Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Bodybuilding With Cables - John Grimek (1958)


Years ago we featured, in an advertisement on the back cover of this magazine, the impressive back pose of one Fred Rollon. 

This picture arrested the glance of all who happened to look at this particular issue, causing them to scrutinize the picture with more than a passing look. 

It was the ridges and furrows which covered this man's back, indicating hard muscularity, that was so amazing and eye catching. 

And almost without exception those who studied it were bound to ask: How did this man develop such a muscular back? What type of exercises does he do? These plus many other questions dealing with the development of the back were asked. 

The simple truth is, that at the time we used this photo in the advertisement mentioned above, we did not have very much information about the man or the training method he employed. Eventually we got the full details and everyone here was surprised to learn that among his favorite exercises was the use of a chest expander. In fact he admitted that chest expanders played a very important part in developing his fine physique. Moreover, he was a very extraordinary cable puller and openly made claims that this training was responsible for his physical development. 

Cables Very Popular at One Time

Cable training used to be very popular in this country years ago. It still is in some parts of the world, particularly England. In fact England is one of the few places left where cable pulling contests are still much in vogue, in much the same way as weightlifting is featured here and in other countries around the world. 

Note: Imagine if Bob Hoffman had put the entire of his funds and energy behind cable training instead of Oly lifting. Later, Weiders Ben & Joey would see the financial and "legacy" opportunities in this, and proceed to battle the Yorkies for dominance in the now-popular (thanks to Arnold Be-Doucheful and his popularizing antics) field of this business of expansion and contraction at the ends of cables and springs . . . This would have, in my view, made delivery drivers given the task of hauling endless weight sets up eternal flights of stairs very "happy" and they tended in this parallel universe to look down on and despise the crude and rough lumpers and loaders of heavy iron fitness equipment in their simple and primitive alternate world. 

During the Roarin' 20s when many of the train you by mail systems were popular, most of them sold chest expanders exclusively. Earle Leiderman . . . 


. . . now a feature writer for Strength & Health, used to sell such a training system. He had, I think, one of the best cable sets offered to the public. I know, I owned one. 

Other old-timers may remember the novel type of chest expander that Charles MacMahon . . . 

here performing a somersault with 30-lb. dumbbells

. . . offered for sale which consisted of 20 strands; 10 strong, five medium, and five weak. This idea was good and permitted faster progress by using a weak cable when the person wasn't quite strong enough to use a heavier one. 

Note: it's possible to micro-load expanders with stretch bands but we all realized that already. 

However, besides the two men just mentioned there were dozens of others who sold this type of apparatus with varying tension strands. Some were good, while others were only fair and could not be used to advantage. 

Outstanding Development Possible

It's a certainty that fellows who use cables exclusively almost always develop some outstanding feature, such as exceptional arms, massive shoulders, rounded chests or muscular backs. Unlike any other form of training cables do stimulate muscular development faster. 

Personally I favor this type of training and used it extensively in earlier years. However, my experience proved to me that, although this form of training does increase the size of the muscles, it does not improve the strength in proportion to this size. Later, others with whom I was acquainted also confirmed this conclusion through their own experience. 

In other words, most fellows who used this type of training do acquire amazing muscular size and even look strong, but when it comes to actual tests of strength they flunk miserably. 

It was this deduction that prompted me to give up cable training and turn my efforts to weights. Later, after I'd given the matter considerable thought, I decided to COMBINE the two for better results. 

I found that cables helped me to pack greater strength into the muscles. I'm convinced that when BOTH of these training methods are combined, this COMBINATION makes the ideal training program for obtaining size and strength. 

Another thing, cables offer such a variety of unusual exercises which activate the muscles in such a diversified manner that improvement is bound to result if training is persistent and serious.

The main advantage of cable training is the ever-increasing resistance one gets as the cables are stretched to their full length. To illustrate this point more clearly let me cite the curl with cables for example. As you begin to flex (curl) the arm the resistance keeps increasing until it is many times greater than it was at the start. In other words, resistance at the beginning is almost nil, but as the cables are stretched to their full length, the resistance continues to mount. Then, as the forearm reaches the halfway position (forearm parallel to the floor), the resistance begins to make itself felt, and by the time full flexion of the arm is complete, the resistance is vastly increased. This is the advantage that cables have over weights and because of it you can develop bigger and better shaped muscles. 

