When you think about strengthening your chest, free weights like dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells probably come to mind. But a cable chest workout is an effective-yet-underrated way to smoke your upper half, and can be a great addition to your upper-body strength training program along with those pec dumbbell workouts or kettlebell circuits you may already have slotted in.
Cable workouts are great routines to add to the mix because cables keep your muscles under constant tension, as opposed to free weights which give your muscles breaks from tension at certain parts of the moves, ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, owner of Strong With Sivan in Baltimore, tells SELF. Cables also limit momentum in your movements, which can translate to greater demands on your muscles, she explains.
But chances are you don’t have a cable machine set up at home, meaning you’d have to go to the gym to get in a good cable chest workout. That’s where resistance bands come in: Resistance bands work your muscles very similarly to how cables do, and you can mimic a cable set-up by fixing the resistance bands to an anchor point. Once you do this, you can use resistance bands to target your chest muscles (which include the two pectoral muscles: the bigger pec major and smaller pec minor), as well as your triceps and the front of your shoulders, just like a cable workout would.
Another plus of resistance bands: They are portable and versatile, making them a valuable tool for at-home training.
“I utilize bands many, many times with my clients, especially because most of my clients don’t go to a gym anymore,” says Fagan.
What are the benefits of strength training your chest?
You use your chest muscles in lots of everyday life scenarios: Pretty much anytime you perform a pushing motion—for example, steering a full cart of groceries or heaving a box back onto a shelf—your chest muscles are at work. And the stronger this muscle group is, the easier and more efficient your day-to-day movements will feel. Plus, you also use your pectoral, shoulder, and triceps muscles in lots of different pushing moves when you strength train, like push-ups, chest presses, and overhead presses. (That’s why many complete chest workouts often include triceps and shoulder exercises too, since these muscles assist in many chest-centric exercises.)
In general, it’s important to have balance between those pushing muscles and your pulling muscles (your back and biceps), as this can contribute to good posture and shoulder health, says Fagan. And incorporating a cable chest workout into your routine—whether it’s a circuit-style upper chest cable workout, a cable routine paired with push-ups for lower chest, or a series of classic cable moves like the cable crossover—can be one way to show your frontside upper body muscles the love they deserve. Just make sure that you’re equally focused on those posterior pulling muscles on the other days you work out!
How can you get in a good cable chest workout at home with resistance bands?
Like we mentioned, you don’t need an actual cable to reap the benefits of a cable workout—you can simply affix a resistance band to an anchor point at home and achieve similar results. Resistance bands work similarly to cables because they help keep your muscles under constant tension and reduce momentum in your movements. In the below chest workout that Fagan created for SELF, we show exactly how you can do classic cable moves with a resistance band instead.
Before we get into the at-home chest workout details, there are a few general tips you should be aware of in order to make the most of your resistance band chest workout. First, make sure you always feel tension in the band; this ensures your muscles are getting challenged to the max. Second, focus on good form, says Fagan. Compared to a gym workout, where machines can somewhat help you get into proper positioning, there’s more room for error with resistance band-only moves, so pay close attention to your form and make sure it’s on point.
Lastly, don’t fret too much about the height of the anchor point, whether it’s above, below, or exactly in line with your body, explains Fagan. For any specific move, you’ll still work the same muscle groups no matter the height of the anchor; it’s just there will be slight differences in which muscle fibers are targeted, explains Fagan. For instance, a high anchor point for chest flies (similar to a high cable fly) will target the upper fibers of the pec major, whereas a low anchor point will target the lower fibers of the pec major. These differences are small, and what’s most important is that you find an anchor point that’s sturdy and secure. (Here’s more information on setting up an anchor point.)
Now, onto the specific workout. Fagan suggests doing this three-move routine–which targets all of your chest muscles, as well as your shoulders, triceps, and core—twice a week. You’ll begin with an AMRAP set, where you’ll challenge your chest muscles with as many reps as possible with the push-up, and then go into a banded superset to hone in even further on your chest while giving your triceps some attention, too. You can do this routine as a finisher after another strength workout, like one that targets your legs or back, for instance. Or, you can perform it before or after cardio.
However you slot this workout into your routine, make sure to warm-up first. (This is a great upper-body warm-up you can try, whether you’re preparing for this cable chest workout or a total-body strength workout.) Then, once you start the routine, make sure to focus on form and good mind-muscle connection. If you don’t feel your muscles working as you perform reps, gently tap them; this can help activate them, Fagan explains.
Ready to seriously strengthen your upper body at home with resistance bands? Keep scrolling for an amazing, three-move routine that you’ll want to add to your arsenal of good chest workouts.
What you need: A resistance band. The right level of resistance will depend on your fitness level and other factors, but as a general jumping off point, Fagan suggests starting with a medium strength band. (Here’s more on how to choose the best resistance bands—and some great options to try.)
- Chest fly
- Triceps extension
- Start with the AMRAP set, which stands for “as many reps as possible.” Do as many push-ups as you can with good form. Rest 1-2 minutes, then repeat. Complete 3 rounds total.
- Then move onto the superset. Do each move for 10-15 reps without resting in between moves. Rest for 1 minute, then repeat. Complete 2 rounds total.
Demoing the moves below are Francine Delgado-Lugo (GIF 1), cofounder of FORM Fitness Brooklyn; Rosimer Suarez (GIF 2), a special education teacher from New York City; and Nicole Figueroa, a NASM-certified personal trainer and online fitness coach.