In the realm of chest exercises, the first moves that may come to mind might include classics like the barbell bench press or push-ups. 

However, gym-goers who’ve been training for any length of time will know the value of the cable machine in carving out a big chest.

While moves like the cable fly are a staple in many gym programs, these machines are a lot more versatile than you may think.

This article will provide 16 of the best cable chest exercise variations for you to use in your chest program.

We’ll provide example cable chest workouts you can use, regardless of your current training routine.

Table of Contents:

  • Are cable exercises good for chest development?
  • What are the benefits of training cables?
  • What part of the chest do the cables work?
  • When should I train my chest?
  • 16 Best Cable Chest Exercises
  • Cable Chest Workout Program
  • Cable Chest Machine Recommended Rep Range, Load, and Progression
  • The Benefits of Training Chest with Cables Compared to Barbells and Machines
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Closing Comments

Are cable exercises good for chest development?

Cable Chest Workout

This guide includes exercises that develop various parts of the chest musculature.

Using the exercises and workouts in this list, you’ll provide muscle-building stimulus to every part of the major muscle groups in the chest.

We’ll also explain why using the cable machine for the chest, in particular, is so effective.

What are the benefits of training cables?

The cable machine is phenomenal for training the chest for several reasons.

First, The ability to change the height of the handles makes the machine versatile. It’s good for hitting different angles of the muscle and for people of different proportions.

Another benefit is the ability to change weight with a quick pull of the pin. No messing around pulling plates on and off every time you need to adjust the weight!

The third benefit of using cables is safety. Although you still have to use good techniques to avoid wrong joint positioning, you don’t have to worry about dropping weight on yourself.

Drawbacks of Using Cables

One of the drawbacks of using cables to train the chest is that the exercises require some fiddling to get into the starting positions.

Another is that the greater degree of freedom of movement means there is a risk of injury, even though the cable machine is a relatively safe piece of equipment.

Finally, a drawback of cable machines is that you need access to one. Plus, it needs to be available when you get to the gym.

You’ll see how effective they are at training the chest when you can use the cable machine.

What part of the chest do cables work?

The chest musculature is primarily made up of the pectoralis major, with the smaller pectoralis minor underneath.

The pec major originates from the sternum, middle ribs, and medial collarbone, converging into a tendon that inserts into the upper arm.

The pec major is a prime mover in shoulder flexion, adduction, and internal rotation. It also plays a role in stabilizing the shoulder joint.

The different sections of the pectoralis become more active in certain shoulder positions. 

For example, shoulder flexion motions stimulate the upper fibers of the muscle. Horizontal flexion utilizes the middle segment of the muscle.

The cable exercises in this list will engage the entire pec muscle, with specific moves for the upper, middle, and lower portions.

Different exercises will also focus on the stretched or lengthened position, while others will challenge the muscle in a maximally contracted position.

In addition, specific exercises will allow you to increase the load, stimulating growth through mechanical demand on the muscle. 

Other movements will require lighter weights but provide a safe way to push to muscle failure, stimulating the metabolic pathways of muscle growth.

Long story short, the cable chest exercises in this guide will lead to maximal chest growth.

When should I train my chest?

The exercises in this guide can be used as part of any training split for the chest portion. 

Depending on your training routine, you may train your chest with other muscle groups, such as the shoulders and triceps.

The perfect way to combine your muscle groups is to read the 3 day workout split on how to train efficiently and plan your workout schedule.

Alternatively, you might give the chest its own dedicated workout session.

We’ve got example cable chest workouts for you to use in your training split.

16 Best Cable Chest Exercises

Cable Chest Exercises

These exercises will collectively cover everything you need for a fully developed chest.

Some moves focus on strength, while others are better suited for muscle growth or endurance.

Specific exercises will target the upper fibers, some the lower section, and others the middle portion of the muscle.

In addition, some exercises create a great stretch under tension for the pecs. Others will give you a chest contraction like you’ve never felt before!

1. Standing Cable Chest Press

Related: Cable Shoulder Workouts

First, we have a functional, multi-joint cable chest movement, the standing chest press.

Being on your feet allows your entire body to get involved in a stabilizing capacity while the pecs, delts and triceps guide the press.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handles

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cables at chest height.
  • Grab both handles and stand in the center of the machine.
  • Step forward with one foot and lean slightly forward at the hips.
  • Bring the cable handles to either side of the chest.
  • Breathe out as you press the handles straight out in front of the chest.
  • Focus on squeezing the pecs as hard as you can.
  • Slowly control the handles back to the starting position.

