Are Cables Easier Than Free Weights?

cable training
January 11, 2023 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “are cables easier than free weights?”. Both cables and free weights are a great training tool to use, many people utilise both in their training routine.

This article will explore both and assess whether training with cables is easier than free weights.

Are Cables Easier Than Free Weights?

Overall, training with free weights is harder than cables. This is because the stabiliser muscles are recruited more heavily when you are doing free weight exercises.

In contrast, training with cables still involves the use of stabiliser muscles. However, there is a greater mechanical advantages with cables. You can concentrate a lot more on the peak contraction.

With cables there are also differences, with more pulleys the cable exercises become easier. With a single pulley, it will be slightly harder. Cable training can also be tough as there is a constant tension throughout the entire range of motion.

Therefore both training modalities are tough in their own right, free weights being slightly tougher due to the increased demands to keep the weight balanced during exercises.

cable training

Free Weights Require More Skill

It is true that big compound free weight exercises like the squat, bench and deadlift are some of the best exercises that you can perform in the weight room. 

These exercises allow you to develop a very strong body. They are rewarding exercises but also come with their share of risks as well. To become very proficient at these free weight exercises you have to invest a good deal of time to master the skill.

They are tougher exercises to perfect 100% as there are lots of small details and nuances that have to be accounted for. On the bench press for example, very few people still utilise the chain drive principles that Scot Mendelson preaches.

On the deadlift, keeping the bar close to your shins and pushing the floor away as you initiate the pull is pivotal, ensuring that you lower back is not in flexion is crucial as well.

With cable exercises there is far less skill involved in mastery. Therefore, in terms of ease of becoming proficient, cable exercises are easier than free weights.

Number Of Pulleys Makes A Difference With Cables

The number of pulleys has a big part to play in the difficulty when using cables. A single pulley system will feel a lot harder than a multi pulley system.

This all comes down to physics, with multiple pulleys you are just getting a fraction of the weight that you would with a single pulley. Therefore, the weight that you select on a multi pulley system will be heavier in relation to the respective weight on the single pulley.

There is a good video from Lee Hayward on this point which I would recommend watching, you can view this video below. I have noticed this myself in my gym with the cable setup, personally I prefer doing tricep pushdowns on a single pulley system.

Constant Tension On The Muscles With Cables

One aspect that is often overlooked when it comes to cables is the constant tension on the muscle that cables offer you. This can make cable exercises pretty challenging.

If you have ever tried to do a cable chest press for instance, you can attest to this. Even with medium weight it can become a challenge as you have to fight throughout the entire range of motion. 

This is the most challenging aspect of training with cables and what draws many people to using them. 

Using Free Weights And Cables

For the best of both worlds and most complete development, it is advisable to use both free weights and cables in your training. This way you can take advantage of the benefits of both these training modalities.

Heavy compound free weight exercises will help you build the most strength and also add on lots of muscle mass to your frame. Cable exercises can be used to provide unique muscle stimulation and hit the muscles from different angles.

Cable crossovers for the chest for example, can be done from many different angles. How far forward you lean will affect the movement pattern on this exercise. The further forward you go the more tension you can put onto the muscle.

Bands work in a similar fashion, when utilising bands you can get more band tension by simply moving further away from the anchor.

Final Thoughts

Are cables easier than free weights? Overall, free weights are harder but cables can be tough in their own right. This has to do with the constant tension that cables can offer you through the entire range of motion.

Single pulley systems are also harder than multi pulley setups. In terms of free weights, they are more challenging because of the fact that they require more effort and stabilisation in balancing the weight during the exercise.

In addition, free weights tend to have a longer learning curve. Mastering free weight exercises like the squat and deadlift can take some time, there are so many things that have to be done right.

This is why there are specialised strength coaches like Mark Rippetoe, who has done a great job in his Starting Strength book of teaching people the proper mechanics of the big barbell movements.

If you have any comments on this topic please leave them below. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

>> Can You Build A Good Physique With Just Dumbbells?

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