7 Best Cable Machine Bicep Exercises (Maximum Muscle Growth)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers | Senior Coach
Last updated: January 31, 2024
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Biceps, the bulging muscles that sit prominently on the front of the upper arm, have long been a symbol of strength and power.

As a fitness trainer, I am always on the lookout for new ways to sculpt and build biceps. That’s why I came up with this list of biceps cable exercises that’ll challenge your muscles and take your arm gains to the next level.

So, get ready to pump up those biceps and feel the burn.

Quick Summary

  • Cable machine bicep curls — isolation exercises for the biceps brachii muscle performed using a cable machine — have different variations, such as cable hammer curl, cable spider curl, and squatting cable curl, to target different parts of the biceps.
  • Bicep cable exercises have been proven to be effective for muscle activation and growth, but it’s essential to follow proper form and safety tips to prevent injury.
  • Cable machine bicep curls are popular among gym-goers because they allow for more variation and control than traditional dumbbell or barbell free-weight curls.

Best Cable Machine Bicep Exercises

Shirtless man doing bicep curls in the cable machine

With the right cable curl variations, you can add depth and definition to your biceps, sculpting them into a masterpiece.

Here are some unique cable biceps exercises that we’ve discovered through years of trial and error:

1. Bayesian Curls

The Bayesian curl is an underappreciated single-arm cable curl variation that involves positioning your body to resist force and draw your arm slightly behind you.

This can only be achieved by facing away from the opposing force, which is not feasible with other equipment such as free weights or machines.

To perform the exercise:

  1. Set up a cable pulley machine at the lowest setting with a single handle.
  2. Stand facing away from the weights.
  3. Use a split stance to create a strong base.
  4. Grab the handle with wrists straight and slowly curl the cable weight up while leaning forward.
  5. Lower the weight back down under control.

2. Cable Biceps Curls

Cable bicep curls workout

The barbell biceps curl is an effective exercise for building mass, but the cable version is even better due to the continuous tension it places on the targeted muscles.

Cable bicep curl creates a greater occlusion effect and results in a better pump.

To perform cable biceps curls:

  1. Start by setting the cable pulley at a low level and attaching the straight bar.
  2. Use an underhand grip, varying the width of the grip.
  3. Keep your elbows tucked into your body and slowly curl the bar up while keeping your upper arms stationary.
  4. Squeeze the biceps and return to the starting position.

3. Supine Cable Biceps Curl

Supine cable curls are a beneficial cable exercise that maximizes the effects of bicep curls.

Despite looking simple, the exercise requires a precise form.

Here’s how to perform it: 

  1. Attach a straight or EZ bar to a low pulley.
  2. Sit on the floor with legs straight and feet closest to the weight stack.
  3. Grab the bar with an underhand, shoulder-width grip.
  4. Then, lie down with your arms straight.
  5. Bend your elbows and curl the bar up to your shoulders.
  6. Extend the arms back, and repeat.

4. Single-Arm Cable Curls

Performing single arm cable curls

Single-arm cable curls are a type of bicep exercise that targets one arm at a time using constant tension cable machines.

Fixed tension on the muscles throughout the movement results in a more effective workout.

To do the single-arm cable curl:

  1. Set the pulley machine at the lowest setting and attach a single handle.
  2. Stand a few feet away with feet shoulder-width apart and turn away from the weights with one foot slightly in front.
  3. Use an underhand grip to grab the handle and extend your arm behind you.
  4. Curl the load up while leaning forward slightly.
  5. Bring the arm forward under control and repeat for the desired reps.

5. Cable Spider Curls

The spider curl workout focuses on the short bicep head as it creates high muscle tension during the upward movement.

It also requires lying face down on an inclined bench, which eliminates the use of legs and upper back to lift the weight.

Here’s how to perform it:

  1. Start with a straight bar attachment to the lowest setting of the machine.
  2. Lie face down on an inclined bench with your chest and stomach resting on it and your feet on the ground.
  3. Begin with arms extended, holding the attachment with an underhand grip.
  4. Slowly curl the attachment towards your shoulders and then lower it back down, keeping tension on the biceps throughout the movement.

We recommend using a lighter weight for this exercise.

Also Read: How to Do Spider Curls

6. Cable Hammer Curls

Performing cable hammer curls using rope

The cable hammer curl is a beginner-friendly isolation exercise that targets the biceps muscles.

It involves a pulling action with a cable machine and can be included in an upper-body muscle-building routine.

To perform cable hammer curls:

  1. Adjust the cable pulley machine to the lowest setting and attach the rope attachment.
  2. Grasp the handle with the top of your hands (near your thumb) on the sides of the balls at the end of the rope attachment to prevent it from slipping out.
  3. Step back a foot with your arms extended and tuck your elbows into your sides.
  4. Curl the rope attachment up towards your shoulder by raising the top of your hand.
  5. Lower the weight slowly and repeat the exercise.

