When it comes to building strength and size in our biceps, many of us immediately reach for a pair of dumbbells or a barbell and start blasting through different curl variations. There’s no denying that these are top bits of equipment when it comes to strength training. But a cable machine could help accelerate your gains even further.
“I love using a cable machine when it comes to Hypertrophy training, as you can do exercises that keep constant tension on the muscles throughout the movement that you just can't do when using free weights,” says Luke Zocchi, a personal trainer for Centr, as well as Chris Hemsworth's’ very own trainer.
This ‘constant tension’ Luke refers to is actually lost at the bottom of a bicep curl when using free weights, which is when the bicep is at its most lengthened position. This means you could be missing out on gains, as you’re not applying constant tension to your bicep throughout the entire range of motion.
"Chris and I regularly use the cable machine when he's bulking for roles. They're also great when it comes to changing weight, because they are pin-loaded machines so you don't have to bend down and pick up heavy weight plates," adds Luke. "That being said I have a Centr 1 Home Gym Functional Trainer in a private gym at home and I use it daily with my clients not just for Hypertrophy training, but all forms of training – its endless what you can do with them."
Luke's favourite cable machine exercises
Next time you're at the gym doing pull day, why not put the free weights down and take a trip over to the cable machines instead and give these three exercises a go for your biceps instead.
1. Rope hammer curls
“These are great for targeting the long-head bicep as well as the brachialis,” says Luke. This is because of the neutral grip used (where your palms face each other). As the name suggests, it’s performed with a rope attachment, with a double-end, so you can curl both arms at the same time. However, if you feel you've got a slight imbalance and one side slightly weaker than the other, you can also perform this with a single rope attachment to focus on one arm at a time.
How to do:
- Attach the rope and set it to the bottom of the cable machine
- Stand a couple of steps away from the machine and grab the rope with a neutral grip (palms facing each other)
- Standing tall, with a slight knee bend and keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, exhale as you curl your forearms
- Once they touch your biceps, squeeze and hold here for a second, then slowly lower the bar back to starting position whilst inhaling
2. EZ bar cable curls
If you’ve been using a straight bar for your cable curls, you may want to switch over to an EZ bar, that’s shaped like a W. “EZ bar cable curls are great for lifting heavy and hitting mechanical tension,” says Luke. The zig-zag shape allows you to bring the bar close to your body, so you’re hitting a greater range of motion and really contracting your biceps. You may also find the bar more comfortable to hold due to its dips, which creates a more semi-supinated grip (so not completely underhand) which puts less strain on the wrists.
How to do:
- Attach the EZ bar and set it to the bottom of the cable machine
- Stand a couple of steps away from the machine and grab the EZ bar with an underhand grip (place your little finger just where the dip of the bar begins to end)
- Standing tall, with a slight knee bend and keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, curl your forearms up
- Once they touch your biceps, hold here for a second, then slowly lower the bar back to starting position
3. Crucifix curls
Also known as an overhead curl, this is one of Luke’s favourites to really isolate the biceps. It's where you attach a D-handle to a high position between two cable stacks and you curl the handles in towards your ears. It’s not one where you can move lots of weight, but that doesn’t matter as it’s a great isolation exercise. If you don't have a cross-over cable machine, you can always perform this one arm at a time.
How to do:
- Attach a single handle attachment to each side of a cross-over cable machine
- Make sure when you grab the handle your elbow is slightly below shoulder height
- Grab both handles with an underhand grip and stand in the middle of the two machines with your arms extended
- Exhale and curl your forearms towards your biceps and hold here for a second
- Inhale and slowly move your arms back to the starting position
Tip: Make sure to keep a strong wrist throughout this movement to isolate the bicep, otherwise the shoulder joint may compensate instead