Pro Tips: 

  • Brace the core and keep the weight in the front foot to avoid swinging the body to cheat the movement.

2. Seated Cable Chest Press

Next, we have a seated variation to allow the primary muscles to feel more of the resistance.

The upper body push muscles still work in tandem here, and you’re able to lift more weight without leaning with your body weight to cheat the movement.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handles
  • Adjustable bench

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cables at chest height.
  • Set up the bench with the backrest vertical.
  • Grab both handles and sit on the bench in the center of the machine.
  • Bring the cable handles to either side of the chest.
  • Breathe out as you press the handles straight out in front of the chest.
  • Push the hands slightly closer to each other at the end range.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

Pro Tips: 

  • Experiment with neutral, pronated, or rotating grip to see what gives you the best chest connection.

3. Seated Cable Chest Fly

We now want to start isolating the pecs from the same seated position. 

The cable chest fly mainly recruits the middle portion of the pecs in horizontal shoulder flexion.

This move is also excellent for providing load to the muscle in a stretched position, stimulating growth and improving your range of motion.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handles
  • Adjustable bench

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cables at chest height.
  • Set up the bench with the backrest vertical.
  • Grab both handles and sit on the bench in the center of the machine.
  • Reach the arms out to either side with a slight bend in the elbows.
  • Breathe out as you bring the hands together in a wide arc out in front of the chest.
  • Focus on squeezing the hands together as hard as you can.
  • Slowly control the arc back out to the stretch position.

Pro Tips: 

  • Keep the chest proud and avoid caving it in with rounded shoulders to cheat the weight forward.

4. Cable Bench Press

We move the bench flat to allow a supine lifting position, more closely mimicking a barbell bench press.

Pushing away from the ground allows you to lift more weight, with a unique twist from the cable variant.

While the resistance from a barbell bench press is strictly against gravity, the cable bench press also requires you to resist the handles pulling away from each other.

Try one day of performing a bench press with a barbell, then try the cable version. You will feel the difference in how the cables destroy your inner pecs – in the best way.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handles
  • Adjustable bench

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cables at the lowest height.
  • Set up the bench with the backrest flat.
  • Grab both handles and lay down on the bench in the center of the machine.
  • Bring the cable handles to either side of the chest.
  • Breathe out as you press the handles straight out in front of the chest.
  • Focus on squeezing the chest muscles as hard as you can.
  • Slowly control the handles back to the starting position.

Pro Tips: 

  • Try to keep the hands equal distance apart throughout the movement.

5. Lying Cable Chest Fly

The supine variation of the cable fly allows you to shift a bit more weight while isolating the pecs.

To increase the range of motion, a swiss ball can allow the shoulder blades to contract around the arched surface.

This version of a lying fly is safer than a dumbbell version, as there is less risk of straining your shoulders in the stretched position.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handles
  • Adjustable bench

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cables at the lowest height.
  • Set up the bench with the backrest flat.
  • Grab both handles and lay down on the bench in the center of the machine.
  • Reach the arms out to either side, with a slight bend in the elbows.
  • Breathe out as you bring the hands together in a wide arc out in front of the chest.
  • Avoid letting the back arch off the bench.
  • Slowly control the cables back to the starting position.

Pro Tips: 

  • Use a Bosu ball instead of a bench to get a better stretch in the chest at the bottom of the motion.

6. Standing Cable Crossover

Coming back to an athletic standing position, we now take advantage of one of the main benefits of the cables.

The crossover movement allows the chest muscles to perform one of their main (and most underutilized) functions.

The key to this move is bringing the arms across the midline of the body, getting the best contraction of the pecs in a shortened position.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handles

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cables at chest height.
  • Grab both handles and stand in the center of the machine.
  • Step forward with one foot and lean slightly forward at the hips.
  • Reach the arms out to either side, with a slight bend in the elbows.
  • Breathe out as you press the handles out and cross the hands over each other.
  • Contract the pecs as hard as you can.
  • Slowly control back to the starting position.

Pro Tips: 

  • Alternate which hand goes over the top in each repetition to avoid muscle imbalances.

7. Single-Arm Cable Crossover

While the crossover exercise above will allow you to shift more weight, the single arm variation is one of the best chest (and trunk) exercises you can include in your program.

It allows complete focus on one pec at a time and it requires a lot of work from the obliques and deeper core muscles as anti-rotators.