When curling with weights the reaction is quite different.  The resistance with weights can be felt right from the beginning and is felt throughout the entire exercise. The greatest resistance, you'll agree, is felt about the midway position when the forearm becomes parallel with the floor. But as the curl reaches completion, the weight brought up to the shoulder, the resistance becomes somewhat reduced because the leverage between the hand and the shoulder is lessened, decreasing the resistance. 

Not so with cables. 

They continue to exert stronger resistance with every inch they are stretched. This, as anyone can see by this example, is why cable training is excellent for increasing the size of the muscles . . . ever-increasing resistance. 

Another Advantage Not Usually Known

Cables have another advantage which is not generally know -- they may be used by even the weakest of people. Perhaps this is the reason why unusual strength cannot be acquired through this medium: They require no strength to hold or support while the exercise is being done. Let me give another example. 

If you were using a 5-pound dumbbell to do a one hand curl you would be conscious of this poundage right from the starting position. But with cables you feel only the weight of the set alone, which may weigh a pound or two at the most. However, as you begin to curl with cables you become aware of the ever-increasing tension as the cables are stretched to the full distance needed to complete the curl. 

Not so with weights. 

When you use a dumbbell, suited to your strength, you feel the full resistance just holding it preparatory to doing the curl. It gets heavier as the forearm reaches the parallel position with the floor, but once past this stage the resistance actually becomes lessened because of the leverage factor. In fact there is a detail I would like to point out that some of you may not be aware of in connection with curling with cables or weights.

After you've passed the midway position with weights you seldom fail to complete the curl. But with cables the story is different. Even after you've passed this stage there is still a possibility of failing to complete the movement. Cable resistance continues to mount up to the very completion of the movement, but weight resistance tapers off after a certain point is reached, governed by leverage. 

Cable Training for Invalids 

Our old friend Dr. McCloy from Iowa University was the first to adopt this system of training for those who had suffered some form of heart attack or had some cardiac condition. 

He theorized and, subsequently proved, that even light dumbbells weighing five pounds or less could prove too much for those who had any kind of heart ailment. Cables offered the best solution. These did not involve any strain while holding them as was the case with any weights. 

Such training could be safely employed by these people without danger so long as they avoided excessive resistance. But any cable set can be readily adjusted to fit the strength requirements of anyone and, moreover, the resistance stopped at any point. 

For example, if one begins to do the regular curl pull and finds the resistance too strong to stretch out all the way, even when one strand is used, he stretches it only as far as he feels he is capable without subjecting himself to any strain. The strand is allowed to retract and stretched out again to the previous position. In time the strength of his muscles improves so he can complete the full movement without danger to himself, thus continuing to improve his muscle tone and strength. 

Cables Are Easy to Carry 

Cables are convenient to carry on trips and are easily concealed in traveling bags. How well I recall the incident that happened in the lobby of a Chicago hotel during the time of the 1947 National Championships. 

Eric Pederson, then a competitor in the Mr. America contest, walked into the lobby lugging his heavy suitcase. One ambitious bellhop, anxious to make himself a tip. asked if he could carry the case for him. 

An odd grin seemed to pass over Eric's face as he nodded his approval and then stood aside. It was comical to watch this slender bellhop put up a heroic battle to lift the bag only to give up in mad frustration as he suggested that Eric carry his own bag. Everyone who saw this incident had to laugh, because Eric then reached down and lifted the bag quite effortlessly and continued on. 

Later we did learn that Eric had a couple heavy plate dumbbells packed in the bag . . . no wonder the anemic-looking bellhop couldn't move it. 

More than once I've carried with me on a trip a set of our flat natural rubber cables to keep my muscles toned up. 


It didn't take too many repetitions to work the muscles and make them feel "pumped up." Moreover, it didn't require a prolonged workout to achieve this condition, only a matter of minutes, since more concentration can be imparted to each movement. 

