Best Cable Arm Exercises

Certified Trainer Ranks 21 Cable Exercises for Biceps, Triceps, and Forearms

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: November 18, 2022

The shoulders are a relatively small muscle group. But they can take forever to train because you must hit them from multiple angles. Not to mention the time wasted changing weight plates or swapping dumbbells.

Fortunately, using the cable apparatus can significantly reduce time spent in the gym while increasing workout intensity. This article shows you 17 unique cable shoulder exercises to grow your delts faster than free weights.

Cable Arm Exercises

What Are Cable Arm Exercises?

Unlike barbells and dumbbells, the cable apparatus utilizes an adjustable weight stack for resistance. As the name suggests, a cable runs through several pulleys and connects to handles that you use to perform various exercises.

Cable arm exercises use different bars, handles, or attachments to train your biceps and triceps using multiple hand and body positions.

Benefits of Cable Arm Exercises

Most bodybuilders use barbells, dumbbells, and machines for their arm workouts. And maybe head to the cables to do a few sets of curls and pressdowns before calling it a day.

However, cable exercises offer several distinct advantages over free weights. And you might want to consider using cables for more exercises during your arm workouts.

Here are the benefits of cable arm exercises:

  • Perform dozens of back exercises with one piece of equipment
  • Constant tension throughout the range of motion
  • Can work both arms or one arm at a time
  • Train back in less time
  • No need to lug around weight plates or dumbbells
  • Easy to do drop sets or supersets
  • Safer than free weights

Muscles Worked by Cable Arm Exercises

Before getting into the cable exercises, it’s vital to understand arm muscle anatomy. This way, you’ll know which exercises to use to target specific areas.

The largest muscle on your arms is the triceps. And it consists of three parts called the lateral, medial, and long heads that work together to extend your arm at the elbow.

Next, the biceps muscle consists of two parts called the short and long heads. Their job is flexing your arm at the elbow and rotating your forearm.

Finally, the forearm contains several small flexor and extensor muscles that work to move your wrist.

Best Cable Arm Exercises

There are dozens of arm exercises you can do on cable machines. So I will separate them into tricep and bicep exercises to make the list easier to navigate.

Tricep Cable Arm Exercises

First, let’s look at some cable arm exercises that work the triceps. As we go through the list, I’ll explain which heads of the tricep each exercise is best for targeting.

1. Cable Tricep Pressdown

The cable triceps pressdown is a staple tricep exercise you can include in any arm workout. However, it’s easy to screw up, and many people don’t get as much muscle activation as possible.

For starters, you don’t want to stand too close to the cable. This stance reduces the arm angle to nearly 0o, which takes tension off the tricep for most of the range of motion.

Instead, step back and lean forward until your arm is closer to 90o to your body. This keeps tension on the tricep throughout the range of motion and works the medial and lateral heads more.

2. Rope Tricep Pressdown

Another option for the cable tricep pressdown involves the rope attachment. This handle places your hands in a neutral position and incorporates all three heads.

Again, focus on using proper form to keep more tension on the triceps instead of using momentum or other muscle groups.

Cable Arm Exercises Rope Pressdown

3. Reverse Grip Pushdown

The reverse grip tricep pushdown is an excellent exercise for isolating the target muscle. With an underhand grip, cheating by using your shoulder or chest muscles is more difficult.

I recommend using a lighter weight for 12-15 repetitions while focusing on squeezing the triceps. This hand position and loading help you dial in on the tricep.

4. Single Hand Reverse Grip Pushdown

Another way to do the reverse-grip pressdown is by using a single handle. The individual handle forces each arm to work independently.

Also, it allows you to position your elbow by your side or slightly behind your body, which hits the long head of the tricep better.

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5. Single Cable Kickback

The dumbbell kickback is a popular exercise for targeting the long head of the tricep. And you can replicate this exercise with a single cable.

First, set the pulley to a low position. Then lean forward with your back nearly parallel to the floor.

Start with your elbow near your side and your arm bent. Now extend your arm while keeping your elbow pinned at your side.

