Legendary strength coach Mark Rippetoe shares my attitude toward bicep curls:
“Since you’re going to do them anyway, we might as well discuss the right way to do curls.”
At Hack Your Fitness, we don’t advocate isolation work because it’s done mainly for aesthetic purposes and quite frankly, it just takes too long. We prefer compound lifts that are efficient and benefit your entire posterior chain.
Sadly, society sees the biceps and chest as the surest measure of a man’s fitness. Even women want toned arms… just as long as they’re not too jacked.
I see bicep curls as a waste of time (preferring to do chin-ups), but if you insist on doing them, let’s look at the most effective way to perform them so you can maximize your investment.
A Simple Guide To Training Your Biceps
Although the tricep is the larger and stronger muscle in your arm, fitness magazines have conditioned us to covet bulging biceps, not triceps.
The bicep is made up of two parts:
- Biceps brachii: The round, bulging ball that sticks out of your arm. The brachii is what everyone covets when they want to have big guns.
- Biceps brachialis: The smaller muscle underneath the brachii, its size determines how much your biceps peak because it pushes up the brachii.
If you want peaked biceps, you need to work both the brachii and the brachialis.
With the curl, the two most common variations are the dumbbell curl and the barbell curl.
At Hack Your Fitness, we prefer to work inside a rack, so we’ll go with barbell curls.
The Proper Technique for Barbell Curls
The barbell curl is done with a standard Olympic barbell and the movement is performed standing upright. Rather than picking up the barbell from the floor, you’ll work out of the rack and start from the top. The starting position bar height is the same as a squat—mid-sternum, where your nipple line is.
To perform the barbell curl correctly, follow these simple steps:
- Approach the bar with your grip about shoulder-width apart and palms facing up.
- Once you remove the barbell from the rack and you’re at the top starting position, move the barbell down and curl it back up. That’s one rep.
- Make sure to lower the bar to full extension and raise it back up without a pause at the bottom. By not pausing at the bottom of the movement, you utilize the stretch reflex to contract your biceps harder, which allows you to add more weight over time.
- Take a deep breath at the top, hold it during the curl, and exhale when the bar’s back up.
Keep your elbows against your ribcage throughout the entire movement.
Use Cheat Curls as You Load More Weight
As you begin loading, you’ll realize it’s difficult to maintain a perfectly upright posture.
What you’ll see some people do with a heavy load is lean back and thrust their hips forward, using the momentum of this movement to get the barbell up.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was famous for using this technique, called the cheat curl.
Progressive overload isn’t sustainable when you use the standard barbell curl form because the biceps is too small of a muscle to continue lifting heavier weight over time.
At some point, your progress is going to hit a plateau.
When that happens, you can use the cheat curl technique to get the weight up.
People aren’t typically as strict about their form on curls, so you won’t have to worry about judgment from the meatheads at your gym when doing cheat curls.