The above does not imply that I favor this type of training exclusively. I don't. In fact I gave up regular cable training years ago. However, I do include them occasionally for a diversion and do believe there are certain advantages that can be had from cables which other apparatus does not provide. 

There may be times when you find it rather inconvenient to visit the gym or use the weights at home, and under such conditions cable training will fit the bill perfectly. 

Or you may be inclined to include cable training on some of your alternate days, especially are the type that requires more than the usual recommended training. In any case, however, give the chest expanders aa workout once in a while and feel the reaction they have on your muscles. 

Many Unusual Exercises Possible

Cables can provide unusual movements for the lats, shoulders, arms and chest. I doubt if you can find anyone who has employed chest expanders exclusively that didn't develop some part of the body to an unusual development does occur. Therefore, by combining cable training with weight training you will not only achieve size, shape and definition, but strength, something not possible through exclusive cable training. Cables help to increase the bulk and size of the muscle, while the weights help to pack power into them.   

Before listing some of the better cable developing exercises I would like to answer a question I am often confronted with in regards to chest expanders, namely which is the best type of expander; the elastic strands, the steel springs, or the newer flat type? 

This, of course, is a matter of preference, but for my money I would prefer the flat natural rubber expander, which is sold exclusively by York. They are easy to adjust (as are all other types for that matter), and there is never any pinching of the skin, which sometimes happens when steel springs are used. 

Also, this flat rubber expander can be used with or without handles. Moreover, it is possible to make them any length one desires, which is impossible with any other expander unless special sized cables are made for it. This flat cable can be shortened simply by pulling it through the handle to the length desired and then fastening it by pushing or tightening down the eyelet to secure the cable in place. In this way you always have the choice of using a shorter or longer cable for different movements as may be required. 

Shorter and Longer Arms

Another interesting item about exercise expanders which few people know about is that shorter arms usually make cable pulling easier. Official contests of this type are not determined by the number of strands pulled out, but rather by HOW such cables are stretched out. 

In determining the winner increasing weights are hung on one end of the cables to stretch them out to the same distance the contestant pulled them. And whatever weight it took to stretch them out to that distance is the poundage the contestant is given credit for. 

For example, if a long armed individual pulled only six cables but stretched them a foot more than a short armed fellow who pulled seven cables, a heavier weight might be required to stretch the six cables out to the longer distance than it would take to stretch the seven cables to the shorter distance. Because, if you remember, the farther the cables are stretched the greater the resistance becomes. 

That is why our flat rubber expander is better; it can be adjusted to fit the needs of any man, whether he is tall with long arms, or short with short arms. This is a definite advantage to have a custom made expander, and our flat expander is just that.  

Outstanding Cable Exercises 

Almost every exercise with cables seems to involve the triceps and shoulders to some degree, making those who use this form of training possess outstanding development in these parts. 

Therefore, it is more important for those who lack development in these parts to undertake some cable training along with their regular barbell work to increase the size and muscularity of these parts. 

The following are some of the better known exercises, but any true enthusiast could easily discover dozens more, much more than it is possible to list here. 

See Photos Above. 

1)  Archers' movement.
2)  Overhead pull down to back.  
3)  Same as above but down to thighs, front.
4)  Lateral raise.
5)  Same as above, one arm anchored at side.
6)  Front chest pull, arms extended front.
7)  From thighs (back) to overhead.
8)  Chest press, front. 
9)  Back press.
10) Pulley exercise for pectorals.
11) Lat exercise. One arm remains stationary, other arm is extended. 
12) Triceps, with reverse grip straighten arm.
13) One hand curl.
14) From thighs to overhead, front. 
15) Press down for triceps.
16) One arm press. 

Enjoy Your Lifting!  



  1. A terrific assembly of cable training photos and relevant ads. My compliments to TTSDB's content editor. Even mention of rare comparisons of strength feat quality between long and short armed "pullers." We harken back to the days of official strand pulling contests in Europe.

    1. Thanks, Jan! Glad you liked this one. John Grimek, when it came to putting out articles of worth, was The Man in that regard too. Some cool photo finds here, I gotta admit I was surprised to find some of 'em.


Blog Archive