The high cable curl is a next-level bicep exercise for optimal muscle growth, width, and strength. Given that you have a cable crossover at your disposal, there’s no reason to dismiss the high cable curl and turn to more traditional bicep exercises.

Also known as the “crucifix curls” and “Hercules curls”, the high cable curl comes with its own variations and alternatives, aside from the standard one-arm and two-arm variations. The former variation allows you to lift with relatively more weight for greater bicep gains and size.

Come to think of it, the high cable curl is a great depiction of the front-double-bicep pose we often see in bodybuilding competitions. Learn more about the high cable curl, its benefits, muscles worked, and variations in this article. By practicing our recommended programs, we have no doubt you’ll achieve the biceps of your dreams sooner than you think! 

This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:

  • How To High Cable Curl
  • Benefits of Doing High Cable Curl
  • Common High Cable Curl Mistakes To Avoid
  • High Cable Curl Muscles Worked
  • High Cable Curl vs Barbell Curl
  • Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, & Programs
  • High Cable Curl Variations
  • High Cable Curl Alternative Exercises
  • FAQs About High Cable Curl

How To High Cable Curl

What You’ll Need: 

  • Cable Crossover Machine: The high cable curl is best done on a cable station where it allows an appropriate distance for full arm extension.

Alternative Equipment: 

  • Dumbbells: Without a cable crossover station, you can perform various exercises using free weights, such as a pair of dumbbells and a flat bench.
  • Resistance Band: For a more budget-friendly setup, you can utilize a resistance band to perform alternative exercises to the high cable curl. This provides less load but still a stable tension to let you feel a satisfying burn on your biceps.

Step 1: Attach The Pulleys Overhead

The first thing you want to do is attach single cable handles to the carabiner clip on each end of the cable crossover station. You want the high pulleys right above your head with just enough distance to let your arms be fully extended.

Step 2: Grip The Pulleys From Both Ends

Next, stand in the middle of the station and grab the handles with your arms outstretched in a “crucifix position” or with your body forming a “T” with your arms. Position your palms facing upward toward the ceiling and have your elbows locked in place. Follow this position whether performing the exercise with a two-arm or one-arm version.

Step 3: Curl With Full Control

For the execution, curl the handles behind your head. As you reach the top of the movement, squeeze your biceps for a few seconds before bringing your arms back to the starting position. Elevate your elbows slightly to achieve that peak contraction.

Step 4: Return Your Grip Back To Starting Position

Complete all the reps and sets recommended in your program according to your goal. As you finish the last set, slowly return the cables back to the starting position in a controlled manner, keeping the tension on your biceps throughout the movement.

2 High Cable Curl Benefits

1. Bigger Bicep Muscle Mass

A major advantage of using a cable crossover station instead of free weights is its natural structure for constant tension. With this simple exercise, you are performing four upper body movements all at once: shoulder flexion, shoulder abduction, elbow flexion, and forearm supination. All in all, it makes for an efficient workout that works your arms well.

2. Efficient Connective Tissue Recovery

The high cable crossover station is known to be a joint-friendly training machine. It doesn’t impact the muscles and ligaments like how free weights do, which means you can expect to have a speedy recovery from your workout. This translates to more consistent training and more bicep gains.

Common High Cable Curl Mistakes to Avoid

Curling in Front of the Head

This lowers the intensity during the peak contraction and neglects the shoulder abduction phase of the exercise. This same philosophy applies when you curl your arms in front of the head or towards your head. This shortens the range of motion and cuts the effectiveness of the exercise by half. Instead, flex your arms behind your head so you can properly squeeze and contract your biceps. This will also work your forearms well for improved grip strength.

Not Elevating the Shoulders

The shoulder blades are often suggested to be retracted during some exercises. In this case, a slight shrug of the shoulders is recommended because this allows more activation of the biceps, specifically on the long head (outer) part of the arms.

Using Dual Cable Station

The dual cable station is effective for other exercises. However, not for the high cable curl. It’s too narrow for high curls, which, therefore, doesn’t achieve a full range of motion. This particular exercise is best done on a cable machine where you can attach high pulleys and let your arms stretch for the proper position.

High Cable Curl Muscles Worked

The following muscles are involved in the high cable curl:

  • Biceps brachii
  • Brachialis
  • Brachioradialis
  • Forearm flexors

The short head of the biceps is highly engaged and stands out as the main target of the high cable curl exercise. This achieves width and thickness on the biceps, unlike the long head of the biceps, which focuses on the biceps peak. The forearms are engaged during the exercise to some extent, though they shouldn’t be the main focus of the contraction.

