How to Do a Biceps Cable Curl

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

biceps cable curl

Verywell / Ben Goldstein 

Targets: Biceps

Equipment Needed: Cable machine

Level: Beginner

The biceps cable curl is an isolation exercise for the upper arm biceps muscle. It’s a pulling action performed with a cable machine and is suitable for beginners. The cable curl is performed standing facing one end of a cable machine with the cable fixed at the bottom of the machine and set with an appropriate weight. Feet are flat on the floor with one or both hands holding a cable handle. This exercise can be used as part of an upper body strengthening program or muscle building program.

Benefits

The primary target of the cable curl is the biceps brachii muscle. This is the muscle that flexes the elbow, which is why it is worked when you curl the arm. It connects the scapula with the radius of the forearm. Synergistic muscles worked during the cable curl are the brachialis and the brachioradialis, which are also used when flexing the elbow. While doing the cable curl, other stabilizing muscles come into play in the shoulder and upper back—the anterior deltoid, trapezius and the levator scapulae. Your wrist flexors are also used.

Building the biceps gives an appealing look to the upper arms for both men and women. You see them in the classic arm flex to show off muscles. Building the biceps can help flesh out the upper arm if you have sagging skin following weight loss or due to aging.

You use the biceps brachii every time you raise your arm or bend your elbow. Strong biceps help you pick up and carry objects such as boxes, grocery bags, a laundry basket, or cradle a child. Beyond looking muscular or toned, having strong biceps makes daily life a little easier.

The exercise provides an alternative to the dumbbell or barbell curl because it offers a little more instability during the lift, which should bring a few more regional muscles into play. The cables give a constant tension that dumbbells don't provide.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Adjust the cable machine at one end so that the cable is attached at the bottom with the sliding adjustment. The cable metal grip should extend so that you can grasp it comfortably in your hands with arms outstretched and palms up. Choose a weight that allows you to do eight to 12 repetitions.

  1. Stand comfortably with feet firmly placed on the floor.
  2. Brace the abdominal muscles, straighten the back, keep the head steady.
  3. Curl the cable weight upward toward the chest, breathing out. Only your forearms should move, rising up from the elbow.
  4. Hold at the top of the contraction for one second.
  5. Inhale and unbend the arms at the elbow to let the cable weight return the arms to the lower resting position. Stop before the weights return to the stack, keeping the cable under tension.
  6. Complete the chosen number of repetitions (10 or 12 is a good number)

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors so you get the most out of your effort an avoid strain or injury.

Going Too Fast

You should be spending at least two seconds for each phase of the curl, both up and down. Hold for at least a second when at maximum contraction.

Allowing Weights to Drop

At the end of each rep the weights should still be suspended rather than dropping them into the stack. Keeping the the cable (and therefore your muscles) under tension will enhance the effectiveness of the exercise.

Body Movement

Your forearm should be the only body part moving during this exercise. 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 common sign that you are lifting too heavy of a weight and cheating by using momentum rather than steady contraction. If you're attempting quite a heavy weight, it's OK to position yourself with the leg on the same side forward for stability. You can even bend over in the leg forward position as long as you keep the back straight and allow all motion to come from your forearm.

Poor Range of Motion at Elbow

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

Modifications and Variations

This exercise can be done in different ways, making it more accessible as a beginner or progressing as you build strength.

Need a Modification?

You can do the cable biceps curl seated if you need more stability or suspect you are using your legs and back. Use light weights and only increase the weight as you are able to do your desired number of reps with good form.

Up for a Challenge?

In addition to doing unilateral biceps curls, you can do it with a bar or split rope and do both arms at the same time. Without isolating each arm, this will target your muscles in a slightly different way.

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

Changing your grip to the hammer or overhand position will target the brachialis and brachioradialis forearm muscles.

You can do biceps curls with free weights as another variation.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid this exercise if you have an injury to the elbow or wrist. You will be working 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 and take your joints through the complete range of motion. Check to ensure the weight set on the machine is one you can lift with good form. Vary the types of strength exercises you do so you can avoid repetitive strain. Give yourself 48 hours between difficult workouts for a muscle group.

Try It Out

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

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  1. American Heart Association. Warm Up, Cool Down.