How do I Choose a Cable Machine?

How do I Choose a Cable Machine?

While there’s a certain kind of joy in feeling a cold barbell in your hands, there’s also a special place in a lifter’s heart for that burn of a cable machine.  

A cable machine (also called a functional trainer or pulley machine) creates resistance using weights (plates or stacks) attached to a cable running through a pulley system.  

REP offers five different functional trainers. Some are stand-alone, while others attach to your power rack, but they’re all glorious in their own ways. Not sure which is the best match for you? Here’s how they compare.  

Don’t like to read?  

Here’s a video comparing the Ares vs. Athena (with a Lat and Low Row Attachment).

Benefits of Cable Machines

Cables provide a different stimulus than free weights (dumbbells and barbells). They provide constant tension on the muscles when lifting and lowering the weight -- and tension is related to strength and muscle growth. Cables also allow you to easily work muscles through different planes of motion and angles.  

Here are some other benefits of a functional trainer:  

  • Cable exercises can be easier to perform correctly than barbell exercises, which can make them safer.  
  • They’re great for lifters of all levels.  
  • They’re super versatile for just about every muscle group.  
  • You can isolate muscle groups easily on cable machines.  
  • Selectorized machines (with weight stacks and pins) are quick to load and adjust, speeding up your workout. It’s also easy to swap out handles for different purposes.  

Types of Cable Machines

There are several different types of cable machines.  

Selectorized vs. plate-loaded: Selectorized machines use pre-set stacks of weight, adjusted by pins you stick into a hole in the plate. Plate-loaded trainers have a weight horn (or multiple weight horns) attached to the cable, and you load weight plates onto the horns to change the weight. To add weight to a plate-loaded functional trainer, you need to have separate plates.  

Ratio: A 1:1 ratio means 20 pounds on the cable creates 20 pounds of resistance for you to move. These are also called single-pulley machines. A 2:1 ratio means 20 pounds feels like 10 pounds. These are also called double-pulley machines. A 2:1 ratio is great for functional training, when you want a faster-traveling cable. Don’t mistake two single-pulley machines for a double-pulley; the resistance you will feel is different.  

Specialty cable machines: In addition to the standard cable machines, you can find two specialty types designed to target the back (although you can use them in other ways, too). These are the lat pulldown (pulley is up high) and seated row machines (pulley is low to the ground). The height of these pulleys is not adjustable. 

How to Choose a Functional Trainer?  

Unsure how to pick the right functional trainer for your home gym and personal goals? Let us make it easy for you.  

Here’s a quick look at the pros and cons of REP’s five different functional trainer options.  

FT-5000 2.0 (coming soon!)

Pros: Full, commercial-grade, stand-alone functional trainer. Features 21 different adjustment point and comes with two polymer D-handles and storage pegs to organize your attachments.  

Cons: Biggest footprint if you have limited space. 

FT-3000 


Pros: The most compact, stand-alone functional trainer. Commercial-grade and comes with multiple attachments, and a standard pull-up bar. 

Cons: Lowest weight capacity. 
 

Ares 

  

Pros: Biggest weight capacity, minimal additional footprint, integrated lat pulldown/low row, comes with the most attachments. 

Cons: The most expensive rack-mount functional trainer, shorter cable travel than other rack-mounted options, no band pegs for resistance bands.  

Plate-Loaded Athena 

Pros: High weight capacity, budget friendly (assuming you already have plates), integrated band pegs (so you can use resistance bands), Athena has the longest cable travel length of all functional trainers. The attachment itself is lightweight, baby (87lbs per unit). 

Cons: You need to own plates to add resistance, lat/low row feature not included (you must buy this separately), bigger footprint than Selectorized Athena.  

Selectorized Athena 

Pros: Small additional footprint, easy to adjust weight, no plates needed, integrated band pegs, Athena has the longest cable travel length of all functional trainers.  

Cons: Lowest weight capacity for a rack-mounted functional trainer (but it does match the capacity of the FT-5000). 
 

Still Can’t Decide?  

Here are some of the reasons you might select one functional trainer over the other.  

If you have limited space and no power rack: FT-3000 

The FT-3000 is the compact version of REP’s freestanding functional trainer and has the smallest footprint if you don’t have a power rack, don’t have a PR-4000/5000, or you do but don’t want to attach a cable machine to it. At only 34” deep (2.8’), the trainer is small enough to fit through a standard doorway. It weighs less, too: 770lbs instead of 1,001lbs for the full-size.  

If you have limited space and a power rack: Ares 

The Ares mounts to your existing power rack. In total, it only adds 1.2”(H)x1.6”(W)x6"(D) to the PR-4000, and 1.2”(H)x5”(W)x6"(D) to the PR-5000. 

If you have limited space, a limited budget, and a power rack: Plate-Loaded Athena  

The Plate-Loaded Athena attaches to the side of your power rack, so it doesn’t add much of a footprint to your gym, but it’s more affordable than the Ares or Selectorized Athena – assuming you already have plates. Also, a lat and low row attachment isn’t included in the Athena, so it’s a good bet if you already have one, don’t want one, or don’t mind buying one separately. 

