Exercise machines have gotten a bad rap. The typical lifter is guilty of looking at a machine and thinking: worthless. But that’s not fair. The problem isn’t with the machines; it’s with the lifters.

Most gym-goers — if they use a machine—don’t venture beyond the faded directions that were slapped on in the factory. Trouble is, an exercise machine circuit repeated day after day is about as challenging of a workout routine as water aerobics .

Exercise variety is the path to faster muscle and strength gains. It’s one of the main reasons Elite trainers often keep clients moving from the turf to the TRX to the exercise machines; the variations are endless. But what about the days you can’t make it to Training Club or a session. 

We offer a third option: new operating instructions — make the exercise machines work better for you. For example, turn the Cable Machine into a full-body fat burner. You can use the following exercises as training tools in your next solo routine. The end result: burn fat and build more muscle.

Exercises designed by Chris Runyon, NASM-CPT, EMT, owner of Elite Sport & Fitness


Reverse lunge with Row 

Sets/Reps: 3x 10

  • Attach the cables at a waist-height.
  • Back up until the cables are taut when your arms are straight.
  • Now step back with your right foot and lower your body until your left knee is bent 90 degrees. This is the starting position.
  • Pull the cable to your armpit while simultaneously holding a lunge position on your left leg.
  • Do 12 repetitions, Then do 6 more on your opposite side.

Advanced: When rowing pulse down into a lunge.

Modification: Instead of holding a lunge position, stand with feet hip-width apart.

Chest press with lunge

 Sets/Reps: 3x 10

  • Face away from the machine holding the cables taunt in both hands.
  • With your feet together and a handle in each hand, bend your elbows out to the sides, palms facing down
  • Step forward with one foot into a lunge position.
  • Press your arms straight in front of you.
  • Control your arms as you bring them back.
  • Hold the lunge for your first 12 reps, then switch legs for 12 more. 

Advanced: When pressing, lunge down onto the ground.

Modification: Instead of holding a lunge position, stand with feet in a staggered stance.

Horizontal wood chop

Sets/Reps: 3x 10  

  • Set the cable machine to chest-height
  • Grab the handles with both hands, arms extended in a split squat stance perpendicular to the machine.
  • Turn your shoulders and hips at the same time while keeping your arms straight throughout. Pivot your feet and twist your hips as you move the cable to the side.