Cable Arm Exercises Tricep Kickback

6. Cross-Body Cable Extension

The cross-body extension is another single-arm tricep exercise on the cable machine. But this exercise offers tremendous versatility, and you can set it up to target the lateral and medial heads.

Start by setting the pulley at shoulder height or slightly higher. Then attach a single handle or grab the cable with one hand.

Now step away from the pulley and allow your arm to bend across your body with your hand at shoulder height. Next, extend your arm at the elbow while keeping your upper arms stationary.

You can use a neutral grip on this exercise where your palm faces the floor. However, I like to use a single handle with a reverse grip to feel a better squeeze.

Cable Arm Exercises Cross Body Extension

7. Cable Skull Crusher

The skull crusher is a fundamental tricep exercise generally performed with an EZ bar or dumbbells. However, using an EZ bar handle or rope attachment on the cables, you can replicate this movement.

First, position a flat bench lengthwise in front of a low pulley. Then lie with your head closest to the cable and grab the handle.

Start by extending your arms straight in front of your body. Now bend at the elbows and lower your hands to the top of your head before extending back to the starting point.

Cable Arm Exercises Skull Crusher

8. Incline Cable Skull Crusher

You can also do cable skull crushers using an incline bench. With this variation, you change your arm angle relative to your body to target the lateral and medial heads more.

The setup is the same as for the flat bench version, except you want the pulley one or two positions from the bottom. Then position the incline bench so your head faces the cable.

Now grab the bar and lie high up on the incline bench so you can perform the skull crusher movement.

Cable Arm Exercises Incline Skull Crusher

9. Cable Rope French Press

Continuing up the spectrum of skull crusher movements, we get to the French press, which is basically an upright tricep extension. Again, this variation is best for the lateral and medial heads.

To start, grab the cable attachment with both hands. Then, in one motion, turn your body and lift your hands overhead, so your back is to the cable.

From this starting position, bend at the elbows and lower your hands behind your head. Now extend your arms back to the starting point.

10. Cable Overhead Extension

Another way to do the overhead cable extension is to lean forward. This position enables you to put more loading on the tricep in the middle of the range of motion.

First, adjust the pulley to about shoulder or head height. Then stagger your feet and lean forward. From here, perform the overhead tricep extension movement.

Cable Arm Exercises Overhead Tricep Extension

Bicep Cable Arm Exercises

Now let’s change gears and look at some cable arm exercises for the biceps. These exercises target the short head, long head, or both.

11. Cable Barbell Curls

Barbell curls are arguably the most basic of all bicep exercises. And you can replicate this fundamental movement on the cable apparatus.

Start by setting the pulley to the lowest setting. Then attach the straight bar or EZ bar handle.

Next, stand about one foot away from the pulley, facing the cable. Hold the handle with an underhand (supinated) grip with both hands in front of your thighs and your elbows by your sides.

Now curl the bar up while keeping your elbows at your sides. Then lower it back down in a controlled manner.

12. Drag Curls

Drag curls are a variation where you keep the bar close to your body as you perform the exercise. This technique pulls your elbows behind your body, which targets the outer bicep more.

When performing this exercise on the cables, stand close to the pulley, so you pull the weight straight up.

Cable Arm Exercises Drag Curls

13. Cable Bayesian Curl

The cable Bayesian curl is another way to target the long head of the outer bicep using one or two cables.

This time, stand facing away from the cable so your arm extends behind your body at the start of the curl. Then, keep your elbow behind your body as you curl the weight towards your armpit.

You can perform this exercise with a single cable, one arm at a time. Or, on a dual cable machine, you can curl both arms simultaneously. The video below shows a back-supported variation of the dual cable bayesian curl.

14. Rope Curls

Rope curls are like cable hammer curls because your hands maintain a neutral grip throughout the exercise. And that hand position helps you target the brachialis and long head in the outer bicep.

Start by placing the pulley at the lowest position and attaching the dual rope handle. Now grab the rope with your palms facing in and curl the weight.

Cable Arm Exercises Rope Curl

15. Reverse Curls

One more outer bicep cable arm exercise is the reverse curl, where you hold the bar with an overhand (pronated) grip. Again, this hand position works best for the long head and brachialis.

