Pain and injuries are common among elite athletes and recreational lifters who engage in heavy compound lifts such as squats, bench presses, and deadlifts. According to a study titled “Narrative review of injuries in powerlifting with special reference to their association to the squat, bench press, and deadlift,” sub-elite to elite lifters report that 22% to 32% of their injuries are related to squatting. This is why it is important to diversify squat workouts with clients, incorporating accessory exercises like cable squats to fill in any training gaps and reduce the risk of lower back injury. By incorporating cable squats instead of back squats, the chance of injuries can be significantly reduced without sacrificing performance.
To help you master the cable squat, I have conducted 20 hours of research and drawn from years of experience performing this exercise. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to perform cable squats:
Step One – Assume the Starting Position:
1. Pin an appropriate weight on the cable machine.
2. Secure a straight handlebar attachment to the pulley and set it to the lowest position.
3. Grab the bar with both hands in front of your hips and step back.
4. Assume a shoulder-width stance and slightly turn your toes outward.
5. Keep your knees extended and maintain a straight back.
Pro Tip: Ensure that the weight set on the cable machine is challenging but manageable. Grip the bar firmly with both hands to maintain control throughout the movement.
Step Two – Descend Into a Squat:
1. Bend your ankles, knees, and hips to lower into a squat.
2. Hold the position for one second when you achieve the desired squat depth.
Pro Tip: Lower toward the ground slowly to ensure stability during the eccentric phase, which will activate the muscles more effectively and reduce the risk of injury.
Step Three – Return to the Starting Position:
1. Extend your ankles, knees, and hips simultaneously to return to the starting position.
2. Proceed with the next repetition.
Pro Tip: Explode through the concentric phase without compromising your form.
The primary muscles targeted by cable squats are the quadriceps, gluteus maximus, and hamstrings. Additionally, the exercise also works secondary muscles such as the calves, core musculature (including the rectus abdominis and obliques), lower back (erector spinae), and adductors (inner thigh muscles).
Cable squats offer several benefits, making them an effective exercise for many clients. Some of the most important benefits include:
1. Greater Range of Motion: Cable squats allow for a better range of motion, resulting in increased muscle fiber recruitment and strength gains. This is particularly beneficial for athletes looking to build functional strength.
2. Versatile Resistance Adjustment: Cable machines offer more weight adjustments than free weights, allowing for small increments that are ideal for progressive overload. Progressive overload involves increasing sets, reps, or external resistance, and is an important principle for muscle and strength development.
3. Lower Risk of Injury: Cable squats place the load on the cable machine rather than directly on the spine, making them a safer squat variation. Additionally, if the weight feels too heavy, you can let go of the bar attachment without worrying about injuring yourself. Cable squats generally put less stress on the lower back compared to other squat variations.
In addition to cable squats, there are several variations and alternatives that can be incorporated into your training routine. Some of the best cable squat variations and alternatives include:
1. Sumo Cable Squat: This variation targets the inner thighs.
– Pin an appropriate weight on the cable machine and set the bar attachment at the lowest position.
– Grab the t-bar with both hands and step back.
– Assume a wider-than-shoulder-width stance with toes slightly turned outward.
– Keep your knees extended and maintain a straight back.
– Bend your ankles, knees, and hips, and hold the squat position for one second.
– Reverse the motion to return to the starting position.
2. Goblet Squat: This beginner-friendly variation can help improve squat mechanics.
– Pick a kettlebell and hold it in the goblet position.
– Assume a shoulder-width stance with your feet and turn your toes slightly outward.
– Keep your back straight throughout the movement.
– Lower into a deep squat and hold for one second.
– Reverse the motion to return to the starting standing position.
3. Landmine Squat: This variation focuses on leg strength and core stabilization.
– Secure a barbell by inserting one end into a landmine attachment.
– Load the free end of the bar with an appropriate weight.
– Assume a shoulder-width stance with toes slightly turned outward.
– Bend your ankles, knees, and hips simultaneously.
– Hold the squat position for one second when your thighs break parallel with the floor.
– Extend your ankles, knees, and hips to return to the starting position.
4. Dumbbell Squat: This variation is beginner-friendly and helps develop proper form and base-level strength.
– Pick dumbbells of appropriate weight and hold them at your sides.
– Assume a shoulder-width stance with your feet.
– Lower into a squat and hold for one second.
– Reverse the motion to return to the starting position.
By incorporating these cable squat variations and alternatives into your training routine, you can continue to reap the benefits of this exercise while adding variety to your workouts.
In conclusion, cable squats are an effective exercise for diversifying squat workouts and reducing the risk of lower back injury. By following the step-by-step guide and incorporating cable squat variations and alternatives, you can master this lift and enjoy the benefits of improved range of motion, versatile resistance adjustment, and lower risk of injury.