A Cable Striking Workout I’ve Done For 40 Years

Last month I taught a seminar at Doc Sheldon’s Private Training Center in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. The place is loaded with equipment and I saw a cable machine. As an aside I showed some folks the workout I’ve never stopped doing with cables since the 1980’s, that I thought was fairly common knowledge. Others surrounded us, but no one there had seen it before and they found it inspiring. So for the record, here it is.

We all know the big five, generic  essential punches:

  • Jab (high, medium, low)
  • Cross (high, medium, low)
  • Hook (high, medium, low)
  • Uppercut
  • Overhand or descending overhand

There were eras in the US military that never taught an official jab or official cross, but rather just called them “right punch” or “left punch.” They thought that shoulder and foot positions weren’t important or situational and uncontrollable. I however have always seen a difference and used the training concepts of jab – foot/shoulder forward and cross – rear foot/rear shoulder because I see the need for such isolated practice.

Technically on a cable machine, you are always “pulling” on the handle and pulling cable weights up the “tower” of the machine. But to define this particular exercise process I explain that when you stand facing the machine, the cable is pulling you into it, pulling your hand into the machine. When you are facing away from the machine, you are pushing the handle away from the machine. This is how I like to define the exercises for clarity. Push-Pull. Face-away, push. Face in, pull.

I would like to add quickly that you can use these same cable machine methods with palm strikes for all you anti-punchers out there. But only in the “pushing outward” method.  You have to close your hand to grip the handle with facing in to the machine.  Don’t hyper extend your wrist. Use reasonable weights. Emphasize the palm heel as much as possible.

If you shadowbox with hand weights – yes – you are abstractly building the path for punching. Abstract because you have to remember that your hand, arm and shoulder are battling gravity with that hand weight. The more the weight and the more the hand extends, the more you are building/fighting vertical gravity and building those related up-down muscles. With a cable machine there is no up/down gravity, just the machine pivot point behind or before you at the prescribed height. Some people shadow box with mere 1 or 2 pound weights and this is so light there is not much “gravity” fighting at all. But more hand weight? You are losing goal, effectiveness.  Vertical building? Or, horizontal building? Horizontal unless of course, you are uppercutting or doing low origin shovel hooks.

You won’t get Conan muscles doing these cable exercises. Maybe Conan O’Brian muscles? But I think this method develops striking power and speed. I do a set of 25 reps with each strike listed below, when this series comes up in my rotation, which can be once or twice a week (for 40 years give or take sickness, medical operations, and travel). It takes about 20 minutes of non-stop motion. The next day my arms are very sore and my lower back muscles, with all the torso twisting, are sore. It can be aerobic, but if you switch your feet a lot with the uppercuts and hooks, it adds to workout. 

People like to do various exercises with those big rubber bands, but they can be limiting in range when attempting all the below listed strikes, and you have to hook them onto something! Will the hook be the right height? How? Meanwhile, the ubiquitous cable machine will offer the range and the height and quick-change resistance.

It’s all about the push-pull. Long ago, fitness and sport experts suggested that you must develop the pushing and pulling aspects of functional movement. One way is breaking movements down in isolated exercises. For example, in football practice years ago, they made us run up and down hills. Running down the hill as fast as you can, made you run faster than you ordinarily are. You can feel the extra speed as you struggle to keep up with yourself flying down hill. You also experience what it feels like to be faster than you normally are.  Remember that feeling. Emulate it. The same is true when you work strikes with a cable machine. When you face the machine and punch, the cable weight pulls and should makes you move faster. Just a little! Like running down the hill and falling, don’t overdo this and yank yourself into an injury.  Strike and let the cable weights make you a bit faster. And, when you retract, you get that benefit also.

With this advice, I stand facing the machine and facing away, back to the machine. I do not do these with heavy plates, but you can build up to anything you want, I guess. Just try to remember:

  1. Don’t hurt your wrists!

2. Whether punches or palm strikes get the right positioning for your hand, the best hand-to-handle position. When punching, try to get your knuckles involved in the pulling and pushing. When palm striking, try to get your palm heel involved in the pushing. (You can’t face the machine and “pull” the palm strike because your hand is open.