16. Cable Preacher Curls

Preacher curls involve placing your upper arms on an angled bench. One benefit of this is that it prevents you from cheating. But this arm angle also works best for hitting the short head of the inner bicep.

In addition, the cable machine puts more tension on your biceps at the top of the movement. By comparison, there is almost no loading on the bicep at the top of the range of motion during free-weight preacher curls.

Cable Arm Exercises Preacher Curl

17. Concentration Curls

Concentration curls are usually performed with one arm at a time so you can really focus on the mind-muscle connection. And you generally hold your arm in front of your body.

With the cable, you can do this exercise standing, sitting on a bench, or sitting on the floor, as illustrated below.

Cable Arm Exercises Concentration Curl

18. Hercules Curls

Hercules curls are a cable arm exercise where you stand directly between two pulleys set at about head level. Then, with your arms extended straight out to your sides, you curl the weight inward towards the side of your head, like a flexing double bicep pose.

This exercise is excellent for targeting the inner bicep.

19. Overhead Curls

Overhead curls involve elevating your arms above shoulder level while performing the exercise. Again, this angle helps you work the short head of the bicep.

To perform the overhead curl, kneel or sit on the floor in front of a high pulley, as shown below. Or use the lat pulldown station if you have one.

Cable Arm Exercises Overhead Curl

Forearm Cable Arm Exercises

Lastly, a cable arm workout wouldn’t be complete without a couple of exercises to target your lower arms.

20. Seated Cable Wrist Curl

Usually, you would do a seated wrist curl with a barbell or dumbbells. But you can also do this exercise on the cable machine.

First, set the pulley at the lowest position and attach a straight bar handle. Then sit on a bench or chair directly in front of the cable.

Now place the tops of your forearms on your knees or on the bench while holding the bar with an underhand grip. Then curl your wrists upward by squeezing your forearms.

This exercise works the forearm flexors on the underside of your forearms, which don’t get worked much during other arm exercises.

Cable Arm Exercises Wrist Curl

21. Standing Cable Wrist Curl

Another wrist curl variation involves curling the bar behind your back while standing. This exercise also works the flexor muscles on the underside of your forearms.

Again, set the pulley at the lowest position and attach the straight bar. Then stand with your back to the cable and hold the bar behind you with an overhand grip.

Now curl the weight up towards your butt by squeezing your forearms.

Cable Arm Exercises Standing Wrist Curl

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Cable Arm Workout

I recommend including at least a couple of these cable arm exercises in your next bicep or tricep workout. But if you want, you could do an entire arm workout on the cables!

One advantage of this workout is that you can rapidly change the weight between sets, which saves time. In addition, you can move from one exercise to the next by simply changing the attachment and/or adjusting the height of the pulley.

I’ve included a mix of arm angles and hand positions in the following cable arm workout. You’ll also notice the rep range varies from 8-20, which maximizes hypertrophy.

Finally, I’ve included intensity techniques such as drop sets and supersets to make this work out more challenging.

Cable Arm Workout

  • Cable Barbell Curl – 5 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Reverse Grip Pressdown – 5 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Cable Preacher Curl – 3 sets, 8-12 reps (drop sets)
  • Cable French Press – 5 sets 10-15 reps
  • Rope Curl – 3 sets, 10-15 reps (superset)
  • Rope Pressdown – 3 sets, 10-15 reps
Cable Arm Workout

More Cable & Arm Exercises

The cable arm exercises you just learned are excellent for hitting your biceps and triceps from every angle. But you might want to include some barbells, dumbbells, or other equipment, depending on your gym setup.

So click the links below for more arm exercises. Plus, check out the best cable exercises for your back and shoulders.

Lateral Head Tricep Exercises

Medial Head Tricep Exercises

Long Head Tricep Exercises

Barbell Tricep Exercises

Short Head Bicep Exercises

Long Head Bicep Exercises

Cable Back Exercises

Cable Shoulder Exercises

If you feel you’ve got a good handle on exercises, check out some of my other fitness-related content below. These articles include topics covering all things bodybuilding, nutrition, and supplements.

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By |November 18, 2022|Workouts|0 Comments
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