12 Best Cable Curl Alternatives (Overhead Substitutes)

Cable curls are a great way to grow your biceps; however, they rely on a cable machine. Unfortunately, these are pretty expensive and aren't always practical in a home gym, so you might feel as though you’re missing out on a crucial exercise.

But don't worry because, in this guide, we'll show you the best cable curl alternatives so you can get a killer bicep workout with whatever equipment you have.

Cable curl exercises isolate your biceps so you can develop solid muscle mass on your arms. They're great for beginners because the machine helps control the movement, and you don't need as much coordination. Substitute cable curl exercises need to target the same muscle groups but also be accessible for beginners. Here are 12 of the best options to try at home: 

1. Straight-Bar Bicep Curls 

This is the best cable curl alternative exercise if you’ve only got access to a barbell. The movement helps to target your biceps so that they look physically bigger, while also strengthening your elbows and forearms. They’re commonly used by all lifters and regarded as one of the essential bicep exercises.  

Start by standing tall, holding the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart. Keep your shoulders back and engage your biceps to bend your arm and raise the bar up to your shoulders. Pause for a second and then lower it back down to starting position. Remember to move slowly and deliberately, and don't use your body weight to swing the bar up and down.  

Garage Gym Pro Tip If the barbell feels a bit heavy and large, you're not the only one who feels this way. It can be hard for beginners to curl a 45-pound bar. Switch it up if this one is too difficult or puts too much strain on your wrists.

Related Article - Barbell Vs Dumbbell Curls

Straight-Bar Bicep Curls

2. Barbell Spider Curls 

Barbell spider curls are the best alternative for a lying-down cable press because they put all the effort into your biceps. They'll really target the peak of the bicep, and you'll feed a serious burn after just a few sets. However, this is a hardcore exercise, and you may struggle if you’re a beginner.  

Set up your bench at a 45-degree angle with your barbell just in front of it. Lie down with your chest on the bench and reach down to grab the barbell. Keep your shoulders and upper body still, and use your biceps to curl the barbell up towards you.

Pause at the top, and then lower it back down again. Make sure you’re only moving your lower arms and not putting the strain anywhere else except your biceps.

Garage Gym Pro Tip This is one of my all-time favorite bicep exercises. You should feel a super intense pump when doing spider curls. If you want to grow your bicep peaks, this isolation exercise is for you.

Required Equipment - Best Curl Bars For Home Workouts

Barbell Spider Curls

3. Barbell Drag Curls 

Barbell drag curls keep the weight really close to your body throughout the movement in the same way a rope cable curl usually does. This engages your muscles for longer to give you greater gains and improve your muscle endurance. You can lift pretty heavy with drag curls, and it's popular with experienced lifters.  

Hold a barbell with both hands shoulder-width apart. Keep your shoulders back, and drag the barbell upwards, so it remains in contact with your torso throughout the movement. Pause at the top, then slowly lower back down to the starting position. The key to this exercise is control, so take it really slow and perform fewer reps if needed.

Garage Gym Pro Tip You can also do this exercise on a smith machine, which I actually prefer. It helps keep my arm as close to my body as possible since the bar is fixed.

Read Also - How Much Does A Curl Bar Weigh?

Barbell Drag Curls

4. Single-Arm Dumbbell Curls 

A single-arm dumbbell curl is the best alternative for single-handed cable curls. It allows you to focus on one arm at a time, building a strong mind-muscle connection and maximizing growth in your biceps. In addition, it's a valuable alternative for those carrying an injury who may only be able to train one side at a time.  

You can perform this exercise standing or sitting but start with a dumbbell in one hand. Keep your shoulder back and bend your arm at the elbow to raise the weight up to your shoulder.

Pause, and then lower it back down to starting position. This exercise is great for building lean muscle, and we'd recommend going for a high weight to maximize the gains.

Garage Gym Pro Tip Isolateral exercises are excellent for ironing out any muscle imbalances. Many people's bicep is larger on their dominant arm, so do this workout to help even them out.

Related Article - 20 Single Dumbbell Exercises For Home

Single-Arm Dumbbell Curls

5. Incline Dumbbell Curls 

Incline cable curls train the long head of the biceps brachii, which gives you a more visible and thicker bicep. You can mirror the movement by using incline dumbbell curls that give you all the same benefits and engage your forearms to help you develop your overall arm strength. Combining these with dumbbell hammer curls will really challenge your arms and help you build thick arms quickly.  

Adjust your bench so that it’s at a 45-degree angle, leaning backward. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and sit with your back straight against the bench. Engage your biceps and lift each weight up towards your shoulder.