3. Always try to keep your free hand up and open. Don’t get sloppy and let that other hand drop.

4. Keep your mouth closed, teeth together as a matter of routine. You can still expel “martial” air.


Now, some exercise suggestions

The Jab and Cross (Punch or Palm) Set the pivot height at shoulder length, face away from the machine  and do-

  • A set of right jabs pushing handle.
  • A set of left hand jabs pushing the handle.
  • A set of right crosses pushing handle.
  • A set of left hand crosses pushing the handle.
  • Try some bent-arm low punches, “thrusting gut” punches too. They seem to get ignored. Set the pivot point gear low and do them.

Descending Overhand (Punch or Palm)

  • A set of right overhands pushing handle.
  • A set of left hand overhands pushing the handle.
  • A set of right cross overhands pushing handle.
  • A set of left hand crosses  overhands pushing the handle.
  • A set of right overhands pushing handle with a slight hook.
  • A set of left hand overhands pushing the handle with a slight hook.
  • A set of right cross overhands pushing handle with a slight hook.
  • A set of left hand crosses  overhands pushing the handle with a slight hook.
  • Add a slight hook to this and this exercise helps with a very popular and successful MMA style strike. You may have to reduce the weight a bit as the wrist goes a little funky with the turn and slight hook. Experiment with the weight.

Hooks (Punch or Palm) (High Hooks or Low Hooks)

  • A set of right hooks pushing the weights.
  • A set of right hooks pulling the weights.
  • A set of left hooks pushing the weights.
  • A set of left hooks pulling the weights.
  • (You can use a lot of footwork doing these)

Uppercuts (Punch or Palm)

  • A set of right uppercuts pushing the weights.
  • A set of right uppercuts pulling the weights.
  • A set of left uppercuts pushing the weights.
  • A set of left uppercuts pulling the weights.
  • (You can use a lot of footwork doing these)

Combinations (Punch or Palm)

Set the gear-pulley-pivot points at:

  • various distances apart
  • various heights
  • invent combinations of the above, in both push/pull directions!

Some other points:

  • Of course you should still hit bags, etc. As I have aged, hitting things that don’t give-way (and I don’t wear big boxing gloves, nor wrap my wrists, as I don’t want to become dependent upon them.) cause me follow-up wrist, shoulder or back pain. There are various pieces of equipment that “give” sufficiently.

  • Cable machines also have straps for your ankles and the rest of your legs. You can also rig yourself up for cable, kick (and knee) work. Through the years I have done snapping, hooking kicks/knees with cable machines. But, as I have gotten older with bad hips and deteriorating backbone discs, I can no longer do these under the cable weight without follow-up pain. This essay is just about striking.

You will be looked at by gym trainers as unsafe, uncool and crazy. But after you start doing the uppercuts, blowin’ and goin’, changing footwork with each punch, they tend to leave you alone. In this vein, I am sure there will be a fitness guru here that responds to this essay and tells people I am killing you with this idea. I just don’t think so. 

As usual, as natural, you will do this and get over-confident and keep adding the weight plates. More, more, then more.  Then you will hurt yourself. Then you will heal, recoup, rebuild, add, add again, get over confident, hurt yourself, heal, recoup…re….you get the picture. This is the life we have chosen. This is the lifetime routine. Get use to it or die fat and out of shape.   

These exercises have been very beneficial to me. It’s one more thing I can do in a typical, solo gym workout that leans toward functionality. Some of you may be doing these your whole life too? But I thought I would write this for

  • those who are new at this,
  • those who won’t do them,
  • those who didn’t care to before and might try it now,
  • those who “say” they do them, but not as completely as I have listed here,
  • or for folks who’ve never thought of it.


Australia’s Peter Sciarra on using cable for knee strikes Click here 


Hock’s email is HockHochheim@ForceNecessary.com

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