While free weights like barbells or dumbbells are often a first choice for curling the biceps, the cable curl is fundamentally opposite as it targets the shoulder flexion and emphasizes the contraction of your bicep muscles.
A cable biceps curl is essentially a standing dumbbell curl performed using the cable machine instead of dumbbells. And it effectively activates 80% of your biceps brachii’s maximum voluntary contraction, making it far more than a backup move. It’s a move that’s worth your time.
With variations such as the overhead cable curl, the movement exposes the biceps in constant tension throughout the range of motion. Cable curls target the exact two-headed muscles with isolation and precision.
Besides helping to build muscle in your biceps, cable curls can also help increase the stability of your hand, wrist, and elbow. To perform the curl effectively, you need to have good strength and flexibility in these areas. Because we don’t see pumped-up and strong arms going out of style soon, here’s why you should be doing cable curls and how to do them correctly.
This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:
- How To Cable Curl Correctly
- Benefits of Cable Curl
- Common Cable Curl Mistakes To Avoid
- Cable Curl Muscles Worked
- Cable Curl vs. Barbell Curl
- Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, & Programs
- Cable Curl Variations
- Cable Curl Alternative Exercises
- FAQs About Cable Curl
How To Cable Curl Correctly
What You’ll Need:
- Cable Machine: Ideally made of a steel frame that is rectangular and vertically oriented, 2 meters wide by 3 meters high. At either end of the machine, you will find a weight stack.
- Resistance Band
- Arm Blaster: Allows you to concentrate on and isolate bicep muscles, thus, keeping a perfect form for the best hypertrophic response, aka size gains.
Step 1. Starting Position
To set up the cable curl, attach a straight bar to the low pulley cable and select your desired weight. Begin in an upright standing position with your legs shoulder-width apart. Brace your abs, keep your back straight, and steady your head.
Step 2. Grab the bar
Grab a straight bar attachment with your arms extended and hands shoulder-width apart. The palms of your hands should face away from you. Hook it up to a Cable Machine, set the pulley at its lowest position, then hold onto it with an overhand grip. You can lean back to maintain your balance and your knees slightly bent to keep your torso from swinging.
Step 3. Curl the bar
Keep your elbows tucked to the sides and curl the bar close to your shoulders. Only the forearms should be moving while rising from the elbow.
Hold your breath at the top of a peak contraction.
Step 4. Pause, squeeze and repeat
As you reach the top of the movement, pause, squeeze the biceps as hard as possible, and slowly lower the bar back with control to the starting position, arms extended downward. Take as much time while your muscles are tense before fully returning to the weight stack. That is one rep.
5 Cable Curls Benefits
1. Builds Strength and Muscle Mass
Cable curl is an efficient exercise for building strong biceps muscles and forearms. These muscles work together to produce this movement, which allows you to hit them from different angles. Even if we ditch the aesthetic purposes, having solid and pumped-up arms enables you to perform daily activities and ace athletic movements.
2. Boosts the Biceps and Forearms
Simultaneously, cable curls work both the biceps and forearms muscles. You don’t need to do two separate exercises because this workout will fully strengthen your biceps and forearm. Cable curling allows you to use different hand positions or grips that can constantly change things for you not to get bored of the same old thing day after day.
A good thing about cable curls is that it is a very safe workout. You don’t have to worry about dropping the weights because the cables are attached to the weight plates or dumbbells. You can focus on your biceps work without worrying about injuring yourself.
3. Provides Constant Resistance
Even if you are using a relatively heavyweight, cable exercises are safer because they reduce the risk of dropping the weights or losing control of your form due to the increased resistance at the end of the movement. Furthermore, cable machines allow you to adjust the tension, which makes them suitable for people of all fitness levels.
Cable exercises can often adapt cable exercise to suit people with physical limitations.
4. Provides Proper Circulation
One more reason cable curls are vital is that they promote proper circulation. It helps prevent pain from too much strain on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The constant movement stimulates the blood circulation of the muscles and allows them to recover faster.
5. Effective Weight Training
The cable machine is also very effective for weight training because it can perform many exercises in a limited space. You can do this because the cables are attached to two different points. Whatever activity you do, the pulleys and handles move in a circle and provide resistance throughout the movement.
Cable curls and dumbbell curls are all good for toning and building muscle.
Common Cable Curl Mistakes to Avoid
Not Starting With Sets Of Low-Repetitions
Starting in high reps can damage your muscles, tendons, and ligaments due to the increased load. You should create with a lower weight and increase it gradually; it helps to avoid any pain and injury.
Forget to Work the Triceps
One of the common mistakes in doing cable curl is you forget to work your triceps. While the biceps are the prime movers, you can’t ignore your triceps. It is important to contract your triceps at the top of the exercise by squeezing them together. It will help improve the look of your arms by increasing muscle definition and decreasing body fat.
Flaring the Elbows
Flaring the elbows will reduce the tension on the biceps as they are no longer contracting against resistance. This mistake can lead to overuse of the forearms, which could cause strains and even elbow pain. You should keep your elbows at about a 90-degree angle to your torso to correct this mistake. Keep the focus on contracting your biceps as you curl the weight up.
If your weight is too heavy, you will recruit your upper body to help curl the dumbbell. Ensure that your upper body stays stationary. The only thing moving should be your elbow joint.