Related: Recommended Hammer Curl Variations

7. Squatting Cable Curls

The squatting cable curl is an exercise that targets the arm muscles while also engaging the quads and glutes.

I recommend doing these with higher reps ranging from 8–12 or more and pairing it with other arm exercises.

Follow these steps to perform squatting cable curls:

  1. Attach a straight bar to the low pulley cable and select the desired weight on the stack.
  2. Grasp the bar with hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Squat down so your arms rest just behind the elbows on your knees.
  4. Slowly curl the bar up towards your body, squeezing the biceps.
  5. Lower the weight back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for desired reps.

Benefits of Cable Machine Exercises

Cable machine exercise benefit

According to a study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, cable machine exercises for biceps have several benefits, including increased muscle activation, better muscle isolation, and a greater range of movement [1].

Cable curls produce greater biceps activation compared to barbell or dumbbell curls, leading to more efficient upper-arm muscle growth.

“Cable machines are ideal if you have balancing issues or other limitations that make it safer to sit during weight training.”

- Shawn Pedicini, Physical Therapist

Bicep cable exercises also allow for better isolation of the biceps, reducing the involvement of other muscles.

Additionally, the cable’s constant tension throughout the range of motion provides a greater stretch on the biceps, promoting greater hypertrophy [2].

Is a Cable Machine Effective For Building Biceps?

Yes, a cable machine is effective for building biceps. According to research from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, cable machines allow for fixed tension throughout the movement and provide a variety of bicep cable exercises [3].

Besides, they are suitable for beginners and advanced lifters alike.

Sample Workout Routine

Pulling cables to enhance biceps

I've created a structured training program for optimal results with bicep cable exercises.

Follow this workout once or twice a week, with at least a couple of days between sessions for recovery.

“An ideal routine would be eight repetitions for each exercise for three sets total.”

- Shawn Pedicini, Physical Therapist

You can use the following sample workout routine: 

  • Bayesian curls: 4 sets of 6–8 reps, with 90 seconds recovery time.
  • Cable bicep curls: 4 sets of 6–8 reps, with 90 seconds recovery time.
  • Supine cable bicep curls: 4 sets of 6–8 reps, with 90 seconds recovery time.
  • Single-arm cable curls: 3 sets of 8–12 reps, with 60 seconds recovery time.
  • Cable spider curls: 3 sets of 8–12 reps, with 60 seconds recovery time.
  • Cable hammer curls: 2 sets of 8–12 reps, with 45 seconds recovery time.
  • Squatting cable curls: 2 sets of 8–12 reps, with 45 seconds recovery time.

Safety Tips

To ensure no risks of injury, keep these safety tips in mind when performing cable biceps exercises:

  • Always warm up your biceps with light cardio, band stretching, and mobility exercises before starting your workout.
  • Choose an appropriate weight that challenges your muscles without compromising your form.
  • Keep your elbows close to your body, and avoid swinging your arms to prevent injury. Avoid locking out your elbows at the end of each repetition to maintain consistent tension on your biceps.

Combining Cable Exercises with Mobility and Flexibility Work for Biceps

While building muscle is important, I highly recommend incorporating mobility and flexibility exercises for the biceps, which are crucial for overall arm health and function.

Pre-Workout Mobility Exercises

Here are two mobility drills you can do before your bicep workout:

  • Dynamic arm swings: Before starting your cable routine, perform dynamic arm swings to increase blood flow and prepare the muscles and joints for exercise.
  • Bicep stretch (<15 seconds): After your workout, use the cable machine to assist in stretching the biceps. Grab the handle, keep your arm straight, and gently lean forward, allowing the cable to pull your arm back.

Post-Workout Flexibility Work

Here are two post-workout flexibility movements you can incorporate into your bicep workout:

  • Static bicep stretch: Post-workout, perform static stretches like the wall bicep stretch. Place your palm on a wall with your arm extended and gently turn away from the wall to stretch the bicep.
  • Incorporating yoga poses: Yoga poses like the 'Cow Face Pose' can help stretch and improve the flexibility of the biceps and shoulders.

FAQs

Is Cable Bicep Curl Better Than Dumbbell?

Yes, the cable biceps curl is better than the dumbbell curl because it provides the same tension throughout the movement. This causes greater activation of the biceps muscles and allows for more consistent resistance training.

Why Are Cable Bicep Curls So Hard?

Cable machine biceps curls are hard due to the constant resistance provided by the machine, which requires more stabilization and engagement of the muscles.

Do Cable Rows Build Biceps?

Cable rows do not build biceps directly. They primarily target the back muscles, so while they may indirectly work the biceps, they are not a targeted bicep exercise.


References: 

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28129277/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3285070/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7460162/
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About The Author

Senior Coach
Tyler Sellers is a trained athlete and author with contributions to publications like Men’s Health, The Healthy, Fox Business, NerdWallet, Weight Watchers, and MSN. His unique approach extends beyond physical techniques, emphasizing the significance of mental techniques like the flow state and mind-muscle connection.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
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