11 Cable Curl Alternatives (to get your biceps pump)


Cable Curl Alternatives

Cable Curls are easily one of my favorite exercises. They always remind me of what we would refer to as “Gameday Arms”, where the coaches would work out in the hotel gym the morning of the game. The exercise that was always a staple of those sessions? Cable Curls.

However, what if you don’t have a cable machine as you might find in a hotel gym? You might need to find an alternative to Cable Curls.

Well, you’re in the right place. I’m about to share with you 11 of my favorite biceps exercises that can replace Cable Curls in a workout. I have exercises using all kinds of different equipment – barbell, dumbbells and even resistance bands.

No matter what you have to work with, you’ll be able to find an alternative to Cable Curls that works for you.

Alternatives for Cable Curls


Barbell Curls


Equipment Needed

  • Barbell

How To

  • Stand tall, back straight, head up, feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold the barbell with both hands, palms up (supinated grip).
  • Start with the bar at arm’s length against the upper thighs.
  • Curl the bar up towards the shoulders until the forearms touch the biceps.
  • Keep upper elbows close to the side.
  • Lower the bar back to starting position using the same path.
  • Continue until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

By far the most common mistake with any curl exercise, but perhaps even more so with Barbell Curls is swinging and rocking in an attempt to lift more weight. If you need to swing the bar, use momentum or generally contort your body to move the weight, it’s too heavy. Lower the weight and use proper form.


21s


Barbell Curl

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell (Curl Bar will also work great if you have one)

How To

  • Grab a bar – either a barbell or a curl bar – with a supinated (palms up) grip.
  • Have a partner place their hand at the bottom of your sternum.
  • Now curl the bar up to your partner’s palm, lightly tapping it each rep. This should equate to about half a full rep.
  • Once you’ve completed seven reps, curl the bar all the way to the shoulders.
  • Your partner should now flip their hand over, palm facing up.
  • Now lower the bar down, lightly tap your partner’s palm again, and curl back up. This should equate to about half (the top half now) a full rep.
  • Once you’ve completed seven reps, have your partner remove their hand and lower the bar back to your thighs.
  • Finish the set of 21s with seven full reps – all the way up and down.

Coaching Points

First, a word of advice to the “partner”. Always have your palm facing the bar because if the lifter loses control of the rep and whacks the back of your hand it hurts. Trust me on that one.

If you don’t have a partner for 21s, use a mirror. If you don’t have a partner or a mirror, just make your best estimation of ‘halfway’. At the end of the day, you’re still going to be doing 21 reps. It’s going to burn.


Band Curls


Resistance Bands

Equipment Needed

  • Resistance Band – Advanced athletes will generally use a Green Band. Beginner-level athletes might use a blue or even a red band.

Instructions

  • Grab a resistance band, place one foot ‘inside’ the band and stand on it.
  • Now, slide your hands ‘inside’ the band on the opposite end.
  • Grip the resistance band shoulder-width apart with your palms facing up (supinated).
  • Curl up by flexing the biceps, keeping the elbows tucked close to the sides.
  • Squeeze hard at the top of the rep and then slowly lower back to the starting position.
  • Once you start the set, try to maintain constant tension on the band. Don’t let the resistance band go slack at the bottom of the rep.

Coaching Points

There are two easy ways you can adjust the tension of the band to make Band Curls harder or easier.

First, stand on the band with two feet instead of one. The wider your stance, the more difficult the curls will be.

The other is to grip lower on the band. Instead of gripping all the way at the end of the band, choke up on the band similar to a baseball player choking up on a bat.


Buddy Curls


Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

How To

  • Grab a partner and a barbell.
  • Stand facing your partner, barbell in hand.
  • Perform 1 Barbell Curl and then hand the bar to your partner.
  • Have your partner do 1 curl and hand the bar back to you.
  • Now, do 2 Barbell Curls and hand the bar back to your partner.
  • Continue adding one rep to each set, handing the bar back and forth.
  • Once you both do a set of 8 reps, begin working your way back down to 1 rep.
  • Do not set the bar down until every rep of every set has been completed.

Coaching Points

Just to be clear, the reps of each set should look like: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 for a total of 64 reps each.

You will not need very much weight at all on the bar (or even any weight at all).

The key is to not set the bar down until all reps are complete. Yes, your forearms will be on absolute fire along the way. Expect it. Enjoy it.

Don’t have a partner for Buddy Curls? No worries. Sit the bar down between every set and count 1 second for each rep.


Concentration Curls


DB Concentration Curls

Equipment Needed

  • Flat Bench (although almost any kind of chair or box that you can sit on will work)
  • Dumbbells

Instructions

  • Start in a seated position on the edge of a bench, knees bent with feet flat on the ground slightly wider than shoulder width.
  • Hold a dumbbell in the right hand, lean slightly forward and rest the right elbow on the inside of the right thigh.
  • Now, curl the dumbbell up to shoulder level by flexing the biceps. Palm should finish up, facing the shoulder.
  • Squeeze the biceps at the top of the rep and then lower back down to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps and then switch to the other side.

Coaching Points

The biggest mistake I see with Concentration Curls is bad technique stemming from trying to use too much weight. If you need to swing the dumbbells or contort and twist your body to curl the weight up – it’s too heavy. Lower the weight and use proper form.


Hammer Curls


Hammer Curls

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells

Instructions

  • Start standing with feet flat on the ground about hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.
  • Hold one dumbbell in each hand and stand tall with good posture.
  • Start with palms facing in toward the body.
  • Now, curl both dumbbells up to shoulder level by flexing the biceps. Palms should finish still facing one another. Do not rotate the palm up.
  • Squeeze the biceps at the top of the rep and then lower back down to the starting position.