High Cable Curl vs Barbell Curl

Both the high cable curl and barbell curl exercises fall under curls variations. However, they utilize different equipment. 

The high cable curl works on the biceps for the majority of the workout. It’s ideally done on a cable crossover machine, especially when aiming to perform a two-arm variation. You can also perform a one-arm high cable curl which promotes a higher mind-muscle connection.
The barbell curl, on the other hand, works the biceps, deltoids, forearms, and wrists during the workout. Without a Barbell available, you can opt for a pair of dumbbells. To learn more about the exercise, check out our article on barbell curls, their benefits, and variations.

Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs

To Gain Muscle Mass

Muscle hypertrophy can be achieved through the high cable curl, especially when you do it on a proper cable machine. Perform 6 to 12 reps. Repeat this for 3 to 6 sets. Rest for 30 to 90 seconds in between each set.

For Strength Training

To achieve strength with the high cable curl, opt for a heavier stack on the cable machine. Go for less than 6 reps and repeat for 2 to 6 sets. Rest for 2 to 5 minutes in between each set.

High Cable Curl Variations

Aside from being a versatile station, the cable curl machine offers a wide variety of exercises for the high cable curl itself. Whether you need to incorporate more unilateral training into your program or you want to feel an extra burn on your biceps, consider these exercise variations using a cable machine.

One-Arm High Cable Curl

The single-arm version of the crucifix curl utilizes unilateral training. This provides more mind-muscle connection for the lifter, which results in an increased focus on the muscles and increased contraction. You can also lift more by focusing on one arm at a time, which achieves greater force output. In general, unilateral lifting achieves a more symmetrical physique.

Kneeling Cable Overhead Curl

This variation to the overhead cable curl is ideal for lifters with longer wingspan. This allows you to achieve a full bicep stretch without hitting the stack. You can do this exercise with two arms at a time or with the one-arm high cable version.

Neutral Grip Cable Crossover Curl

Another great variation for the overhead cable curl is the neutral grip cable crossover curls, which emphasizes work done on the long head of the biceps for that hill shape. It may somewhat reduce activation on the biceps as an entirety, but it will give you a good stretch on the targeted muscle.

High Cable Curl Alternatives

A cable machine can be quite hefty and expensive, so we include alternative exercises using more affordable equipment. This way, you can still reap the merits of a high cable curl without shelling out on your home gym expenses.

Band High Cable Curl

A Resistance Band offers the same constant level of tension on the muscles. Bands have different tension ranges, so you can freely choose the best tensile strength that complements your upper body strength. You can perform the overall cable curl on a band using one arm or two arms at a time. Expect your biceps to feel the burn but, this time, with a more budget-friendly home gym setup.

Preacher Bicep Curls

If you’ve always wanted to get bigger biceps but don’t have the crossover machine to do it, you can trust the EZ bar to do the job. With the preacher bicep curls, you can completely target your biceps with your triceps fully supported with pads underneath. Its number one advantage is focusing on the negative movement. Ultimately, this results in significant muscle growth, as well as strength. We have also included an article on 10 Preacher Curl Alternatives to keep your progress moving forward.

Spider Curls

The spider curl is one more alternative exercise to the overhead cable curl that’s worth adding to your workout. Fix your Incline Bench to 45º and place your chest on the backrest. This allows you to focus on bicep activation with fewer worries about balance and stability. In essence, the spider curls isolate your arm muscles, allow a full range of motion, and keep your muscles under stable tension. Check out our another guide to learn more about Spider Curl Alternatives.

Hammer Curl

Hammer Dumbbell Curls are one of those go-to arm exercises that achieve the bicep peak. With that, it stands as a good alternative to the overhead cable curl without the expensive setup. It can effectively increase your upper arm size and strength, improve wrist stability, and boost muscle endurance. You can achieve all these even with no cables or fancy equipment.

Frequently Asked Questions

The overhead cable curl works on the following muscles: 

  • Biceps brachii
  • Brachialis
  • Brachioradialis
  • Forearm flexors

Yes, you can achieve thicker arms by performing the cable curl exercise, whether you prefer to do it with two arms or with the one-arm version. The trick is to perform high reps with minimal rest in between each set to keep your muscles pumping and working.

High cable curls are effective whether you perform with the two-arm or one-arm version. The effectiveness of this exercise depends on the program you perform, the form you execute, and the muscles you activate. Generally, the biceps should be the primary target of the exercise.

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