The cable machine.
Men’s Health once called it “the only gym machine you need”. We’re inclined to agree.
While we believe free weights are the best overall method for building strength and muscle, cables are a fantastic complement. Think of them like the Scottie Pippen to free weights’ Michael Jordan.
The cable machine is incredibly versatile. Its many different adjustable positions and attachments empower effective execution of an almost endless-array of exercises.
Yet this same versatility can also make the cable machine’s learning curve a little steeper than other machines. One component that can be particularly confusing? The attachments.
You may have found yourself sorting through a box of different cable machine attachments without any idea of when or how to use them. Consider this article your definitive guide to cable machine attachments.
The Tricep Rope Attachment
The tricep rope (also known as simply as “the rope”) is closely affiliated with the Tricep Pushdown.
The Tricep Pushdown is a classic exercise that effectively targets the triceps (which is the three-headed muscle that runs along the backside of your upper arm).
The tricep rope consists of a thick braided rope and two rubber or hard plastic end caps. A slidable clip hole attachment is used to affix it to the cable machine. The rope itself can twist and rotate, allowing lifters to utilize different grips and styles of execution.
The tricep rope is an excellent choice for exercises like:
- Tricep Pushdowns
- Tricep Overhead Extensions (a.k.a. Cable Skullcrushers)
- Tricep Kickbacks
- Face Pulls
- Cable Chops
- Cable Lifts
Face Pulls are a fantastic exercise. They can improve your posture, build muscle, and reduce common aches/pains in the shoulder and upper back. They are best done with a tricep rope attachment.
As Jeff Cavaliere of Athlean-X explains on his YouTube channel, “you wouldn’t want to attach a bar to (a Face Pull) because you’re going to limit the amount of rotation you can get, which is an all-important component of this exercise”.
Cavaliere actually recommends using two tricep rope attachments for Face Pulls, if possible:
If not, a single tricep rope is usually the best alternative.
This attachment is also great for Pull-Throughs, Seated Rows, Chops, Lifts, Resisted Crunches, Resisted Deadbugs, and Bicep Curls. The flexibility of the rope attachment allows for small tweaks that can make a significant difference in training effect. On Bicep Curls, for example, you can rotate the pinkies up at the top of the movement, which elicits a little extra activation.
While the tricep rope isn’t always the best attachment, there are very few cable machine exercises where it can't do a serviceable job.
The Straight Bar Attachment
The straight bar attachment is exactly as it sounds.
Imagine someone took a barbell, chopped off part of the middle section, then threw a clip hole attachment onto it. That’s the basic idea.
The straight bar can be a great choice for exercises where you want to maintain either a pronated (palms down) or supinated (palms up) position throughout the entirety of the movement. This can make it well-suited for:
While you can do plenty else with it — from Rows to Tricep Pushdowns to Reverse Grip Lat Pulldowns — other handles tend to be slightly better-suited for such movements. This isn’t true for everyone, however, so feel free to try the straight bar for a variety of exercises and see what works best for you.
The V-Shaped Tricep Bar Attachment
The v-shaped tricep bar (or simply V-bar) is a time-tested cable machine attachment.
Imagine someone took a straight bar attachment, bent it into the shape of a V, and added some sturdy end caps to prevent sweaty palms from slipping off the bar. That’s the v-shaped tricep bar.
Once upon a time, this was the attachment of choice for tricep-centric exercises like the Tricep Pushdown. Nowadays, though, many lifters prefer the tricep rope.
In a Reddit thread discussing the best attachment for Tricep Pushdowns, the top-voted commenter writes, “I prefer the rope simply because it’s the only attachment that lets my wrists rotate freely, and it keeps my elbows from hurting.”
Yet others in the very same thread say the V-shaped tricep bar helps them press more weight and experience less pain and discomfort compared to other attachments.
It comes down to personal preference. The added stability of the V-shaped tricep bar can help you press more weight, while the greater flexibility and length of the tricep rope can enhance range of motion and recruit a greater variety of musculature. Experiment with both.
