High Cable Curl – How To, Benefits, And Why Include In Your Arm Exercises

Learn all about the high cable curls, how to do the exercise, mistakes to avoid, and why make it part of your fitness regimen

high cable curl exercises

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High Cable Curl – A popular and excellent biceps-focused exercise that gives results

The high cable curl targets the biceps muscles in the upper arm. You perform the exercise using a cable machine with an adjustable pulley system. 

High cable curl – Targeted muscles

The primary target of the high cable curl exercise is the biceps brachii, which is the muscle group located on the front of the upper arm. 

However, the movement uses other muscles for stabilization during the exercise. 

  • Biceps Brachii
    The biceps brachii, or biceps, is the primary muscle the high cable curls target.
    It consists of two heads—the long head and the short head—which run along the front of the upper arm.
    The biceps helps in flexing the elbow joint and supinating the forearm or rotating the palm upward.
  • Brachialis
    The brachialis is beneath the biceps on the front of the upper arm. It helps in elbow flexion and contributes to the strength and size of the upper arm.
  • Brachioradialis
    The brachioradialis runs along the outer edge of the forearms. High cable curls do not directly target it, but the muscle assists in elbow flexion during the exercise.
  • Forearm Muscles
    High cable curls also engage the forearm muscles. They help to maintain a grip on the bar during the exercise.

High cable curl – Proper form

You will need a cable machine for the exercise.

Follow these steps to perform the high cable curls with proper form.

Steps to follow

  • Set the weights on the machine to a comfortable level, ensuring the amount of weight is the same on each pulley.
  • Adjust the pulley to a position above your shoulders, and attach a stirrup to each cable.
  • Position yourself in the middle of the machine, with feet at shoulder-width. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, and your body should be straight and upright.
  • Grasp the handles with an underhand grip, palms facing upward. 
  • Extend your arms fully.
  • Align your body evenly to the handles.
  • Exhale and contract your biceps to curl the handles upward toward your shoulders. Maintain control throughout the movement and avoid using momentum or swinging.
  • Pause briefly at the top of the movement and squeeze your biceps to maximize muscle engagement.
  • Inhale and slowly lower the handles back to your starting position, extending your arms while maintaining tension on the biceps. Control the descent to maintain muscle activation.
  • Repeat 8-12 reps per set and 3-4 sets in a session.


  • Keep your core engaged throughout the exercise to maintain stability and proper posture.
  • Avoid leaning back excessively or using your lower back to assist the movement. Stay upright and focus on using the biceps to lift the weight.
  • Maintain a smooth and controlled motion throughout. Avoid jerking or quick movements.
  • Adjust the weight on the machine according to your strength level. Start with a manageable weight and gradually increase as you progress.

Tips and best practices for high cable curl

  • Warm-Up
    it is crucial to warm up your muscles and joints with some light aerobic activity or dynamic stretches before starting the high cable curl or any exercise.
    That will help increase blood flow, improve flexibility, and prepare your body.
  • Proper Grip and Hand Placement
    Grab the cable attachment with an underhand grip, palms facing upward.
    Ensure a firm but comfortable grip.
  • Stance and Body Position
    Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and maintain a stable and balanced stance throughout the exercise.
    Keep your core engaged, your chest up, and your shoulders back. Do not lean or sway.
  • Control the Weight
    Avoid using momentum or swinging to lift the weight.
    Instead, focus on a slow and controlled movement throughout the entire range of motion.
    That will ensure the biceps are fully engaged and maximize muscle activation.
  • Elbow Position
    Keep your upper arms stationary throughout the exercise.
    That will help isolate the biceps and prevent excessive involvement of other muscles.
    Avoid letting your elbows flare out or excessively forward.
  • Full Range of Motion
    Perform the high cable curl through a complete range of motion. Start with your arms fully extended, and as you curl the weight upward, aim to bring it close to your head while maintaining proper form.
    That ensures the biceps are fully engaged and challenged.
  • Focus on the Contraction
    Pause and squeeze your biceps briefly at the top of the movement.
    That will help maximize muscle activation and enhance the mind-muscle connection.
  • Breathe Properly
    Inhale before you begin the curl, and exhale as you lift the weight.
    Do not hold your breath. That can increase intra-abdominal pressure and decrease stability.
  • Gradually Increase Weight and Progression
    Start with a weight that allows you to perform the exercise with proper form and control.
    Gradually increase the resistance to continue challenging your muscles and promoting progress as you get stronger.
  • Listen to Your Body
    Pay attention to any discomfort or pain during the exercise.
    Reduce the weight, adjust your form, or seek guidance from a fitness professional if you experience any unusual or sharp pain.
high cable curl with a cabel machine

High cable curl – Common mistakes

The effectiveness of any exercise depends on getting the form correct. Thus you can target and build your biceps much more effectively if you avoid the following common mistakes.

