Joe Donnelly’s Intense Upper Body Cable Workout

M&S Team
Written By: M&S Team
September 27th, 2016
Updated: March 30th, 2021
Categories: Articles Training
Tags: Video
Want to train your entire upper body in one solid & concise workout? This intense & complete upper body cable workout will help you build the body you want!

Earlier this September, we met up with AML athlete Joe Donnelly while in Las Vegas for the 2016 Mr. Olympia contest.

Joe is known to come up with insane circuit workouts that not only blast fat, but also build lean muscle mass as well.

With everyone involved having a hectic weekend attending the expo’s events, we asked Joe to show us how to make an effective workout as time efficient as possible.

Joe immediately headed to the cable machine for an intense complete upper body circuit workout.

Joe’s cable workout hits every muscle group in the upper body. For each group, he selects 3 different exercises that work the muscles from different angles. He performs the exercises for each muscle group in a circuit fashion, performing 5 rounds of each circuit.

Each individual exercise is performed for 12-15 reps, really focusing on the time under tension and attempting to keep the muscle under stress for 50-60 seconds per round.


Joe starts off his cable workout working his shoulders. The first cable exercise he performs is the high rear delt fly. Grapping the cables, making them cross, you pull the weight in a backward motion. With this exercise, you really want to focus on squeezing the delt at the top of the movement.

Related: Joe Donnelly - Build Bigger Biceps With This Curl Variation

Next up, Joe moves into an overhead front delt raise.  To perform this exercise, you widen the cables and perform an overhead fly squeezing the delt at the top of the raise. Instead of working your delt in a lengthened state using momentum, this exercise allows you to target the front delt in a shortened and focused movement.

The last movement for the shoulders is a medial delt cable fly. To perform this exercise, move the cables to where the starting point is at your chest, cross the cables, and while driving the cable in an upward motion, pull them back.


Kicking things off for the biceps, Joe performs double concentrated cable curls. Afterwards, he drops his hands to the side and steps forward to begin doing standard cable curls. Finally, Joe steps forward again, kneels down, and performs kneeling cable drag curls.

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Sticking with working his arms, Joe moves on to his tricep exercises. The first movement is a double tricep pressdown using a cross cable setup. Afterwards, Joe brings his elbows in and keeps his hand slightly higher to perform double tricep kickbacks.

Lastly, Joe brings his arms and the cable overhead to perform overhead cable tricep extensions.


After completing his tricep circuit, Joe moves onto his chest exercises. The first exercise he performs is a cable chest fly. In doing these, Joe likes to keep his thumbs up and really focus on squeezing his chest at the end of the motion.

Related: Joe Donnelly - Using Resistance Bands for Explosive Muscle Growth

Afterwards, Joe moves right into a high to low cable fly. Joe finishes off his chest circuit with a pressing movement. He brings the cables in, leans forward, and presses the cables towards the floor for a set of cable presses.


Joe finishes off his killer cable routine with three back exercises. Joe starts off this back portion with a pronated cable pulldown. Immediately afterwards, Joe hops up and performs straight arm pulldowns.

The last exercise of Joe's back circuit is the bent over cable row. Joe drops the cable heads to the low position and bends over slightly. Joe emphasizes that the row is a two part motion. First you retract the scapula, then you use your lats and mid back to row the weight.