There are a number of cable machines I've maxed out at the gym, such as: leg extension, triceps cable push down, lying machine squat, etc.

Now I'm at the point where I'm doing 5 by 5 with very slow movements. How else can I take advantage of these machines for strength and size?

I've maxed out the following:

  • Lying Machine Squat: 410 lbs @ 10+ reps.
  • Triceps Cable Pushdown: 205 lbs @ 5+ reps.
  • Leg Extension: 310 lbs @ 10+ reps.

I already do free weights for the above muscle groups: deadlifts, bench press with narrow grip & bent over dumbbell kickbacks.

To be clear with everyone, I already do all the major free weights exercises, so it's not a lack of willingness. I currently do:

  • Shoulder Press: 140 lbs @ 5 reps
  • Bench Press: 140 lbs @ 10 reps
  • Dumbbell Arnold Press
  • Front Shoulder Raise
  • Dumbbell Bent over Delt Row
  • Dubbell Lateral Raise
  • Easy-bar Preacher Curl

But lets face it, cable machines make certain exercises a lot more convenient and they add a lot of variety.

  • 1
    What "weight" are you maxed out at? Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 13:54
  • @DaveLiepmann See my update.
    – Salsero69
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 15:18
  • 1
    At what weight are you doing deadlifts? Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 19:06
  • My deadlifts are at 270 lbs, my squat was at 320 lbs; not counting the bar.
    – Salsero69
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 21:56
  • 1
    I think the answer here is to deadlift the cable machine.
    – fire.eagle
    Commented Jul 25, 2012 at 15:07

4 Answers 4


It's good that you do deadlifts, but the next best size builder are straight up free weight squats. Please do not be overconfident the first time you do free weight squats to full depth. Get used to the movement with an empty bar and the work up to it. I was able to do machine squats at over 400lbs, but when it came to free weight squats I couldn't even do half that. There is such a difference in the range of motion, that you'll find yourself much weaker where the machines couldn't hit.

When you have maxed out the weight you can do with a machine, the only thing you can do with it is increase the overall volume. More reps, more sets. But that's it. The four big compound lifts are also major mass builders:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Press

By varying intensity and volume work, you can grow quite a lot with them. The combination provides a solid foundation, and the heavier you go with them, the more mass you can build with them.

Instead of the triceps push down, consider doing laying triceps extensions with the ez-curl bar. You can load the bar more than the machine. Or perhaps weighted dips to truly blast your triceps.

I understand that there are valid reasons to use machines, but when there is nothing left that the machine can give you, it's time to find something else that will take you further. The fact that machines have limits is one of the biggest reasons they can only do so much for you.

If you aren't able to do free-weight squats at parallel for at least your body weight, you are severely limiting the mass you can gain, and the benefits it gives to your core strength, stability, and posterior chain strength.

  • I used to do squats a long time ago, but have put it aside for deadlifts for the time being.
    – Salsero69
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 18:47
  • 1
    It shouldn't be an either/or thing with the DLs. The fact remains if you have maxed out what the current tool can do, you have to look to a different tool. Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 19:06
  • 1
    @Salsero69 I've done that too. But why put aside squats when you're doing half a dozen different shoulder exercises? Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 19:29
  • @DaveLiepmann For the same reason I wouldn't do incline bench press, decline bench press and regular bench press in one workout. I'll do one for a couple of months, then switch to another, etc.
    – Salsero69
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 21:52
  • @Salsero69 I guess I misunderstood--I thought you meant that you did all that shoulder work concurrently. Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 18:07

Step away from the cable machines.

Try free weights.

Add an aspect of balance with free weights.

  • 1
    Care to explain why?
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 14:40
  • @ryanMiller I already do free weights and like to balance it out with the cable machines.
    – Salsero69
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 15:19
  • 4
    You don't need to "balance it out" with cable machines. If you do the right barbell exercises, you'll get strong all over with no need to balance anything out. For example, squats should preclude the need for leg extensions or the machine squat. Bench press and overhead press should replace tricep extensions.
    – user3085
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 17:46

Personally, I agree that free weights will give you more gains in the overall scheme of weight lifting. Reason being, you have to use other smaller muscle groups to help stabilize and balance the weight being lifted. That being said, here is my solution to your question if you insist on using cable machines...

NEGATIVES! (or eccentric muscle lengthening)

Over the past several decades, numerous studies have established that eccentric contractions can maximize the force exerted and the work performed by muscle; that they are associated with a greater mechanical efficiency; that they can attenuate the mechanical effects of impact forces; and that they enhance the tissue damage associated with exercise. (in a peer reviewed article by Roger Enoka entitled Eccentric contractions require unique activation strategies by the nervous system)

"Negatives" force your muscle to work differently and breaks them down more (in a good way). I will often finish some of my super sets (two exercises back to back that may or may not include the same muscle group) with the same muscle group. If I can't finish my second set, I will cheat the weight up and perform negatives until I just can not do them efficiently.


There are usually different attachments that you can get, particularly for the pulldown machine and the row (same machine in my gym). You could get a D-Handle or a rope handle to add elements of grip strength to your tricep pushdowns for instance, or add in one handed or two handed wood chops and reverse wood chops. There's also an attachment I've seen in a book but never in a store or in person that lets you tie it around your ankle to practice moving your leg slideways, which would be a great balance for the flexion and extension of leg extensions and glute-ham curls.

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