This exercise is a must include if you want a thick, muscular torso to complement your chest growth.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handle

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cable at chest height.
  • Grab the handle and stand in the center of the machine.
  • Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart, at a slight angle to the cable.
  • Reach the arm out to the side with a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Breathe out as you press the handle out and across the midline of the chest.
  • Focus on squeezing the pec as hard as you can.
  • Slowly control the handle back to the starting position.

Pro Tips: 

  • Use this single-arm variation to involve the core and other anterior trunk muscles as stabilizers.

8. Cable Straight Arm Pullovers

The cable pullover puts the chest through a different range of motion than the press and fly movements.

By bringing the arms from full shoulder flexion down through extension, we target the lower portion of the sternal head of the pecs.

While this motion also recruits the lats and triceps, some simple adjustments in grip and focus will have you blowing up the chest with this exercise.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • Straight handle
  • Adjustable bench

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cables at the lowest height.
  • Set up the bench with the backrest flat, with the head end next to the pulley.
  • Grab the handle and lay down on the bench.
  • Reach the arms out overhead, with the elbows straight.
  • Breathe out as you pull the bar down in a wide arc until it is above the lower chest.
  • Focus on squeezing the pecs hard.
  • Slowly control the handles back to the stretched position.

Pro Tips: 

  • Grip the handle tight and squeeze your hands towards each other to engage the pecs rather than the lats in this move.

9. Standing Cable Decline Chest Press

This exercise is another excellent mass and strength builder for those who want to target the lower chest.

The standing position lends itself particularly well to pushing at this downward angle.

The cables also allow slight supination of the grip at the bottom of the move for that slight extra contraction.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handles 

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cables at the top height.
  • Grab both handles and stand in the center of the machine.
  • Step forward with one foot and lean slightly forward at the hips.
  • Bring the cable handles to either side of the chest.
  • Breathe out as you press the handles downward at a 45-degree angle.
  • Focus on squeezing the lower chest together as hard as you can.
  • Slowly control the handles back to the sides of the chest.

Pro Tips: 

  • If you’re finding yourself being pulled back or having to lean too far forward, the weight may be too heavy.

10. Cable Incline Bench Press

We come to one of the best exercises for building that ‘shelf’ of an upper chest.

The incline bench on the cables is an underused chest exercise, with most people opting for the barbell or dumbbell variation.

However, using the cables is probably the best variation in shoulder safety, so give it a try if you usually skip incline presses due to tight shoulders.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handles
  • Adjustable bench

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cables at the lowest height.
  • Set up the bench with the backrest at the desired incline.
  • Grab both handles and sit on the bench in the center of the machine.
  • Bring the cable handles to either side of the chest.
  • Breathe out as you press the handles straight up in front of the upper chest.
  • Focus on squeezing the upper pecs hard.
  • Perform a slow eccentric portion back to the start.

Pro Tips: 

  • Experiment with different angles of incline to see what gives you the best connection to the clavicular head of the pecs.

11. Seated Cable Incline Chest Fly

One of the top picks for upper chest development, the cable incline chest fly is again maybe the safest version of this movement.

The cables pull the arms laterally rather than dumbbells that produce force directly down against gravity.

This provides a better stretch for the muscle and is safer for the shoulders.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handles
  • Adjustable bench

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cables at the lowest height.
  • Set up the bench with the backrest at the desired incline.
  • Grab both handles and sit on the bench in the center of the machine.
  • Reach the arms out to either side, with a slight bend in the elbows.
  • Breathe out as you bring the hands together in a wide arc out in front of the upper chest.
  • Focus on squeezing the pinkies together with the palms up.
  • Slowly control the hands down to an extended position.

Pro Tips: 

  • Again, experiment with the incline angle; don’t go so high as to recruit the anterior delts more than the chest.

12. Lying Cable Coffin Press

The coffin press is an auto-include on this list for several reasons, especially when using the cable variant.

There’s no better exercise if you want a shredded middle chest, and the cable version easily beats out the free weights.

This exercise requires you to contract the pecs hard throughout the entire press, and the cables will constantly challenge you as they pull away.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handles
  • Adjustable bench

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cables at the lowest height.
  • Set up the bench with the backrest flat or at a slight incline.
  • Grab both handles and lay down on the bench in the center of the machine.
  • Bring the cable handles together above the center of the chest.
  • Breathe out as you press the handles straight out in front of the chest.
  • Keep the handles pressed together throughout the movement.
  • Focus on squeezing the hands together as hard as you can.
  • Slowly control the handles back to just above the chest.

Pro Tips: 

  • This is a great exercise to tuck your chin and watch your chest contract hard. It’s a great visual tool to build that mind-muscle connection!