Using Partial Range Motion
A common mistake in performing the cable curl is to move with a partial range of motion. You should curl your weight up and extend your elbow down to benefit from this bicep exercise fully. You will work on your core until you can achieve this entire movement.
Cable Curls Muscles Worked
- Biceps brachii
- Forearm muscles
The primary beneficiary of the movement is the biceps brachii. It’s the same muscles responsible for the flexion of the elbows that links the scapula to the forearm’s radius. Mutually, the brachialis and brachioradialis move in concert with the biceps to stabilize the elbow joints while curling.
With the constant tension and motion of the curls, the muscles on the shoulder and upper back (delts, traps, levator scapulae), as well as the core, are engaged for stability. Since the pulleys were made widely available in commercial gyms, it has always been playing a starring role in any arm muscles programs.
It’s a stalwart among bodybuilders aiming for great-looking arms and even chests and backs because of its versatility in motion. And even if we set the aesthetic benefits aside, strong arms are beneficial in athletic training and make daily activities easier.
Cable Curl vs Barbell Curl
The cable curl is different than the Barbell Curl because you work your bicep from start to finish on each rep with constant tension. On the other hand, barbell curls progressively get more challenging as you go up and down and can be loaded up with heavier weights than cables. So if we’ll talk about tension as the biggest contributor to muscle growth, we can say that the cable curls shine in this factor.
Cables are also flexible.You can do lying on the floor or sitting and have your elbows pinned to your thighs for more variety in training. The possibilities are endless, though there isn’t anything new about just doing regular old bench curls. You can do reps by dropping/raising the pulley down/upward or doing them while sitting on a bench or chest downward.
Curling is not the same for all arm exercises. Holding a barbell forces your arms into supination at their lowest point, activating your biceps more than any other curl variation.
Curling is one function out of three for our biceps muscles, and skipping it is just as bad or worse than doing half reps on bench press exercises.
You can overload with much heavier weights with barbells than with cables or machines because there’s more momentum involved when using free weights like barbells than cables, where resistance levels can become too heavy during movement.
Barbell curls are an exercise where you can use heavier weights, make progress easier over time, and overload more biceps because you can do serious negatives.
There is constant tension during the entire range of motion when cable curling. You will always be stronger when you’re on the eccentric, and this is where you get more muscle damage and more regrowth. The constant tension in your biceps with cable curls will help you improve your ability to train them correctly. Additionally, you can increase the resistance in smaller increments which isn’t the same case with barbells.
Cable curls are a perfect warm-up before moving into heavier barbell curls. But regardless of your choice, we all know that the training volume which covers the amount of weight over a given workout program frequency is the most important factor in your arm muscle and strength game.
Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs:
Our designed program is to help you achieve your desired fitness goals, whether that’s building muscle mass, strength training, or simply being more active.
For General Fitness
To make the cable curl easier, you can use a lighter resistance, move the height of your cable rack up, or step closer to the machine. Alternatively, if you need more stability while performing this exercise and want it to be harder on your body while still complying with good form, do it in a sitting position on an incline bench. Build your biceps by focusing on your condition.
If you do this, you will be able to increase the intensity of this exercise and see results faster than if you do not keep your elbows close to your body. When performing repetitions, aim for 1-3 sets of 8 reps with a weight that will be challenging to you.
For Muscle Building
When performing the cable curl, you were building muscles in your biceps by contracting them and repeating the movement in a controlled motion. This exercise is a great way to build strength and size in your biceps. You can also use this exercise to help you get toned muscles.
Work on 3 sets of 10-12 reps with a weight that is challenging enough to complete the final rep. Increase the load as you get stronger. Do this 1-2 times a week to observe noticeable improvements in a few months.
For Strength Training
Cable curl is for bodybuilders and fitness gurus who want to build strength and size in their biceps. It is one of the best exercises you can do to build a strong foundation for your arms and a good-looking physique. It boosts your strength by stimulating the muscle fibers and increasing the blood flow to your arms.
It also works your abs and hamstrings so that you can see the benefit of this cable curl exercise. Aim for 8-12 reps of 3 sets near failure to maximize overall development of muscle strength and improved muscle endurance.
Cable Curl Variations
The cable curl is a versatile exercise that can be executed in many ways and will challenge your muscles for progressive workouts.
Overhead Cable Curl
This exercise is also known as a crucifix curl, and it focuses on the biceps. A type of curl uses D-handles between two cable stacks, with the arms and elbows at shoulder height throughout the movement. Both hands curl in toward your ears while you do this exercise.
High Cable Curl
The High Cable Curl is a great way to hit your biceps’ short (inner) head, which builds width and muscle thickness. There are two main versions: one-arm and two-arm.
Behind the Back Cable Curl
The effectiveness of the behind-the-back cable curl is twofold. Because you can no longer use your hips to help power the weight upwards, it forces more muscle fibers in that arm into action and limits how much momentum you have with which to lift.
Cable Curl Alternatives
You can also do various other activities that work your upper body instead.
Resistance Band Biceps Curls
Resistance band biceps curl is a gym work out exercise targeting the biceps and forearms. It’s also easy to alter the resistance by simply moving your feet closer or further away from the anchor point. You can do resistance band biceps curls daily for 3-4 sets of 10-12 repetitions. Start with just one band until you get accustomed to it, then progress to two bands if needed.
For each exercise, perform one set of 12 reps using both arms, then rest for 30 seconds before