6 Effective Cable Crossover Alternatives (With Pictures!)

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
August 1, 2022

The cable crossover is a pulley machine based exercise commonly found in many bodybuilding training splits for the purposes of inducing muscular hypertrophy in the chest muscles, especially in the capacity of an isolation exercise.

However, despite its relative safety and ease of performance, the cable crossover may require substitution in a training program due to a variety of issues either characteristic of the exercise itself, or of that related to the exerciser and their training goals.

The cable crossover has a variety of similar alternative exercises that do not possess the same issues commonly complained about by cable crossover performers, allowing for its alternating out with little to no change in training stimulus or end results.

Issues with the Cable Crossover

The cable crossover’s largest and most common issue revolves around the fact that its maximal loading potential of the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor is severely limited by a variety of factors relating to the exerciser’s positioning in relation to the cable machine itself, as well as the exercise’s muscle group activation pattern.

cable cross over

As such, a majority of intermediate to advanced level gymgoers and athletes will often seek out a more intense free weight exercise capable of overloading the pectoral muscle group in a manner otherwise difficult to achieve and maintain with just the cable crossover exercise.

Other issues related to the cable crossover are in the reduction of stabilizer muscle group recruitment due to the exercise’s nature as a machine based movement, or in the fact that the cable crossover is generally inefficient in comparison to other chest building exercises available.

In certain instances, the cable crossover may be impossible to perform for certain exercisers due to their lack of access to a cable machine - requiring that an exercise of similar training stimulus but different equipment usage act as a substitute.

What Makes an Exercise a Suitable Cable Crossover Alternative?

Whether or not an exercise can make a suitable alternative to the cable crossover will primarily depend on what sort of circumstances has lead the exerciser to substitute it, with simple matters such as a lack of equipment or a desire to try new exercises requiring little to no extra thinking in regards to an exercise’s suitability.

However, for individuals seeking a specific training stimulus, increase in training intensity or athletes looking for a more practical alternative exercise - the most important factor to pay attention to is the muscle group activation set and the intensity therein of any potential alternative exercise candidate.

cable crossover

Primarily, the alternative exercise should activate the pectoral muscles to a moderate intensity as an absolute minimum - with the addition of other muscle groups either acting as a detriment or a bonus depending on the training structure and goals of the exerciser

Lastly, individuals wishing to substitute out the cable crossover due to a history or risk of injuries in the shoulders, elbows or clavicles may be better served utilizing lower intensity exercises that do not present the same angle of resistance so as to prevent any worsening of said health conditions.

These individuals must, of course, consult a licensed medical professional prior to making a decision so as to avoid any untoward incidents from occurring.

How to Substitute the Cable Crossover in a Workout

The cable crossover is usually added to a workout program as an auxiliary exercise meant to “finish off” the pectoral muscle group, allowing the exerciser to maximize any potential training stimulus and thus muscular growth from their session.

As such, if choosing to retain this particular characteristic of the cable crossover in one's workout program, the alternative exercise must be of a similar impact and muscle group activation set - that is, primarily the chest muscles on their own.

Machine Based Cable Crossover Alternatives

As a constant time under tension is one of the defining characteristics of the cable crossover (a form of training stimulus otherwise difficult to recreate), the most suitable type of alternative exercise involves the usage of a cable machine or similar exercise machine so as to induce a similar kind of resistance.

Fortunately, many pectoral muscle group isolation exercises can make use of the cable crossover, with such exercises like the pec deck machine and cable machine fly recreating not only the training stimulus of the cable crossover, but also its angle of resistance and level of intensity to an extent.

1. Cable Machine Flyes

Cable machine flyes are one of the closest possible alternative exercises to the cable crossover, with an extremely similar angle of resistance, form, and level of intensity if the machine is adjusted in such a manner.

The primary difference between the two is in the fact that the cable machine fly is performed while the exerciser is lying at an incline on a bench or similar surface, thereby activating the posterior deltoids to a larger extent and requiring that the exerciser utilize extra equipment to perform the movement.

As such, the cable machine fly is the most suitable alternative exercise for individuals simply wishing to try a new but similar exercise, or for exercisers wishing to alter the mechanics of the cable crossover due to certain injuries or specific biomechanical related training goals.

2. Pec Deck Machine

The pec deck machine is a standalone type of resistance equipment primarily utilized for recreating the chest flye motion without the usage of any additional equipment - and with the added benefits that come as a characteristic of machine based exercises.

As such, the pec deck machine makes a suitable alternative for exercisers unable to perform the cable crossover due to a lack of an available cable pulley machine, or for exercisers seeking a stricter path and angle of resistance as opposed to the somewhat more free cable pulley.

The pec deck machine does come with its own set of limitations in regards to its capacity as a cable crossover alternative, as though it activates the same muscle groups, it does so in a far more predetermined angle of resistance - and usually in a manner less conducive to muscular hypertrophy due to the reduced isometric contraction involved.

3. Chest Press Machine

The machine counterpart to the barbell bench press, the chest press machine is also an excellent alternative to the cable crossover for exercisers seeking a distinctly more intense substitute exercise that activates more than just the pectoral muscles in a compound movement fashion.

This is done by the exerciser seating themselves within the machine prior to pressing a pair of handles away from their chest in a manner identical to that of the bench press - thereby having the intended effect of recruiting the triceps, pectorals and deltoids in a simultaneous pattern.