13. Standing Cable Incline Crossover

Another strong contender for king of the upper chest exercises, the incline crossover, is particularly effective for the inner portion of the clavicular pectoral head.

If you want to hit a side chest pose like Arnold, get a few sets of this exercise in first.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handles

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cables at the lowest height.
  • Grab both handles and stand in the center of the machine.
  • Step forward with one foot and lean slightly forward at the hips.
  • Reach the arms out to either side of the hips with a slight bend in the elbows.
  • Breathe out as you press the handles up and cross the hands over each other.
  • Focus on squeezing the pecs and keeping the elbows in.
  • Slowly control the handles back to the sides of the hips.

Pro Tips: 

  • Try different grips on this to see what works best for you. I personally prefer palms up with the pinkies meeting at the top.

14. Single-Arm Cable Decline Crossover

Another single arm variation making this list is the decline cable crossover.

This cable move allows you to get a great stretch at the top of the movement, with more freedom for a bit of rotation through the midsection.

This exercise is also an excellent way to tie the upper abdominals to the lower chest for a more aesthetic physique.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handle

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cable at the top height.
  • Grab the handle and stand in the center of the machine.
  • Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart, at a slight angle to the cable.
  • Reach the arm out to the side with a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Breathe out as you press the handle down and across the midline of the chest.
  • Bring the hand toward the opposite hip.
  • Focus on squeezing the pec as hard as you can.
  • Slowly bring the weight back to the starting position.

Pro Tips: 

  • It will be very tempting, but avoid leaning too far forward to push the weight down with your body weight.

15. Single-Arm Cable Incline Fly 

Like the decline version above, the single arm incline fly puts the pecs through a full range of motion.

The standing version of this move is more effective for the flexed position, while the bench variation is worth using if you want more stretch and core stabilization.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handle

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cable at the lowest height.
  • Set up the bench with the backrest at the desired incline.
  • Grab the handle and sit on the bench in the center of the machine.
  • Reach the arm out to the side with a slight bend in the elbow.
  • Breathe out as you bring the handle in a wide arc out across the midline of the upper chest.
  • Focus on squeezing the arm across the midline of the chest.
  • Slowly control back to the starting position.

Pro Tips: 

  • Press the feet hard into the ground and squeeze the glutes and abs to avoid twisting or losing balance.

16. Cable Shoulder Internal Rotation

Finally, we need a cable exercise to train another essential movement of the chest musculature, internal rotation at the shoulder.

This move also targets the subscapularis, a rotator cuff muscle that stabilizes and internally rotates the arm at the shoulder joint.

While many people include external rotation exercises – which are great for shoulder strength and reduced injury risk – we can’t forget the opposing movement.

Fitness Equipment Required:

  • Cable machine
  • D Handle

How-To Perform Exercise:

  • Set the cable at elbow height.
  • Grab the handle and stand in the center of the machine.
  • Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Reach the arm out to the side with a 90-degree bend in the elbow.
  • Breathe out as you pull the handle around and across the midline of the chest.
  • Bring the hand toward the opposite side of the torso.
  • Focus on squeezing the handle and contracting the chest.
  • Slowly control the handle back until the forearm is externally rotated.

Pro Tips: 

  • Keep the working elbow glued to your side as you rotate the forearm across the body.

Cable Chest Workout Program

See Also: Dumbbell Tricep Exercises And Workout

Now, let’s take the exercises above and put them together in your own program.

There are workouts here for different ability levels and an option for training synergistic muscle groups in the same session.

Please include an appropriate warm-up and cool-down routine around these cable chest workout.

Examples of effective post-workout chest stretches include the doorway pec stretch and the prone straight-arm twist stretch.

Beginner Cable Chest Workout

ExerciseSets x RepsRest
Seated cable chest press 3×101 min
Seated cable incline chest fly3×101 min
Standing decline chest press3×101 min
Cable shoulder internal rotation2×101 min

Advanced Cable Chest Workout

ExerciseSets x RepsRest
Lying cable coffin press3×81 min
Seated cable incline chest fly3×121 min
Standing cable crossover3×101 min
Single-arm cable decline crossover3×1230 sec (after second side)
Cable straight-arm pullovers3×101 min

Cable Chest Workout Including Shoulders and Triceps

ExerciseSets x RepsRest
Standing cable chest press3×81 min
Seated cable incline chest fly3×101 min
Single-arm cable decline crossover3×101 min
OH press3×101 min
Cable lateral raise3×101 min
Cable tricep pushdown3×101 min

Cable Chest Machine Recommended Rep Range, Load, and Progression

Strength

Getting stronger requires stimulating high mechanical tension and attaining high fast-twitch muscle fiber recruitment levels.

