Build wide, strong and powerful pecs as quickly as you want by mastering the classic cable chest press
Why should I do cable chest presses?
In the list of most popular chest-building exercises, you have to scroll quite a way down before coming across the cable chest press, well below the barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press or the machine chest press. That’s a real shame because while it’s a move loved by experienced gym-goers – who appreciate its unique ability to work the pecs in ways impossible with other bits of training kit – everyone, even first-time lifters, would benefit from including this unloved move into their upper-body workout programme.
The main reason for its unpopularity is that you can’t lift as heavy on the cable machine as you can in other chest press moves, so it gets neglected for ego reasons, or the mistaken belief lifting lighter doesn’t have as much muscle-building benefit.
However, because lifting with cables places a direct workload on chest muscles (as well to a lesser extent on the front of the shoulders and the triceps) during both the lifting and lowering phase of each rep, the cable chest press places a greater stimulus on these muscles than when using barbells or dumbbells, so the growth potential is far higher.
You can also move through a full range of motion, which works more muscle fibres, and can get a good muscular stretch across the chest at the bottom stage of each rep, which research links to faster muscle mass growth.
That’s not to say you should only ever do cable chest presses for bigger pecs from now on. Variations of barbell and dumbbell bench pressing (flat, incline and decline) and was as machine chest pressing should all feature in your upper-body muscle-building arsenal. But don’t forget to add in this humble cable machine exercise to work your chest muscles harder and more intelligently for a bigger, broader and stronger upper body.
How do I do cable chest presses?
Position the pulleys on each side of the cable machine at chest height and attach a D-handle to each side, then hold one in each hand with an overhand grip, so the backs of your hands are facing towards the ceiling.
Stand tall in the middle of the machine with your feet shoulder-width apart, or in a split stance (so one foot forward and one back), with a slight bend in both knees and your glutes tight for better balance.
Keeping your chin and chest up and core braced press your hands forward until your arms are straight with elbows locked out. Slowly bend your arms to return your hands to the start position. Your arms should remain parallel to the floor throughout the rep, and always come to a complete stop at the bottom of each rep: never “bounce” straight back into the next rep, because this takes tension of the working muscles and increases the risk of shoulder, elbow or wrist joint injury.
Bonus Form Tip: You can maximise the tension your place on your chest, as well as your shoulders and triceps, but not fully locking out your arms during each rep. Maintaining a slight bend in your elbows, then pausing in this top position for a second or two before returning back to the start position, keeps all the tension on the muscles to work their fibres even harder for faster size and strength gains.
What cable chest press variations can I do?
The main move is done standing up, with either a shoulder-width foot stance, or a split-foot stance, which has the added benefit of also working your abs and lower back, which must be fully engaged to keep your torso upright and stable. But you can introduce an upright bench to do a seated cable chest press variation, which makes your body more stable so you may find you can lift heavier, but might sacrifice the range of motion slightly in order to get into the start position safely.
You can also use a flat bench with the cable pulleys at the bottom of the machine to turn the exercise into a flat bench cable chest press, which changes the movement pattern and angles of the lift to work the chest in a slightly different way. Again, lifting heavier will limit your range of motion, which is the slight trade-off.
Overall, the cable machine is a fantastic tool for building a bigger, stronger and wider chest, and there are many chest-building cable moves you can deploy to achieve your goal, including the cable flye, the cable crossover, and the low-to-high cable crossover.