Among the many pieces of equipment that tend to intimidate even long-time fitness gym users is the cable trainer. At first glance, this frame with cables, pulleys, and attachments can give the impression it’s complicated and difficult to use, when in fact, neither is true. After gaining a little background knowledge of how to use the machine, and what kinds of exercises it’s good for, you’ll no longer view the cable trainer as a foreign machine, but a piece of useful equipment in your everyday workouts.

First of all, the cable trainer has several aliases and comes in a few different varieties. It is often referred to interchangeably as a cable crossover gym, a functional cable trainer, or simply a cable trainer. The simplest variety of cable trainer possesses a single arm, whereas the crossover trainer has double arms (makes sense, right?). Finally, the most deluxe variety not only has two arms, but can be adjusted both vertically and horizontally. Your fitness center may have one or all of these varieties, but essentially, they provide the same benefits.

Benefits of the Cable Trainer

The following are some of the greatest training advantages of cable trainers:

• Functional fitness. A focus on functional fitness has become increasingly popular in the last few years (in fact, it’s one of the top ten fitness trends for 2016). The cable trainer enables movements that mimic the range of motion used in everyday tasks – bending, twisting, lifting, and reaching. This in turn strengthens and protects your body from common injuries.

• Versatility. Thanks to its cables and pulleys, these machines allow for great versatility of movement and types of moves. You can work virtually every muscle group in your body – shoulders, arms, back, chest, legs, and core.

• Core stability. Unlike many other strength training machines, cable trainers require you to use your own body for support and stability. This trains your core, which in turn protects your back and every other muscle group in your body.

• Multiple muscle groups (multi-planar). Most other health club resistance machines isolate one muscle group at a time, and if used exclusively, can lead to injuries in areas of weakness that are subjected to too much force or unnatural ranges of motion. The beauty of the cable trainer is its recruitment of many muscle groups at once. This allows you to build better overall strength, and prevents injuries from overextension or overuse. The body was made to work as a unit, and the cable trainer ‘gets’ that.

• Better eccentric contractions. Concentric contractions shorten muscles, and eccentric contractions lengthen them back out. Many machines take the ‘work’ out of the eccentric portion of a rep, but not cable trainers. Your muscles work through the whole range of motion, giving you greater resistance training from every move.

How to Use the Cable Trainer

As with many other machines, the first step to using the cable trainer is removing the pin to adjust the weight setting. If you’re not used to it, it may take some time to figure out the amount of resistance that’s right for you for each move. Secondly, if it’s a deluxe functional trainer, adjust the pulley height so you can perform moves at the right angle. Be sure to hold on to the cable tightly while you’re adjusting it, or it will fall. Lastly, attach the appropriate handle or bar to the pulley for the moves you want to perform.

Familiarizing yourself with the cable trainer can add yet another effective tool to your workout arsenal. If you’ve never used this equipment before, give it a try the next time you visit the fitness center.