It is recommended to train with loads of >85% of your one repetition max (1RM), with 1-5 repetitions and rest breaks of 3-5 minutes.

While specific cable chest exercises can be done in this fashion, they can be challenging in certain positions where your body weight might not be sufficient to counterbalance the weight you need to lift.

Hypertrophy 

For muscle growth, the goal is to create metabolic stress in the muscle to induce muscle hypertrophy.

The exercise prescription for this goal is 3-6 sets of 6-12 repetitions, using moderate loads of 60-80% 1RM and 60-second rest intervals.

The cable machine is highly effective in allowing lifters to safely push to volitional fatigue in order to stimulate maximum muscle growth.

Endurance

When aiming for localized muscular endurance, it is necessary to decrease the load and increase the time the muscle has to perform.

For example, rep ranges for increasing muscle endurance are 12-15 and above, with shorter rest breaks of about 30 seconds.

Again, the cables are ideal for this purpose, with easily adjustable and incremental loads, allowing for quick transitions with techniques like drop sets.

The Benefits of Training Chest with Cables Compared to Barbells and Machines

Cables vs. Barbell

Cables Vs Barbell

The mighty barbell has been shown to elicit the same level of pec muscle activation as the cable crossover exercise, making them equal in this regard.

As mentioned in the strength section, the cables may not be ideal when training for maximal strength.

We know that the barbell bench press is the king of upper body push exercises for building strength.

Because the cable machine creates different joint angles and loading patterns, the research suggests a combination of barbell bench press and cable exercises to train full muscular coordination.

Cables vs. Dumbbells

Cables Vs Dumbbells

While dumbbells and cables are similar in some ways, one could argue the following points in the cables’ favor.

While both methods allow for excellent freedom of range of motion, the cable machine accommodates this while also protecting the lifter from completely losing control and dropping the weight.

Additionally, the cable machine maintains a more consistent resistance throughout the movement.

Take an exercise like chest flys. With the lying dumbbell version, the pecs lose tension at the top of the movement, while the cables create resistance against the hands.

Cables vs. Exercise Machines

Cables Vs Machine Exercises

The cables have some advantages when it comes to cables versus fixed-path machines.

For example, one study found the unrestricted cable machine to improve 1RM strength to a greater degree than the fixed machine.

The cable machine also showed higher EMG activity in the stabilizer muscles of the upper limb, resulting in more overall muscle recruitment.

Cables vs. Bodyweight

Cables Vs Bodyweight Exercises

While bodyweight training will always have a place in fitness for its versatility and functionality, the cable machine has a certain edge for chest training.

For instance, even basic exercises like push-ups can pose a leap in difficulty for novice lifters.

Using the cables is accessible to everyone, however, with the ability to start at minimal loads.

The cables are also more comfortable for people with wrist issues who have trouble putting their entire body weight through their hands and wrists.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you build a chest with cables?

Hopefully, this guide has shown that cables can help you develop a full, powerful chest.

The exercises included here can increase the strength, size, and endurance in all areas of your chest muscles.

Are cable workouts effective?

I believe that you can develop a robust and muscular physique using only a cable machine. 

While this wouldn’t necessarily be my first recommendation, it is helpful to know if, for some reason, the only equipment you have access to is a cable machine.

The cable machine is sufficient to meet most fitness goals for the chest.

Are cable exercises better than free weights?

As mentioned above, cable exercises for the chest have many advantages that free weights do with additional unique benefits.

To cover some of these briefly again, cable machines are easy to adjust, fast to change resistance levels, versatile in their attachments, and accessible to all ability levels.

While I wouldn’t say that cables are better than free weights in every situation, they are definitely on par in many ways.

How do I target my lower chest with cables?

Many people have the goal of shaping or firming up their lower chest.

The sternal head of the pectoral can be targeted with certain exercises, several of which are included in the list above.

Moves such as the standing decline cable chest press and single-arm cable decline fly are very effective for creating a connection with this part of the muscle.

The single-arm decline fly in particular, is a personal favorite. If you haven’t tried this exercise, I highly recommend it, as it might well be the best lower chest contraction you’ve felt.

Closing Thoughts

What do you think of our list?

We hope this article gave you some valuable tips and ideas for having a great chest workout using the cable machine.

Let us know your favorite cable chest exercises and how you incorporate the cable machine into your workout in the comments!

If you know someone looking for new ideas to train their chest with cables, don’t forget to share this article with them.