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Squats are one of the best exercises for building up your leg muscles. They will mainly focus on your quads and glutes, although they target almost every single muscle of your leg.
However, there are so many variations of squats that it’s hard to know which one’s right for you. One of the more popular ones is cable squats. But why should you do cable squats over the regular barbell squats? What are the advantages and disadvantages of cable squats?
That’s what we’ll be looking at in this article, so stay tuned!
What are Cable Squats and How to do Them?
Cable squats are a variation of traditional squats and they are done with the help of a cable machine instead of doing them with the barbell. As such, they are arguably much more comfortable to do, although they do have their advantages and disadvantages.
When you do cable squats, the main focus is on your quads and glutes. Compared to traditional barbell squats, perhaps there is slightly more focus on your glutes rather than your quads, which is great for getting that peach of a booty.
One of the biggest benefits of cable squats is that they’re much safer for your body and knees than barbell squats. The loads are decreased on your legs and your knees especially; although the advantage is that they’ll be under tension throughout the entire movement unlike with barbell squats, where they are under tension in only part of the movement.
While cable squats will not allow you to load up the exercise as much as you can with barbell squats, it’s still a great movement to do if you want to build some serious leg muscle. For the best results, you should ideally combine barbell squats and cable squats and perhaps switch
between the two constantly.
You’ll need a cable machine to get started. Check our article on the Best Cable Machines For a Home Gym.
How to do Cable Squats
As always, it’s crucial to master the form when doing any type of squats to see any real benefits. However, doing cable squats is relatively easy once you get going and master the form.
It’s also easy to load up and progress with cable squats, as you just need to change the weight very quickly. This makes it a slightly more convenient movement for beginners who have no experience with barbell squats.
Here’s how to do cable squats.
- Attach the grip of the cable machine to the position that’s lower than your knees. This allows you to get more strain on your legs rather than other parts of your body.
- Begin the squats by standing in front of the cable machine, facing it with your legs and arms at shoulder-distance apart.
- Then, grip the attachment of the cable machine, and step back a few feet from the machine. You’ll also need to lower your body so that the legs are at approximately 90 degrees.
- Once you’re in position, you can start raising your body by pulling the cable upwards. Your arms should remain straight throughout the whole movement – instead, the pulling work should be done by legs, not by your arms.
- Remember to keep your shoulders straight and prevent slouching. This can ruin your posture and wreck your lower back as a result. Also, squeeze your abs and keep your back as straight as possible.
- Aim for 8-12 reps, so try to make sure you put enough weight on the cable machine that will keep you challenged.
Here’s a quick video that shows you how to do cable squats.
Common Mistakes When Doing Cable Squats
So, what are some of the most common mistakes that you should avoid when doing cable squats?
- Lifting your heels up when you get back to the standing position. This is a very common mistake that many beginners do, but it’s one that you should try to eradicate ASAP. Because when you do cable squats like this, you’ll put the focus on calves, but also the squats will not be nearly as stable.
- Slouching when doing cable squats. This is also quite common to see, but it’s fine, you just need to be aware of it. When you move upwards, make sure you move your shoulders backwards which helps you prevent slouching.
- Not keeping your back straight up. Sometimes, people make the mistake of keeping their body bent forward instead of it being straight. This targets completely different muscles, as you’ll probably see when you do the exercise this way. It also wrecks your lower back.
- Overextending at the top of the movement. When you reach the top, make sure you don’t overextend. This means leaning your body backwards too much when you reach the top. Again, this is derogatory for your lower back and your posture, too.
Pros of Cable Squats
Cable squats come with some very important advantages that make them a viable alternative to barbell squats and other types of squats.
- They put less strain on your knees. Because the cable will soften the load on your legs slightly, you’ll not have as many problems with cable squats as you would with barbell squats.
- They’re easier and more comfortable to do. If you struggle with barbell squats at the moment, and you’re unable to master the form or lift any significant weight, you can build up your leg strength with cable squats first.
- They’re safer to do and aren’t nearly as clunky as barbell squats – at least for beginners.
- Your body is under tension throughout the whole movement. The cable will make sure your body is under tension for much longer than with barbell squats, for example. Even when you reach the lower portion of the movement, you’ll still feel your legs and core work. This can also result in better core activation, and it improves the muscle balance, which is superior to barbell squats.
- Lesser risk of injury. Cable squats are much safer than barbell squats, but also dumbbell squats. If an injury would occur with barbell squats, you would have to be careful with the barbell, which can usually have quite a lot of weight on it. And this can result in various injuries.
