Even with all the cool new gym equipment out there, we’re still big fans of something pretty old-school: the cable pulley. First off, it’s thoroughly versatile. It adjusts to any height, from the floor to above your head, and has a variety of attachments, making it perfect for performing a ton of push and pull movements without having to change machines. Plus, it’s low impact. Unlike barbells or dumbbells, the cable is fluid and controlled, so your joints are less likely to get out of whack. And one more thing: There’s something incredibly satisfying about seeing that weight stack rise and fall. So we asked Brian Matthews, owner of Accelerate Athletics in Troy, New York, for a total-body workout. Go ahead and post up under the pulley for a full 45 minutes—even if your fellow gymgoers give you the side-eye.
The Workout: Adjust the height setting for the circuit, and do three rounds of 10-15 reps of each move. Rest, then perform the next circuit. Grab these attachments: two D-handles, one rope handle, one ankle strap.
Stand with pulley on your right, and hold the D-handle with both hands at right hip. Extend your arms out and rotate your torso left, driving your arms up until the handle is at head level, then slowly lower your arms for 1 rep. Complete reps on your right side, then switch to the left.
One-arm Front Shoulder Raise
Face away from the pulley, with the D-handle in your left hand, your fist close to your body and down, and your right hand on your right hip. With soft knees and a tight core, keep your left arm fully extended and raise it until your fist is in line with shoulder. Hold for 1 second, then lower for 1 rep. Complete all reps on left side, then switch to right arm.
Lateral Cable Abduction
Stand with pulley on your right. Hold on to the station with your right hand, put your left hand on your hip, and put your left ankle into the wrap attachment with the cable extended behind your right leg. While bracing your core, kick out your left leg to the side until the muscles in your hips and glutes contract. Lower your leg slowly for 1 rep. Do all the reps on your left side and then switch to the right.
Single-arm Cable Rower
Stand facing the pulley and hold the D-handle in your left hand with the palm facing down. Step back until cable is taut. Then sink back into your butt and keep your chest high, with your right hand on right hip. Retract your shoulder blades and draw your elbow straight back. As you pull, rotate your palm toward your body, so it’s next to rib cage. Reverse for 1 rep. Complete all reps on left side, then switch.
Medium Cable Fly
Attach a D-handle to both cables. Grab one in each hand and walk out a few feet so there’s tension in the cables. While keeping your elbows up and slightly bent and your fists parallel to your shoulders, press your hands around and forward to meet each other, like you’re hugging a tree. Reverse for 1 rep.
Overhead Pallof Press
Stand 3 feet away from the pulley with the machine on your right while holding the D-handle with both hands at chest level and keeping your knees soft (A). Brace your core and press the handle straight overhead until arms are extended (B), then lower slowly for 1 rep. Complete all reps, then switch sides.
Attach a D-handle to both cable pulleys at opposite ends. Grab one in each hand, palms facing up, and extend your arms fully to put tension in the cables. Brace your core, and then curl both handles toward your head at the same time until your biceps contract and your hands are in line with your ears. Reverse for 1 rep.
Stand facing the pulley and grab both ends of the rope attachment, with your palms facing each other. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and row the rope toward your face, leading the pull with your elbows. Hold the contraction for 1 second. Reverse for 1 rep.
Kneel facing the pulley, about a foot away, and grab the rope attachment with both hands. Pull it down so that your head is in the middle of the rope (A). Keeping your arms locked, crunch your stomach down and inward until your abs contract (B). Release for 1 rep.