The D Row Handle Attachment
The D Row Handle attachment features two rectangles adjoined together into a double-grip handle. Each rectangle resembles the letter “D”, which is why the D row handle attachment is sometimes known as a Double D attachment.
The D Row Handle is most commonly used for:
- Seated Cable Rows
- Lat Pulldowns
- Inverted Rows and Landmine/T-Bar Rows (these are done without a cable machine)
The nice thing about the D row handle is that it ensures you maintain a neutral grip throughout the exercise. Many lifters find using a neutral grip (meaning palms facing one another) is easier on their shoulders and elbows and helps them achieve a better training effect.
The D Row Handle also offers quite a bit of utility outside the cable machine, as it’s commonly used for Inverted Rows and Landmine (or T-Bar) Rows.
In a pinch, the Double D Handle can also be used as a replacement for the next item on our list.
The Simple Handle Attachment
The simple handle attachment is the most versatile cable machine attachment out there.
It’s a basic handle — nothing more, nothing less. Combined with the rotating design of the carabiner (the device used to affix attachments to the cable machine), the simple handle attachment allows you to use any grip you prefer. It also allows you to rotate your hands mid-movement. This makes it a comfortable way to execute many different exercises.
Common cable machine exercises that work great with a simple handle attachment include:
- Pallof Press
- Single-Arm Row
- Single-Arm Chest Press
- Single-Leg Deadlift
- Cable Crossover (requires two handles and cable stacks)
- Cable Chest Presses (requires two handles and cable stacks)
- High Cable Isolation Curls (requires two handles and cable stacks)
The possibilities only multiply when you have two cable stacks in close proximity to one another. This lets you attach a simple handle attachment to both machines to perform bilateral (meaning two-limbed) variations, including unique moves like the Cable Push Pull and Cable X Row. You can also attach two simple handle attachments to a single carabiner to approximate a tricep rope attachment.
The Lat Pull Down Attachment
The lat pull down attachment is designed for one specific movement — Lat Pulldowns.
In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find logical uses for it that aren’t a Lat Pulldown. This isn’t necessarily a drawback, though, as Lat Pulldowns are an incredible exercise. They effectively target the latissimus dorsi, or "lats", which are the broadest muscle in your back. Well-developed lats are a key component to an impressive physique.
The lat pulldown attachment is one of the widest attachments you’ll find and it features a slight downward bend closer to the handles. This lets you utilize a variety of different grips on your Lat Pulldowns.
A wide grip will force your lats to work a little harder. A reverse grip, alternatively, is done with the hands closer together and palms facing towards you. This grip will take some activation off your lats and put it onto on your biceps. A medium grip, meanwhile, sees your hands face away from you at a width that’s somewhere between a wide and reverse grip.
Another pro tip: loop your thumbs over the bar on any grip where your palms face away from you, and loop them under the bar on any grip where your palms face towards you.
Other Cable Machine Attachments
These are not the only attachments you could come across during your fitness journey.
Other common attachments include the cable curl bar, W bar, and straight double pulley attachment. These are best used for curl variations, row variations, and dual-pulley bilateral exercises (such as the Straight Bar Cable Bench Press), respectively.
Additional attachments include ankle cuffs (best used for glute-focused exercises), belts (best used for squats and lunges), and head attachments (best used for neck training).
These attachments aren’t exactly essential, but they do add additional options and potential additions to your cable machine workouts.
The Best Cable Machine Attachments for Your Gym
Do you train with a cable machine?
If not, do you want to?
Then you should consider the best attachments to have on-hand. Having a nice variety of available attachments will help ensure every exerciser can enjoy a safe, effective workout that meets their training goals.
In addition to a variety of cable machines that can affix right to a power cage, HulkFit offers a discounted bundle of four premium cable machine handle attachments. This bundle includes a Tricep Rope attachment, Straight Bar attachment, D Row Handle, and V-Shaped Tricep Bar. These durable, high-quality attachments can instantly take your cable training to a whole new level.