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Cable machines are an efficient way to tone and build muscle. These machines can be versatile, challenging your muscle from different angles with constant tension through a full range of motion. However, it can be hard to choose the right one for you. They come in a wide range of sizes and styles, from compact smart cable machines to heavy-duty behemoths like those found in a commercial gym. They can also vary in weight and the range of exercises they can do. You’ll need to consider your budget, fitness goals and the size of your available workout space before making what can be a sizable investment. Rubber Hex Dumbbell Kg
Your fitness level, the setup of your home gym and the number of people who will use it may also influence your cable machine choice. Those new to weightlifting, for example, don’t need the same maximum resistance as an advanced weightlifter. If you’re tight on space, a portable machine takes up very little square footage. Families may want a smart machine that can store several profiles worth of information or access workouts that go beyond weightlifting.
Finally, there’s the price to consider. A home gym cable machine is an expensive piece of equipment. Our list of the best cable machines includes models for spaces large and small, beginners and experts and budgets of all sizes. We’ve also included a comprehensive buying guide to give you the details you need to make an informed decision.
Tonal is a wall-mounted cable machine that uses smart technology to customize and track workouts for an unlimited number of users. It’s compact, measuring a meager 21.5 x 50.9 x 5.25 inches and weighing in at 150 pounds, and mounts to a wall. A nice perk is that Tonal does the wall mounting for you. While the footprint is small, the brand recommends at least a seven foot by seven foot by seven foot, 10-inch space for optimal use, which could be a stretch for some home workout spaces.
However, what makes this machine one of our top picks is its versatility. You can do 245+ exercises with a single machine, navigating it all with a built-in 24-inch touchscreen. The screen is where you access all of the Tonal workouts included with the $49 per month subscription. The Tonal uses a strength assessment to set your starting weights. Over time, it automatically adjusts the weight to keep you progressing toward your chosen goal.
Different modes like Spotter mode and Dynamic Weight modes make lifting safer and more productive. For example, the Spotter mode recognizes when you’re struggling to finish a rep and reduces the weight. The Dynamic Weight mode adjusts the weight throughout the rep so that you’re always working against optimal resistance.
Tonal requires a monthly subscription for the first 12 months of ownership, and there’s no free trial period. And while not everyone will love that, you do get a versatile selection of on-demand workouts and automatic adjustments that turn it into a virtual personal trainer. Tonal also includes live class options for those who crave interactive workouts. It also supports partner workouts if you want to work out together.
However, it does max out at a total of 200 pounds (100 pounds per arm), which might not be enough for some users when doing some exercises. It’s also expensive, as is the monthly subscription. Plus, it’s almost an extra $500 for all of the accessories, which include a bench, smart handles, rope, smart bar roller and workout mat. Tonal includes a 30-day return policy and a three-year warranty.
The NordicTrack Fusion CST Studio combines the benefits of a home cable machine and a workout mirror to provide users with both strength and cardio workouts. It comes with a portable 10-inch tablet with an HD touchscreen on which you can access interactive iFit workouts. While you can use the CST Studio without iFit, you get the most out of the machine by hanging onto the subscription after the 30-day trial period. (Keep in mind that iFit costs around $396 per year.)
The benefit of using iFit comes in the ease of workouts. You don’t have to make any weight adjustments because the iFit app automatically makes weight changes for you as you progress through a workout. All you have to do is follow along, making this machine a good choice for those who prefer a trainer or class-like experience. However, users can still manually adjust the machine.
Unlike traditional cable machines, the CST Studio uses magnetic resistance similar to an exercise bike or rowing machine. Magnetic resistance seriously cuts down on noise and keeps cable movements smooth. The CST Studio offers 20 resistance levels, reaching a maximum of 100 pounds, which might not be enough for some users.
The mirror aspect of the machine comes in handy for checking for proper form and movement patterns. You can create up to five profiles, each with its own stat tracking. This model includes a lot with the base package, including the tablet, removable handles, ankle straps and height adjustable tablet holder. NordicTrack provides a 10-year frame warranty and a one-year warranty on parts, labor and tablet. While the 10-year frame warranty is good, the one-year warranty on the rest of the machine is a bit of a disappointment.