Pause at the top, and then lower back down. You get a slightly broader range of motion with incline dumbbell curls but make sure you aren’t swinging the weights too fast, or you could injure yourself.  

Find a dumbbell rack to hold various weights with our detailed guide!

Garage Gym Pro TipThis is a great strength-building exercise. You can lift both dumbbells at once or alternate. I recommend adding both variations to your workout routine.

Incline Dumbbell Curls

6. Dumbbell Hammer Curl 

Dumbbell hammer curls are the other useful alternative for incline cable curls because they really work the long head of the bicep. They also help to improve your grip strength and improve your muscle endurance so you can work out for longer. Incorporating them alongside incline dumbbell curls gives you a great bicep pump and can lead to significant gains.  

You can perform this exercise standing or sitting, but we prefer standing, so it also engages your core. Grab two dumbbells and hold them at your sides with your palms facing towards you.

Keep your shoulders relaxed and bend at the elbow to lift the weight up towards your shoulder. Your upper arms should remain still, and your forearm should be in line with your upper arm. Hold for a second at the top, and then lower back down to starting position to complete the rep.

Garage Gym Pro Tip If you've never done hammer curls before, you will probably feel a burn in your forearms. This exercise is great for building forearm strength.

See Also - Hammer Curls Vs Bicep Curls

Dumbbell Hammer Curl

7. Seated Dumbbell Curls 

Seated cable curls are great for those with limited mobility because they take your lower body out of the equation. The seated dumbbell curl is the best substitute for this and allows you to focus more on your arms because there's no strain on your legs, back, or core. This should allow you to grow larger biceps more quickly.  

Start by sitting on a bench or chair and grasp a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your shoulder back and curl the weight up towards your shoulder. Pause at the top and then go back to starting position. We prefer to alternate the movement with these seated curls, but you can raise both arms at once if you prefer.

Make sure you are keeping your legs and lower body still and only using your biceps to lift the weight, as this will help you get the most significant benefit from the exercise.  

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Garage Gym Pro Tip This is another exercise where you can switch up the variation by lifting both at the same time or alternate. Try to bring the dumbbell down very slowly for greater muscle activation.

seated dumbbell curls

8. Resistance Band Incline Curls 

Resistance band incline curls are one of the best home alternatives for cable curls because they give you the exact same movement without the need for an expensive machine. The resistance bands will help to engage your biceps and tone your arms.  

Start by anchoring two resistance bands in place, one on either side of you. Grab one in each hand and raise it up to waist height. Take a step forward, so the bands are tight, and then curl them up towards your body.

Pause at the top, and return back to the starting position. Keep your core right and upper arms still throughout the movement, so all the work is being done by your biceps.

Garage Gym Pro Tip When using resistance bands, always keep tension in your muscles during each rep. That's what resistance bands were designed for, so make sure your arms are tight for both the concentric and eccentric part of the movement.

Related Article - How Long Do Resistance Bands Last?

Resistance Band Incline Curls

9. Band Resisted Barbell Curl 

Overhead cable curls help you to grow much thicker arms because the cable provides constant tension through the movement. Band resisted barbell curls are the best alternative for overhead cable curls because they add extra tension and force your arms to work harder. This gives you bigger and more defined biceps compared to performing regular curls.  

Start with a resistance band on the floor. Step on top of one side to create some resistance and pull the other end up towards you. With feet shoulder-width apart and the resistance band still in your hands, bend down and pick up a barbell. Start curling the bar up towards your shoulders and focus the effort on your biceps.

Pause at the top and slowly lower the bar down to starting position. The added tension of the resistance band will make this noticeably harder, so make sure you start with a manageable weight at first.  

Related Article - Do Resistance Bands Build Muscle?

Garage Gym Pro Tip This is an excellent combo exercise. Not only are you lifting heavier weight but you're adding even more resistance with a band.

Band Resisted Barbell Curl

10. Resistance Band Lying Bicep Curl 

A lying resistance band bicep curl is a good alternative to a cable curl and is perfect for those who don’t have any machines or weights at home. Using resistance bands can help you to tone your arms and improve your flexibility and stability so you can perform other curls more easily. This is an excellent substitute exercise for beginners because anyone should be able to perform it.  

Start by lying flat on the floor with a resistance band tucked underneath your feet. Hold the other end of the band with both hands and curl your arms up towards your body. You should be able to feel the tension in the band and on your feet. Try not to move any of your lower body and keep the focus on your upper arm muscles. Aim for 10-12 reps and increase as your strength grows.

Garage Gym Pro Tip If you don't have an anchor point for your resistance band, you can wrap it under your feet to complete this exercise.

