (sub for Triceps Pushdowns)

Sit on the edge of a wall (or bench) with legs extended* in front of you, hands besides hips, fingers facing forward, gripping the edge. Inch glutes forward until they’re an inch or two away from the wall. Keeping spine tall, shoulders down, and legs extended, bend elbows straight behind you, lowering glutes to floor, and then push into palms to lift back up; repeat. Do 15 reps. *Note: The straighter your legs, the more difficult the move.



2. Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlifts
(sub for Cable Deadlifts)

Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in your left hand, arm extended in front of you, palm facing left thigh, right hand on hip. Lift left foot off floor and slowly lift heel behind you. Maintain a straight line with your body, as you hinge forward from your hips, lowering weight toward floor, until leg and upper body are parallel with floor. Reverse movement back to start. Do 12 reps; switch sides and repeat.



3. TRX Rows
(sub for Lat Pull-downs)
Sit with legs together and extended in front of you, holding a TRX handle in each hand overhead, hands directly over shoulders, palms facing forward. Slowly pull yourself up, bringing hands out to sides, lowering elbows to goalpost position, as you lift hips straight up. Slowly return to start. Do 10 reps.


4. Band Clocks/Walks (sub for Glute Abductions)
Stand with feet a few inches apart, resistance band wrapped around ankles, knees slightly bent, hands on hips. Keeping both knees bent, take a small step forward with your left foot, then back to center. Step out to left, then back to center. Step behind you, then back to center. Do 3 reps, then switch directions (stepping back, then out to side, then forward) and repeat. Switch legs and repeat sequence.


5. Single-Leg Glute Bridges (sub for Glute Kickbacks)
Sit with back flat against short wall (or bench), legs extended in front of you, hands on hips, elbows out to sides. Bend left knee, and then lift right leg slightly off floor. Press into left foot and squeeze glutes as you slowly lift hips toward ceiling and lower upper body onto wall (or bench) behind you, forming a straight line from head to right toes. Slowly lower back to start, allowing neck to rest at bottom and top of movement. Do 12 reps; switch sides and repeat.


6. Banded Curls
(sub for Cable Curls)
Stand on top of a resistance band, with feet and legs together*, knees slightly bent, holding end of band in each hand, arms extended by sides, palms facing forward. Keeping elbows by sides and abs engaged, slowly lift hands toward shoulders; lower back to start. *Note, the wider you make your stance, the more difficult the move becomes. Do 12 reps.


7. Lying Leg Lifts (sub for Cable Ab Crunches)
Lie face-up on floor with legs together and extended, arms overhead, hands gripping a post (or something else sturdy) behind you. Keeping abs engaged and legs together, lift legs straight up toward ceiling, as high as you can comfortably go, while keeping your lower back on the floor. Slowly lower back to floor. Do 15 reps.