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The REP Fitness FT-5000 is a traditional crossover cable machine that has a heavy-duty, commercial-grade build and weight capacity. With 16 cable positions, you can target the major muscle groups with high resistance. The dual weight stacks feature a two-to-one ratio (good for quick movements and functional training) and two 220-pound weight stacks for a total of 440 pounds.
A strong 11-gauge frame is protected by a chip-resistant electrostatic powder coating. The weight selector pin is magnetic-tipped for more secure one-handed adjustments. It has multiple pull-up grips, etched column markings and storage pegs for handles.
The only real downside to this machine is the overall weight. It’s a bit of a beast at 1,001 pounds. Consequently, it needs to be built in place. Yes, it’s a bit pricey, but for a commercial-grade machine, it’s a good deal for a durable cable machine with a more than decent maximum resistance. Reviewers on REPFitness.com tend to echo the sentiment: “This unit is built with style and bombproof durability! The finishes are aesthetically pleasing with great welds and heavy duty tubing. I recommend this unit to anyone from the basement to the pro gym!” The FT-5000 comes with a lifetime frame warranty and a one-year warranty on pins, hardware, pulleys and cables.
The Bowflex Xtreme 2 SE’s design has improvements on Bowflex’s rod weight system. One of the complaints of previous versions is the time it takes to move the cables and rods between exercises. With the No-Change Cable Pulley System on this machine, you don’t need to move the cables when changing between many exercises, reducing the time it takes to work out. That keeps your heart rate and calorie burn up while you lift.
The Xtreme 2 SE comes with 210 pounds worth of weights, but you can buy additional weights to increase the maximum resistance up to 410 pounds. It includes a squat station, leg extension and lat tower to target all of the body’s major muscle groups. In total, you can do 70+ exercises, and the manual has several suggested workouts to get you started.
This machine comes with a squat bar and ab crunch shoulder harness. Bowflex sells additional attachments you can purchase separately, including a preacher curl, tricep rope and lumbar pad. The Xtreme 2 SE comes with a seven-year guarantee, but the weight rods have a lifetime guarantee.
The Synergee Lat Pulldown Machine has a smaller footprint and lower price than several of the machines on our list. It’s also more specific in the muscle groups it targets. This machine focuses on the upper body, providing the handles and adjustment options to perform:
You can get creative with this machine and do other exercises, but these are all of those recommended by the manufacturer. The Synergee uses a cable pulley system that glides smoothly. As one user from Synergeefitness.com put it: “I love this machine. It tracks as smooth as silk.” It has a maximum resistance of 250 pounds. However, it requires one- to two-inch weight plates that are not included in the purchase price. That means you’ll need to factor in extra cash if you don’t already own plates.
It occasionally arrives with a few missing pieces, but Synergee’s customer service team responds quickly to fix any issues. The same Synergeefitness.com reviewer said, “ I ran into a bit of a problem when assembling though. It was shipped with a few missing nuts and bolts but I contacted the company and they were very helpful and apologetic.” You have 30 days to return the machine—hassle-free—if you’re not satisfied.
Purchase Synergee Lat Pulldown Machine
The Titan Fitness Plate Loaded Functional Trainer has a maximum resistance of 660 pounds that you load using Olympic weight plates. Plates aren’t included with the machine, so keep that in mind as you're calculating the overall cost. This large machine has a pulley system that works in conjunction with the supplied accessories to supply resistance for both the upper and lower body. It comes with stirrup panels, a lat bar handle and a low-row handle. There is also a pull-up bar at the front and rubber feet that can bolt to the ground. The adjustable pulleys work smoothly, and the high maximum resistance is enough for advanced weightlifters.
This machine is wide. As one reviewer from Titan.fitness.com points out: “The only thing I would caution someone is the space. A functional trainer that comes with weight blocks would be a foot less in depth (which may matter if you have a small space like a garage gym)—that said non-plated functional trainers are more expensive and also may not come with lat pulldown.” Reviewers on Titan’s website sing praises for this machine, though they do point out that assembly can be a bit tricky and takes some time, averaging out at around six hours. Titan includes a one-year warranty, which seems a little short for a machine at this price.