If you have limited space and don’t have a large collection of plates: Selectorized Athena  

The Selectorized Athena adds less width to your power rack than the Plate-Loaded Athena, and with a built-on weight stack, you don’t need to own (or store) plates to add weight to the cables. It does have a slightly bigger footprint than the Ares, which is also selectorized. However, if you don’t want/need an integrated lat and low row attachment (or already have one/don’t mind buying one separately), you’ll want to go with the Athena.  

If you want a functional trainer attachment with a lat pulldown/low row attachment: Ares 

The Ares is the only functional trainer you can attach to your power rack that also comes with a lat pulldown and low row feature.  

If you want a commercial-grade, stand-alone cable system with a high weight capacity: FT-5000 2.0 (coming soon!)

If you have space for a full, stand-alone cable system that’s tough enough for a commercial gym, the FT-5000 2.0 is the mother of all. It boasts the highest weight capacity for a stand-alone functional trainer.  

If you need the most weight: Ares 

If you really need to load up the weights for the gains, the Ares has the other machines beat in terms of weight capacity. This attachment can handle 620lbs between both sides (feels like 310lbs).  

The Specs 

FT-5000 2.0 Functional Trainer (coming soon!)

Stand-alone? Yes.  

Footprint: 85.5"(H)x5.7” (front width)x36”(D) or 7.1'x5.7'x3'  

Ratio: 2:1  

Max capacity: Dual weight stacks. Each tops out at 224lbs, for a total of 448lbs (feels like 224lbs).  

Cable positions: 21 

Cable travel: 86” (7.2')  

Comes with: Two polymer D-handles, storage pegs, and an exercise placard 

Weight of product: 1,001lbs  

Other features: Multiple pull-up grips 

More info here 

 

FT-3000 Compact Functional Trainer 

Stand-alone? Yes.  

Footprint: 78”(H)x53”(W)x34”(D) or 6.5’x4.4’x2.8’ -- compact enough to fit through a standard doorway 

Ratio: 2:1 

Max capacity: Each weight stack tops out at 180lbs (feels like 90lbs) each, or 360lbs total (feels like 180lbs).  

Cable positions: 15 

Cable travel: 81” (6.8’) 

Comes with: Two urethane handles, storage pegs, and exercise placard.  

Weight of product: 770lbs  

Other features: n/a 

More info here. 

 

Ares 

Stand-alone? No. It attaches to your PR-4000 or PR-5000 power rack.  

Footprint: Adds 1.2”(H)x1.6”(W)x6”(D) to the PR-4000. Adds 1.2”(H)x5”(W)x6” (D) to the PR-5000. 

Ratio: 2:1 

Max capacity: Each weight stack is 260lbs (feels like 130lbs) with an option to upgrade to 310lbs (feels like 155lbs) per stack, for a total of 620lbs (feels like 310lbs). The trolley and cable capacity per side are 450lbs (feels like 225lbs), if you want to add bands and other forms of resistance beyond the stack. 

Cable positions: Front pulleys swivel 180 degrees for versatile movements and to work outside the rack. The trolley uses the existing holes on the power rack, so there are a lot of positions and they’re in 2” increments. 

Cable travel: 96” (8’) for the 93” rack or 72” (6’) for the 80” rack.  

Comes with: Footplate, four micro 2.5lb weights, rubber grip strap-style handle, a knurled chrome lat pull-down bar and low row bar, and a connector banana.  

Weight of product: 965lbs  

Other features: Integrated lat pulldown and low row attachment.  

More info here.        

 

Plate-Loaded Athena  

Stand-alone? No, it mounts to the side of your PR-4000 or PR-5000 rack. 

Footprint: Adds 1.8”(H)x12.3”(W)x7.9”(D)  

Ratio: 2:1 

Max capacity: 540lbs (feels like 270lbs)  

Cable positions: Front pulleys have 180-degree swivel for versatility when working outside the rack. The trolley uses the existing holes on the power rack, so there are a lot of positions and they’re in 2” increments.  

Cable travel: 106” (8.8’) for the 93” rack or 82.8” (6.9’) for the 80” rack   

Comes with: Rubber grip strap-style handle  

Weight of product: 87lbs per unit 

Other features: Integrated band pegs on the base and headplate 

More info here. 

 

Selectorized Athena  

Stand-alone? No, it mounts to the side of your PR-4000 or PR-5000 rack. 

FootprintAdds 1.8”(H)x3.7”(W)x7.9”(D) to the PR-4000 or 1.8”(H)x5”(W)x7.9”(D) to the PR-5000.  

Ratio: 2:1 

Max capacity: 220lbs (feels like 110lbs) per side, or 440lbs total (feels like 220lbs).  

Cable positions: Front pulleys have 180-degree swivel for versatility when working outside the rack. The trolley uses the existing holes on the power rack, so there are a lot of positions and they’re in 2” increments.  

Cable travel: 106” (8.8’) for the 93” rack or 82.8” (6.9’) for the 80” rack   

Comes with: Rubber grip strap-style handle  

Weight of product: 258lbs per unit  

Other features: Integrated band pegs on the base and headplate 

More info here. 

 

Learn More 

Want to maximize your cable workouts? Check out “What Are All the Different Cable Grip Attachments and How to Use Them?