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Ask any lifter what the best exercises are for bigger, more muscular biceps, and they’ll probably say barbell and dumbbell curls. Bodybuilders have been using these exercises for eons to add mass to their arms. There is no denying that free-weight curls work.

That said, if you do the same old exercises too often, even the best will lose at least some of their potency. That’s why smart lifters change their workouts every 6-8 weeks.

If you’ve been living off a steady diet of barbell and dumbbell curls, your arm growth may have slowed or even plateaued. Doing more of the same will not get your progress back on track.

So, ditch the free-weights and start using a cable machine instead.

Using a cable machine changes the way your muscles work, keeps tension on the working muscles, and means you can hit your biceps from unique angles, all of which will rekindle muscle growth.

In this article, we reveal the 12 best cable machine biceps exercises and provide you with a sample workout to try.

Biceps Anatomy

Biceps Anatomy

You don’t need a degree in anatomy to build bigger, more muscular biceps. However, knowing a little more about how your muscles work will help explain why some exercises are better than others for sculpting impressive arms.

The full name of the biceps is biceps brachii. This means two-headed arm muscle and refers to how the biceps are made up of two distinct parts, which anatomists call heads.

The biceps have two origins, which means it has two uppermost attachment sites. The short head originates on the scapula or shoulder blade, while the long head originates just above the shoulder joint. These two attachments merge to form a single muscle belly, which then inserts onto the radius, which is the larger of your two forearm bones.

The biceps are a biarticular muscle meaning it crosses two joints – the shoulder and the elbow. Because of this, it affects both of these joints, although its effect on the shoulder is relatively weak. 

The biceps have three main functions:

  • Flexion of the elbow – bending your arm
  • Supination of the forearm – turning your palm upwards
  • Flexion of the shoulder – raising your arm forward

Top Cable Machine Exercises for Bigger Biceps

Not sure how to begin training your biceps using a cable machine? Here are 12 of the best exercises to get you started!

1. Cable biceps curl

The barbell biceps curl is an excellent mass builder. However, the cable variation could be even better because it keeps the target muscles under constant tension, creating greater occlusion for a better pump. You can do this exercise with a straight bar or if you prefer, an EZ bar attachment. However you do it, cable biceps curls are a viable rival to traditional barbell biceps curls.

Read all about cable biceps curls here.

2. Supine cable biceps curl

If there is a disadvantage to standing cable biceps curls, it is that it’s all too easy to use your legs and lower back to lift the weight. This not only takes tension away from the target muscles but could also lead to injury.

Supine cable biceps are much stricter and provide your back with plenty of support. The result? A safer, even more effective workout for your biceps.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a straight or EZ bar to a low pulley. Sit on the floor with your legs straight and feet closest to the weight stack. Grab the bar with an underhand, shoulder-width grip.
  2. Lie down and straighten your arms. This is your starting position.
  3. Keeping your upper arms close to your sides, bend your elbows and curl the bar up to your shoulders.
  4. Extend your arms and repeat.

3. Overhead biceps cable curls

There aren’t many biceps exercises that are more satisfying than the overhead biceps cable curl. This exercise makes your biceps look HUGE because you’re basically mimicking a double overhead biceps pose. As well as looking cool, this is an effective biceps exercise because you cannot use your legs or back to raise the weights. This is an excellent finishing move to do at the end of your biceps’ workout. Use light to moderate weights and pump out the reps to get a great pump!

Find out how to do this exercise here.

4. Cable hammer curls

As well as working your biceps, cable hammer curls hit your brachialis and brachioradialis muscles. Located in your upper forearm/lower humerus, these small but crucial muscles will make your forearms thicker and help push your biceps up to make them look bigger. You can do hammer curls with dumbbells, but the cable variation maybe even more effective because of the constant tension on your muscles.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a rope handle to a low pulley. Hold the handle with your thumbs nearest the ends.
  2. Stand up, brace your core, and pull your shoulders down and back. Pin your upper arms into your sides.
  3. Bend your elbows and curl the handles up to your shoulders. Keep your thumbs pointing up, i.e., in a neutral position.
  4. Extend your arms and repeat.

5. Cable preacher curls

Preacher curls are a popular exercise. Championed by golden-era bodybuilder Larry Scott, this exercise is also called the Scott curl as it was one of his favorites. Scott was known for his phenomenal biceps, which he attributed to doing lots of preacher curls.

The main disadvantage of preacher curls is that there is much less tension on your biceps as your arms approach vertical. Using a cable machine is an excellent way to overcome this problem.

Read more about cable preacher curls here.

6. Single arm cable curl

This unusual biceps exercise is a lot like incline dumbbell curls in that it extends your upper arm behind you and stretches your biceps at the start of each rep. However, like all cable biceps exercises, it also keeps your biceps under constant tension, which could mean it’s the more productive exercise. Don’t go too heavy too soon with this exercise; overdoing it could lead to shoulder or elbow joint pain.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a D-shaped handle to a low pulley.
  2. With your back to the weight stack, take the pulley in one hand, step forward, and adopt a split stance for balance. Your arm should be extended behind you.
  3. Bend your elbow and curl the weight forward and up to your shoulder.
  4. Extend your arm and repeat.
  5. Do the same number of reps with the opposite arm.

