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Build bigger arms with the cable bicep curl

The cable bicep curl is of the most popular gym moves for bigger arms but most people do it wrong. Here’s how to join the training elite by mastering this key cable move to build the bigger, stronger and more defined arms you want, says New Body Plan editor Joe Warner

The classic dumbbell biceps curl is the most popular biceps-building exercise and with good reason. But once you want to take your training out of your garage and in to the gym floor, you need to widen your workout horizons. And there’s no better place to start than with the cable machine.

These gym machines are incredibly versatile and can be used to work all your major muscle groups in all manner of clever and effective ways. And if you want to build bigger, stronger and more defined biceps, then the cable bicep curl needs to feature in your training plan. Here’s everything you need to do know about this key lift for impressive arms!

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What is the cable bicep curl?

The cable bicep curl is just like any other type of bicep curl exercise, except you use the cable machine to perform it, rather than freeweights, such as dumbbells, barbells, EZ-bars, kettlebells or sandbags. Anything heavy that you can hold in your hands can be curled!

To do a cable bicep curl you attach a handle to the bottom pulley, use the pin to select the weight. Then hold the handle in both hands and curl it up and lower it back down.

So while the basic movement is similar, using a cable machine offers a number of big benefits over other types of weight-lifting equipment.

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What makes the cable bicep curl so good?

The cable bicep curl is similar to all other biceps curling variations, including the barbell bicep curl, in that you start with the weight at the bottom and curl it up to the top.

But what makes the cable bicep curl so good – and is why cable machines are so useful in general for building muscle – is that they keep tension on the working muscle both in the lifting and lowering phase of each rep.

Any freeweight equipment, like barbells and dumbbells, only places tension on the muscle during the lifting phase. Gravity kicks in during the lowering phase and so removes tension from the muscle – unless you focus on a slow and controlled lowering movement. So to work your muscles harder for longer you should include a decent percentage of cable machine moves in your training.

Is the cable bicep curl better than the dumbbell bicep curl?

If you only ever did dumbbell bicep curls you’d get really good at doing dumbbell bicep curls. But only up to a point. Why? Because the key to building bigger and stronger muscles, including your biceps, is to train them using a wide variety of different exercises.

That’s why the cable bicep curl should feature in any programme to build bigger arms. As should the barbell bicep curl, and the EZ-bar bicep curl, and all the other best biceps exercises. Variety is the spice of life, and the secret to unlocking major muscle gains.

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What muscles does the cable bicep curl work?

The primary muscle worked in the cable bicep curl is… drumroll, please… the biceps. It’s these upper arm muscles that are responsible for bending your elbows. So it’s the biceps at work when you curl the weight upwards (as your elbows bend your arm), and again when you lower the weight back down slowly (elbows straighten your arm).

The muscles of your forearms are also involved in the cable bicep curl. This is the case not just only for all biceps exercises, but also for all “pulling” exercises. You’ll know that from any tough back and biceps workout, when you struggle to grip your water bottle at the end of the session!

What cable bicep attachment should I use?

Being able to change the handle attachment is another reason that makes the cable bicep curl so good. You can do a cable bicep curl with many different variations of handle. Each one will work your biceps, as well as those muscles of your forearm, slightly differently.

The most popular handles are the double-rope cable attachment and the cable bar attachment. The bar might be straight or slightly bend upwards at the ends for a more joint-friendly grip. It’s well worth using all the different options throughout your training programme so you maximise your muscle-building potential.

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What other biceps exercises can I do on a cable machine?

The cable machine is one of the most useful and versatile bits of gym kit. So there’s many different ways to work your biceps to get the bigger and more defined arms you want. Here’s some of the best cable biceps moves for awesome arms.

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How do I do the cable bicep curl?

• Clip your desired handle to the bottom pulley of a cable machine and place the pin in the plate stack at the desired weight.
• Grip the handle in both hands then stand up tall and straight. Your arms should be straight with your hands at hip-height (or just above or below, depending on how long your arms are).
• Keep your chest up, abs braced and elbows tucked in tight to your sides.
• Curl the weight up towards shoulder height in a smooth and controlled movement. Keep those elbows flush against your sides and don’t let them flare out.
• If you can’t do the move without your elbows flaring out then the weight is too heavy. Stop the set, reduce the weight, and start the set again.
• At the top position, with your hands closest to your chin, pause and squeeze your biceps as hard as you can for at least one second.
• Slowly lower the weight back down slowly and under complete control. Aim to take at least two seconds to lower your hands back to the start.
• That’s one rep. Do 8-12 reps per set, rest 60-120 seconds, and do 3-4 sets in total.

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