19 Best Cable Back Exercises

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: October 12, 2022

The shoulders are a relatively small muscle group. But they can take forever to train because you must hit them from multiple angles. Not to mention the time wasted changing weight plates or swapping dumbbells.

Fortunately, using the cable apparatus can significantly reduce time spent in the gym while increasing workout intensity. This article shows you 17 unique cable shoulder exercises to grow your delts faster than free weights.

Cable Back Exercises

What Are Cable Back Exercises?

Unlike free weights, the cable apparatus utilizes an adjustable weight stack for resistance. As the name suggests, a cable runs through several pulleys and connects to handles that you use to perform various exercises.

Cable back exercises use different bars, handles, or attachments so you can train multiple posterior muscles from all angles.

Benefits of Cable Back Exercises

Most bodybuilders use barbells, dumbbells, and machines for their back workouts. And maybe head to the cables to do a few sets of pulldowns and rows before calling it a day.

However, cable exercises offer several distinct advantages over free weights. And you might want to consider using cables for more exercises during your back workouts.

Here are the benefits of cable back exercises:

  • Perform dozens of back exercises with one piece of equipment
  • Constant tension throughout the range of motion
  • Can work both arms or one arm at a time
  • Train back in less time
  • No need to lug around weight plates or dumbbells
  • Easy to do drop sets or supersets
  • Safer than free weights

Muscles Worked by Cable Back Exercises

Before getting into the cable exercises, it’s vital to understand back muscle anatomy. This way, you’ll know which exercises to use to target specific areas of your back and lats.

The back comprises several muscles, including the latissimus dorsi (lats), trapezius (traps), teres major/minor, and rhomboid. In addition, many back exercises also recruit the rear delt and biceps due to the pulling motion.

Cable Back Exercises Muscles Worked

Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)

First, the largest muscle group on your back is the latissimus dorsi or lats. These muscles attach to the back of your upper arms. And they run along the length of your spine from your mid to lower back.

The primary function of the lats is pulling your arm down and back around the shoulder joint. Therefore, it’s vital to use a combination of rowing and pulling movements to hit every part of your lats.

Trapezius (Traps)

The trapezius or traps are a large diamond shape muscle connecting your neck, shoulders, and upper back. And you can think of the trap muscles as having an upper and lower part.

The lower traps get used extensively during rowing or pulling cable back exercises. At the same time, the upper traps’ primary function is elevating the shoulders during exercises like deadlifts or shrugs.

Rhomboid, Teres Major/Minor

Several smaller muscles on your upper back are connected to your shoulder blade. These muscles include the rhomboid, teres major, teres minor, and infraspinatus.

Functionally, the upper back muscles work together with the lats to move your extremities around the shoulder joint. But they also stabilize and control the movement of the scapula during back exercises.

Anterior Deltoid, Biceps

The rear delts on the back of your shoulders are also worked with many cable back exercises. Especially the movements in which you pull your elbows up or externally rotate your arms.

Finally, your biceps also get worked during most back exercises where you load your arms in flexion. And I will explain how some cable back exercises use more or less biceps.

Best Cable Back Exercises

Now let’s get into the best cable back exercises for blasting the backside of your upper body. This list is divided into vertical, horizontal, and other angles to break it up and make it easier to digest.

Vertical Pull Cable Back Exercises

These cable back exercises include pulldowns using various hand positions and attachments.

1. Close Grip Lat Pulldown

The close grip lat pulldown uses a v-shaped attachment with two parallel handles, so it’s also referred to as a v-bar pulldown. With this handle, your hands are close together with palms facing in, which causes your arms to rotate internally in front of your body as you perform the exercise.

As a result, the close grip pulldown targets the lats, biceps, and even the chest to a small extent. And the internal arm rotation causes less activation of the upper back and rear delt muscles than other grips.

Related: Close Grip Lat Pulldown vs. Wide Grip

To perform this exercise, hook a v-bar attachment to the end of the cable. Now grab the handles with your palms facing in and sit on the seat with your arms extended straight overhead.

From this starting position, pull your hands down towards your chest until they reach roughly chin level. Then control the weight as you extend back up to the top.

2. Wide Grip Lat Pulldown

The wide grip lat pulldown is another excellent cable back exercise. For this variation, you use a straight bar attachment with a slight bend on each end.