Resistance Band Lying Bicep Curl

11. Concentration Curls 

These are the best alternative to cable preacher curls because they mimic the motion closely. Your arms are kept close to your body throughout the movement, which helps you tone and develop all the muscles in your upper arm and strengthen your forearm. In addition, by building the long and short heads of your biceps, these concentration curls can help you get a visibly thicker arm very quickly.  

Start by sitting on a bench or chair with a dumbbell in one hand. Rest the elbow of your arm on your inner thigh and let the dumbbell hang down until it almost touches the floor. Keep your back and shoulders still, and tense your bicep to raise the weight up towards your shoulder.

Pause at the top, and lower it down very slowly, concentrating on keeping the movement controlled throughout. Aim for 6-8 reps at first but increase as you start to get stronger.  

Garage Gym Pro Tip This exercise is a staple in the gym on arm day and for good reason. It helps create excellent bicep peaks due to its isolated nature.

Suggested Equipment - Best Adjustable Dumbbells

Concentration Curls

12. Chin Ups 

The best bodyweight alternative to cable curls in the chin up. This is a challenging compound exercise that will work your biceps, lats, rhomboids, and core. It might be tough for beginners, but working chin ups into your routine will help you to build a much stronger physique and will help you perform other exercises. 

Grab your pull up bar with an underhand grip, making sure your hands are just under shoulder-width apart. Look straight forward, brace your core, and pull yourself upwards. Keep going until the bar is at chin height, and then lower yourself down to starting position. Try to focus on engaging your biceps and back, rather than using your momentum to raise you up and down 

Garage Gym Pro Tip If you cant do a chin-up, practice on a weighted machine or with a resistance band first to build up your strength.

Related Article - 10 Best Pull Up Alternatives

Chin Ups

Muscles Worked With Cable Curl Substitutes

Cable curls are effective because they isolate your biceps. This allows you to build strong, thick arms because all the effort is concentrated in one place. The cable curl substitute exercises on this list do the same thing and will help you focus on bicep growth.  

Some cable curl alternatives focus on different parts of your bicep. Some focus on the short head, which is important from a functional perspective, but others, like incline curls, help develop the long head, making your arms look a lot bigger. Some other substitute cable curl exercises work your entire arm, making it look broader and thicker.  

A few of the cable curl alternatives will also help to target other parts of your body. Concentration curls and resistance band exercises will help to strengthen your forearms, and hammer curls will improve your grip strength. By mixing up your bicep exercises, you'll get a wider range of benefits, so having 12 different alternative exercises is really beneficial.  


Do You Need To Do Cable Curl Alternative Exercises?

Cable curl alternative exercises all help you to build strong arms. This doesn't just make you look better; it also helps to improve your overall upper body strength. Well-developed biceps will help you perform day-to-day tasks more effectively and make other exercises easier to perform.   

The key benefit to cable curl alternatives is that you don’t need a cable machine. These machines tend to be expensive and bulky, so many homeowners just won’t be able to afford them or fit them in their home. These alternative exercises can be performed with much smaller equipment or even your body weight, so anyone can do them without spending a fortune.  

Some alternative cable curl exercises will also help you gain more muscle. Some movements, like chin ups, are compound and will help your whole body become stronger. Other exercises, like barbell spider curls, really stimulate muscle growth and are more effective than cable curls for growing biceps.  

Developing a diverse routine that includes several of these cable curl alternatives will help to keep your body guessing and help you gain serious muscle mass quickly.

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Cable Curl Alternative FAQs

Are curls enough for biceps? 

Yes, curls are an effective way to grow your biceps, but we would recommend mixing a variety of different curls into your routine to get the best results.  

Why are cable curls so hard? 

Cable curls provide consistent tension throughout the movement. This can make them difficult to perform, and the movement can be challenging for beginners.  

Which is better: barbell curl or cable curl?

This comes down to personal preference. Cable curls are considered more convenient because you don't have to load or unload weight, but barbells are considerably cheaper. Both curls will help you develop strong arms if you use the correct form.

Are cable curls better than dumbbell curls? 

Dumbbell curls can be just as effective as cable curls, and the movement can often feel more natural. This can make them better suited for beginners, but both cable curls and dumbbell curls will help you build your upper body strength. 


Conclusion

Cable curls are an effective upper body exercise, but you can still grow your biceps even if you don’t have access to a cable curl machine. Using barbells, dumbbells, or even your body weight can give you all the same results, and there are even some advantages in performing these alternative exercises.

Hopefully this article has given you some useful ideas and a few new options to incorporate into your next workout.

Last Updated on September 7, 2022