What is a cable crossover exercise
and is it good for the chest

When people think of chest exercise, the bench press is probably the first thing that comes to mind. And unsurprisingly so, because the bench press has long been the quintessential go-to pec-building activity of many people, especially men.

While you can never go wrong with the bench press as far as building chest muscles is concerned, it is not the only chest exercise you can do. There are several other press variations that you can perform using different equipment, and one of those is the cable crossover.

It may not be as popular as the bench press, but the cable crossover can be just as good, if not better. And since the cable machine has now become a staple of most gyms, it is worth a shot to put a little twist on your chest game by making the most out of this all-around equipment.

What is a cable crossover?

The cable crossover is a relatively simple exercise that utilizes a cable machine to strengthen the chest muscles. The movement in this exercise requires simultaneously pulling the two pulleys in a loaded cable machine to activate the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and the anterior deltoids.

While spot training—the idea that you can achieve muscle definition in one area without affecting other parts of the body—is essentially a myth, the cable crossover can target different areas of the chest more effectively just by changing the angle from which you pull.

This means that if you are pulling from a high angle, you are targeting the lower chest more. If pulling from a low angle, there is more focus on the upper chest. And if you are pulling from a neutral position, the overall chest surface area is activated.

So, is the cable crossover a good exercise for the chest? Absolutely.

How to do the cable cross over

Here is a simple guide on how to do the cable crossover from different angles.

Mid-chest cable crossover

  1. Put a single grip attachment to each side of the cable machine at shoulder level.
  2. Grasp both handles and stand at the center.
  3. Take a few steps forward then put one foot in front of the other in a staggered stance for balance.
  4. Pull the cables with slightly bent elbows and bring your hands together in a semicircular motion while contracting your chest.
  5. Briefly pause for two seconds before opening up your arms in the same motion with your elbows still bent to go back to the starting position. Your chest should feel a slight stretch as you do this.
  6. Repeat the exercise according to your desired number of repetitions.

Low cable crossover

The only difference between this and the mid-chest cable crossover is the placement of the grip attachments in the cable machine. In this exercise, the handles are attached to the lowest notch on each side of the machine, and unlike in the mid-chest crossover wherein you pull the cable at shoulder level towards the front of your chest in a semicircular motion, the low cable crossover requires you to bring your arms upward towards your upper chest or above it.

High cable crossover

In this exercise, the grip attachments are on the highest notch on each side of the machine. Once you are holding the handles with a firm grip and already in a position same as the other two cable crossovers, begin by contracting your chest then bringing the cables down towards your thighs. Once you have reached the bottom of the movement, hold that position for at least two seconds before raising your arms back to the starting position with your elbows flared out.

Benefits of doing the cable crossover

Freedom of movement

One of the advantages of doing the cable crossover is that they are performed while standing up. Without the limits of a bench, your shoulder blades are free to move around naturally because they are not digging through or being pinned to a stationary object. This means that your shoulders have a better range of motion which allows you to do more exercises.

Time management

You may not always see or feel it, but there are various ways that the cable crossover and cable machines, in general, can work every muscle in your body. This means that utilizing the machine to its fullest potential during your workout can save you some precious hours. Instead of doing different exercises using different equipment, you can simply adjust the cable machine according to your needs and just perform all of your exercises there.

Core engagement

While it doesn’t work your core muscles the same way it does the chest, performing the cable crossover also engages your abdominals albeit to a lower extent. The more weight you add to the stack, the more the core is activated to help you maintain proper posture and stay upright without putting unnecessary pressure on your back.

Why you should aim for a stronger chest

There is more to doing chest exercises than just getting your pecs big, and while a ripped chest can be impressive, it has a multitude of other benefits as well.

  • Strong pectoral muscles improve posture which is vital for the body to properly function daily. Good posture is also crucial in doing any exercise because most, if not all, exercises require the proper form to be effective.
  • When the pectoral muscles are tight, the shoulders tend to slouch and the spine to arch, resulting in bad posture. But with a strong chest, overall back strength is also improved.
  • The pectoral muscles are involved in many different upper-body movements so they must be regularly exercised to achieve overall upper-body strength.
  • Strong pectoral muscles improve your ability to push things.
  • Strong pectoral muscles improve your ability to perform swinging movements.

More chest exercises to try

Yes, the cable crossover is a great chest exercise. No, it is not the only great chest exercise out there.

Resistance band crossover

In this exercise, you need a pair of resistance bands to be tied to something sturdy like a barbell rack.

Once you are all set, begin by holding a band in each hand and taking a few steps forward until there is enough tension on the bands. Position your feet in a split stance and slightly lean forward at the hips while keeping your spine in a neutral position. Lock your elbows in a soft bend then slowly bring your hands together to crossover in front of you before going back to the starting position.

Flat bench dumbbell fly

The only things you will need in this exercise are a pair of dumbbells and a flat bench.

Once you have both, lie on the bench with your feet firmly planted on the ground and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Begin the exercise by holding the dumbbells out with extended arms above your chest and your palms facing each other. Slightly bend your elbows and lock them in that position then open up your arms. Once they are parallel to the floor, bring your arms back up in a controlled manner to return to the starting position.

Take note that the flat bench dumbbell fly is better performed with slower and fewer reps for full activation of the chest muscles.

Incline dumbbell fly

This exercise follows the same movement pattern as the flat bench dumbbell fly, except the bench has to be, well, inclined. Doing the dumbbell fly in this position places more tension on your upper chest, making it a great alternative to the cable crossover.

Begin by sitting on a bench that is adjusted to a 45-degree incline. Once you have settled on the bench, start the exercise by holding the dumbbells out with extended arms above your chest and your palms facing each other. Proceed as you would in a flat bench dumbbell fly by locking your elbows in a slight bend and opening your arms until they are parallel to the floor.

Just like in the flat bench dumbbell fly, the movement in this exercise should be slow and steady as well.

T-RX cable push-up

Similar to the resistance band crossover, you need to attach the T-RX cable to somewhere sturdy enough to support your body weight during the exercise.

Once you are all set, begin the exercise by placing your feet shoulder-width apart and holding the handles with extended arms in front of your chest. Putting your feet in this position allows you to put your body anywhere from parallel to the floor to 45-degrees off of it.

Engage your core and keep it tight to maintain a straight line from head to toe, with your spine in a neutral position throughout the exercise. Keep your elbows pinned to the sides as you lower yourself to the floor and your hands reach the outside of your shoulders. Once you get to the bottom of the movement, slowly push back up to return to the starting position.

Remember not to lower yourself too much to avoid putting unwanted pressure on your shoulders which may result in injury.