Moreover, the wide grip results in external arm rotation, which activates the upper back and rear delts along with the lats. However, the pronated hand position reduces bicep activation compared to neutral or supinated grips.

To perform this exercise, attach the wide bar handle to the end of the cable. Now grab the bar with your hands 1.5-2 times shoulder width and your palms facing forward.

Now sit on the seat with your arms extended straight overhead. Pull your arms down and back until the bar reaches about chin level. Try to keep your body relatively upright and don’t lean back too far.

3. Supinated Lat Pulldown

The supinated lat pulldown uses a reverse grip on the same bar you would use for the wide grip pulldown. Or you can use any other straight bar attachment you have available.

This underhand grip puts your arms in front of your body as your elbows pull down and forward. So it works the lats but doesn’t engage the upper part of your back as much. Also, it activates the biceps more than any other grip.

To do the supinated lat pulldown, attach a straight bar to the cable and grab it with your hands about shoulder-width apart using an underhand grip. Then sit on the seat with your arms extended overhead.

Now pull your hands down toward your chest while tucking your elbows at your sides until the bar reaches chin level. Then extend your arms back to the top while controlling the weight.

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4. Behind the Neck Lat Pulldown

Another way you might see the lat pulldown performed is behind the neck. This variation helps reduce momentum and get more activation from the rhomboids and upper back muscles.

Some advise against the behind-the-neck pulldown and claim it increases the chance of injury due to the forward head position. But this isn’t true as long as you do them correctly!

5. Single Arm Lat Pulldown

A final cable lat pulldown exercise is the single arm variation. As the name suggests, you do this exercise with one arm at a time using a single-handle attachment.

One benefit of single-arm pulldowns is that you have more freedom with the movement path. For example, you can angle across your body and twist slightly at the bottom to increase the range of motion.

In addition, working one arm at a time allows you to focus more on the mind-muscle connection, which is essential for cable back exercises since you can’t see the working muscles.

6. Cable High Row

The cable high row is like a cross between a lat pulldown and a cable row. In other words, you pull at roughly a 45-degree angle to the floor instead of vertically or horizontally.

You work the muscles through a different movement path by changing the angle. And that can activate some muscle fibers you might miss with traditional pulldowns and rows.

Horizontal Row Cable Back Exercises

Next up are cable back exercises involving a rowing motion in the horizontal plane.

7. Standing Cable Row

First up is the standing cable row. You can perform this exercise on pretty much any cable station, even if it doesn’t have a seat or a bench.

Like other row movements, the standing cable row targets the lats. But it also forces you to engage your core and legs to maintain your balance.

Start by adjusting the pulley to about the level of your stomach and attach a v-bar or dual-handle strap. Grab the handles. step back, and position your body upright with your legs slightly bent.

Now pull your hands towards your ribcage while maintaining your body position. Then extend your arms slowly to return to the starting position.

8. Bent Over Cable Row

As you progress to heavier weights, you might be unable to maintain an upright body position during the standing cable row. When that happens, you can try the bent over cable row.

This exercise uses a low pulley position where you bend your legs more and lean forward. Basically, it puts you in a more stable position and replicates the movement path of a bent over barbell row

9. Seated Cable Row (Floor)

Another way to stabilize the cable row exercise is by sitting on the floor. This body position lowers your center of gravity and places your legs out front to offset the pulling force of the cable.

For this variation, set the pulley close to the floor so you’re pulling horizontally.

10. Seated Cable Row (Bench)

Some gyms have a seated cable row station with a bench. The seat and foot platforms allow you to use much heavier loads without tipping forward.

In most cases, the pulley is not adjustable but should be at about stomach level. While performing the exercise, focus on keeping your back relatively straight and upright. Don’t lean too far forward or back.

11. Wide Grip Cable Row

You can also do a wide grip cable row with the straight bar handle used for the wide grip lat pulldown. The broad grip and pronated hand position work the lats as well as the rhomboid, teres major, and teres minor.

Again, keep your body upright to maintain tension on the back muscles instead of leaning to make it easier.

12. Single Arm Cable Row

Lastly, you can use the single-arm cable row to target one side of your body at a time. Again, this variation allows you more freedom in the movement path to increase the range of motion.

As with the two-handed cable row, you can perform this exercise in the standing or seated position. The illustration below shows the standing single-arm cable row.

Cable Back Exercises Standing One Arm Row

Other Cable Back Exercises

Finally, we have cable back exercises using movements other than pulldowns or rows.

