Dec 12, 2013

When Resistance Cables are Superior to Weights

December 12 "The highest reward for a person's toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it." --John Ruskin

When Resistance Cables are Superior to Weights

As you well know, your muscles get stronger to demands of resistance imposed on them. Resistance and only resistance. It does not matter what provides the resistance. Whether it's a can of soup, a gallon of water, a resistance cable, a weight machine, or a free weight, a log, a barrel of concrete (shout out to Steve Justa) or even your own body weight, it's just another form of resistance.

So, what makes resistance cables so special? Truthfully nothing, you can build strength just the same with anything else in the list of resistance devices I mentioned earlier. Just like there are things a wrench can do that a hammer can't, there are some things that make cables more desirable than other methods of resistance. The smart coach or trainee learns the fundamentals and then can pick the particular tool that will meet the need at hand in the most efficient way.

Fred Crivello turned me on to cables years ago. Fred, an accomplished Jujutsu practitioner and coach uses cables to strengthen himself for Jujutsu and found them superior to weights for his needs. At the time I was lifting weigts a lot and really had not used many other methods of strength training. I had developed some overuse injuries and was looking for a change from weights. [Growing older and wiser has it's benefits:) ] Today I have different types of cables and they are a big part of the strength component of my workout.

Here are a few of the advantages of cables versus traditional weights or machines for strength training:

  1. Low Cost
  2. Cables don't take up much room.
  3. Cables can't smash your toe if you drop them
  4. Cables can provide resistance in any plane easily. Weights and most other devices usually only provide resistance in the plane of gravity unless you have pulley's or some other means to redirect the resistance plane.
  5. You can quickly adjust the resistance level by changing to a heavier cable or by shortening or lengthening your grip on a cable or even doubling it up
  6. Unique strength curve. The further you stretch a cable the more resistance a cable offers. Your muscles are stronger near full contraction than when fully extended. A resistance cable matches your strength curve better than free weights.
  7. Can easily be taken on a trip to provide a workout

Low Cost

Cables are reasonably priced. In addition, if you live somewhere where you would typically need to mail order weights, then you know shipping is going to kill you. Not the case with cables. They weigh next to nothing yet can provide resistance of large heavy expensive to ship weights.


You are not going to get hurt if you drop a cable on yourself. The risk you do run with cables though is they can snap unexpectedly. You should always check them over prior to use. Also I wear safety goggles over my eyes anytime I'm using cables that don't have a capture feature. A capture feature is usually a nylon type enclosure around the cable. If your cables have this, then the risk of injury due to breakage is many times smaller.

Multiple Planes of Resistance

There are many sports and activities in which you need to use strength in directions other than vertical. With weights the resistance is always toward the ground. You have to reposition yourself if you want to hit the muscles from a different angle. This is not always easy or practical. With a cable it's easy. You want horizontal resistance, hook the cable to a support beam or similar and pull until your hearts content. Or take a short piece and hold with one limb well the other pulls away. If you purchase Fred's cable course (highly recommended), you will quickly see what I mean and understand the many advantages cables can give you over weights.

Unique Strength Curve

In most if not all lifts with weights as you get closer to the fully contracted state your muscle is in a position of greater leverage. This means the weight that was so hard at the beginning of the movement is now very easy to lift.
Cables offer more resistance the further you stretch them. That means that at the end of the lift when the weights won't offer your muscle enough resistance, the cables are giving more resistance than when you started the lift.

Travel Considerations

If you are a road warrior, you can't always count on hotels having any sort of fitness center or having it open in the hours you can or want to use it. Cables pack nicely in your suitcase and are available to train whenever you are.

There are more advantages, but these are the biggies. A good set up cables is less than one month at the most gyms. They can be stowed in a duffel bag or hung up when not in use.

Probably the best benefit is the ability to provide resistance in any plane. Whether you have cables that attach to something or have a set in which one end of the cable is in each hand, you are able to work virtually any muscle at any angle. This is nice for variety sake and specificity.

If you train for sports such as wrestling or martial arts you can work standing or on the floor and mimic the sport motion with the cables.  This is in keeping with the principle of specificity.

For the person training at home, or if who has a busy travel schedule and needs a way to get a decent workout on the road, cables could be the anwer. It beats lugging the Olympic barbell with you to use at the hotel. I have read of people bring weights on a vacation with them, not athletes, but the bodybuilder type of folks that are in some cases addicted to working out.

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