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Cable wrist curl exercises and workout routine for your forearms

Here's the underrated wrist curl variation that nobody's doing.
Written By  Liam Brown
Last Updated on 15th June 2021
A man doing a cable wrist curl for his forearms

Finding the best forearm exercises to make your lower arm muscles hang off your forearm bones like a meaty chicken drumstick is challenging.

Some exercises are harsh on the wrists, others are impossible to set up, and yet even more just don’t get the real results that we crave.

So I’ve bucked the trend. Rather than idolizing barbells because they’re “hardcore,” I’m going to show you how to do the cable wrist curl for best results. And if you stick around for a few minutes, I’ll share with you a mass-building cable forearm workout, too.

Related exercises

Cable wrist curl exercise details

  • Main Muscles: Forearm flexors, forearm extensors
  • Exercise Type: Strength
  • Exercise Mechanics: Isolation
  • Difficulty Level: Beginner
  • Equipment Needed: Cable column, straight bar attachment

How to do cable wrist curls

A man performing cable forearm curls
  1. Set a cable column to the bottom setting and attach a straight bar to the clip.
  2. Stand facing the cable machine and then grab the bar with an overhand grip, elbows fully locked out
  3. Ensure that you have good posture—head looking forwards, back straight, etc.
  4. With a firm grip on the bar, flex your forearms by bending your wrists towards you.
  5. Hold the contraction for a second and then return the bar to its starting position.
  6. Stick to high reps (15-30) and do around 2-4 sets.

Other cable forearm exercises

The cable standing wrist curl is the traditional exercise of choice. However, even though it’s easy to set up and perform, there are other variations that feel even better for the forearms.

Behind the back cable wrist curls

A man doing behind the back cable wrist curls

When I do behind the back cable wrist curls, I get such a potent forearm pump that it feels like my skin is going to explode. Why?

I think the fact that I can’t see the bar has a lot to do with it. In other words, all of my attention is devoted to working the target muscle rather than watching my form. [1]

Now, I’m not saying that technique isn’t important—heck, using the proper form is absolutely critical—but with an exercise as simple as behind the back cable wrist curls, there’s no need to watch your wrists flex back and forth.

Also, check out this bicep forearm workout if you want to work your upper arms in the same session. You can even try a full triceps biceps and forearms workout if you want to work the entirety of your arms in one session.

Cable reverse wrist curls

A man performing a cable forearm workout

No pair of forearms is complete without some mighty extensors. So doing some kind of reverse barbell wrist curl is crucial. The trouble is that you’re naturally way stronger on regular wrist curls than the reverse variation, which means that you have to keep switching weights back and forth (or hog 2 fixed barbells).

The solution?

Cable reverse wrist curls. You can pair this with regular cable wrist curls for a superset (and a crazy forearm pump).

As for the technique, it’s virtually the same as for the standard cable wrist curl. The only difference is that instead of flexing your wrists towards you, you’re extending them away from your body.

Just make sure to stick to high reps because the extensors are very slow twitch.

Bench cable wrist curl

A man performing cable forearm exercises

I know what you’re thinking: He’s gonna ask me to wheel a bench to a cable column, sit on the bench, and then put my arms on my knees and do a wrist curl.

Nope, but good try.

I’ve tried that variation, and I didn’t like it. So I invented my own.

Now, you will still need a bench, but I can assure you, the resulting pump and lack of wrist discomfort will be more than worth it. Plus, it’s an excellent exercise for baseball forearm training or any other sports where you must avoid injuring your wrists.

Position your bench—lengthways—a decent distance away from the cable column and attach a single cable handle to the clip. Then, grab the handle and walk it back over the bench. Place your forearm on the bench in a neutral wrist position, and then curl the cable handle towards you by squeezing your forearm.

Quality pump and no wrist pain; what more can you ask for?

Don’t forget these exercises!

Cable forearm workout

A man performing a cable forearm curl

As you can see, we're not trying to cram in all the variations of forearm curls here. If you have lagging forearms, throwing the kitchen sink at the problem is never a good idea. I much prefer using an intelligent exercise selection where each movement has a distinct purpose.

Since the first exercise allows us to go heavy with virtually no wrist discomfort, we’re using lower reps to really work the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Also, due to the neutral hand positioning, it’s a great drill to include in any arm wrestling forearm workouts that you might do.

Then we move onto reverse curls, which shouldn’t be confused with reverse forearm curls. Instead, this exercise works the brachioradialis, and also the biceps to an extent. When done consistently, it’ll—quite literally—add another dimension to your forearms.

Next, to hammer the extensors, we’ll be performing the standing reverse forearm curl. Be sure to stick to the outlined high reps on these ones. Training the extensors heavy is a bad idea because they won’t get sufficient time under tension with low reps.

Finally, we’re going to finish the cable forearm workout in style by smashing out 2 sets of behind the back wrist curls. Then, if you still have the capacity to grab your drink bottle, you’re free to leave the gym.

Also, check out these forearm resistance band exercises if you’re training at home and don’t have access to cables. Buying a forearm roller is also a solid way to work your forearms with minimal equipment.

1: Bench cable wrist curl (mass builder) — 4 x 10-12 reps

2: Cable reverse curl (brachioradialis) — 4 x 12-15 reps

3: Cable reverse wrist curls (extensors) — 4 x 20-30 reps

4: Behind the back cable wrist curl (finisher) — 2 x 30 reps

The verdict on cable wrist curls

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy lifting heavy barbells and dumbbells as much as the next guy, but I’m not obsessed with them (in other words, I’m not a powerlifter).

Use cable forearm curls as a finishing exercise to maximize your pump.

Not only are cable exercises generally easier on the joints than free weight movement, but they’re also more convenient to set up and make adjustments to (no more lugging weight discs around the gym). Plus, they offer a superb range of motion. [2]

Moreover, exercises like the cable forearm curl also tend to produce a more potent pump than their barbell counterparts because they provide constant tension.

So if you want to maximize your forearm gains, then don’t hesitate to make cable wrist curls your primary lower arm exercise.

References

  1. Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M., Sundstrup, E., Brandt, M., & Jay, K. et al. (2015). Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. European Journal Of Applied Physiology, 116(3), 527-533. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-015-3305-7
  2. Signorile, J., Rendos, N., Heredia Vargas, H., Alipio, T., Regis, R., & Eltoukhy, M. et al. (2017). Differences in Muscle Activation and Kinematics Between Cable-Based and Selectorized Weight Training. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 31(2), 313-322. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001493
Liam Brown
Liam Brown has been coaching clients as a personal trainer for more than 12 years. Raised by his athlete mother and physiotherapist father, he understands the critical importance of learning the proper technique for both avoiding injury and building muscle.
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