In baseball, “utility player” is a term reserved for athletes who can play any position. They have the ability to hit, pitch and field with no significant gaps in performance.
From a coaching standpoint, the utility player is an incredible asset. This week, I’ll share some details about the strength training equivalent of a utility player — the cable machine.
The cable machine has been around for decades, which is a compliment and a criticism. The fact that almost every commercial fitness center offers a cable machine suggests one thing: Members use it. Like any product, the demand is driven by the end user, and this demand creates a supply chain of retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and engineers.
The cable machine is also special because of its size. Although there are compact versions on the market, the traditional cable machine is a beastly contraption about 10 feet wide and requires a usage space of nearly 60 square feet. For most people, it simply isn’t feasible for home use. This is one of the reasons fitness centers continue to offer the cable machine, it is very difficult to replicate in a home workout environment.
Almost any muscle group can be exercised using a cable machine, as each side includes adjustable pulleys that can be moved from 6 feet down to the floor.
In addition, the pulley mechanism includes a simple carabiner that supports all kinds of cool attachments. Different kinds of bars, ropes and handles can be attached to the pulley, allowing almost unlimited combination options for the advanced exerciser.
Some of my all-time favorite exercises were born out of experimentation with a cable machine, and I’ve written dozens of articles covering those movements in this column. This week, I’m increasing my cable machine library with a great variation of a triceps extension.
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1. Connect a rope attachment to a pulley machine and position the pulley about 4 feet off the ground.
2. Kneel facing the pulley and grasp each handle of the rope.
3. Pull the rope down and plant your elbows right at your sides but in front of your body slightly.
4. Press the rope down by extending the elbows slowly.
5. As you reach 90 degrees, pause for a moment, then continue to full extension.
6. Perform 2 sets of 12 repetitions.
There is a tendency to lean forward during this movement, as the body is working to get leverage to reduce pressure on the triceps. Try to resist the temptation and keep your posture very upright throughout the set. This will help to engage the core muscles and isolate the triceps more directly.
It’s a fun way to explore the versatility of the cable machine, and I’m certain you’ll find the exercise to be a challenge. Enjoy!
Matt Parrott is glad to hear from readers. Send him questions or share a story about your pandemic workouts at