How to Cable Curl

About the Cable Curl

Primarily targeting the biceps, the cable curl is an effective exercise which is favoured by some athletes over the traditional free weight curls. As with most free weight exercises, the barbell and dumbbell variations are great choices, but cannot offer maximum force through the full range of motion (ROM) due to the resistance (the loaded dumbbell or barbell) being bound to the linear force of gravity. The latter portion of the curl therefore becomes less challenging as the force on the target muscle diminishes. On the other hand, the cable curl provides maximum force throughout the full ROM due to the pulley system.

Those who suffer from postural or spinal issues can successfully perform the cable curl lying down. This is also a great method to ensure strict form during the curl.

Other handle attachments can be used to shift the emphasis onto the other arm flexor muscles. As a general rule of thumb, an underhand grip will primarily target the biceps, whilst a neutral (hammer) or overhand grip will stimulate the brachioradialis and brachialis more greatly.

How to perform

Preparation

  1. Set the pin to the correct weight on the cable station, and attach a small straight handle to the low pulley
  2. Grasp the handle with an underhand grip and stand erect
  3. Keep torso erect, slight bend in the knee, and your upper arms fixed to your sides

Execution

  1. Curl the bar upwards by flexing your arms
  2. After peak contraction, reverse the movement back to the starting position
  3. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Common Questions

Yes, the various grips you can use during the cable curl, whether it’s an underhand (supinated) or overhand (pronated) grip on the straight bar or hammer (neutral) grip using a rope attachment, work the arm flexor muscles in different ways.

It’s always a good idea to vary the exercises you use for a muscle group to ensure balanced development and avoid plateauing with one exercise.

Here’s a brief list of various cable curl variations which are possible with different attachments:

  • Straight bar (supinated grip) – Mainly targets the two biceps heads and the brachialis. Many of the straight bar attachments found in gyms are fairly narrow so aim to take as close as a shoulder width grip as possible. Taking a narrower grip will reduce the load placed on the biceps and place it more onto the brachialis.
  • Straight bar (pronated grip) – Like the reverse biceps curl, by using an overhand grip the role of the biceps is greatly reduced and much of the work is left to the brachioradialis making it a great exercise for developing large, powerful forearms.
  • EZ bar (supinated and pronated grips) – The EZ bar attachment offers the ability to target the arm flexors in much the same way as the straight bar curl (whether supinated or pronated), but using a grip which is far more comfortable and forgiving on the wrists.
  • Rope – The rope curl targets the arm flexors in a similar way to the hammer curl due to the neutral (hammer) grip used. It is an effective exercise for targeting the biceps and brachialis.
  • V bar – Another attachment you may find is shaped like a V and is fairly narrow. It is possible to perform a narrow supinated curl using this attachment and will result in much of load being placed on the brachialis and long head of the biceps.

    The cable curl can offer a welcomed variation to your arm workouts if you have generally stuck to using free weight curls in the past.

    The main benefit of using a cable is it allows for continuous tension throughout the entire range of motion of the exercise, as well as it being easy to manipulate the direction of force. Specifically for the cable curl, the tension placed on the arm flexors during the curl is constant compared to the resistive forces during a free weight curl which significantly diminish as the angle of the lower arm passes above or below 90 degrees (when the forearm parallel to the ground during a standing curl).

    As for which option offers the greatest stimulus to the biceps, there is no real difference between cables or free weights as illustrated by measuring EMG activation during various curls. That said, while the maximum activation may not be much different between the two, the continuous tension provided from the cable may provide the biceps with slightly greater time under pressure (TUT). The real world difference between the two is likely to be minimal, however.

    Generally it’s the grip you take during the curl which will have the biggest impact on the arm flexor muscles you target, so using various grips (supinated, hammer, pronated) and a combination of free weights and cables during your training is a wise idea. If you do not have access to a cable station then do not worry, you can effectively target all the arm flexor muscles with free weights.

    If you do not have access to a cable station then the various free weight curls will amply suffice.

    The obvious substitution for the straight arm cable curl would be the barbell biceps curl (or the EZ bar curl if you find it more forgiving on the wrists). Neither curl particularly has the upper hand when it comes to being more effective at stimulating the biceps, so choosing to perform one over the other will not result in any real difference in regards to arm development.

    The high single arm cable curl is performed in between two high cable stations. “D” handles are attached to each of the top cables and the gym-goer grasps each handle whilst standing upright, arms outstretched to their sides and somewhat above parallel to the ground (crucifix position). With the elbows fixed in position, the arms are curled so that the gym-goer is performing a double biceps pose under the resistance of the cables.

    It’s generally quite difficult to use a significant load during the high arm curl so its use for developing the arms is somewhat limited and there are more effective choices out there. It could prove a decent choice under conditions where training load is low yet volume is high (such as part of a superset) and some competitive bodybuilders like to perform it during the prep phase of their training.

    Workout Ideas

    Within a full body workout

    Exercise Targets
    Deadlift Lower body and core
    Bench press Chest and arm extenders
    Chin up Middle and upper back and arm flexors
    Cable curl Arm flexors
    Cable crunch Abdominals

    Within a pull workout (e.g. if following push / pull / legs)

    Exercise Targets
    Pull down Latissimus Dorsi
    T-Bar row Middle and upper back and arm flexors
    Shrug Trapezius
    Cable curl Arm flexors

    Within an upper workout (e.g. if following upper / lower)

    Exercise Targets
    Cable row Middle and upper back and arm flexors
    Dumbbell bench press Chest and arm extenders
    Shoulder press Shoulders
    Cable curl Arm flexors
    Superset with  
    Close grip bench press Arm extenders

    Other Arm Exercises

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