What Is the Cable Curl?

Dan Cavallari

A cable curl is a type of weight training exercise that is similar to a barbell or dumbbell curl, but instead of being done with free weights, it is done with a cable machine. The general motion remains the same regardless of the resistance unit being used: a person will stand with the feet firmly planted about hip width apart, and then he or she will grasp the weight with the arm or arms hanging downward, the elbows slightly bent. The lifter will then lift the weights by bending at the elbow and curling the forearms upward toward the biceps.

The cable curl targets the muscles in the arms and chest.
The cable curl targets the muscles in the arms and chest.

Like other types of curls, the cable curl is intended to work the muscles of the arms and chest. It strengthens and tones the biceps, pectoral muscles, and even the forearms to a lesser degree. Curls are staple exercises for a bodybuilder, and the method by which those curls are done are a matter of preference. Many weight lifters prefer the cable curl because it is easy to adjust the weight of the resistance unit quickly, and it is unlikely that the weight stacks will fall, wobble, or otherwise become unstable during the exercise.

Cable curls can help strengthen the biceps.
Cable curls can help strengthen the biceps.

Others argue that a cable curl modifies the natural movement of the lifter's arms during the exercise, since the body often leans backward against the resistance of the cable unit and handle. Regular dumbbell or barbell curls allow for a more natural center of balance, meaning a lifter is less likely to alter his or her natural lifting motion. This point is up for debate, and most lifters make a decision as to what type of curl works best for them. Other lifters use the cable curl in conjunction with a number of other biceps exercises to get the most thorough workout possible.

One of the drawbacks of the cable curl is the unavoidable necessity of a large cable machine to do the exercise. These machines can be quite expensive, so doing the exercise at home can be cost-prohibitive, but most gyms and fitness centers feature the necessary machines to execute the curl. These machines feature replaceable attachments that can alter the hand position during the curl, which means a lifter can theoretically do the curls with one hand using one handle, and with two hands using a different handle. The same cable can be used for other types of exercises depending on the handle attachment and orientation of the cable.

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