7. Squatting cable curl

They say variety is the spice of life, and that’s especially true when building bigger biceps! New and unusual exercises can help trigger new muscle growth. This unique biceps exercise will hit your arms in an entirely new way. It’s similar to the preacher curl, but the angle of your arms is a little different, and you don’t need a special bench to do it.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a straight bar or EZ bar to a low pulley. Hold the bar with an underhand, roughly shoulder-width grip. Step back a little and then stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down, so your upper arms rest on your knees.
  2. Bend your elbows and curl the handle up to your forehead.
  3. Extend your arms and repeat.

8. Cable spider curls

It’s unclear how spider curls got their name, but this unusual exercise could be the key to unlocking new biceps growth. The spider curl involves lying face down on an incline bench, which means you cannot use your legs or upper back to help lift the weight. It also produces a lot of muscle tension at the top of each rep, hitting the short head of your biceps, which could help you build a higher biceps peak.

How to do it:

  1. Place a bench in front and a couple of feet away from a low pulley. Set the bench to about 45-degrees. Use a straight bar or EZ bar as required.
  2. Lie face down on the bench and grab the handle. Your arms should be straight.
  3. Bend your elbows and curl the handle up to your shoulders.
  4. Extend your arms and repeat.

9. Cable reverse curls

Reverse curls are often viewed as a forearm exercise (which they are!), but they’re also a valuable biceps exercise. Hitting the brachialis and brachioradialis as well as the biceps, this is a total arm exercise. While freeweight reverse curls are pretty good, using cables ensures there is no decrease in muscle tension at the top of each rep.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a straight or EZ bar to a low pulley and hold the handle using a shoulder-width, pronated (palms down) grip.
  2. Stand up, brace your core, and pull your shoulders down and back. Pin your upper arms into your sides.
  3. Bend your elbows and curl the handle up to your shoulders.
  4. Extend your arms and repeat.

10. Cable concentration curl

Concentration curls are a popular biceps exercise. Usually done with dumbbells, this is a very strict exercise that all but eliminates any chance of cheating. It’s not the best mass builder but, for a pump and maximum muscle tension, it’s hard to beat. Using a cable machine instead of a dumbbell means your biceps are stressed throughout the entire range of motion and not just the last half of each rep.

How to do it:

  1. Place a bench next to a cable machine and attach a D-shaped handle to the low pulley.
  2. Sit on the bench and grab the handle with your nearest arm. Place your upper arm inside and against your thigh.
  3. Keeping your arm in contract with your leg, bend your elbow and curl the handle up toward your opposite shoulder.
  4. Extend your arm and repeat.
  5. Do the same number of reps on both arms.
  6. You can also do this exercise standing, i.e., bent over with your upper arm resting against your inner thigh.

11. Supine cable curls on bench

Back in exercise #2, we introduced you to supine curls performed with a low pulley and while lying on the floor. This supine curl variation involves a bench and a high pulley to hit your arms from an entirely new angle. It’s not better or worse than the original supine cable curl, but it certainly is different. Variation can help keep you out of workout ruts and ensure your biceps keep getting bigger and stronger!

How to do it:

  1. Place a bench beneath your pulley machine. Attach a straight or EZ bar to the high pulley. Grab the bar with an underhand, shoulder-width grip.
  2. With your back to the pulley, lie down on the bench and extend your arms above you. This is your starting position.
  3. Bend your arms and curl the handle down to your forehead.
  4. Extend your arms and repeat.

12. Seated cable biceps curls

This exercise looks like you are about to do a set of seated rows. But, instead of working your lats, you’re going to do a challenging type of curl that’s bound to make your biceps grow! Tension is high as you flex your elbows, which hits the short head of your biceps and could help you build a higher peak.

How to do it:

  1. Attach a straight or EZ bar to a cable seated row machine. Sit on the machine and grab the handle with an underhand, shoulder-width grip. Sit up straight, pull your shoulders down and back, and brace your core. Extend your arms.
  2. Bend your elbows and curl the handle up to your forehead.
  3. Straighten your arms and repeat.
  4. You can also do this exercise using a low cable machine.

Cable Machine Biceps Workout  

While you could just pick a few cable biceps exercises and hope for the best, you’ll get better results if you follow a more prescriptive training program. Do this workout 1-2 times per week to ignite biceps growth. If you do it twice, make sure there is a couple of days between workouts to allow for repair and recovery, e.g., Monday and Thursday.

Before you start, make sure you warm up your biceps with a few minutes of light cardio followed by dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises for your elbows and shoulders.

All of the exercises in this program are described above.

No. Exercise Sets Reps Recovery
1 Supine cable biceps curl 4 6-8 90 seconds
2 Cable hammer curls 3 8-10 90 seconds
3 Single arm cable curl 2 10-12 60 seconds
4 Cable spider curls 2 10-12 60 seconds
5 Cable concentration curl 2 12-15 45 seconds

Wrapping Up

There isn’t a bodybuilder alive who doesn’t want bigger, harder, stronger biceps. Well-developed biceps are a badge of honor and are often what separates a good physique from an excellent one.

Barbell and dumbbell curls can help you build the arms of your dreams, but they have limitations too. The main issue is that, depending on the exercise performed, there may be a drop-off in muscle tension partway through your reps. That makes some freeweight biceps exercise less efficient.

Using cables keeps your muscles under tension for longer. Also, it means you can attack your biceps from a greater variety of angles. In short, using cables is the smart way to develop bigger, more muscular arms.

Add the exercises in this article to your arm routine, or try our cable machine biceps workout. Either way, if you want to build your best biceps ever, cable exercises can help.

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