13. Cable Deadlift

When you think of deadlifts, you probably picture a barbell, plates, and an Olympic lifting platform. The classic deadlift is an all-around posterior chain exercise that works several muscles in the back.

However, you can also do deadlifts on the cable apparatus. While you won’t be going for PRs on this exercise, it is a fine way to work the spinal erectors, lats, and traps.

Start by placing the pulley all the way on the lowest setting and attach the bar or handle of your preference. Grab the handle with an overhand grip and hands about shoulder width apart and start in the standing position.

From here, bend at the knees and hips while keeping your back flat. Then drive your hips forward to return to the starting position.

14. Cable Pullover

The cable pullover exercise involves pulling a weight from overhead towards your thighs while keeping your arms relatively straight. Another name for this exercise is the straight-arm pulldown.

First, set the pulley to head height or higher. Then attach either a rope or bar handle. Grab the handle and step back so your arms have room to move in front of your body.

Now lean forward and extend your arms so your elbows are up near the top of your head. Then pull the handle down towards your thighs without bending your arms.

15. Cable Pullback

The standing pullback is another cable back exercise that involves pulling your straight arm across your body. But this exercise works your lat and upper back muscles through a different range of motion than the pullover exercise.

Set the pulley at about knee height and attach a single handle. Then stand facing the cable with the active arm straight in front of the pulley.

From here, step back so the cable is under tension and your hand is about 6 inches in front of your hip with your arm straight. Now pull your hand back until it’s about 6 inches behind your hip while keeping your arm straight. 

16. Cable Reverse Fly

The cable reverse fly is another straight-arm back exercise that targets the lats, rhomboid, and teres muscles. Generally, you do this exercise with two cables, although you could do it one arm at a time if needed.

First, set the pulleys at about head height and attach a single handle (or remove the handle altogether). Now grab the handle to your left with your right hand and vice versa.

Next, stand between the cables with your arms extended in front of your face and the cables crossed. Then pull each cable down and back without bending your arms.

17. Cable Upright Row

The cable upright row is another solid exercise that works the upper back and rear delts. For this variation, you can use a bar, dual handle, or rope attachment.

One trick for doing upright rows with the cable is taking a step or two back from the low pulley. This stance makes the exercise better for working the upper back muscles.

19. Cable Shrugs

Lastly is an exercise to target your upper traps. Usually, you train your traps with heavy dumbbells or barbell shrugs. But you can also do them on the cable apparatus using a low pulley setup.

This exercise can use a straight bar, EZ bar, or rope attachment. Start by grabbing the handle with an overhand grip and standing close to the cable so your hands sit on the front of your thighs.

Now pull your shoulders up towards your ears without bending your arms. Then slowly lower the weight down to the starting position.

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Cable Back Workout

I recommend including at least a couple of these cable back exercises in your next back workout. But, if you want, you could do an entire back workout on the cables!

One advantage of this workout is that you can rapidly change the weight between sets, which saves time. In addition, you can move from one exercise to the next by simply changing the attachment and/or adjusting the height of the pulley.

I’ve included a mix of compound and isolation exercises in the following cable back workout. You’ll also notice the rep range varies from 5-15, which balances strength and hypertrophy training.

Finally, I’ve included intensity techniques such as drop sets and supersets to make this workout more challenging.

Cable Back Workout

  • Wide Grip Lat Pulldown – 4 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Close Grip Seated Cable Row – 3 sets, 5-10 reps (drop sets)
  • Supinated Lat Pulldown – 4 sets, 8-12 reps (superset)
  • Cable Pullover – 4 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Cable Reverse Fly – 4 sets, 10-15 reps

More Back Exercises

The cable back exercises you just learned are excellent for getting a good workout in less time. But you might want to include some barbells, dumbbells, or other equipment, depending on your gym setup.

So click the links below for back exercises and workouts that go above and beyond the cable apparatus.

Dumbbell Lat Exercises

Resistance Band Back Exercises

Best Exercises for Targeting Lower Lats

15 Types of Deadlifts for Any Workout

Best Lat Stretches to Loosen Up Your Back

If you feel you’ve got a good handle on back exercises, check out some of my other fitness-related content below. These articles include topics covering all things bodybuilding, nutrition, and supplements.

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By |October 12, 2022|Workouts|0 Comments
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