Purchase Titan Fitness Plate Loaded Functional Trainer
The Rogue Monster Lite Slinger works a little differently than the other cable machines on our list. This is actually an add-on piece or rack-mounted cable pulley system that you attached to an existing machine, specifically a power rack made by Rogue. This machine is a space saver, but you have to be careful before you invest and make sure it will work for you. It’s only compatible with Rogue Monster Lite Racks, and even then, only certain models. Do your homework before buying because more than one reviewer on Roguefitness.com thought their Monster Lite Rack was compatible, but it turned out not to be.
The benefit of this type of machine is that you can attach it to an already existing setup, saving you money and space. Rogue offers three resistance options with the Lite Slinger—300 pound weight stack ($795), resistance band kit ($45) or plate-loaded resistance ($135). You can also choose a tricep strap type between a pioneer tricep strap ($35) or a Rogue tricep strap ($25). Some Rogue machines will also require an optional Slinger Crossmember, which is a bar that adds holes to the top and bottom of tubes in order to mount the Slinger. This, too, comes at an additional cost unless your machine already has the necessary holes.
One reviewer who got the parts needed to fit the Lite Slinger to their existing setup says, “So I bought the slinger + plate loader. Both are perfect. The plate loader is big enough to hold 45s so I can get a fairly strong workout out of it. The plate loader is super easy to take off as well so I just remove it if I am doing squats or anything in the rack. Other than that the slinger does not get in the way at all. Highly recommend just remember when ordering to make sure they send you the right Crossmember bars— you need the ones with holes as well as two at the top bars. But it's easy to install. Takes up such a small footprint for the added versatility you get.” Rogue breaks down its warranty by parts. The pulley wheels and cables with this machine come with a five-year warranty.
Purchase Rogue Monster Lite Slinger
If you have limited space or travel frequently, the MAXPRO SmartConnect Cable Machine is a powerful yet portable piece of exercise equipment. The MAXPRO SmartConnect is a foldable cable unit that can be used alone or with a range of accessories. The basic package includes:
It connects to the MAXPRO Fitness app, where you can access trainer-led workouts. The MAXPRO app provides more than just access to workouts. It also tracks fitness goals, performance and estimates the cable life. The premium subscription is free for the first month. Thereafter, you have to either pay for the premium subscription or stick with the free option, which still offers access to a limited number of workouts. You can also separately purchase a wall mount kit, backpack or foldable bench.
Reviewers on Amazon consistently report that the MAXPRO helps them be more consistent with their workouts because they can take it with them on vacation or while traveling for business. One said, “The main reason I bought the Max Pro is because I've found that one of my biggest weaknesses is that I'll get into a habit of working out and then I'll go on vacation or a business trip and get thrown off completely. I have no such excuse with the Max Pro. I'm writing this review now having worked out with the MaxPro five to six times per week for about nine weeks now. (Almost exclusively on the MaxPro).”
While some users may be able to max out this machine for lower body exercise, like deadlifts, the MAXPRO offers versatile (and space-saving) ways to work out at home or on the road. The MAXPRO comes with a 30-day return period and a two-year warranty.
Purchase MAXPRO SmartConnect Cable Machine
The XMark Functional Trainer Cable Machine has two 200-pound stacks with a two-to-one ratio for the faster response needed for functional training. Each of the 19 settings is set 3.5 inches apart, providing a wide range of placements to target different muscle groups. It’s easy to make those adjustments using the pop-pin locking mechanism.
The XMark has a smooth pulley system, and can challenge beginner to advanced athletes. It comes with the following accessories:
Pull-up handles on the top of the frame and storage pegs complete the built-in features. Overall, this is a solid, high-quality machine for the home gym. However, it’s big and heavy, requiring a dedicated home gym space. The two weight stacks alone weigh 400 pounds. While XMark doesn’t include the total weight of the entire machine, it's made of heavy 11-gauge steel. It might look pricey, but it’s difficult to find a machine at this price that includes two 200-pound weight stacks. The XMark has a one-year warranty on expendable parts like cables and pulleys, while the frame and welds have a lifetime guarantee.
