Cable Curls (How To, Muscles Worked, Benefits)

Cable Curl

If you have access to a cable pulley machine, then chances are Cable Curls make an appearance quite often in your workouts. They’re super easy to setup, you don’t have to put away weights when you’re done and you can get an awesome biceps pump. Win. Win. Win.

In this guide, I’m going to teach you how to properly do Cable Curls, some coaching points to focus on and a few alternatives if you don’t have a pulley machine.

How To Do 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.

How Many Reps?

Cable Curls are generally done as a supplemental exercise toward the end of a workout. The suggested rep range is 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Cable Curl Alternatives

Don’t have access to a cable machine and need an alternative? Here are a couple of exercises that you may be able to use as a substitution.

Need more options? Here are my 11 favorite alternatives for Cable Curls.

Barbell Curls

Barbell Curl

If you don’t a cable machine, don’t worry, Barbell Curls are a perfect (some would even say better) alternative to their cable cousin.

Stand tall, grip the bar shoulder-width apart, keep elbows tucked and curl the bar up to shoulder level. Slowly lower back to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps.

Band Curls

If barbell curls bother your wrist or elbow, you may be able to give Band Curls a try.

Stand on one end of a resistance band and grab the other end with both hands. With Band Curls, you can use more of a neutral grip by keeping your palms facing each other.

Sometimes this type of grip (also similar to the grip used in hammer curls) can be less stressful on the wrist and/or elbow.

More Links and Info

Looking for more biceps exercises? The Horton Barbell Exercise Library has a complete section dedicated to arms affectionately referred to as the Arm Farm. It has dozens of biceps and triceps exercises – all with complete instructions, all for free.

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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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