Building a pair of bulging biceps is the dream of many a lifter, from total gym newbies all the way through advanced lifters from all strength sports. There’s something culturally alluring about that classic double biceps pose that athletes chase with everything from barbells to dumbbells and even kettlebells.
But one of your best options for stimulating muscle growth in your biceps is the cable machine. These machines allow you to pull hard and heavy without making a mess of the dumbbell rack. You can choose from a wide range of biceps exercises and rest assured that the cable machine will provide you with all the muscular tension you need to grow big biceps.
Here, you’ll find the best cable biceps workouts out there to grow strong, well-rounded biceps.
Best Cable Biceps Workouts
- Cable Biceps Workout for Beginners
- Cable Biceps Workout for Intermediates
- Cable Biceps Workout for Advanced Lifters
If you’re new to the gym, the first thing on your mind may well be ballooning those biceps. Since they’re culturally such a big part of what people think about when they think about getting stronger, the biceps are a priority for a lot of beginners.
This cable workout will take you in the right direction, but remember to prioritize back workouts and other compound exercises in your program. Back moves like assisted pull-ups, chin-ups, and all kinds of rows will help build your biceps, too. And because they involve muscle mass across your entire body, they’ll make sure your training program is well-balanced.
Three exercises might not seem like a lot — but 45 reps per exercise is a hefty amount of volume. If you’re a very enthusiastic newbie and still aren’t convinced that this is enough, consider that you also hit your biceps pretty hard with pull-oriented back workouts.
- Cable Curl: 3 x 15
- Cable Hammer Curl: 3 x 15
- Facing-Away Cable Curl: 3 x 12-15
If you’re a beginner who’s a little more on the experienced side, you might want to add some tempo training to your last exercise. Try taking five seconds to perform a slow eccentric (lowering), pause for one second at the bottom, take one second to perform the concentric (contracting) and avoid pausing at the top before starting again.
This form of tempo training will be notated as 4110 (four-second eccentric, one-second hold, one-second concentric, and zero-second hold).
You’ve already got some gym time under your weightlifting belt, and you’re ready to take your biceps training to the next level. And while you’re ready to integrate some newer, slightly more complex biceps cable exercises into your workouts, you’ll also be starting to push — or pull — your way into more intense training techniques.
For this workout, you’ll be starting to integrate some unilateral work by using the D-handles to perform single-arm cable curls. This will allow you to focus on one arm at a time to make sure you’re not growing your biceps in an unbalanced manner.
You’ll also be introducing work with a triceps rope and exercise angle manipulation with the high cable curl. Once you’ve got those techniques down, you’ll be raising the stakes by pushing each set that much harder.
- Single-Arm Cable Curl: 3 x 12 per side
- High Cable Curl: 3 x 15
- Cable Reverse Curl: 3 x 15
- Cable Rope Supinating Curl: 3 x 15
The goal here is to push yourself toward failure with each set. Fiddle around with the weights until you find one that will have you approaching failure while maintaining excellent form. If you’re pushing hard enough, this weight will likely decrease as you get more fatigued.
The most advanced lifters aren’t necessarily the ones performing the flashiest exercises. Here, you’ll be incorporating tempo training into your first two exercises and drop sets into your last two exercises. By integrating these intensity-boosting methods, you’ll be pushing your biceps workouts onto the next tier of strength-building.
For an added bonus, perform this workout directly after a few sets of chin-ups. Even though the chin-up primarily works your back, it also recruits your biceps pretty heavily. This will pre-exhaust your arms to maximize the effort you’ll need to put into your single-joint training.
You don’t always need to use different exercises to perform more advanced workouts. Especially as you gain more experience, your workouts are often more about manipulating intensity than about radically changing which exercises you’re doing.
- Cable Hammer Curl: 3 x 12-15*
- Reverse Grip Cable Curl: 3 x 12-15*
- Cable Rope Supinating Curl: 3 x 12-15**
- Single-Arm Facing-Away Cable Curl: 3 x 12-15 per side**
* Perform each set with a 4110 tempo.
** Perform drop sets for the last set of the last two exercises of the day.
To do this, you’ll hit your prescribed number of reps as usual. Then immediately reduce the weight by 25 to 50 percent and complete reps until you hit failure. Repeat the process until you reach quite a low weight.
How to Progress With Cable Biceps Workouts
Progressive overload is about much more than simply slapping on more weight plates or adjusting the pin to hold more load. Making sure you continue to make progress on strengthening and growing your biceps involves a multi-faceted strategy for boosting your intensity. Stay committed to your form throughout the process and you’ll do great.
Perfect Your Form
In this case, perfecting your form doesn’t just mean getting your moves technically correct. It also means optimizing each rep by moving slowly and deliberately. If you’re not performing each rep with intention — just mindlessly going through the motions — your form is bound to get sloppy. And your muscles are bound to grow less efficiently.