Purchase XMark Functional Trainer Cable Machine
Not everyone has a couple of thousand dollars to drop on a cable machine. If you’re working with a more conservative budget, the GDLF Lat Pulldown Machine offers smooth movement at an affordable price. For the price, it comes with a decent maximum resistance capacity of 350 pounds. The price does not include standard weight plates. If you don’t already own some, you’ll have to purchase them separately. The adjustable seat can hold up to 500 pounds, making this machine an option for larger users. You can challenge your upper body from a number of different angles, from lat pulldowns to low rows.
The low price point means you have to give up some versatility. However, this machine can handle its stated maximum weight and still keep smooth motion. According to one Amazon reviewer, “This machine isn’t huge but most people will be able to get a full range of motion. It is surprisingly sturdy and smooth when performing exercises. The pulleys are made of a hard plastic so I see myself replacing those at some point if they don’t hold up but they seem to be good.”
One thing to keep in mind is that the cable can come out of the pulley tracks when there’s no weight on the bars. Also, the GDLF can be difficult to assemble, and there’s no warranty.
Purchase GDLF Lat Pulldown Machine
Cable machines, sometimes called cable pulley machines, are a versatile piece of equipment that can be used by professional athletes and absolute beginners alike. A few reasons you might consider a cable machine include:
Cable machines use weight, cables and a pulley system to create resistance. When pulled (or pushed), the cables keep your muscles under constant, consistent tension. Cable machines often have weights stacks or pegs for weight plates to adjust the resistance. Weight stacks are the faster of the two options, but many cable machines make it faster to get through your workout. They typically include several types of cable handles that attach to a swivel joint at the end of the cable.
Most machines have two cables (some have more), each connected to a weight stack or weight peg for weight plates. There’s space between the cables to allow you to use them together or separately. Many designs have adjustable pulleys that can move to different positions on a track to change the angle of the resistance and target different muscle groups.
Some simpler cable machines, like lat pulldown machines, don’t have a track or adjustable pulleys, limiting their versatility. However, they often have several attachment points to target several areas of the upper body, and sometimes, the lower body, too.
Many cable machines make it easy to increase and decrease the weight load. For some, it’s as easy as moving a pin on the weight stack. Others may require weight plates or twisting a dial. You can often save time using a cable machine because you don’t have to get separate dumbbells, load weights on a barbell or walk to a different machine.
Depending on the design, the cable machine may allow you to move the position of the cable along a track. This lets you target specific muscle groups and movements in ways that are difficult to achieve with free weights or machines. You can also step closer or farther from the machine or raise or lower the adjustable pulley to increase or decrease the range of motion. And even more interesting, a small 2016 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that using different cable handles activated and targeted different muscle groups.
There is no risk of dropping a weight on yourself while using a cable machine. They also prevent your joints from taking on the full load because there’s only tension when you push or pull on the handles.
A small 2017 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that cable machines use a greater range of motion and activate more core musculature when compared to weight-loaded machines or selectorized machines (like a rowing machine or bicep machine). It was preceded by an older 2007 study that found that a standing cable press activated more core muscles than a traditional bench press.
The evidence suggests that cable machines work more than just the targeted mover muscles and major muscle groups. If you do standing or low rows on a cable machine, the core has to engage to keep the body stable and quiet while the back, shoulders and biceps get to work.
Finally, cable exercises keep your muscles under constant tension throughout the entire range of motion. The previously mentioned 2017 study found that cable machines could use a greater range of motion and in more versatile positions.
Like every piece of fitness equipment, cable machines have their drawbacks, including:
No direct resistance: Without direct resistance, you have to use a little extra effort at the beginning of each exercise to counteract friction.
No form support: When compared to cable machines, exercise machines generally make it easier for you to use correct form. A cable machine leaves room for a wider range of motion in several directions, including directions that you may not want to go. You need to understand and study the form before taking on some exercises.
Maximum weight could be limited: Every cable machine has a maximum resistance limit. Some may have a limit of 200 pounds while others have a limit of 600 pounds. There’s always the potential for you to be able to lift more weight than the machine offers, which could also limit your progress.
Some cable machines open the door to a variety of exercises. These machines are typically large with two weight stacks separated by a good amount of space. The last pulley in the system can also be moved up and down a track to target different muscle groups. They may also include different cable attachment options to work everything from the glutes to the pecks for a serious full-body workout. Models with chin-up bars and multiple pull-up bar handles can add even more ways to challenge your muscles.
