Travel Workouts

Our Best Cable Arm Workout Routine

Maybe you’ve wound up in a hotel gym with little equipment, or you’re feeling lazy and don’t fancy moving from a single machine. If that’s you, then our favourite cable column arm workout should do the trick.

Cables For Cables Arm Workout Plan

Sometimes you find yourself in that frame of mind where you can’t be bothered to bounce around a gym finding bits of kit. Maybe it’s too busy, maybe they just don’t have a lot. For us, this often happens when we’re staying in a hotel with a pretty limited gym but can’t get to a local public centre. What we often find, is that they always have a cable column. And where there’s a cable column, there’s an arm workout. Fresh from a weekend in Ibiza, we needed to squeeze in a gun session before Ushuaia’s opening party, and made pretty solid use of the Hard Rock Hotel’s gym

A week later after my liver has recovered, I thought I’d put finger to keyboard and share the secret cable arm workout plan we use in such situations. This workout is great for a change up, brilliant for a pump, and my personal Summer cutting season arm day in a 5 day split.

PS: If you like these single equipment workout guides – then try our Total Body Barbell Workout next.

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Author // David
Author // David

Bothering dumbbells since 2003. I visit a lot of hotels with terrible gyms, so you don't have to. @masononsocial

To the point

Cable Arm Workout Guide

We get it – standing like a lemon in front of a cable column to do bicep curls doesn’t feel like it should be as effective as a plate loaded Hammer Strength preacher curl, or a loaded up EZ Curl Bar – but you’d be surprised. 

A couple of studies have been done now to determine if cable machines are effective and how they stack up vs more hardcore methods. The results show higher muscle activation in Cables vs Plates; while machines vs free weights, has shown no difference in hypertrophy (muscle growth) and explosive performance development.

“Our results argue for the use of CABLE over PLATE for increased muscle activation and ROM”

So, the short answer is YES – Cable machines are completely effective for developing arm muscles.

American College of Sports Medicine: Comparative Impacts of Plate-Loaded and_Cable Resistance Machines on Muscle Activity and Joint Kinematics

How can you be sure we aren’t talking a load of nonsense with this cable arm workout? Well other than my own pitiful pair of pythons, Lee walks around with a couple of 12 Bores on the daily. Add to this, we are both PT educated and vocationally qualified in the pursuit of sporting and physical excellence. On top of the pretty little certificates neither of us will ever be able to find again, we have been lifting weights and honing our body shapes for a combined 4 decades. 

We know what it takes to get into great physical shape and at 42 (revolting thing to admit), I keep an almost year round six pack. As a divorcee (really selling myself here) it’s important to remain beach club (and Hinge) ready.

So, if you want a dreadful role model, who knows how to remain in shape even when all else is falling apart, read on – I’ve got a serious arm workout for you.

If you’ve followed our other workout guides you’ll know I’m a fan of the one set failure system – but in this cable arm workout, we are going for a more conventional high rep multi-set drainer approach. The same outcome is sought, that final set should feel tough, but I also want the 1st and 2nd set to feel hard too. 

If you need an easy warm-up set, do it on your time not this workouts. That is to say, feel free to do 4 sets on the first two exercises. 1 extra half weight set to warm up the biceps and triceps dynamically.

Dynamic warm-ups mean warming a muscle up with motion, as opposed to a static stretch which is not advised for hypertrophy sessions as it has been shown to have no benefit and stretching a cold muscle can lead to injury.

Source: Harvard Journal  

Move from 1 exercise station to the next, once you’ve completed all working sets for that move. Rest for 60 seconds between sets, or if you fancy throwing in a little extra cardio, jog on the spot for 100 steps between sets. You should put away an extra 2km with it. Something to make an arm workout feel a little less lazy.

A couple of moves assume you have a double cable stack at your disposal, but for those exercises, I will recommend an alternative if you don’t. Namely, the unilateral seated bicep curls. This can be changed up to a single arm version or throw in a rope hammer curl instead. 

Anyway, less of my talking, let’s pump these swans.

It's Arm Pumping Time...

Cable Arm Workout Plan

Hopefully the wade through waffle has been worth it, this is our go to Summer season cable arm workout. I’ve thrown in a rear delt move too, as a little isolation on that can really help bring more shape to a muscular arm. Sure, a back workout nicely hits the rear delts, so a little focus a day or two later, won’t do you any harm.