Instead, opt to pursue perfect form with slow, intentional movements for each rep. Cultivate a strong mind-muscle connection by focusing on squeezing the contraction at the top of each rep. Avoid letting the cable machine yank the weight back down during the eccentric phase. Instead, stay in control of the weight while you lower it with each and every rep.
Increase the Weight
Lifting heavier loads is perhaps the most popular form of progressive overload. Once you can hit your desired number of reps with each set at a certain weight, increase the weight slightly during your next session. Generally speaking, the higher your rep scheme, the lighter your weight will be.
However, if you’re sticking with a three-by-15 rep scheme for a few weeks, you’ll likely find that you can increase the weight a little bit and still hit 15 reps per set. Repeat the same process when it’s time to perform sets of 12 or sets of 20. The goal is to increase your 15-rep max, your 12-rep max, and your 20-rep max over time.
There’s one important thing to keep in mind here. There’s little point in increasing your weight if you’re letting momentum and sloppy form dictate your progress. If you can’t move through the full range of motion at a given weight, you’re not ready to increase your weight. Instead, you might actually want to consider dropping it until your form is solid.
Go to Failure
Once you have enough training experience, approaching failure toward the end of your sets is a great way to regulate and increase your intensity. If you’re not challenging yourself enough, it won’t matter how much weight you can move for a given number of reps. When the weight isn’t tough for you, it’s less likely to challenge you to grow.
Measure and increase your own intensity — and progress — by selecting weights that will push you toward failure toward the end of your sets.
If you’re doing three sets of an exercise, leave three reps in reserve during your first set. In other words, stop three reps short of failure. For your second set, stop two reps short of failure. On your third and final set, push yourself to one rep short of failure.
Use Tempo and Drop Sets
Tempo training and drop sets are classic intensity boosters for a reason. They’re both methods that will bring you a lot closer to failure as efficiently as possible. With these methods, you won’t have to perform endless sets of endless reps to give yourself enough of a muscle-building stimulus.
By slowing down your reps with tempo training, you’ll be giving your biceps more time under tension — more opportunity to be kicked into growth mode. And with drop sets, you’ll be packing in a lot of weight approaching failure in only a little bit of time.
Anatomy of the Biceps
Even if you’re aiming for boulder peaks on your biceps, they’re ultimately small muscles compared to those found in the rest of your body. Since your biceps connect across two joints — your elbow and shoulder — they serve the primary function of flexing your elbows.
True to its name, the biceps has two heads — the long head and the short head. They both play essential roles in the strength and functioning of your upper arms. They’re also both important for developing those muscular peaks you might be looking for.
The Biceps Short Head
The Biceps Long Head
The long head of your biceps serves a similar function to the short head — it also flexes your elbow and helps turn your forearm and wrist. However, the long head of your biceps is located underneath your short head. This means that targeting your biceps long head can help you create thicker arms.
Benefits of Cable Biceps Workouts
There are so many implements to choose from when you’re training your biceps. Why choose the cable machine? Find out here.
When you’re using a cable machine, you can also easily adjust your grip and/or the implement you’re using, whether that’s a triceps rope, a straight bar, a D-handle, or something else entirely.
Manipulating the weight is also much easier since all you have to do is adjust the pins instead of getting a new set of dumbbells or weight plates. This makes for great drop sets.
Cable machines provide accommodating resistance, where there is a more consistent level of tension on your muscles throughout the range of motion. This is especially helpful when training your biceps, which need a lot of emphasis on the eccentric (lowering) portion to help maximize muscle growth.
Stretch at the Bottom
Because of the position of the cable machine relative to your body, the cables will generally provide an extra pull at the bottom of the lift. This loaded stretch can increase your biceps’ growth potential by making sure your muscles are staying actively involved in every single part of the lift.
When you’re working with dumbbells — especially with your biceps — it’s easy to let them rest at your sides at the bottom of each lift. Cables take away that option by putting a more active tension and angle of pull on your muscles. The increased time under tension combined with the lack of a series of mid-set breaks for your muscles makes cables a great match for your biceps.
Accessible Drop Sets
You don’t need to be that jerk hogging all the dumbbells to perform drop sets. As long as you’ve laid temporary claim to the cable machine, you can perform drop sets with absolutely no fuss. All you have to do is quickly change the pins between your sets and start your reps again — no multiple pairs of dumbbells required.
If you’re doing drop sets that involve both sides of the cable machine — say, a facing-away cable curl — just make sure you’re adjusting the weight on both sides of the machine. Otherwise, your muscles are in for a rude shock when one side is still much heavier than the other.
Performing biceps exercises with a cable machine is a solid way to add solid mass to your upper arms. No matter your experience level, you can select a cable biceps workout to bring you closer to your goals. Whether you’re chasing rounder biceps, stronger arms to support those pull-ups, or both, the cable machine can help you forge the biceps of your dreams.
Featured Image: antoniodiaz / Shutterstock