Cons of Cable Squats
Despite the many advantages of cable squats, there are also some disadvantages you should consider.
- Not enough load for maximum results. While cable squats are great for beginners, the main problem with them is that you won’t be able to load as much weight as you would with barbell squats. You’re limited by the cable machine here and how much weight it has on offer.
- Not available in every gym, especially home gyms. Again, you won’t have the cable machine at your disposal everywhere. Although almost every gym has a cable machine, if you’re working out at home, you probably won’t have access to them. Also, some gyms don’t support a lot of weight with cable machines.
- Injuries can still happen with bad form. Even if the exercise is a bit safer than barbell squats, injuries can still occur, especially lower back injuries with bad form and mistakes such as overextension.
Cable Squats vs Barbell Squats
So, now the main question would be: which exercise should I do – cable squats or barbell squats?
The short answer is the following: if you’re a beginner and if you don’t have enough strength to do barbell squats yet, go with cable squats. But if you want to build more muscle for your legs, then barbell squats are undeniable better for that. You’ll be able to add much more weight to the barbell and your gains will be better.
There’s no denying that both exercises are great, though. If you’ve been doing barbell squats and if you want to add more variety to your workouts, then you can definitely consider cable squats – if your gym has the cable machine and enough weight on the cable machine to let you progress, of course.
Perhaps one of the more important areas that make cable squats more effective is the fact that they focus more on your glutes, and they’re also more effective for putting your body under tension throughout the whole movement.
Where Cable Squats Win
Here is why cable squats are better than barbell squats:
- They’re safer to do
- They don’t put as much strain on your knees
- They’re easier to do because you can start with pretty low weights
- You have more variety with cable squats, as you can incorporate other cable movements, too
Where Barbell Squats Win
Barbell squats are better for you than cable squats because:
- They allow you to load up the exercise far more
- They’re more effective for building your quads and entire legs
- Better for intermediate-advanced lifters
Cable Squats vs Dumbbell Squats
Another comparison we need to make is between cable squats and dumbbell squats. Both are popular alternatives for barbell squats, especially for beginners. But which one is better?
Dumbbell squats allow for much more variety when you do them because it’s easier for us to combine squats with other movements with dumbbells. On the other hand, dumbbell squats do not allow for much loading, and you’re massively restricted here by the number of dumbbells your local gym has, or where you work out.
Both exercises are great for beginners, though. But if you’re eventually willing to switch to barbell squats which allow more loading and better progressions, then dumbbell squats are perhaps better for you.
However, if you’re also a beginner and want a risk-free alternative to the barbell or dumbbell squats (or if you have should problems), then cable squats are the way to go. Each movement has its own perks and disadvantages, and it’s up to you to decide what you want to achieve with your squats.
Where Cable Squats Win
- They put your body under tension throughout the whole movement.
- They’re safer to do and friendlier to your knees.
- It’s easier to load them up compared to dumbbell squats.
Where Dumbbell Squats Win
- They’re better if you want to move up to barbell squats later on
- They allow for more variety
- They’re better for beginners
What do cable squats work?
Cable squats work your entire legs, including your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves to an extent. You’ll also be able to build your abs and deeper core. Perhaps the most focus goes to glutes, at least compared to barbell squats.
Do cable exercises build muscle?
Of course, you should aim to include cable exercises as much as possible into your workouts. The main difference between cable exercises and exercises with free weights is that they help you keep your muscles under tension for longer. Also, they help you avoid muscle imbalances that are quite common, especially with exercises such as barbell squats.
Are cables better than dumbbells?
Both devices offer their own ways of building muscles. When you use dumbbells, you have more freedom as to how you work muscles and which exercises you do – you can also combine multiple exercises into compound movements. However, cables are superior to dumbbells because you’re able to adjust the direction of the force easier. Also, the time under tension is greater with cables, while the pressure on your joints is lesser.
The Bottom Line
Cable squats are undeniably great if you do them correctly and with proper form. They’re safer to do than barbell squats and will put your body under tension for longer than barbell squats.
If you have a cable machine in your gym, you should try to keep some variety in your workouts and replace barbell squats with cable squats from time to time. They can be just as effective provided that your gym has enough weight on the cable machine to keep you challenged.
Ultimately, it depends on your goals which type of squats you’ll do. If you’re a beginner, then you can do either cable squats or barbell squats. However, if you’re looking to add serious muscles and progress more, then barbell squats are hard to beat.