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Do You Need to Lubricate a Cable Machine

Do You Need to Lubricate a Cable Machine

A cable pulley system is at the very top end when it comes to home gym equipment. These machines are usually one of the last pieces that you’ll add to really make a complete home gym as they usually take up quite a bit of floor space and are also one of the more higher-priced options for a home gym (even the budget options).

Therefore, when you do finally add a cable pulley machine to your home gym collection, one of the most important things to do that most people don’t initially consider, is proper maintenance to keep it in smooth working order. One consideration, in particular, is do you need to lubricate a cable machine?

Yes, you do need to lubricate a cable machine 1 – 2 times per month in order to keep the pulley system operating smoothly. You do not want to lubricate the cables directly but rather the guide rods, wheels, weight stack, and any other areas on your machine that could become stiff and rigid.

Lubricating a cable machine is often an overlooked task, and to be honest, maintenance of a cable machine is often a secondary thought in general. For a fully functioning and long-lasting cable machine, lubricating is something you’ll definitely want to consider and it’s not as simple as oiling the cables themselves… 

Do You Need to Lubricate a Cable Machine

Nothing will make your home gym feel more like a commercial gym than a cable machine. 

That iconic sound of the weight plates clinking back onto the stack after powering through a finisher set, it’s music to any fitness fanatic’s ears. Whether you’ve decided to invest in a pulley system or a cable machine for your own home, no matter how big or small your budget has been, proper maintenance of your equipment is absolutely essential.

As mentioned earlier, even on a budget cable machines are far from budget-friendly and besides a 100% DIY solution like the DIY pulley system below, you’ll be investing some money into this product.

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘you get out what you put in? Truer words have never been spoken, especially when it comes to your home gym equipment, and although cable machines are inherently very simple pieces of equipment, even if they don’t always look it, they do require frequent care. Yes, this does include lubricating them 

Not only will looking after your machine extend its lifespan and save you money in the long run, but it will also ensure you get the most out of your workouts and eliminate the risk of damage that could potentially cause injury.

Basic gym rules apply: wipe down your equipment after use, clean the sweat off the upholstery and the rest of the machine to avoid unnecessary rust and damaging the fabric. 

The more in-depth maintenance you won’t have had to worry about when using the cable machines in a public gym however revolves around the actual mechanisms. Although it might seem complicated now, it really is quite simple.

How Do I Know My Cable Machine Needs Lubricating

The first thing to bear in mind is how to identify whether your machine needs lubricating. When you’re using your cable machine, keep an eye out for:

  • Sounds you wouldn’t expect – squeaking, grating sounds are a red flag, and a sign that your machine could do with lubricating
  • Visible damage – not all wear and tear on your machine can be fixed with lubricant. Fraying cables, for example, can occur over time and will make your machine an inevitable fault unless you repair or replace the cable. Marks on the guide rods on the other hand can signify that your weight stack is starting to rub against the rod, and needs lubricating.
  • If something just doesn’t feel right – you should trust your instincts on this, especially if you’ve been using cable machines in your workouts for a long time. If the cable feels like it’s catching, or the movement just doesn’t feel as smooth as it should, it’s time to inspect your machine and give it a little TLC.

Before reaching for the lubricant, make sure you clean the machine of any buildup of dust, hair, or other dirt that gets trapped over time. This is especially important in the pulley wheels and around the cables. The bottom line when it comes to lubricating a cable machine though is that you need to be preventative rather than reactive. 

Lubricating your cable machine 1 – 2 times per month will suffice for most users. Unless your cable machine is in a room with a lot of moisture or direct sunlight (which I’d advise against), then lubricating it every few weeks should be enough to keep it in smooth and working order. 

How to Lubricate a Cable Machine

Although the specific ins and outs of lubricating a cable machine are completely dependent on the specific model in your own home gym, if you follow these basic guidelines you can’t go wrong.

1. Use the Right Lubricant

The first rule of lubricating is don’t talk about lubricating. The second rule is don’t use WD40. Please, don’t fall into the trap of using WD40 as a lubricant, it simply won’t do the job. In fact, it will almost definitely damage the bearings and the pulleys you’re trying to keep well lubricated!

Instead, opt for a dry lubricant – you can’t go wrong with a silicone spray (please note that WD40 do have their own silicone spray which is absolutely fine, but make sure that you don’t get the original stuff). Silicone spray will dry off but keep your pulleys and guide rods well-lubricated without turning them into a breeding ground for dust bunnies.

2. Read the Instructions

Hopefully, you didn’t throw the manual away as soon as you’d put your machine together, but if you did, don’t worry, you should be able to find the manual for your specific model online. There are different pulley systems and joints which need lubricating on every machine, so make sure to consult the instructions to find out where and how to get to these points for yours.

As a general rule though, lubricate all moving parts except for where the cable and wheel come into contact as you want some friction and grip here. Stiff joints, wheels, and weight stacks will all contribute to a frustrating set. 

One of the most frustrating things is a buildup of dust or oil on the weight stack causing some plates to stick together. I occasionally use an old-school bodybuilding gym that’s a very gritty place, i.e. dust everywhere, rusted equipment, but an amazing selection of weights. 

Well, on the cable machines you set a weight, begin your set only to find that some plates are stuck together so you end up lifting too much weight. Then they fall off mid-rep causing everyone to look around as though you are intentionally smashing up equipment…

This is what happens when you don’t keep your equipment well maintained and lubricated and it inevitably leads to damaged equipment. 

3. Don’t Lubricate the Cables

Although it might seem like the right thing to do, especially if you’re new to cable machines, lubricating the cables on your machine is likely to cause more harm than good. The cable is supposed to grip the wheel on the pulley system – lubricating them will have a negative impact on your workouts, and be a nuisance to clean.

How to Lubricate the Guide Rods on Your Cable Machine

Although many of the same rules apply when lubricating any part of your cable machine, the guide rods are an integral part of your equipment and are usually much harder to remove if they need some serious cleaning. So naturally, we want to avoid getting to the point where that would be necessary.

The most important thing to remember is that the more often you inspect, and clean, your cable machine, the easier it will be to maintain. Wipe down the roads with a dry microfiber cloth after each use to avoid a buildup of dust, and while you’re there simply run your finger down the metal finish of each rod. If you can feel any sticking, it’s time to lubricate again.

Spray the lubricant on the rods, and use the microfiber cloth to rub it in and wipe away any excess. Make sure to spray some lubricant into the bearings on top of the weight stack, although in most cases you won’t be able to rub it in here.

Let the lubricant dry off before using the machine again, and voila, you’ve just lubricated your cable machine. Again, although it is a simple task, it is worth checking on a regular basis to maintain a well-oiled machine,  quite literally.

Final Thoughts

When looking after home gym gear, you need to keep them well maintained and in good working order. Not just an acceptable working condition but a good working condition. 

Maintenance is something you take for granted when using commercial gym equipment and soon you’ll start to see the importance when your equipment stops functioning as well. One key aspect of this is that you do need to lubricate and clean your cable machine to keep it functioning smoothly. 

These machines are often on the more expensive side for home gym additions so weekly/bi-weekly lubricating is needed not only to keep them smooth to use but also for longevity as a stiff and rigid cable stack is going to be susceptible to damage very quickly.