High Cable Bicep Curls For Shoulder Stability

Feb 3, 2023 | Exercise guides

high cable bicep curls arm workouts for bodybuilding athletes

High cable curls are commonly programmed in bodybuilding workouts, but they can often feel a little sketchy on your shoulders. But with a few adjustments to your cable height and the angle of your arms, the high cable curl can actually be an awesome primer for your upper body days.

Marc Lavallee is a tactical fitness coach with experience training Canadian military units in the Search and Rescue Technician (SAR-Tech) program. He currently coaches for a policing agency. In this blog, he breaks down the best way to use the cable machine for bicep curls without wrecking your shoulder tissues.

Mark Lavalee
Marc Lavallee

Change the Way You Train

Work Your Biceps Without Tweaking Your Shoulder

The traditional cable bicep curl involves standing in the middle of a large double-stack cable crossover machine. Your gym bro grabs one handle on each side, raises them up and looks as if he’s squeezing a beach ball above his head as both hands come in.

It’s an effective exercise, yes, but maybe not the most ideal for the masses. It has the potential to jack up your shoulders and cause annoying injuries if done incorrectly.

It’s common knowledge to work your lateral raises in the scapular plane (also called scaption). Why do we need to focus on this for an arm exercise?

What is Scaption?

Scaption is the position of keeping your upper arm in-line with your shoulder blade. When you raise your arm out to the side and a little in front of you, that’s the scapular plane.

The double cable bicep curl often forces your shoulders out of scaption and cranks your upper arms back, putting the lever joints of your shoulders, elbows, and wrists at a disadvantage.

Cable Curls: Do Them Better

So how do we improve the cable bicep curl? My recommendation is doing one arm at a time for this exercise. And keeping the weight manageable.

Figure out your positioning to keep your working arm in scaption. It’s worth it to prevent nagging/chronic issues in your joints down the road. Using one cable enables you to shift your body slightly backward so the handles are a little in front, which is where your scapula is.

I also suggest starting with the cable slightly lower by setting it around the height of your chin. From there, progress the cable position to slightly above your head, but nothing too crazy.

Coach’s Tip:
You do not need to be hitting a max weight with this movement or it will easily fall apart. Instead, focus on 3-5 sets of 12-15 reps at a light to moderate weight. Don’t be dumb and tear a tendon.

Bicep Curls And Shoulder Stability?

When you look at the anatomy of the biceps, they cross two joints: the elbow and the shoulder. The lengthened position for your biceps involves extending your arm at your side, past your body and behind you. This is stretching the bicep muscles, extending the elbow and shoulder maximally. To reverse that positioning and shorten the bicep, you flex the shoulder and elbow, bringing your arms into your midline.

There is a ton of isolation work dedicated to your external rotators but, there comes a point where this muscle group needs to be challenged in a position that forces it to stabilize the scapula. The high cable single arm bicep curl does just that.

You get two birds with one stone for this exercise by putting the arm in a flexed and externally rotated position, working the biceps and external rotators. You’re also forced to stabilize your shoulder joint from wobbling forward or backward.

And Shoulder Warmups?

This exercise is a great movement to get your shoulder warmed up for an upper body workout. If the repetitive band work gets boring, try a few single arm high cable curls for a mild bicep pump and shoulder stabilization primer.

If you lack the capacity for external rotation in your shoulder, this is also a great functional stability movement to help work on that externally rotated position. The cable will keep a constant tension throughout the entire movement, whereas a band accommodates resistance by starting off easy and progressing to harder as it stretches.

Instead of doing multiple exercises to target multiple goals/outcomes you can be more efficient with your warm-up by using the high cable bicep curl. Suspend your skepticism about using an arm exercise to tackle shoulder stability until you try it yourself.


More Fire For Your Arm Workouts

Be sure to check out these articles to grow your arms like a pro:

Juicy Arm Training: Your New Year’s Resolution
A Guide To Bicep Workouts: Curls For The Girls (And Guys!)

You Work too Hard to Not See Progress

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