Are Cable Curls More Effective Than Barbell Curls?

cable curls
September 5, 2023 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “are cable curls more effective than barbell curls?”. Both exercises are highly effective at building up your biceps and improving your curl strength.

However, they differ in many ways. This article will explore this topic in greater detail and give you a good insight into both exercises. You will be well placed to decide which exercise you want to implement into your training for biceps.

Are Cable Curls More Effective Than Barbell Curls?

The benefit of cable curls is the constant tension that you get throughout the range of motion. The barbell curl is harder at the bottom and becomes easier as you approach the top of the movement.

Cable curls are very effective in that you have a lot of flexibility. You can utilise various attachments and a cable station allows you to do many different variations of cable curl.

With a barbell you are locked into a fixed range of motion and don’t have the same flexibility. Barbell curls can be loaded very heavy and it is easier to cheat on heavy curls compared to trying to cheat on heavy cable curls.

Overall, both exercises have their place and are effective. It would be a good idea to rotate these exercises into your training. This way you will be less likely to suffer overuse injuries and can reap the benefits of both.
cable curls

Constant Tension From Cables

One of the benefits of cables is the constant tension that you get throughout the entire range of motion.

This is in contrast to barbells, where the start of the curl will be hardest. Cable curls allow you to keep the tension on your biceps for longer. Your biceps can relax more on barbell curls as you approach the end range of motion.

This is also a reason why cable curls often feel harder. Because of this constant tension throughout the exercise your muscles have to work harder. 

If you have tried cable curls with the single arm attachments you will quickly find out that you will get fatigued quite quickly during the set. 

Huge Loading Potential On Barbell Curls

One of the big advantages of barbell curls is the huge loading potential. You can load this exercise very heavily. Whereas with cable curls, some cable stacks don’t go too heavy in weight.

You can be limited. It should be stated that there are some cable stacks that go up to pretty heavy weight. The big loading potential on barbell curls allow you to go very heavy and make great strength gains.

You should ensure to keep good form and not cheat too much. Cheating too much on heavy barbell curls can increase the risk of suffering a bicep tear or strain.

Previously I have discussed on this site whether EZ curl bars are bad.

barbell curl

Variability With Cable Curls

Where cable curls really shine is with the flexibility and variability that they offer. You can choose from various cable attachments – straight bar, cambered bar, rope, single arm attachments, etc.

This allows you to hit your biceps from so many angles. In addition, you can also vary the exercise by doing lying cable curls or standing cable curls. You can also support yourself on an incline bench and do high cable curls to behind your head.

There are so many options with cable curls which is a huge benefit. In this way, you can target the bicep from a lot more angles than the traditional barbell curl. You will likely build bigger biceps with this approach.

Safety With Both Exercises

Both the cable curl and barbell curl are relatively safe exercises. The barbell curl carries a greater risk as you can load it far heavier.

If you do heavy barbell curls with a lot of cheating then you will experience a greater risk of injury. Personally, I prefer to do cable curls with good strict form.

I like to take advantage of the constant tension that doing that exercise affords me. This way I can really make the biceps work hard!

Whilst heavy barbell curls will build bigger and stronger biceps. There is a lot to be said for establishing a good mind muscle connection and keeping tension on the biceps.

This is how bodybuilders train and it is a very effective way of inducing hypertrophy in the muscles.

Strain On Wrists

Some people may find barbell curls to put more strain on their wrists than cable curls. This varies from person to person.

Personally, I find that doing cable curls with a short straight bar attachment puts a lot of strain on my wrists. I prefer doing cable curls with a longer slightly cambered attachment or using the single arm attachments.

I have never really experienced wrist strain from barbell curls, but some people do report this. I actually prefer dumbbell curls over barbell curls as I find that I have a lot more freedom during the range of motion.

With the barbell curl you are locked into a specific plane of motion and don’t have as much freedom or control.

Scott Herman’s Views

Scott Herman is very well respected in the fitness community and has over 17 years experience as a personal trainer.

He shares some interesting views regarding the cable curls vs barbell curls debate. Some of his views are similar to mine. Namely, he talks about the constant tension that cable curls offer and the versatility of cable stations.

This is very true and it is a big benefit of training with cables. He then says that many cable stacks don’t go heavy enough. Again this is true, it is where barbell curls can allow you to train very heavy.

Scott says that it is a lot easier to cheat on heavy barbell curls than heavy cable curls. Again there is truth to this, the tension on a heavy cable curl will hit you hard from the outset.

Because of this constant tension, it is tough to cheat on very heavy cable curls. With heavy barbell curls you can use momentum to cheat and once you have got the bar past the mid point of the motion, you can relax a lot more.

Final Thoughts

Are cable curls more effective than barbell curls? The truth is that both exercises are effective and complement each other.

Cable curls work your muscles harder throughout the range of motion and enable more time under tension. Barbell curls allow you to curl very heavy and you can experience very good strength gains.

The injury risk isn’t too great on either exercise. However, if you perform heavy barbell curls with a lot of cheating, you will increase your risk of serious injury.

I would recommend rotating both exercises into your routine concurrently. This way you can reap the benefits of both movements and reduce the risk of overuse injuries.

>> Are Seated Curls Too Difficult?

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