Coaching Points

The biggest mistake I see with Hammer Curls is swinging the dumbbells at the bottom of the rep. Lower the weights down under control and do not swing them at the bottom.

The other mistake I see usually comes when an athlete is trying to use too much weight. Instead of keeping the elbow in place at their side, they allow the elbow to drift back behind the torso which turns the movement into more of a row than a curl.


Preacher Curl


Preacher Curl (1)

Equipment Needed

  • Preacher Curl Bench (or an adjustable bench)
  • Barbell or EZ Curl Bar

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • First, adjust the preacher curl bench so that the bench sits comfortably into the armpits.
  • This position should allow the triceps to lay flat against the bench.
  • Grab the bar (barbell or cambered bar) or have it handed to you by a partner.
  • Flex the biceps and curl the bar towards the shoulders, squeezing the biceps at the top of the rep.
  • Lower back down under control and stop just short of lockout.
  • Raise the bar back up and continue until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

Stop the arm short of locking out at the bottom. Fully extending the arm at the bottom of a Preacher Curl rep can place a lot of unnecessary strain on the elbow. Stop just short of lockout each rep and then curl back to the top.

Using An Adjustable Bench For Preacher Curls

If you don’t have a preacher curl bench, there is a way to still do Preacher Curls with an adjustable bench. Simply incline your adjustable bench up, stand behind it, grab your bar and place your triceps on the bench.

If the bench isn’t wide enough to be able to fit both your arms on it, you can also switch to dumbbells and lift with one arm at a time.

Finally, if your bench doesn’t adjust, try just placing your elbows toward one side of a flat bench. This doesn’t work quite as well, but it will keep your elbows in a fixed position while you curl.


Seated Dumbbell Curl


Seated Dumbbell Curl
Turn a Hammer Curl into a Regular Curl by simply turning the palm up as you curl.

Equipment Needed

  • Flat Bench (although almost any kind of chair or box that you can sit on will work)
  • Dumbbells

Instructions

  • Start in a seated position on the edge of a bench, knees bent with feet flat on the ground about hip-width apart.
  • Hold one dumbbell in each hand and sit tall with good posture. (Raising an adjustable bench to 90 degrees can help with this)
  • You can start with palms facing forward or facing in toward the body.
  • Now, curl both dumbbells up to shoulder level by flexing the biceps hard. Palms should finish up, facing the shoulder.
  • Squeeze the biceps at the top of the rep and then lower back down to the starting position.

Coaching Points

The biggest mistake I see with Seated Dumbbell Curls is swinging the dumbbells at the bottom of the rep. Lower the weights down under control and do not swing them at the bottom.

The other mistake I see usually comes when an athlete is trying to use too much weight. Instead of keeping the elbow, they allow the elbow to drift back which turns the movement into more of a row than a curl.


Reverse Curl


Reverse Curl

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Stand tall, back straight, head up, feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold the barbell with both hands, palms down (pronated grip).
  • Start with the bar at arm’s length against the upper thighs.
  • Curl the bar up towards the shoulders until the forearms touch the biceps.
  • Keep upper elbows close to the side.
  • Lower the bar back to starting position using the same path.
  • Continue until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

You’ll most likely need to use less weight for Reverse Curls than you would normally use for barbell curls. The wrist extensors will be the limiting factor here that will dictate how much weight you’re able to use.

By far the most common mistake with any curl exercise, but perhaps even more so with barbell curls is swinging and rocking in an attempt to lift more weight. If you need to swing the bar, use momentum or generally contort your body to move the weight, it’s too heavy. Lower the weight and use proper form.


Zottman Curls


Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells

How To

  • Stand tall, feet shoulder-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Curl both dumbbells up to shoulder height with palms up.
  • Now, rotate the forearms so that palms face down and slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  • Rotate the forearms again, back to palms up, and curl up again.
  • Continue this pattern until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

Zottman Curls are an excellent curl variation that heavily incorporates the forearms. Curling the concentric portion with palms up allows for more weight to be able to be used to then overly stress the forearms on the eccentric.

Focus on the eccentric portion of the lift. The tempo of Zottman Curls should include at least a 3-second eccentric (on the way down).


Chin-Ups


Equipment Needed

  • Pull Up Bar (Either as part of a rack or a wall-mounted bar)

Optional Equipment for Modifications

  • Weight belt (For weighted variations)
  • Resistance Band (To assist in completing the pull-up or doing more repetitions with full range of motion).
  • Partner (To assist in getting your chin over the bar)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Approach the pull-up bar and grab the bar with a supinated grip (palms facing toward you).
  • Use a bench to get to the bar if it is too high.
  • Squeeze the bar and engage the core muscles and do not cross your legs.
  • Engage the upper back and pull up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Pause for 1 second with your chin over the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

By far the biggest mistake I see in the Chin-Up is lifters not using a full range of motion. Hang all the way down and maintain great tension through the shoulders and abdomen (DO NOT JUST HANG IN THE BOTTOM). Pull all the way up and do not whip your head so that your chin barely makes it over the bar.

Final Thoughts

You should never have to worry about not being able to get a workout in because of a lack of equipment. There are always alternatives out there for any exercise, including Cable Curls.

I hope one of these Cable Curl alternatives ends up being a perfect fit to use in your workout. If I’m lucky, maybe I even introduced you to a new biceps exercise that ends up being one of your favorites.

At least, of course, until the next time you’ve got a Gameday Arm workout in the hotel gym. Then it’s time to break out the Cable Curls.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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