Top 10 cable attachments to target your training and fine-tune your results
When the subject is lifting weights, many people say that hand position is everything. Some claim that it’s all about the angles. Others say you have to go by feel. These different opinions become even more overwhelming when you try to figure out what cable attachment to use and when.
Don’t be intimidated by the number of attachments available in the gym. As long as your form is good, you aren’t likely to go wrong; with a little creativity virtually any bar can be used for any exercise. To help take the guesswork out of using cable attachments, we list our top 10 choices here, recommend the exercises they should be used for and highlight the advantages they offer.
Parallel-Arm Lat Bar
This lat bar has handles at each end that allow you to maintain a neutral grip during pull-downs, rows and curls. During pull-downs and rows, a neutral grip will hit the lower lats, rhomboids and middle traps hard and may be more comfortable for your wrists. When using this bar, make sure you hold your elbows tight along your body as you pull or row. This variety of the pull-down is very similar to a row and will elicit comparable muscle action. When using a neutral grip during curling motions, the brachialis muscle is heavily stressed along with the lateral head of the biceps brachii.
We love all rope exercises because they incorporate gripping strength and a full range of motion with every exercise. Even though the rope can be more difficult to use than the other attachments, you’ll find the investment well worth the trouble. Implementing a twist at the end of the motion really makes a difference in the amount of stress you place on the triceps! You can execute triceps pressdowns and overhead extensions, rows and straight-arm pull-downs, hammer and supinated curls, and abdominal crunches. You can even perform single-arm versions of most of these exercises by knotting the unused side around the upper part of the rope.
When this bar connects to a cable it looks like an upside-down V, with its long handles for gripping projecting out to the sides. Because of its design, this bar may relieve some of the load on the wrists during heavy triceps pressdowns. Other exercises you can perform with the V-bar are pronated and supinated rows and pull-downs, depending on how you grip the handle.
Here’s the attachment everyone is Familiar with — simply grab and go. Practically any upperbody muscle in any range of motion can be worked with this attachment and, best of all, you can use it to train your muscles unilaterally (you train each side of your body separately). If one side of your body is weaker than the other, you can really stress it using the D-grip. With this one little handle, you can execute myriad biceps curls; triceps kickbacks, pressdowns and extensions; chest flyes and crossovers; back rows; and lateral raises.
For maximal muscle activation, keep a few tips in mind. For working the triceps brachii, nothing beats the underhand, supinated grip. Using cables and a D-grip is a great way to stimulate chest muscle fibers that may never get stimulated from other exercises. When doing crossovers, do as the name implies and allow your arms to cross over enough so your elbows touch; the final few inches of the movement maximally activate the inner portions of the pecs. Here, the heated discussions about hand rotation may have some merit. Rotating your hands throughout the movement may not directly allow you to recruit more muscle fibers in your chest, but it will allow you to bring your arms closer together or cross over farther.
Short Straight Bar
This bar mimics an Olympic bar in shape, but has a smaller grip width. The exercises performed with it similar to the EZ-bar. Because of its locked and rigid position, however, it places more stress on the wrists. Those trainees with wrist problems may want to avoid using this bar altogether and opt for the straight bar with the rotating sleeve. Try the EZ-bar and both the straight and rotating-sleeve bar to determine which feels more comfortable, and use that one. Since they stress the muscles the same, the only variable would be the comfort factor. Make sure all exercises are pain-free.
As the name implies, the at bar is primarily used when training the lats and other back muscles in the form of pull-downs. The most common lat bar is a long shaft that bends down on both sides. As a general rule, the wider the grip, the greater the upper latissimus. In the pronated (overhand) wide-grip variation, the upper latissimus dorsi, the teres major, the middle and lower trapezius, and the rhomboids are the major back muscles involved. The more narrow your grip, the greater the emphasis on the lower lats and traps. It’s important to include both wide- and narrow-grip pull-downs in your routine to completely develop the lats and to improve sports performance
This bar looks like an inverted “U’ or “V,” and some versions even come with stoppers on the ends to help keep your hands from slipping off. Of course, you’ll use this for triceps pressdowns, and you may want to try it for overhead triceps extensions as well. Because of the practically neutral grip, this attachment stresses all three heads of the triceps brachil when used in the arms-overhead position. If you want to get rid of those flabby arms that wave back at you, this is the perfect attachment.
This bar is shaped like a flattened-out “W,” providing two places to grip — along the straight outside of the bar or in the angled inside of the bar. You’ll typically use this bar for biceps curls and triceps pressdowns, but it’s also useful for upright rows. So the question of where and how to grip for maximum effectiveness remains. Remember that with any biceps exercise, a supinated (palms-up) grip emphasizes the biceps, a pronated (palms-down) grip emphasizes the brachialis, and a neutral grip emphasizes the brachioradialis. Grasping the EZ-bar inside the “W” as opposed to outside doesn’t seem to alter biceps function too significantly, so hold the bar where you feel most comfortable.
With triceps pressdowns, grip makes a considerable difference. To stress the triceps, the supinated grip is superior.Grasping the bar too wide may force you to employ some pectoralis musculature, so stay narrow.
Straight Bar W/Rotating Sleeve
The rotating sleeve solves the problem of wrist discomfort by allowing a freer range of motion in the wrists in curls, pressdowns, overhead extensions and upright rows. Although you may be performing triceps pressdowns, the rotating sleeve makes the forearm musculature work as well. So you get a bigger bang for your training buck.
You know those triangle-shaped things that look like you could play music on them? They’re actually used for rowing, not symphonies, and are one of the most effective attachments to train your back. The neutral grip is key for maximizing force in the rhomboids and lats. You might see the triangles with a narrow, medium and wide grip. Try all of the variations for a slight change in muscular activation, but for the most part, the neutral grip is what remains important.
For perfect technique with any rowing movement, your back should remain motionless, upright and held in a slight arch.This will maximize the contribution of the lats, rhomboids and traps, and minimize the pulling done by the lower back muscles.