How to do a cable chest press and the muscles worked

Over the years, cable machines have become a staple in most gyms and unsurprisingly so because these bad boys are so versatile that almost any exercise can be performed with them. In fact, plenty of exercises—whether they are for the abs, chest, arms, or legs—have cable machine variations and many of them are just as effective, if not more effective, as their traditional versions.

One crowd favorite chest exercise is the bench press and yes, you guessed it right, it has a cable machine variation as well. Interested to try it to make your chest press a little bit more different? Then read on.

What is a cable chest press?

The cable chest press is a variation of the bench press that utilizes a cable machine to help strengthen the pushing muscles of the body particularly the pectoral muscles of the chest, the anterior deltoids of the shoulders, and the triceps.

While it is a good chest exercise, you cannot overload the cable chest press the same way you would the bench press since the former requires a great deal of core stability, so it is probably better performed as an accessory exercise to build chest muscles instead of a substitute for bigger chest exercises.

With that being said, the cable chest press can be included in your routine to complement your upper body or full-body workouts.

How to cable chest press

  1. Begin by standing in the middle of the two pulleys and hold the stirrups one hand at a time.
  2. Take a few steps forward then put one leg in front of the other to go into a staggered stance. The foot at the back may tiptoe but keep the front foot flat on the ground.
  3. Retract your shoulders and position your arms at a 90-degree angle.
  4. Before contracting your chest muscles, make sure you are looking straight ahead, your core is engaged, and the rest of your body is stable and stationary.
  5. Bring the stirrups forward by extending your arms until your hands meet in the middle.
  6. Once your arms are fully extended, briefly squeeze your chest before pulling your arms back to the starting position.
  7. Do 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions each, depending on the weight. Also, do not forget to switch the foot placement and bring your front foot at the back and your back foot in front before proceeding with the next set.

Tips for a more efficient cable chest press

  • Avoid completely locking out your elbows to maintain more tension in the pecs.
  • Avoid letting the stirrups collide at the top of each rep.
  • Maintain retracted shoulders throughout the exercise to avoid painful shoulder joints caused by the shoulders being far too forward.
  • Ensure you maintain some tension in your abs and don’t allow your lower back to arch excessively.
  • Adjust your stance to target specific pectoral muscles. If you want to focus on the inner chest and triceps more, opt for a narrower stance. If you want to focus on the outer part of the chest, go for a wider stance. 
  • Avoid leaning forward too much because both balance and isolation of the pectoral will be compromised.
  • Your palms should be facing down, not forward to the direction you are pushing, to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your forearms.

Benefits of the cable chest press

  • The cable chest press engages your core more than the regular bench press. When you are lying flat on your back, core involvement is limited, if not none at all. But when you are in a standing position, you have more control of the angle that the weight will move in.
  • In a cable chest press, you have a better range of motion in terms of where your hands meet unlike in a regular bench press where your range of motion is limited.
  • Using a cable machine for your chest exercises such as the chest press puts the pectoral muscles under constant pressure. This is because the resistance provided by the cables gives the pecs no time to rest. 
  • Since you cannot overload in a cable chest press the same way you would in a bench press, there is less stress on the shoulder joints, making this exercise the much safer option.

Chest press: with cables or dumbbells?

Aside from the cable machine, dumbbells are also used as a substitute for the barbell in a chest press. Both are equally effective in training the chest and targeting the pectoral muscles while also engaging the deltoids and triceps to stabilize the movement. But although they are similar, there are still a few advantages of using one over the other.

With cables

Being the safer alternative is what sets the cable chest press apart from other chest exercises using free weights. With a cable machine, you can safely perform a chest press without the help of a spotter. This is not the ideal way to do a dumbbell chest press or even a regular bench press, especially if you prefer to go heavy on the weights.

As far as muscle development is concerned, the steady resistance created by the cables throughout the exercise puts the pectoral muscles under constant pressure.

Moreover, cables are also less stressful on the joints and less likely to cause any injuries because they are easier to control than free weights.

With dumbbells

Using free weights forces the body to recruit other muscles for stabilization and without cables for guidance, controlling the weights throughout the entire range of motion is much harder especially when training with heavier weights.

Dumbbells are also more versatile in terms of weight options. Cable machines normally have weight stacks that can be adjusted at fixed increments of 10-15 lbs, so unless your go-to gym has plates in smaller increments, there is nothing else you can do but go with the weight options the cable machine offers. Dumbbells, on the other hand, have smaller increments of 2.5-5 lbs which provide you with more weight options to train with.

So…which one should you use?

There is no reason for you to choose one over the other so just use them both for a more dynamic chest routine. If anything, alternating between cables and dumbbells may be even more beneficial because it will keep the chest muscles guessing and help avoid workout plateaus.

Cable chest press variations

While the cable chest press is already a variation of the bench press, there are still other ways you can do this exercise. If you want to know more about the variations of the variation, keep scrolling.

Incline cable chest press

  1. Begin by placing a bench in the middle of two low pulleys placed at a 45-degree angle at the bottom of the cable machine. Ensure that the bench is positioned in a way that when you grab the stirrups, the resistance is in line with your chest.
  2. Hold the stirrups one at a time with a supinated grip and place your back flat on the bench with your feet shoulder-width apart and planted firmly on the ground.
  3. Place the stirrups at the side of your chest with your arms at a 90-degree angle.
  4. Breathe out as you extend your arms up and inwards until your hands meet.
  5. Squeeze your chest at the top of the movement, and breathe out as you slowly go back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat according to your desired number of sets and reps.

Standing decline cable chest press

  1. Begin by standing in the middle of the cable machine and taking a few steps backward to grip one handle at a time.
  2. Grasping the stirrups with a supinated grip, move your hands towards your midriff with your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Take a few steps forward to take the tension off the weight.
  4. Keep your core engaged and look straight ahead as you breathe out while driving through your elbows in a slightly downward motion.
  5. When the stirrups meet in front of your midriff, squeeze your chest then go back to the starting position in a controlled manner.
  6. Repeat according to your desired number of sets and reps.

Seated decline cable chest press

  1. Begin by placing a bench with a 30-degree decline angle in the middle of the cable machine with the pulleys placed at the lowest point on each side.
  2. Lie down on the bench with your feet flat on the ground.
  3. Hold the stirrups with a supinated grip and bring your hands just below your chest.
  4. Maintain a 90-degree bend in your elbows throughout the exercise with your knuckles pointing towards the ceiling as you grasp the stirrups.
  5. Extend your arms by pushing through your elbows inwards and towards the ceiling.
  6. Squeeze your chest at the top of the movement and go back to the starting position in a controlled manner.
  7. Repeat according to your desired number of sets and reps.