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How to do it

There are two main versions of the bicep curl, with hundreds of different variations. There is the barbell bicep curl and the dumbbell bicep curl. There isn't particularly much difference between the dumbbell and barbell bicep curls, but it is still a good idea to train both.

One of the differences between the two exercises is that whilst the barbell version allows you to use a heavier weight (a good idea for Hypertrophy) the dumbbells work both arms separately. This is a good idea if you have a strength imbalance between your arms, you will see a good example of this in the video of me performing the exercise

As I lift the bar up, one side moves it a bit quicker than the other side. This is because my right arm is stronger than my left arm. When using a barbell, the right arm will take over some of the weight from my left which means that although both arms will get stronger, the left will never be as strong as the right. With dumbbells, this can be worked on.

Bottom Line: Strong biceps improve your performance of other compound exercises like deadlift, barbell row, chest press, pull-ups, clean and jerk, snatch and thrusters. Though it should be noted that the Triceps actually make up over 50% of the muscles in the arm, so should be the number one priority for bigger arms.

The Muscles Involved in the Bicep Curl

The bicep curl is pretty much an isolation exercise, this means that it predominately works on muscle group (the Biceps Brachii). I say pretty much an isolation exercise because it also works the Brachialis muscles, and also the Brachioradialis. But these are nowhere near as important as the Biceps Brachii.

Reps and Sets

Just to give you a quick crash course, Type I fibres are known as slow twitch and respond to endurance training (3 sets of 25 reps for example). Then there is Type IIA fibres which respond to medium amounts of speed, power, and endurance (3 sets of 10 reps), and Type IIB fibres which respond to high speed, power, and force whilst not responding to endurance training at all (3 sets of 3-4 reps). Both Type IIA and B are known as fast twitch fibres

So with biceps being mostly made up of fast twitch fibres, they are going to respond better to low reps, and heavy weights. So instead of trying to hit them with twelve different exercises all containing five sets of twenty reps, try performing two or three exercises max and keep the sets and reps low.

Bottom Line: The biceps respond best to heavy lifting due to being made up of 60-65% fast twitch fibres. Instead of trying to hit them with twelve different exercises all containing five sets of twenty reps, try performing two or three exercises max and keep the sets and reps low.

Tempo and Weights

Tempo refers to the speed at which you lift the weight, after we talked about fast-twitch muscles earlier you could be forgiven for believing that performing the exercise as fast as possible was the solution.

But it doesn't work like that, performing the exercise through the full range of motion with perfect technique is the only way to target the biceps properly. Try to perform the concentric part of the curl (contracting the biceps to bring the bar up) for a count of 4 seconds, no less. Pause at the top and then lower the weight (eccentric contraction) for a further 4 seconds.

Bottom Line: Slowing the exercise down like this will force you to perform it correctly, you may find that the weight you are lifting drops down slightly at first but this is a good thing. It will mean that you are no longer 'cheating'.

The Movement

Grab a barbell and hold it with an underhand grip (palms facing up) at shoulder width apart. Keep your elbows tucked into your side, push your chest out and pull your shoulders back. Take a deep breath and then curl the weight from fully extended arms until your hands are in line with your collar bone. Pause, and then lower the weight back down again.

Dumbbell Hammer Curls

Hammer Curls are similar to regular dumbbell curls except you hold the dumbbell like you would a hammer (hence the name). This places more emphasis on the Brachialis and Brachioradialis muscles, whilst still hitting the Biceps Brachii.

Preacher Bench Hammer Curls

Exactly the same as Hammer curls except performed on a preacher bench which will eliminate any momentum and place more tension on the arms.

Incline Alternating Dumbbell Curls

Just your standard dumbbell bicep curl but performed on an incline bench. This increases the range of motion for the exercise (as you are lying back) so increases the difficulty too. Again, all momentum is removed from this exercise.

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Written by Matthew Smith , BSc Sports Science Degree (2010) from London Metropolitan University | REPS lvl. 3 (2010) | BTEC Sports Science (2006)
Matthew Smith is a Personal Trainer at LA Fitness Marylebone based in Harrow, London. He has been coaching for six years and loves to write helpful and effective fitness articles.

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