Cable crossover exercise

Cable crossover exercise: Workout for the pectoral muscles

People have different attitudes toward the crossover exercise (cable crossovers). As a rule, it is included in most bodybuilding programs. But there are quite a few guys who avoid it.

You’ve probably met some of them. They believe that in order to pump up the chest, you need to focus on incline and horizontal barbell presses and various variants with dumbbells and nothing else. They’re right in a way, as the basic multi-joint exercises contribute to the greatest muscle gains.

Nevertheless, cable crossovers are one of the most effective machine exercises for the development and proper working out of the pectoral muscles.


Which muscles are involved?

The obvious answer is the pectorals. To be more precise, the upper or lower part of the chest, which is dependent on where the blocks for the cables are located. Some experts argue that the pectoral muscle is one unified muscle mass and is not divided into upper, middle or lower part. But numerous studies have shown that different exercises affect certain parts of it differently. For example, a barbell press on an incline bench stimulates the upper chest more than on a horizontal bench and the incline press with your head down mainly trains the lower rib cage area. So, of course, there is still a difference between the exercises.

Now back to the crossover. Having the cables up high, it trains the upper chest to a much greater extent than the lower chest. However, there are ways to modify the technique in order to pump up the lower part as well. For example, pulling the handle below the waist engages the lower parts of the chest to take the load and be worked. Nevertheless, this exercise is not usually used in this way. Reverse push-ups and incline bench press with your head down are better suited for that. The main conclusion is simple, although the crossover can load the entire chest area from being placed at different heights, it is still particularly effective and appropriate to use it for the upper part of the chest.

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Technique of performing

This exercise is performed on a cable-pull machine consisting of two vertical racks connected by a frame at the top. There are adjustable weights that move on ropes on the racks. On the other ends of ropes, handles are fixed, which are pulled by the athletes.

Here’s what it looks like:

  1. Stand between the racks, with one foot slightly in front (split step position).
  2. Grasp the handles located at the blocks. Elbows slightly bent and the palms facing each other.
  3. Bring your hands together until they touch and it’s preferable to cross your wrists slightly for the workout to become more effective.
  4. Concentrate on chest tension, not on the effort of the arm muscles, as it should be the chest muscles that are pulling the handles together.
  5. Perform it smoothly, without rocking and the movement should only take place at the shoulder joint. Do not try to ease the movement and include other muscles.
  6. Do not start with a jerk, as this reduces efficiency. Also, don’t drop the weight in the negative part of the amplitude, let them down slowly.

As a rule, the most common mistake most guys and girls make is placing their elbows at the same level as their shoulders and sometimes even lifting them above their shoulders. This is exactly the same mistake that many people make when they are spreading their arms with dumbbells lying down or bringing their arms together on a butterfly machine.

Here’s what it looks like:

This position of the elbows not only reduces the load on the chest, but also rotates the shoulders into a very undesirable position, which could lead to injury.

The shoulders are one of the most easily injured parts of the body in weightlifting and a high elbow position is very injury prone. The same applies to the standing barbell press behind the head.

There are three things to keep track of to perform the correct technique:

  • The elbows below the shoulders. A slight forward bend of the torso. As a result, you achieve two things, more involvement of the pectoral muscles and it also helps to keep the elbows below the level of the shoulders. In terms of the pectoral muscles, the principle is the same as in reverse push-ups. Bending forward involves more of the pectoral muscle fibers to be worked.
  • Fully straightening the arms out to the sides. This enables lengthening of the muscle, a process that is the reverse of muscle fiber contraction, where you pull the handles forward and down and feel tension in the chest muscles. It is because of this tension that many people consider this phase of movement to be more important. However, research shows that the phase of the exercise when the arms are spread apart is just as (if not more) important for muscle growth. Therefore, it is important to feel the full straightening and even tension of the pectoral muscles when the elbows go completely behind the back (the elbows are always below the level of the shoulders). The stretching phase is the key phase in gaining muscle mass.
  • Blocks over your head. Usually no one discusses this. The vast majority of cable-pull machines have the ability to adjust the position of the blocks. In any case, try to make sure the blocks are over your shoulders (preferably over your head). Then, when you bend the upper half of your torso, the pectoral muscle is tensed forward and downward.

Try to cross your arms. Crossover means “crossing over”. The name is not accidental. You actually have to cross your arms until your wrists cross. This is one of the few exercises for the chest, which allows you to do this, as a large number of muscle fibers are deeper trained in this way.

The crossover should be performed at the end of the chest workout. 3 sets of 10-15 reps should be done.

Comparison to other exercises

As discussed earlier, the crossover is one of the best chest muscle exercises if done correctly. How effective is it compared to other exercises? To begin with, it is primarily designed for the pectoral muscles. It works great in this sense as the muscles are isolated for the load.

According to Brett Contreras’ electromyography (EMG) data, the greatest activation of the upper pectoral muscle fibers is achieved during the incline barbell bench press. And the greatest average activation is when performing a crossover. Simply put, as a result of the large amplitude of the movement, the greatest average activation of the muscle fibers is achieved. The upper pectoral muscles are kept in tension longer than in any other exercise. In that sense, it prevails over the incline barbell bench press, which most people think is the best exercise. This study also included:

  • Bench press on a horizontal bench;
  • Arm extension with dumbbells in a lying position;
  • Guillotine press (bench press with neutral grip, palms facing each other).

Another study at the University of Wisconsin compared nine of the most popular chest muscle exercises. Here’s what they found: the barbell bench press, the butterfly and the crossover are the three un-doubtful leaders in terms of muscle activation. It is important to add that this refers to the entire pectoral muscle, that is the upper, the middle and lower parts.

Places were distributed as follows:

  1. Bench press is the winner, as it was assigned 100%.
  2. The butterfly machine: 98% of muscle activation.
  3. Crossover: 93% of muscle activation. It is important to note that it was a crossover with a slight forward bend of the torso.

Let’s summarize

The crossover (cable crossovers) is a very effective isolation exercise. It is popular among athletes for shaping the relief and more definite contours of the chest.

Of course, horizontal and incline bench presses are much better for increasing the chest size and volume overall.

There is no need to significantly increase the weights in the crossover to enhance its effectiveness. The most important thing is to perform it regularly and with the correct technique at all times.

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