Regular bicep curls make up the foundation of arm workouts all over the world.
Cable curls also play a key role in arm-building programs and are a popular machine-based bicep exercise.
In this article, we compare the difficulty level of cable curls and bicep curls to see which one is harder.
Let’s get started.
Are Cable Curls Harder Than Bicep Curls?
On the surface, this is quite tough to answer as it depends on how you measure the difficulty of an exercise.
In terms of how much work the biceps do, cable curls are considered harder as they put your biceps under tension throughout the full range of motion.
This is due to how the cable machine works – as long as the weight is lifted from the neutral position, there will be tension.
If you look at difficulty in terms of the number of muscles being used, bicep curls are the harder of the two as they require more muscles, which increases the overall workload.
Why Some People Find Cable Curls Harder
They’re A Machine-Based Exercise
If you’re used to free weight exercises like bicep curls, then moving to a machine-based exercise may take some getting used to.
This is because unlike free weights, your muscles are under constant tension.
During bicep curls, your muscles are under minimal tension at both the bottom and top of the exercise.
Some people use this as an opportunity to rest the muscles.
Your Biceps Are Isolated
Usually, your biceps are helped by other muscle groups such as your forearms and shoulders.
But during cable curls, your biceps have to do pretty much all of the work as they’re isolated during the exercise.
Isolating your biceps makes lifting more challenging than if other muscle groups were helping out.
Why Some People Find Bicep Curls Harder
You Can Lift More Weight
As your biceps aren’t isolated during bicep curls, you’re able to lift more weight than you can in cable curls.
This can make bicep curls seem harder if you’re used to lifting lighter weights.
Lifting heavier weights puts more stress on the working muscles, which can make the exercise seem difficult.
More Muscle Groups Are Working
Another reason why some find bicep curls harder is that more muscles are working at the same time.
The more muscles that engage simultaneously, the more energy and effort is required.
During bicep curls, your biceps are working hard (obviously) but your forearms, core, and shoulders also help in the movement as stabilizing muscles.
Whereas only your biceps are really being activated during cable curls.
Are Cable Curls Suitable For Beginners?
Cable curls are fairly simple to perform when you consider the technique and movement involved.
So, you could argue that they’re beginner friendly.
That said, beginners are usually better off focusing on compound exercises, as these give you more bang for your buck.
But if you really want to do cable curls as a beginner, there’s no reason why you can’t.
How To Make Cable Curls Harder
Like with pretty much any exercise, there are multiple variables you can change to make the exercise more challenging.
Here’s a few simple ways you can make cable curls harder.
Increase The Weight
Let’s start off with an obvious one.
Increasing the weight used is the most common way to make any exercise more challenging.
That isn’t to say it’s the most effective.
If your form suffers as a result of increasing the weight, you may see less progress and increase your risk of injury.
Increase The Time Under Tension
Many people believe that the eccentric (i.e. lowering phase) of an exercise is the most challenging.
When doing cable curls, you can add difficulty by simply increasing the time taken to lower the weight.
Over a number of reps, you’ll definitely notice an increase in difficulty.
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.