  • Using Excessive Momentum
    Swinging or using momentum to lift the weight can take the focus away from the biceps and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.
    Maintain control throughout the entire range of motion, using a slow and controlled movement.
  • Allowing the Elbows to Flare
    Letting your elbows flare out reduces the activation of the biceps and places unnecessary strain on the shoulder joints.
    Ensure your upper arms stay stationary.
  • Shrugging the Shoulders
    Avoid shrugging your shoulders upward or allowing them to elevate during the movement. That can shift the focus away from the biceps and engage the upper traps and neck muscles instead.
    Keep your shoulders relaxed and stabilized throughout the exercise.
  • Lifting heavy
    Choose a weight that allows you to maintain proper form and complete the desired number of repetitions with control.
    Using excessive weight can lead to compensatory movements, reduced range of motion, and increased risk of injury.
    Focus on using a weight that challenges your muscles without sacrificing form.
  • Not Fully Extending the Arms
    Ensure you fully extend your arms at the bottom of each repetition.
    That allows for a complete range of motion and ensures that the biceps are well-stretched and activated.
  • Poor Wrist Alignment
    Maintain proper wrist alignment by keeping your wrists straight throughout the movement.
    Avoid excessive flexion or extension of the wrists, as that can put unnecessary strain on the joint and compromise your grip and form.
  • Neglecting Core Stability
    Engage your core muscles to maintain a stable and upright posture throughout the exercise.
    That can help you maintain proper form and prevent excessive movements.

Benefits of high cable curls

High cable curls offer several benefits for athletes who want to target and develop their biceps muscles.

Biceps Isolation

The primary focus of the high cable curls is the biceps. That allows you to focus and isolate the muscles.

That can help develop the size, strength, and definition.

Range of Motion

Performing high cable curls with a cable machine allows for a full range of motion.

That can help engage the biceps throughout their entire length, helping to improve muscle activation and development.

Constant Tension

Cable exercises, such as high cable curls, provide constant tension on the muscles throughout the movement.

The continuous tension places a sustained workload on the biceps, which can stimulate muscle growth and strength gains.

Stabilizer Activation

High cable curls engage the stabilizer muscles in the arms and shoulders.

The stabilizers help in maintaining proper form and control during the exercise.

Variation and Muscle Balance

Including high cable curls in your workout regimen adds variation and can help target the biceps from a different angle than other upper arm exercises like barbell curls or dumbbell curls.

The variation can help achieve balanced muscle development and prevent muscle imbalances.

Adjustable Resistance

Cable machines allow for adjustable weights, enabling you to easily modify the resistance according to your strength level and progression.

The versatility makes high cable curls suitable for exercisers of different fitness levels, from novices to advanced lifters.

Functional Strength

Strengthening your biceps can help with several everyday activities and sports movements that involve pulling or lifting objects.

High cable curls can help improve functional strength in the biceps, making daily tasks and athletic endeavors easier.

High cable curl variations

The following variations and modifications of the high cable curl exercise can help provide different stimuli to the biceps and change the emphasis on muscle activation.

Incorporate some into your upper arm training regimen to help boost your results.

Reverse Grip High Cable Curl

Instead of using an underhand grip with palms facing upward, use an overhand grip with palms facing downward, with the cable attachment.

The variation targets the brachialis muscle more prominently and can provide a different stimulus to the biceps.

Single-Arm High Cable Curl

You can perform the high cable curl with one arm at a time.

The variation allows for better focus on each arm individually and can help address any strength and muscle imbalances between the left and right sides.

Cable Spider Curl

The cable spider curl variation uses a cable machine and an adjustable weight bench or exercise ball.

Adjust the pulley of the cable machine to a lower position.
Stand, facing away from the machine, and lean forward, resting your armpits on an incline bench or an exercise ball.
With an underhand grip, curl the cable attachment toward your shoulders.

The high cable curl variation emphasizes the peak contraction of the biceps and can be effective for isolating the muscle.

High cable curl alternatives

Aside from the high cable curl variations, the alternative exercises below can help you target your biceps.

These high cable curl alternatives can help you target and work your biceps with other equipment instead of a cable machine.

They offer variations in grip, range of motion, and muscle activation, allowing you to target the biceps from different angles, spice up your training, and boost your results.

Barbell Curls

standing barbell curls - best isolation exercises

Barbell curls are classic biceps exercises performed using a barbell.

  • Stand with feet at shoulder-width.
  • Hold the barbell with an underhand grip, and curl the barbell up towards your shoulders while keeping your elbows stationary.