Lat pulldown machines, a subset of cable machines, are more limited in what they can do. They have a single weight stack and typically only let you target the upper body.
Maximum weight comes into play in a couple of different ways when looking at a cable machine. First, and the most important, is the machine’s maximum resistance. Machines that max out at 100-200 pounds may not have enough weight resistance to keep challenging some people. It all depends on your fitness goals and fitness level. Some people may need a machine that maxes out at 600 pounds. Others will stay well challenged with one that has two 100-pound weight stacks. Keep in mind that a higher maximum resistance weight comes with a higher price. Weights are expensive. Plus, the machine needs stability in the form of a sturdy frame to support that additional weight.
Most cable machines require a dedicated workout space because they are large and heavy. Measure your available space, and look for a machine that not only fits in that space but also leaves clearance. You may need a few feet of clearance above, in front of and to each side of the cable machine. If you’re tight on space, there are smart wall-mounted models, and lat pulldown machines are a smaller type of cable machine.
Gone are the days when you needed a personal trainer to show you how to use machines and guide you through workouts. While that’s still an option, there are smart cable machines that connect to apps where you can get guided workouts, track stats and connect with other users.
These machines may also include technology that adjusts the resistance through your range of motion to better challenge your muscles. Smart cable machines are expensive, but for some people, they can replace a gym membership and a personal trainer. Smart machines are some of the most expensive on the market; however, they’re often space and time savers.
Cable machines get pricey. They run from basic lat pulldown machines that let you do four to eight exercises and cost around $250 to $400 to full, commercial-grade machines that cost anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000. Smart cable machines are in this higher price range, too, though they’re not usually as heavy as commercial-grade machines.
Keep in mind that your available space might also price you out of some of the bigger, heavier machines. Our list includes several models that fall in the middle ground, costing between $1,000 and $1,500, which is a good price as long as the machine includes a decent maximum resistance level.
Depending on the cable machine’s pulley system design, the machine may function at a one-to-one ratio or a two-to-one ratio. At a one-to-one ratio, the weight plate moves the same amount as the cable. This ratio is used for heavier lifts requiring slower movement. At a two-to-one ratio, the cable travels twice as far as the weight stack. This ratio is used in functional movements where you might use bursts of speed to train for a specific sport. However, it means when the stack says 20 pounds, you’re actually experiencing 10 pounds of resistance.
A two-to-one pulley ratio means that the cable moves twice as far as the weight stack when pulled. You may put on 20 pounds of weight, but because of the pulley system, it’s equal to 10 pounds of resistance.
Cables or dumbbells isn’t an either-or question. It’s more a matter of goals. Cable machines provide more range of motion, consistent weight and activation of stabilizer muscles. Dumbbells, depending on the exercise, primarily activate your major mover muscles with little help from stabilizers. They also put a direct load on your joints and require slower movements. Either is a good way to workout, but many people can benefit from switching back and forth to get the benefits of both.
Cable machines are excellent for building muscle and even bodybuilding because the muscle experiences consistent resistance through the range of motion.
Not all gyms have cable machines, but many professional gyms do. They often have different types of cable stations where you can switch out different cable handles to target specific muscle groups.
A full cable machine with two weight stacks can usually activate the major muscle groups and stabilizing muscles of the upper and lower body.
If you want to skip a commercial gym altogether, a cable machine is an excellent addition to a home gym. It can easily replace exercise equipment that’s less versatile. Lifters who want to sculpt their bodies can use a cable machine to target specific muscle groups, including small ones that are often missed with free weights. Beginners can start building general strength and coordination, too.
Prices are accurate and items in stock as of publish time.
Commercial Gym Barbell Stacey L. Nash is a health and fitness writer as well as a NASM-certified personal trainer and nutrition coach. She loves to run but always self-discloses that she’s not fast and thinks everyone should be able to enjoy physical activity whether they’re at the front or back of the pack. She’s written for SI.com, GarageGymReviews.com, PopSci.com, Futurism.com, Greatist.com, and others in the health and wellness field. This author is writing sponsored content paid for by Pillar4 and not affiliated with Sports Illustrated.