Monday, April 22, 2013

All About The Biceps Curl

The biceps curl is one of the exercises that gets some serious hate from members of the Rippetoe cult and other iron puritans. Of course as you probably know there is nothing bad about doing biceps curls and today I am going to write all I know about this legendary movement.

The most popular way to perform the biceps curl is to use dumbbells. Yes, the dumbbell biceps curls are more popular than the barbell curl because more people have dumbbells at home than barbells. The standard way to perform a dumbbell curl is the following.

Step 1: Grab a pair of dumbbells

While this is pretty straight forward action and technically not a part of the exercise there are still a few fine points I feel I should mention. When you are picking your dumbbells from the ground make sure that you use proper form. A lot of people disrespect the weight and sometimes get injured by lifting really light weights because of twisting.

Imagine you are performing a dumbbell deadlift like this:

By keeping your spine in a neutral alignment you are essentially ruling out the possibility to hurt your back. And since the weight you will use for biceps curls is pretty light I would say you will never injure your back if you lift the dumbbells this way.

Step 2: Get in position and curl up

Turn your palms so that they point away from you. Brace your abs and squeeze the dumbbells super hard. By squeezing the dumbbells super hard you will become stronger due to the increased tension and tension equals strength. Also when you brace your abs you are essentially protecting your spine from twisting. Once you are in position just bring the dumbbells up.

Dumbbell Biceps Curl Variations

Alternating arms - when doing dumbbell biceps curls you have the opportunity to alternate each arm or in other words to first curl with one arm and then with the other. That way you can focus more on your form. Avoid too much swinging and playing around.

Seated dumbbell biceps curls - you can also perform seated dumbbell biceps curls as recommended by the "guru" Vince Gironda. The main benefit is that you save some energy and your form is even stricter since any twisting and arching of the back is more pronounced.

Incline biceps dumbbell curls - this variation changes the angle and places more stress on the center part of the biceps. Many people prefer to do it this way because the stress is felt right in the muscle belly while performing the exercises the conventional way sometimes can place a little too much stress on the inner elbow and biceps tendons. Of course the most popular reason people do incline curls is to achieve a better peak. Biceps peaks however are more dependant on genetics than exercises.

Dumbbell Spider Curls - another way to perform the dumbbell biceps curl is to lay on an incline bench the opposite way (protect your genitalia). This move was made popular by Larry Scott and is also designed to increase your bicep peak.

Zottman Curls - zottman curls are a movement designed to strengthen your wrist extensors. It was made popular by George Zottman. 

The exercise is a regular dumbbell curl with a wrist rotation at the top. Perform a regular bicep curl but at the top of the exercise turn your wrist so that the palms point away from you. Then simply lower the weight under control. You will have to use less weight since the wrist extensors are weaker compared to your wrist flexors.

Hammer curls with dumbbells - hammer curls are a great exercise to do if you have some sort of biceps pain around the elbow area because the stretch of the biceps is much smaller. Due to the grip (neutral) the brachialis which is a muscle between your biceps and triceps is helping a lot. Your forearm gets worked as well. 

This exercise is quite often used by arm wrestlers.

Concentration curls - this is a "one arm at a time" variation. It is designed to fully isolate the biceps and work the center of the muscle belly. In order to perform the movement you just need a bench/chair to sit on. Then simply lock your elbow at your knee and lift the dumbbell. Don't cheat.

Dumbbell Preacher Curls 

The preacher curls are designed to "target your lower biceps" but of course the whole muscle is hit. Many people used to believe that doing preacher curls was going to lengthen the biceps muscles but as we all know now - this is stupidity. The only thing that can change the length of your biceps is some sort surgical intervention.

In order to perform the preacher dumbbell curl you will need a Scott bench or adjustable incline press.

Lock your arm by firmly by placing your triceps on the pad. Lower the dumbbell under control using an underhand grip. Then slowly curl up the weight without using your back, legs...etc. 

Note: Some people my experience pain at the lower portion of the biceps tendon. In that case you could reduce the range of motion little bit by ending the negative portion (lowering part) a little earlier. 


All dumbbell biceps curl variations presented except the Zottman curl can be performed with a barbell.

The Barbell Curl

The barbell curl is considered the best mass builder when it come to biceps. Well, this is debatable and the correct answer is that there is no "best" exercises since all movements are just tools. What's better a pen or a pencil - it depends on the situation.

In order to perform the biceps curl you first need to position the loaded barbell at the floor, squat rack (yeah !), preacher bench...etc. Then simply take a comfortable grip, usually a little wider than your shoulder width, and grip the bar with your palms facing away from you. Grip it like you mean it ! Tense your abs, glutes, quads....hell even tense your face and bring that iron up as high as you can. Don't cheat by arching your back. Cheat biceps curls are not worth the risk !

Cheat curls make a great photo shoot but in reality the only thing they do is test your back!

When lowering the bar don't just let gravity do the work. Perform a quality and controlled lowering - not too slow but not too fast either. That way the exercise is harder on the muscle and easy on the joints - just what we need !

The Ez Bar Curl

The Ez Bar Curl is performed the same way as its brother - the straight bar curl. Some people argue which is better. I have presented my opinion in details here.

The Reverse Barbell Curl 

The reverse barbell curl is designed to target the wrist extensors and brachialis. Some people use it to "fill the gap" caused by having short biceps tendons. You will have to use less weight compared to your standard curl. Enjoy the burn !

Barbell Spider Curls

Spider curls are usually performed on an incline bench unless you have special equipment in your gym. 

Here's how to do them:

Barbell Preacher Curls

This exercise is performed the same way as its dumbbell variation. Make your life easier by using a short straight bar or an EZ-curl bar. Using the straight bar is not very convenient. 


Bodyweight curls

If you don't have access to weights or a gym you can try curls on gymnastic rings or horizontal bar.

Elastic band curls

Another cool way to do curls, which was made famous by the P90X cult, is to use elastic bands. It's pretty handy when you are traveling.