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Cable machines can be really helpful but you may want alternatives. What are some other equipment options with similar benefits?
The cable machine is a piece of fitness equipment where a steel frame holds weights and pulleys. Thanks to the cable going through these pulleys and attached to these weights you can do many types of strength training exercises for a wide variety of muscles.
A few areas where the cable machine really stands out are isolating chest muscles, triceps, certain leg muscles, and the latissimus dorsi.
For many of these muscles the cable machine allows you to put the target under tension in a large range of motion in a way that would be hard to mimic with other equipment.
Whether you don’t enjoy using a cable machine, your local gym does not have one, you find them a bit pricey for a home gym, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these cable machine substitutes can offer you similar benefits.
1. Resistance bands
Resistance bands are an inexpensive type of fitness equipment that are basically elastic cords. Similar to the cable machine you can use this option to create resistance at basically any angle at home or in the gym.
Additionally, you can wrap resistance bands around your ankles or use ankle straps which allow you to isolate your leg muscles.
In some ways, resistance bands are an alternative that is even more versatile than the cable machine. You can use them without an anchor and for example, loop them around your upper legs while doing an exercise like squats.
Other benefits of resistance bands are that they are easy to store, very portable, and very inexpensive, especially compared to a full cable machine.
One downside is that resistance bands are not the type of gym equipment you can use for the rest of your life. At least every few years you will need to replace the last set with new resistance bands.
Some resistance band exercises will also require you to anchor your resistance bands somewhere. Sometimes you can attach them to objects that are already around the house.
Even so, it is likely safer to get an inexpensive resistance band anchor to avoid any problems.
Lastly, something that can be both good or bad depending on your training goals and preferences. The tension of resistance bands is not constant. When you stretch them out more they become more challenging.
A dumbbell is a type of fitness equipment that is basically a handle with a weight on each side. Because you can hold one dumbbell in each hand and because the weight distribution is balanced they can be used in many exercises.
Similar to the cable machine, dumbbells are also sturdy and last a long time without really using their value.
This alternative is definitely not as versatile as a cable machine. You can not really use dumbbells to isolate muscles like your hamstrings, inner things, outer thighs, quadriceps, etc.
That being said, besides these you can train most muscles. In a few exercises like wrist rotations, Arnold presses, Zottman curls, etc. dumbbells are even a better option than the cable machine.
Additionally, dumbbells are generally cheaper than a cable machine and easier to store at home. Especially if you go for adjustable dumbbell models instead of a whole set.
One last potential downside is that you may also need to invest in an adjustable weight bench for certain dumbbell exercises. Especially if you want to isolate your chest muscles with the dumbbell chest fly exercise.
3. Landmine setup
A landmine setup is an attachment that secures a barbell at the ground level. The landmine setup allows you to do additional isolation exercises which makes it more of a cable machine alternative.
For example, the landmine setup makes it so you can do lateral raises, bent-over lateral raises, a chest fly, and landmine rotation with a barbell.
On top of that, a barbell in combination with a weight bench and/or squat rack increases the range of exercise options even more.
In some cases like deadlifts, barbell back squats, and clean exercise variations, the barbell is the preferred equipment choice.
While the barbell setups mentioned are typically slightly cheaper than a double pulley cable machine the price is definitely higher than the previous alternatives.
This can definitely still be worth it compared to all the health benefits you can get but it is something to keep in mind.
4. Weighted vest
As the name implies, a weighted vest is a vest with extra weights, often these are adjustable.
The main ways you can use this piece of equipment as a cable machine alternative is by strapping it on during exercises like pushups (to replace chest/tricep exercises), pull-ups (to train your latissimus dorsi), and tricep dips (to train tricep muscles).
There are options besides these too. More unique uses for a weighted vest are running and walking.
A straightforward downside of weighted vests is that they are just not as versatile as a cable machine when it comes to resistance training exercises and in turn, not the perfect substitute.
By choosing a weighted vest you miss out on the ability to isolate a variety of leg muscles.
On the other hand, some of the benefits of weighted vests are that they are relatively inexpensive, easy to store at home, and easy to bring with you.
5. Tricep dip set-up
One of the areas where the cable machine stands out is its range of tricep exercises. While it does not allow you to simulate all the different upper arm angles, tricep dips are still a powerful exercise to train these same muscles.
The dip exercise is an exercise where you put your hands on horizontal bars, lower yourself, and raise yourself back up.
To make this movement more challenging you preferably want something like a weighted vest or dip belt since your hands on the bars are not able to hold weight.
An upside of this dip belt is that you can also use it to do weighted pull-ups to train the latissimus dorsi muscles more. Something else is that the complete tricep dip setup is cheaper than a cable machine.
The main downside of this alternative category is that it is nowhere near as versatile as the cable machine. There are plenty of muscles that need to be worked with other exercises and equipment options.
6. Ankle weights
Ankle weights are simply straps with some extra weight that are attached to your ankles. These can be a cable machine alternative for certain leg isolation exercises for resistance training beginners.
Some examples include sideways leg raises (for outer thighs), hip adductions (for inner thighs), leg curls (for hamstrings = back thighs), leg extensions (for quadriceps = front thighs), and glute kickbacks (glutes = butt).
Ankle weights can be used in a variety of exercises for many different body parts but in the above ones they stand out.
One potential downside is that for individuals somewhat experienced with resistance training, even heavy ankle weights will not be enough to grow and strengthen these strong leg muscles.
On the other hand, good ankle weights are relatively inexpensive, easy to store, and very portable.
This is definitely not a perfect cable machine alternative but for some individuals, ankle weights will be enough for their current strength level and workout goals.