Ive noticed on the lowest weight, cables on my overhead pull-down do not return freely. In fact I can let go of the bar and it just sits there.

I can't find one pulley that is especially stiffer than the others, but none of them spin freely. e.g. I can turn them easily but if if I try to spin it, it stops immediately.

How smoothly should these pulleys turn? My machine is virtually new and I don't want to put something in only to find it's too free; for all I know the pulleys should be damped?


In a perfect world pulleys would be frictionless (i.e. spin forever). In reality, it is probably not as much as you think. If you weigh the bar and then compare to the weight of the stack (plus auxiliary pieces), the difference should be friction applied. You can attach a fish scale to the handle attachment point to get a better estimate at the weight stack.

If you have a lot of friction, it will make the concentric movements tougher, and eccentric movements easier. In terms of linear progression, if you always do your workouts on the same machine the friction is always the same and so you can still make progress. This is the same idea as working out on machines whose plates are just labelled 1 2 3 etc.

Pulleys in most exercise machines will spin and stop shortly; in other words, they are damped. They are not designed to spin forever and they are not designed with ball bearings (in comparison to, say, a skateboard wheel).

  • Yes that's fine but doing the lightest weights, there isn't enough force to pull the bar back. So you can't use it.
    – Mr. Boy
    Feb 18 '21 at 12:39
  • Understood. That's just going to require a bit of mental math from you. My old gym had this solid iron handle that weighed 30 lb. Meaning 30 lb on the stack was the new "zero". So 100 lb on the stack was 70, etc. Once you figure out the handle weight you just need to recalibrate. So the "lightest weight" might actually be 2 plates in if the handle is heavy enough.
    – C. Lange
    Feb 18 '21 at 15:26
  • In other to have enough weight for the weights to fall back, there are many exercises I cannot do. I am fairly sure when it was brand new this was not the case but I cannot find one obviously stiff pulley. Hence my original question: in a machine are pulleys normally loose enough you can set them spinning, or damped? I don't have a second machine to compare with but someone reaching must
    – Mr. Boy
    May 8 '21 at 15:38
  • 1
    @Mr.Boy -- added my opinion to the answer. Just tested two pulleys at the gym. Both were about 2 seconds until full stop.
    – C. Lange
    May 9 '21 at 0:55
  • Appreciate you taking the time. Mine sure feels like there is more friction - the machine surely should be usable with minimum weight and I am sure it used to be - but I cannot see one obvious bad pulley.
    – Mr. Boy
    May 10 '21 at 8:48

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