When compared to the cable crossover, the chest press machine produces a significantly more intense training stimulus and thus will require subsequent alteration in the workout program of the exerciser so as to avoid injury or overtraining.

This reprogramming will generally take the form of reduced volume to all involved muscle groups, as well as shifting the chest press machine exercise to a sooner point in the order of exercises.

Free Weight Cable Crossover Alternatives

In the event that no exercise machines are available to the exerciser, or if said exerciser is instead searching for a more intense and dynamic type of training stimulus than what the standard cable crossover can offer, the usage of certain free weight exercises should be more than sufficient for such goals.

Certain exercises may nearly replicate the form mechanics and angle of resistance involved in the cable crossover, such as in the case of the dumbbell fly - while others will activate the same muscle groups, but in a different manner and as such with a path of motion that may be more comfortable for certain individuals.

4. Dumbbell Flyes

The free weight counterpart of the cable crossover, dumbbell flyes are primarily performed by the exerciser gripping a pair of dumbbells in both hands as they lie on a bench, dipping the dumbbells to approximately parallel level with their chest or lower so as to fully activate the pectoral muscles in line with their natural mechanics.

As a cable crossover alternative, dumbbell flyes are functionally and mechanically quite similar, though with the added benefit of activating certain stabilizer muscle groups in an isometric capacity so as to build muscular endurance, bodily coordination and passive strength conditioning in muscles other than the chest muscle group.

As such, for individuals searching for a nearly identical substitute to the cable crossover, the dumbbell flyers make the perfect alternative exercise - requiring little to no subsequent reprogramming of the exerciser’s workout routine if used.

5. Plate Presses

A variation of the press movement wherein the main source of resistance is that of a weight plate instead of a barbell or similar implement, plate presses recruit significantly more pectoralis minor muscle fibers due to the angle and distance of the hands in relation to one another.

As is natural to the particular form of most press movements, the plate press will activate muscle groups not normally involved in the cable crossover exercise - making it a compound type alternative that is unsuitable for individuals who are unwilling to shift around their workout exercise order for such a substitution.

Otherwise, the plate press is capable of inducing training stimulus in not only the pectoralis muscle group, but also the triceps brachii, anterior deltoid head and serratus to a certain extent, retaining the pectoral muscles as the primary mover nonetheless.

In the context of repetition volume, the plate press will cause fatigue to be accrued at a significantly faster rate than the cable crossover due to its wider muscle group activation set and higher intensity - therefore requiring that the exerciser reduce the total volume of repetitions in order to retain the same training intensity.

6. Dumbbell Pullovers

The dumbbell pullover is yet another classic chest targeting free weight exercise performed with the use of only a single dumbbell or weight plate - allowing it to act as a perfect alternative for individuals with limited access to training equipment.

dumbbell pullover

In terms of its ability to act as a potential alternative exercise to the training stimulus of the cable crossover, the dumbbell pullover activates much the same muscle groups in a similar level of intensity - though with a significantly different type of resistance, alongside an angle of resistance that trains an entirely different function of the pectoral muscles.

However, due to the fact that the dumbbell pullover utilizes such a different angle of resistance via different shoulder mechanics, it is no longer considered an isolation exercise and as such will train more muscle groups than the cable crossover itself.

This makes the dumbbell pullover a valid option only if the exerciser is willing or knowledgeable enough to reprogram their workout routine for this change in muscle group activation pattern.

Conclusion

Needing to substitute out the cable crossover is not a complex task, as quite a few alternatives exist for practically every circumstance the exerciser may find themselves in (as is previously shown in this article).

Regardless of what alternative exercise is chosen, or what circumstances lead to such a choice, the exerciser must ensure that they convert the resistance, volume of repetitions and rate of perceived exertion accordingly so as to avoid overtraining, excessive fatigue or even injury.

And in cases where the cable crossover is substituted out due to a history of injuries or similar health issues, it is vitally important for the exerciser to first consult a medical professional prior to performing any further exercises that may exacerbate their condition.

References

1. Schütz, Pascal, Pia Zimmer, Fabian Zeidler, Michael Plüss, Katja Oberhofer, Renate List, and Silvio R. Lorenzetti. 2022. "Chest Exercises: Movement and Loading of Shoulder, Elbow and Wrist Joints" Sports 10, no. 2: 19. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports10020019

2. Solstad TE, Andersen V, Shaw M, Hoel EM, Vonheim A, Saeterbakken AH. A Comparison of Muscle Activation between Barbell Bench Press and Dumbbell Flyes in Resistance-Trained Males. J Sports Sci Med. 2020 Nov 19;19(4):645-651. PMID: 33239937; PMCID: PMC7675616.

3. Barnett C., Kippers V., Turner P. Effects of variations of the bench press exercise on the EMG activity of five shoulder muscles. J. Strength Cond. Res. 1995;9:222–227.

4. Koyama Y, Kobayashi H, Suzuki S, Enoka RM. Enhancing the weight training experience: a comparison of limb kinematics and EMG activity on three machines. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010;109(5):789–801.

5. Rocha VDA Jr, Gentil P, Oliveira E, Do Carmo J. Comparison among the EMG activity of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoidis and triceps brachii during the bench press and peck deck exercises. Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte. 2007;13(1):43e–6e.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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