How to Do Cable Curls: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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The biceps cable curl is an isolation exercise for the biceps muscles in the upper arm. The pulling action is performed with a cable machine and is suitable for beginners. This exercise can be used as part of an upper-body muscle-building program.

Also Known As: Cable biceps curl, cable curl

Targets: Biceps

Equipment Needed: Cable machine

Level: Beginner

How to Do Cable Curls

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Adjust the machine, so the cable is attached at the bottom with the sliding adjustment. The cable metal grip should extend enough to grasp it comfortably in your hands while your arms are outstretched and palms facing up.

Stand with your knees slightly bent, and feet planted firmly on the floor. Brace your abdominal muscles, straighten your back, and keep your head steady while looking forward.

  1. Curl the cable weight upward toward the chest while breathing out. Only the forearms move, rising from the elbow.
  2. Hold at the top of the contraction for one second.
  3. Lower the forearms to the starting position on an inhale. Stop before the weights return to the stack, keeping the cable under tension.

Benefits of Cable Curls

The primary target of the cable curl is the biceps brachii muscle. This is the muscle that flexes the elbow and connects the scapula with the radius of the forearm.

Synergistic muscles worked during the cable curl are the brachialis and brachioradialis, also used when flexing the elbow. Stabilizing muscles come into play in the shoulder and upper back—namely, the anterior deltoid, trapezius, and levator scapulae. Wrist flexors are used as well.

Having strong biceps makes daily life a little easier. Biceps cable curls are effective at boosting biceps brachii strength and size. They help you pick up and carry items such as boxes, grocery bags, and laundry baskets or cradle a child or pet.

Toned biceps also gives an appealing look to the upper arm. If you have sagging skin in this area following weight loss or aging, exercising regularly can help improve its appearance by regulating skin metabolism and slowing the aging process.

Other Variations of the Cable Curls

This exercise can be done in different ways, making it more accessible to beginning exercisers as well as offering progression as you build strength.

Seated Cable Curls

You can do cable curls in a seated position if you have balance and stability limitations. While seated, keep your back straight and your feet planted firmly on the floor. Also, make sure you're using your arms to lift and not relying on your lower body to power the pull.

Standing Single-Arm Cable Curl

This variation involves curling the biceps separately. Unilateral training—or training one side of the body at a time—enables you to exercise each side equally (versus relying more heavily on the dominant side) while also correcting muscle imbalances.

Use the single-hand attachment, then stand, facing away from the cable machine. Extend your arm, holding the handle in your hand. Next, curl the handle up, moving only your lower arm. Once your biceps are fully contracted, return to the starting position.

Distance Adjustments

You can even change the angle of the cable by adjusting the height setting on the cable rack or by stepping closer to it or farther away. This will load your muscles a little differently.

Grip Changes

Changing your grip to a hammer position (like in a hammer curl) or an overhand position enables you to target the brachialis and brachioradialis forearm muscles better. While these muscles get some activation during the palms-up position, they will be tested in these other positions even more.

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you get the most out of your biceps cable curl and avoid strain or injury.

Going Too Fast

Spend at least two seconds for each phase of the curl, both up and down. Hold for at least a second when your biceps are at maximum contraction.

Dropping the Weights

At the end of each rep, keep the weights suspended rather than dropping them into the stack. Keeping the cable (and, therefore, your muscles) under tension enhances the effectiveness of the exercise.

Body Movement Beyond the Lower Arms

If you find yourself swaying, rounding, or hollowing the back, jerking the shoulders, or moving the hips, you are not stabilizing yourself well. This is a sign that you are lifting too heavy of a weight and using momentum rather than steady contraction.

Your forearm should be the only body part moving during this exercise.

Move the leg on the same side forward when using a heavier weight for stability. You can even bend over in the leg forward position if you keep the back straight and allow all motion to come from your forearms.

Incomplete Range of Motion

The function of the biceps is to move your forearm and upper arm together. If you aren't fully opening and closing your elbows, you aren't working your biceps as much as you could with this exercise.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this exercise if you have an injury to the elbow or wrist. Work your muscles to fatigue, but not to the point of pain. If you feel any pain, end the exercise.

Always warm up before you do strengthening exercises, taking your joints through the complete range of motion. Check to ensure the weight set on the cable machine is one you can lift with good form.

Ideally, you want to choose a weight that allows you to do eight to 12 repetitions and give yourself 48 hours between strenuous workouts for adequate recovery. Also, vary the types of strength exercises you do to avoid overtraining or repetitive strain.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Landin D, Thompson M, Jackson M. Actions of the biceps brachii at the shoulder: a review. J Clin Med Res. 2017;9(8):667-70. doi:10.14740/jocmr2901w

  2. Nunes J, Jacinto J, Ribeiro A, et al. Placing greater torque at shorter or longer muscle lengths? Effects of cable vs. barbell preacher curl training on muscular strength and hypertrophy in young adults. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(16):5859. doi:10.3390/ijerph17165859

  3. Crane J, MacNeil L, Lally J, et al. Exercise-stimulated interleukin-15 is controlled by AMPK and regulates skin metabolism and aging. Aging Cell. 2015;14(4):625-34. doi:10.1111/acel.12341

  4. Ashmore A. The benefits of unilateral training. American Council on Exercise.

  5. American Heart Association. Warm up, cool down.

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.