Dumbbell Curls

standing dumbbell bicep curl - preacher curl alternative exercise

Dumbbell curls are one of the most effective exercises for targeting the biceps.

  • Stand with your feet at shoulder-width, holding a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing forward.
  • Curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders while keeping your elbows stationary.

Preacher Curls

preacher curls - best dumbbell bicep exercises

You will need a preacher bench and a barbell or a pair of dumbbells for the preacher curls high cable curl alternative exercise.

  • Sit or kneel with your upper arms resting on the preacher bench, holding a barbell or dumbbells with an underhand grip.
  • Curl the weight up towards your shoulders while keeping your upper arms stationary.

Hammer Curls

dumbbell hammer curls - best long head bicep exercises and bicep curl variations

Hammer curls target the biceps and the brachialis muscles.

  • Stand with feet at shoulder-width, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing your body.
  • Curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders while keeping your elbows stationary.

The exercise emphasizes the brachialis muscles.

Concentration Curls

dumbbell concentration curls - preacher curl alternative exercise

Concentration curls isolate the biceps by eliminating momentum and focusing on one arm at a time.

  • Sit on a bench or chair holding a dumbbell with an underhand grip.
  • Rest your elbow against your inner thigh, and curl the dumbbell toward your shoulder while keeping your upper arm stationary.

Remember to choose weights that challenge you while maintaining proper form, and consider consulting with a fitness professional to ensure the correct exercise technique.

High cable curl limitations

High cable curls are great exercises for targeting the biceps but have some limitations.

Limited Resistance

The resistance from cable machines may not be as high as that from free weights, such as barbells or dumbbells.

That can be a limitation for athletes with advanced strength levels and may require heavier loads to continue challenging their muscles.

Lack of Stabilizer Activation

High cable curls isolate the biceps muscles and do not engage the stabilizer muscles to a significant extent.

While that can be great for targeting the biceps, it may not provide the same functional strength and stability as exercises that involve more muscle groups.

Grip Dependency

High cable curls rely on a fixed grip position determined by the cable attachment.

While that can suit many exercisers, it may not accommodate those with specific grip limitations or preferences.

Some athletes may find that the fixed grip position causes discomfort or does not allow optimal muscle activation.

Biomechanical Variations

The effectiveness of the high cable curl can vary depending on an exerciser’s biomechanics, including limb length and joint mobility.

Some athletes may find it challenging to maintain proper form or experience discomfort during the exercise due to those variations.

Lack of Eccentric Emphasis

High cable curls emphasize the concentric portion or lifting the weight, while the eccentric or lowering section may receive less focus.

Eccentric training is vital for muscle development and strength gains, and incorporating exercises that specifically target that phase can be beneficial.

Who should do the high cable curls?

The high cable curl can suit various exercisers, irrespective of their fitness levels and goals.

Biceps Development

The high cable curl can be an excellent choice for athletes to target and develop their biceps muscles.

It allows for isolated biceps training, helping to increase muscle size, strength, and definition.

Arm Strength and Aesthetics

Incorporating the high cable curl into your training regimes can be beneficial if you want to improve the strength and aesthetics of your arms, including well-defined biceps.

It provides a focused stimulus to the biceps, contributing to overall arm development.

Hypertrophy Training

For individuals focusing on hypertrophy or muscle growth, the high cable curl can be a valuable addition to a comprehensive arm-training program.

You can promote well-rounded muscle development with various exercises and equipment that target the biceps from different angles.

Rehabilitation and Injury Prevention

High cable curls can fit into various rehabilitation programs.

It allows for the specific strengthening of the biceps while minimizing stress on other areas, making it suitable for anyone recovering from injuries or seeking to prevent imbalances.

Variation and Muscle Engagement

Adding the high cable curl to your workout regimen can provide variation and engage the biceps from a different angle.

The variety can help prevent boredom and stimulate the muscles differently, leading to better progress.

Final words from LiveLIfe

Building muscles is challenging, but you can make it less stressful by incorporating various measures into your training regimen and adopting and following the correct guidelines.

One such measure is variety. While dumbbell curls may be one of the best bicep-building exercises, concentrating on that alone may not give you the results.

Thus you will need other exercises like the high cable curls to help target your biceps in different ways.

Incorporating high cable curls into your upper arm exercises can help spice up your workout and help speed up your results.

High cable curls may have some limitations, but they are still some of the most effective exercises for many athletes, especially for targeting the biceps muscles. Thus they are worth considering.

  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. Marcolin G, Panizzolo FA, Petrone N, et al. Differences in electromyographic activity of biceps brachii and brachioradialis while performing three variants of curl. PeerJ. 2018;6:e5165.

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