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Cable Curls vs Dumbbell Curls (For Building Huge Biceps)

If you’re looking for a cable curls vs dumbbell curls comparison guide, then you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we look at the differences of cable curls and dumbbell curls, which one is best for biceps, which one is best for forearms, and more.

Man doing dumbbell curls

What’s The Difference Between Cable Curls And Dumbbell Curls?

As their names suggest, dumbbell curls are performed with dumbbells, whereas cable curls are performed with a cable pulley attached to handles.

Dumbbell curls are done with free weights, while cable curls are a machine based exercise.

The technique in both exercises is very similar, however, the equipment used is very different.  

Cable Curls vs Dumbbell Curls: For Building Biceps

While both dumbbell curls and cable curls are great bicep builders, dumbbell curls just win this one.

This is because with cable curls, there’s resistance throughout the whole movement. This means you’ll have to reduce the weight to keep your form correct.

Less weight means you won’t be able to overload your biceps as much.

Compare this to dumbbell curls where there’s minimum resistance at the top of the exercise. As a result, you can lift heavier weights to work your biceps harder.

And heavier weights typically means more gains!

Cable Curls vs Dumbbell Curls: For Building Forearms

In both dumbbell curls and cable curls, your forearms are used as stabilizing muscles. 

This means that they’re not being worked very hard and are used to help assist the movement.

So if you’re wanting to build bulky forearms, neither exercise will be sufficient on its own.

That said, dumbbell curls activate your forearms more than cable curls do.

Cable Curls vs Dumbbell Curls: For Strength

Both cable curls and dumbbell curls can help you gain strength.

However, dumbbell curls will help you gain more overall strength that carries over to other movements.

This is because as dumbbell curls are a free weights exercise, your biceps (and surrounding muscles) have to stabilize the weights by themselves.

Whereas with cable curls, the machine assists with stabilization.

Difficulty Level

Dumbbell Curls

Dumbbell curls are relatively straightforward to execute.

The exercise involves flexing your elbows, which is a simple movement for most people.

If the movement feels a bit awkward, then you may be using too much weight, so it’s always best to nail the technique before going heavier.

Cable Curls

With cable curls, the weight you’re lifting is fixed to a cable station which means that less stabilisation is needed.

This makes them an awesome exercise for beginners as it’s hard to mess up the form.

That said, the fact that your biceps are under tension throughout the whole exercise can make them a bit harder.

The Verdict

Both dumbbell curls and cable curls are simple to execute.

I’ve got to give this one a draw, as cable curls place your biceps under constant tension, while dumbbell curls require other muscles to assist the movement.

Ease of Access

Dumbbells Curls

Dumbbells are one of the most common pieces of gym equipment.

In most gyms, there’s typically multiple sets of dumbbells in different weights, so chances are you’ll find a pair which meet your needs.

No other gym equipment is needed for dumbbell curls making them a super accessible exercise.

Cable Curls

Most well-equipped gyms will have cable stations required to perform cable curls.

However, they’re expensive pieces of kit. So if you’re someone who prefers working out at home, you may not have easy access to a cable station.

The Verdict

Dumbbells are much more common in gyms than cable stations.

(Now I don’t have the data to prove this… But common sense says so.)

Cable stations are much more expensive than dumbbells too, so if you’re working out from home, then dumbbells are a lot more accessible.

Dumbbell curls have an easy victory here! 


Dumbbell Curls

Dumbbell curls are one of the most versatile exercises out there.

In fact, they’re used in many other bicep curl variations, such as:

  • Reverse Dumbbell Curls
  • Hammer Curls
  • Zottman Curls
  • Incline Dumbbell Curls

You could also swap dumbbells for a barbell or an EZ bar to mix it up even more.

The possibilities are endless!

Cable Curls

Cable curls are naturally limited given they can only be performed on a cable station.

That said, you can vary the attachments quite heavily.

For example, ropes, straight bars and single-arm attachments are just a few different bits of equipment you can use.

The Verdict

Both dumbbell curls and cable curls are quite variable but in different ways.

You can use many different curl techniques with dumbbells, whereas you can use different attachments for cable curls.

All things considered though, dumbbell curls are more variable.

Should You Do Both Cable Curls And Dumbbell Curls?

It’s a great idea to do both exercises because they prioritize opposing parts of the lifting motion. Dumbbell curls focus on the eccentric part of the movement giving your biceps a better stretch. Whereas cable curls give your a better pump because they focus on the contracted part of the movement.

By doing both exercises, you’ll naturally recruit a wider range of muscle fibers.

You can also click to learn the difference between cable curls and preacher curls and see which one is best for building big biceps.

Which Exercise Should You Do First?

You could argue that you should do dumbbell curls before cable curls since dumbbell curls allow you to lift more weight.

Whereas you could argue that you should perform cable curls first since cable curls stimulate the biceps more where they’re at their weakest.

I personally recommend starting with dumbbell curls so that you can overload your biceps with maximum tension.

Cable Curls vs Dumbbell Curls: Which Is Better?

Based on all the above factors, I’d personally argue that dumbbell curls are a better exercise than cable curls.

Let me be clear though…

I’m not discounting the effectiveness of cable curls by any means.

Both these exercises are great additions to any bicep workout.

But if you’re wanting a more accessible and versatile exercise that overloads your biceps better, then dumbbell curls are the one for you. 


Dumbbell Curls Muscles Worked

Cable Curls Muscles Worked