When it comes to arm-building exercises, everyone seems to have a favorite.
Two popular arm exercises are preacher curls and cable curls.
Performed in pretty much every gym you’ll ever walk into, these two exercises have a big following.
But is one better than the other?
Are preacher curls better?
Are cable curls better?
Is there room for both in your training program?
That’s what this article is all about – comparing preacher curls and cable curls to see if one is better suited to you and your fitness goals.
What’s The Difference Between Preacher Curls And Cable Curls?
Preacher curls are performed by curling a barbell or dumbbells while your arms are supported (and prevented from swinging) by a preacher bench.
Cable curls are performed on a cable station by curling a bar attached to a cable that’s attached to a weight stack.
The movement of both exercises is similar but the equipment used is very different.
Preacher curls are a free weights exercise meaning that they’re an exercise performed using equipment that’s freely movable and not attached or fixed to anything.
Cable curls use a bar attached to a cable station so aren’t a free weights exercise.
Which Is Better For Building Biceps?
Preacher curls allow you to lift heavier weights.
This means you have more opportunity to overload your biceps to help generate muscle growth.
This is because during cable curls, your biceps are placed under constant tension.
As the bar you’re curling is attached to a weight stack by a cable, the weight is constantly pulling down making your biceps work harder while performing reps.
While this might sound like cable curls would be better for building biceps, this constant tension actually results in you being able to lift less. So it’s much harder to overload your biceps encouraging them to grow.
For this reason, preacher curls tend to be a bit better for building biceps.
Which Is Better For Building Forearms?
Your forearms work during preacher curls and cable curls.
However, neither are particularly good at building big, strong forearms.
Your forearms are only used as secondary muscles in both movements so may get some benefit, although there are much better exercises out there for building forearms.
Providing you’re lifting a weight appropriate to your current fitness levels, preacher curls are suitable for beginners all the way up to highly experienced gym-goers.
The movement in preacher curls comes from flexion of the elbow which is a basic physiological movement that most people can do with ease.
As your biceps are isolated during preacher curls, they can be challenging in terms of the amount of stress placed on them.
That being said, with the right weight being selected, preacher curls have a reasonably low difficulty level.
Cable curls have a low difficulty level as the weight you’re lifting is attached to a fixed machine.
While this means constant tension is felt throughout the exercise, it does offer good levels of safety.
If you were to drop the weight, it would return to its starting position rather than potentially cause injury.
The technique can be easier to master using a cable station too, which helps minimize the difficulty level of cable curls.
Both preacher curls and cable curls have a reasonably low difficulty level.
When it comes to the movements involved in each exercise, both are very similar.
However, as preacher curls isolate your biceps much more than cable curls, they tend to be a bit harder to perform.
Ease of Access
To add preacher curls to your workout, all you need is a preacher bench and a either a barbell or dumbbells.
Preacher curls require very basic gym equipment that’s usually found in good quantities in a gym environment.
This gives preacher curls great ease of access.
Cable curls are performed using a cable station and the relevant attachment (bar, rope, etc).
If the gym you train at doesn’t have a cable station, then cable curls will be pretty much impossible to do.
While you could try to replicate them using resistance bands, there isn’t really an effective alternative.
If you don’t have access to a cable station, ease of access will be a big problem for you.
Preacher curls have greater ease of access simply because the equipment they require is basic gym gear.
Most gyms will have a preacher bench and several barbells and dumbbells to choose from.
However, not all gyms will have a cable station which can make cable curls virtually impossible for you to do.
You can switch between dumbbells, a barbell, and an EZ bar when performing preacher curls.
You can also do preacher hammer curls, preacher zottman curls, as well as standard preacher bicep curls.
Other equipment such as kettlebells or weight plates could also be used giving lots of variability to preacher curls.
Cable curls have good levels of variability as you can use a bar, a rope, or even do single-arm cable curls if you have the relevant attachment.
You’re limited to using a cable station though which does have a negative impact on variability.
Preacher curls offer greater levels of variability as you’re not limited to a cable station and attachments.
Cable curls have some good variations but they’ll only be possible if you have access to a cable station and the relevant attachments.
Preacher Curls vs Cable Curls: Which Is Better?
While both of these exercises are very effective at helping build big strong arms, it’ll probably come down to your personal preference and the equipment you have available to you as to which one is better.
Preacher curls have better ease of access and greater variability although cable curls can come close to matching variability providing the relevant attachments are available.
Preacher curls can build bigger biceps a bit better than cable curls as you can overload them to a greater extent, but cable curls can be better suited for safety and comfort.
Thanks for reading.
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.