One of the most popular exercises out there is the bicep curl. People like having that familiar bump on their upper arm, along with that bulging vein (the “pipe” in gym lingo) that runs up the length of the muscle. Having strong upper arms makes ladies look great, too. If you talk a lot with your hands, there’s nothing worse than seeing the skin of your arms flap around in the wind. So, let’s take a look at this exercise.
The biceps brachaii (biceps in gym lingo) is a two-headed muscle. Both heads originate on the scapula and insert into the upper part of your forearm. Most people think the sole purpose of the biceps is to flex your elbow. While it does do that, it also supinates your forearm, which means that it moves your forearm from a position with your palms facing down to your palms facing up.
The bicep curl exercise is a pretty easy exercise to perform, but there are a few things you can do to make this exercise more effective. To start, you need some sort of resistance. This can be workout band, dumbbells, an easy curl bar, or a barbell. You can make all kinds of homemade resistance for this exercise, such as filling some sort of tube up with water, sand or cat litter. As long as you can hold onto it, you can use it.
If you’re using anything but a bar, take your resistance in your hands, with your hands down by your side and your palms inward towards your legs. Stand up straight – do not lean forward. Raise your forearms up as far as they can go, while simultaneously turning your palms upward. Squeeze your bicep muscle at the top of the exercise. Then slowly lower your forearms down, while turning your palms back toward your legs. Pretty easy, right?
I’ve seen people do some crazy things with bicep curls, so I don’t want you to do them. Number 1 – the idea is to work your biceps. Don’t swing your arms back to gather momentum to lift the weight. Anything you do to make this exercise easier to perform is called a cheat curl. There’s a time and place to do cheat curls, but that’s an advanced technique and I don’t want you to do this when you’re starting out and learning how to perform the exercise properly. Like anything in life, learn the rules before you break the rules (and know why you’re breaking them!). If the only way you can lift the weight is by swinging your arms backward and then forward, then the weight is too heavy for you. Choose a lighter weight. You should stop all movement for a second at the bottom of the exercise before you perform the next repetition to ensure you don’t swing your arms.
Number 2 – don’t bounce up and down to help you lift the weight. I saw someone do this once and just scratched my head. Once again, if you can’t lift the weight without help of any kind, then the weight is too heavy. Choose a lighter weight.
Number 3 – Use slow and controlled movements. I saw a guy at the gym the other day who looked like he was trying to win a bicep curl race. My workout partner looked at me and asked what the heck he was doing. Honestly, I didn’t know! Once again, the idea is to build muscle, not win a race. In my opinion, it’s just another way of cheating on the exercise. So, slow it down a little and use controlled movements.
Variations of the Bicep Curl
One of the variations we already talked about, you can use something that you hold in each hand, like dumbbells, or you can use a bar of some sort. While I do incorporate using a bar into my workout routine, I prefer to use dumbbells as you can add much more variety into the exercise using something held in each hand.
One variation using dumbbells is that you can alternate arms doing the curl. You lift up one arm, while the other is down by your side. Once that arm reaches the bottom, you lift up the other arm. This way, you really focus on one bicep and one arm at a time.
With dumbbells, you can also do this exercise standing or seated. When you do this exercise seated, you absolutely cannot do the body up and down bounce thing. It’s also more difficult to swing your arms. This exercise is more strict, therefore, you focus more on doing the exercise properly.
You can also perform this exercise on a cable machine. I love doing bicep curls on a cable machine. Unlike relying on gravity as part of the resistance, on a cable machine there is resistance is all the way through the full range of motion of the exercise. You can also get this effect with exercise bands.
If you’re seated, you can also do this exercise on a seated bench where the back rest is tilted backwards a little. These are called Incline Curls. Doing the bicep curl this way is a lot more difficult, so you should use less weight. Also, try not to let your elbow hyperextend when your arms are straight down. The farther you lean backwards, the more difficult this exercise becomes.
Since one of the functions of the biceps is to rotate your forearms, you can also use different hand positions at the bottom of this exercise. Normally, you start with your palms facing your legs. But you can also rotate your palms around so that they are completely facing away from your legs. Just for fun, try varying your starting hand positions and notice the difference in how it feels in your biceps.
If you’re using an easy curl bar or barbell, you can also use an Arm Blaster. When I think of an Arm Blaster, I think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, as he used to use one. I didn’t know they still existed until I saw a guy at my gym use one a couple of months ago. An Arm Blaster is a piece of metal that goes across your midsection and stops your arms at the bottom of the exercise. You are prevented by the metal from swinging your arms backwards and cheating on the exercise. This is another way to force you to perform this exercise in a strict manner.
There are some other variations of this exercise, especially Scott curls (aka Preacher curls), but I’m going to save that for later. A former bodybuilder and the 1st Olympia winner is a man named Larry Scott. He is the one credited for inventing Scott curls and I have a great story to tell you about Mr. Scott. So, sorry about the tease, but that’s a story for another day.
To conclude, don’t use more weight than you can handle, don’t swing your arms or bounce your body up and down, focus on controlled movements, and focus on squeezing your biceps at the top of this exercise. For every exercise that I teach to you, my goal is to help you gain muscle in order to help you lose weight.
Until next time, remember that… there are no excuses when it comes to your health!