If you want some inspiration on other limited equipment workouts you can do for other parts of the body, you will probably appreciate our machine only leg workout, chest machine training plan and back machine guide also; as places to check out next.

Now, back to this cable arm workout.

Muscles Worked

  • Biceps 
  • Rear Deltoid
  • Triceps
  • Brachioradialis – Forearms
  • Carpi – Forearms

The Moves…

Your goal is to work through each of these movements, one exercise at a time, with one minute rest between the sets.

If you want, throw in an extra set at 50% of your 25 RM (Rep Max) for the first bicep and tricep exercises. Then aim to train such that rep 25 or your 3 working sets is a real struggle. You probably may not be able to finish rep 25 on the 3rd set. That should be where you end up in terms of muscle fatigue. 

Remember, this isn’t aerobics. We aren’t trying to move endlessly, we want to push ourselves, such that final reps are excruciating or burn. If you need to pause for a few seconds in a rest position before continuing to finish the set, that is okay. It means you are reaching near failure. 

(P) means primary muscle

    • High Cable Preacher Bicep Curl: 1 x WARM UP @ 50% 25 RM – 3 x 25 | Biceps (P) 

      Set the column at head height and use a straight or ez bar. You then pull in – toward your face, as if you are doing an elevated preacher curl. I find this positioning really cuts down the ability to cheat reps. It’s a strict form movement.

    • Cable Tricep Pushdown1 x WARM UP @ 50% 25 RM – 3 x 25 | Triceps (P)

      A straight bar works great here, keeps those elbows tucked in and flex the horseshoes at the bottom when your arms are at full extension. 

    • Reverse Curl: 3 Sets >  25 – 25 – 25  | Biceps (P) Brachioradialis & Carpi

      This changes which head of the bicep gets attention, and brings the posterior forearm muscles into play. Unlike the first bicep movement, you’re going to set the cable pin at the bottom of the machine on this exercise.

    • Overhead Rope Tricep Extension3 Sets >  25 – 25 – 25  | Triceps (P)

      Here we extend our arms overhead, using a rope. This activates the long head of the Tricep and gives you a great stretch. A personal favourite of mine, If you don’t have a rope, feel free to use a bar instead on the column instead.

    • Seated Cable Curls3 Sets >  25 – 25 – 25  | Biceps (P) Brachioradialis & Carpi
      If you’ve got a double cable column, position a bench in a sitting position between the two and using the handles, curl up from a slightly ‘behind you’ position. Let your hands rotate through the exercise. If you only have the one cable column, you can take it in turns to curl one side at a time, OR stick a rope on the column and do rope hammer curls instead. The latter is great for forearm blasting, while the cable curls are better for the shorter bicep head and peak building. Choose your poison. 

    • Underhand Tricep Pushdown3 Sets >  25 – 25 – 25  | Triceps (P)
      Want a move that makes your arms burn? Introducing the underhand tricep pushdown. Where it forces your elbows in, you get a longer range of motion which makes it a little more difficult. Whatever it’s doing it will feel like it’s working.

    • Rear Delt Flye3 Sets >  25 – 25 – 25  | Posterior Deltoids (P). 
      Gives a little shape at the top of your arm above the triceps and you can do this with a single column, one arm at a time; or at the same time if you have the luxury of a double cable column. If you’re doing one arm at a time, you don’t need a rest period as one arm rests, while another trains. 

You’re done. Now, grab a protein bar and a cold one from the local Bodega, get your finest arm cleavage tee on and enjoy the rest of your day.

Time Needed For This Workout?

You will get through this workout in approximately 45 minutes, if you go with 60 second rest between sets. If you opt for a 100 jog steps on the spot, then make that 55 minutes to be sure. Either way, you’re getting this cable arm workout done in under 60 minutes.

Suggested Cable Only Arm Workout Playlist

  • You can check out our Barbell’s Abroad Playlist on Spotify – but given we did this workout to get our arm pump on for an Ibiza party, it only seems fair to tell you what music we loved that day. Wade. Play Guddi Riddim and thank us later. 

Outro // End Of The Gun Show

That’s it, our cable arm workout. You should feel nicely swollen and for the leaner amongst us, your own cables will probably be on display. Aim to increase weight with each session of this plan or you’ll not progress, but as hotel arm workouts go, this should make a nice rescue session if you’re ever in a fix on what to do.

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