Bicep Curls

Jonathan Thompson
Bicep curls

Bicep curls may seem like a basic exercise with few, if any, options for variation. This is due to the fact your biceps primarily work the elbow joint, which is similar to a door hinge in that it has a set, simplistic range of motion. Compare this to your hips or shoulders that can swivel freely. While it's true you don't have the rich assortment of exercises as you do for back or shoulders, you can still give yourself a boost by mixing things up with your bicep training.

Straight Barbell Curls

This is the basic curl most people think of when you say bicep curls.

  1. Stand upright with your knees slightly bent, your back straight, and your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a barbell in your hands. Relax your shoulders and keep them neutral; don't thrust the shoulders forward.
  2. Bend your elbows to curl the barbell up to your chest, squeezing a little at peak contraction. Slowly return to starting position.

It's hardly rocket science, but it is effective. You can use a straight or cambered bar for this bicep curls exercise; whatever feels best for your wrists.

Standing Dumbbell Curls

Replace the barbell with dumbbells, and you have a very similar motion and resistance curve, only you have more freedom to make individual adjustments on this biceps curls move. This can be particularly helpful for those with wrist problems. Likewise, some people prefer the alternating approach, where you raise one dumbbell while simultaneously lowering the other, and vice versa. Just make sure to not have one arm sitting idle while the other is working. The key word is simultaneous; this isn't a tag-team effort.

  1. Stand upright with your knees slightly bent, your back straight, and your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Relax your shoulders and keep them neutral; don't thrust the shoulders forward.
  2. Bend your right elbows to curl the dumbbell up to your chest, squeezing a little at peak contraction. Slowly return to starting position.
  3. While lowering your right arm, repeat the lifting movement with your left arm.

Seated Concentration Curls

By adjusting the angle of your elbow, concentration curls place a greater demand on your biceps and noticeably produce a greater amount of "pump" than some other versions of the exercise. The variation in body position also prevents you from cheating by using your back and shoulders to produce momentum. So frustratingly, you might notice you can't handle as much weight with this version as you normally would use.

  1. Sit at the edge of a bench with your knees apart and your feet firmly planted on the ground.
  2. Lean forward a little with your back straight and grab a dumbbell so it hangs straight down with your elbow against the inside of your knee.
  3. Bracing your elbow against your knee and curl up using a twisting motion so your thumb shifts from pointing backwards (at bottom position) to facing your nose (at top).
  4. Slowly reverse the movement to return to the starting position. After completing your desired reps, switch to the other arm.

Cable Curls

The laws of physics make it so free weights have a somewhat uneven resistance curve. In other words, early and late in the curl you have a lighter load than you do at the midpoint. Cables, however, do not have this limitation. While the movement is essentially the same as the barbell curl, cable curls maintain an even amount of resistance throughout the entire range of motion. Because of this seemingly small difference, cable curls will give you a more challenging work by increasing the time your biceps spend under tension.

Unfortunately, cable curls do require some pretty expensive, bulky, specialized equipment.

  1. Stand upright with your knees slightly bent, your back straight, and your feet shoulder-width apart. Face the cable machine and hold the handle in your hands. Relax your shoulders and keep them neutral; don't thrust the shoulders forward.

  2. Bend your elbows to curl the handle up to your chest, squeezing a little at peak contraction. Slowly return to starting position.

Reclined Dumbbell Curls

As the name implies, the biceps actually have two parts - or heads. While both connect to the forearm just below the elbow, one of the parts connects to the scapula while the other connects to the shoulder. By changing the angle of your arms, then, you can emphasize one of these heads over the other.

  1. Adjust a bench to about 45 degrees and sit, letting your arms hang straight down at your sides. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Bend your elbows bring the weights close to your chest.
  3. Slowly straighten your arms to return to the starting position.

Putting It to Use

As far as actually including these variations in your routine, you have some options depending on your overall goal and fitness level. Here are some tips to get the most out of your biceps curls.

  • If you're looking to build mass, use these variations together to build one long bicep workout to be performed once each week.
  • For general fitness, change which curl you use every four to six weeks.
  • Combine bicep curls with larger, more complex exercises like the pull-up or bent over row that also work your back.

Time and Effort Required

Increasing your biceps won't happen overnight, but you can do it if you put in the effort. Create a routine, stick to it, and develop the arms you've always dreamed of having.

Bicep Curls