Cable Curls vs Dumbbell Curls (Is One Better?)

When it comes to arm workouts, bicep curls are a classic exercise that many people incorporate into their strength training. Cable Curls and Dumbbell Curls are two popular variations of the traditional bicep curl, but which one is better?

The answer isn’t necessarily straightforward, as each exercise has its unique benefits. Cable Curls involve using a cable machine to create resistance, while Dumbbell Curls use free weights. Both exercises target the biceps, but the slight variations in technique can lead to different results.

In this article, I will compare and contrast Cable Curls and Dumbbell Curls, examining the advantages and disadvantages of each exercise.

In just a few minutes you should have a good understanding of which exercise (or both) is a better fit for you based on your training goals and preferences.

Cable Curls

Cable Curls

Equipment Needed

  • Pulley Machine

Muscles Worked

  • Biceps (Biceps Brachii, Brachialis, Brachioradialis)

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Slide the pin to the bottom of the cable machine.
  • Hook your favorite curl attachment – the short straight bar and the rope are both great options.
  • Grab the attachment and stand about a half step away from the machine – just enough room where you won’t hit it as you curl.
  • Stand tall with good posture and a slight bend in the knee.
  • Flex the biceps and curl the attachment up towards the shoulders, squeezing the biceps at the top of the movement.
  • Lower back to the starting position under control.
  • Continue until all reps are completed and then gently lower the attachment back down to the floor.

Coaching Points

Don’t just let the attachment go at the end of your set and allow the attachment to go flying and slam back into the machine. This will obviously tear the machine up. It astonishes me that people would disrespect equipment like that, but unfortunately, I see it happen all the time.

As for the actual technique of the lift, the biggest mistake I see (as with almost all curls) is lifters using too much weight and then swinging and rocking the weight up.

If you need to contort your upper body to curl the weight, it’s too heavy. Lower the weight and go back to using proper form.

Don’t have a cable machine? Here are 13 Cable Curl alternatives to get your biceps pump.


Some potential benefits of Cable Curls include:

  1. Continuous resistance: The cable pulley system used in cable curls provides continuous resistance throughout the range of motion, which can provide a unique challenge for the muscles.
  2. Flexible grip positions: Cable curls can be performed with a variety of cable attachments and grip positions, including pronated (overhand), supinated (underhand), and neutral. This allows for a greater degree of flexibility and allows you to target the muscles in different ways.
  3. Increased strength and size: Like other bicep and forearm exercises, cable curls can help to increase strength and size in the biceps and forearms, which can improve upper body strength and function.

Dumbbell Curls

Dumbbell Curl

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbells


  • Start in a standing position with feet shoulder-width apart and a slight bend in the knees.
  • Hold one dumbbell in each hand and stand tall with good posture.
  • 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 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.


Some potential benefits of performing dumbbell curls include:

  • Increased upper arm strength and size
  • Improved grip strength
  • Enhanced athletic performance in activities that require upper body strength

Additionally, dumbbell curls allow for a greater range of motion and variation compared to other upper arm exercises, such as the barbell curl. This makes dumbbell curls a valuable addition to any workout routine.

Cable Curls vs Dumbbell Curls: Which is Better?

Now, let’s take a side-by-side look at the two exercises and discuss if one is better than the other for some common lifting goals.

Better For Strength and Size Development: Toss Up

Both Cable Curls and Dumbbell Curls have their unique advantages, but ultimately, I don’t think one can be classified as “better” than the other when it comes to building strength and hypertrophy.

Dumbbell Curls are done with free weights which means in addition to the primary movers, stabilizing muscles have to work harder to keep the dumbbells in their proper range of motion.

Because Cable Curls are done on a pulley machine, the machine takes care of some of this work for the lifter.

Dumbbell Curls are an isolateral exercise, meaning both arms are working independently of one another.

This can help prevent muscular imbalances. Cable Curls can be done one arm at a time with the correct attachment, but then you lose one of the advantages Cable Curls do have which I’ll hit next.

Using a straight bar attachment with Cable Curls allows more weight to be lifted. The combination of using both arms at the same with the weight being on a fixed range of motion allows more weight to be lifted. Being able to lift more weight is a benefit to increased strength and muscle mass.

Better For Beginners: Toss Up

I look for three things when selecting exercises for beginners – safe, easy to learn and easy to execute. I think both Cable Curls and Dumbbell Curls check all three of these boxes.

Regardless of which curl variation you choose, just remember to always start light and focus on proper technique first and foremost. Once your technique is sound, then you can start gradually increasing in weight as your strength allows.

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Final Thoughts

I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Cable Curls or Dumbbell Curls. However, the truth is (assuming you have the necessary equipment) there is no reason to not have both exercises in your strength training program.

Both are great exercises for developing strong biceps. And, by incorporating both periodically in your plan you can add variety and keep your workouts fresh.

So, instead of trying to decide between these two curl variations, I would suggest figuring out how to utilize both Cable Curls and Dumbbell Curls into your training program.

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