Google the term "biceps curl" and you'll get over 20 million hits. There is no shortage of information about this popular muscle group and its most popular exercise. Think back to your first visit to the gym when you didn't know much about strength training. Was one of the first exercises you did a bicep curl? (Be honest.)
Bicep curls are one of those exercises where you can look at yourself in the mirror with pride as your arm swells up after each curl. And nobody's going to bat an eyelid when you pull up your sleeve and do a bicep flex pose. In a multitude of variations there is a curl that is lost in the wash like a vanishing pair of socks.
This is the barbell bicep curl.
If it's been a while since you've done a barbell bicep curl and you want to get acquainted with this excellent bicep variation, this is for you. Here we dive into this old-school exercise to bring joy to your biceps.
What is the barbell bicep curl?
There are many variations of the bicep curl, but only one barbell bicep curl. Hold the barbell in either a supinated (underhand grip) or reversed (pronated grip) position as you curl up to your shoulders. The beauty of the barbell curl is that you establish a specific range of motion with the barbell, which allows you to engage more weight than most other bicep variations.
How to do the barbell bicep curl
- Grasp the dumbbell with an undergrip about shoulder-width apart, chest up, shoulders down, and the dumbbell in front of your thighs.
- Keeping your upper arms at your sides and your upper back tight, curl the dumbbell up to your front deltoids.
- While maintaining an upright posture and feeling your biceps contract, lower yourself to the starting position, reset, and repeat.
Well, you know it because it's in the title, but the barbell bicep curls also work other muscles that allow the biceps to do their job. These are the main muscles worked by the barbell bicep curl.
- Biceps: (short and long head) are the main muscles of elbow flexion. Whether you use a wide or narrow grip will determine which bicep head you focus more on.
- Brachialis (forearm flexors): A strong flexor of the elbow joint crossing the elbow joint.
- Brachioradialis (forearm flexors): Similar function to the brachialis but less activated in the barbell bicep curl.
- Anterior deltoid: The biceps also crosses the shoulder joint; It assists the anterior deltoid in shoulder flexion, which occurs toward the end of the curl's range of motion.
- Upper back (isometric): Keeping your chest up and your shoulders down will keep you in a good lifting position as the weight is in front of you and is pulling you forward.
3 Benefits of Barbell Bicep Curls
For bigger biceps, of course. Because of its relative stability, the barbell variety allows you to use more weight than other bicep variations for better size and strength. Have you ever seen a lifter who rolls big weights and doesn't have massive arms? I am letting my case rest.
Here are some other little-known benefits of the barbell bicep curl.
- Improved shoulder stability: Because the bicep has two heads, with the short head originating at the top of the shoulder blade and the long head just above the shoulder joint, both support rotator cuff shoulder stability, primarily over the front shoulder.
- Sneaky Shoulder Strengthener: Since the biceps originate in and around the shoulder joint, they also play a minor role in shoulder flexion. It also activates both bicep muscles to assist your anterior deltoid during shoulder flexion exercises. So, bicep curls secretly strengthen your shoulders. But the icing on the cake are the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder blades; The lats, rhomboids, and lower trapezius muscles are isometrically engaged to prevent the shoulders from rolling forward when performing curls.
- Improved pulling performance: You've heard the term; You are only as strong as your weakest link. Since the biceps play an important role in all rows and pull-ups, wouldn't it be a shame if the biceps give out before you've maxed out your shoulders and back? Since you are only as strong as your weakest link, stronger biceps will only help build a strong and muscular back.
3 common barbell bicep curl mistakes
The barbell bicep curl is pretty simple, but to get the most out of this great bicep builder, it's best to avoid making these common mistakes.
- Too much body English: There is a time and place where you can use a little English to complete a representation, but we're not going to discuss that here. If you use your lower body and lower back to do a rep, you can do it, but you're offloading the biceps, and isn't that the point of the exercise? Don't let your ego get in the way of flextime.
- Don't jump to conclusions: Because of the angle of performing barbell bicep curls, the bottom of the rep with your elbows straight is a difficult starting point for curls. For this reason, athletes avoid doing it, especially when fatigued, and do not perform the full range of motion. This keeps profits on the table. There's a time and place for partial ROM exercises, but isolation exercises like the bicep curl aren't one of them.
- Don't pinch your elbows: If you want maximum tension for your biceps, your upper arms need to be locked and stationary. When your elbow moves forward or splays to the side, it relieves the biceps and shifts the tension to the shoulders.
The 3 best bicep training tips
Mechanical tension (the amount of weight) is the primary driver of muscle growth, and few other exercise machines build more muscle than the barbell. But time under tension and changing your grip or body position are other methods to push your barbell bicep curl forward.
Here are three tips to get the most out of this excellent exercise.
- Focusing on the short or long head: You can't really isolate each head, you can emphasize one over the other, which is accomplished by changing your grip and arm angle. A wider grip (than shoulder width) emphasizes the short head, and a narrower grip (than shoulder width) emphasizes the long head. Changing grip is an underrated way to progress.
- Think tension, not weight: There's always a temptation to put weight over tension because, as you know, it's for ego and coolness reasons. Use a weight that allows you to do your reps with good form and feel your biceps working. Body English has its place and will fail, but with isolation exercises like bicep curls, it's better to focus on the tension than the weight.
- Use Tempo: Speed and excitement are two sides of the same coin. Each rep has four parts: eccentric (lowering), down, concentric, and lockout, and each number represents how many seconds each takes.
For example, the barbell curl at tempo "3212" takes three seconds to lower, a two-second rest at the bottom, followed by a one-second raise and a two-second press at the top of the rep. Fast lifting keeps the muscle under tension for longer, a key factor in building your biceps.
Programming suggestions for barbell bicep curls
You can program barbell bicep curls in a variety of ways, because, you know, biceps. If you're doing barbell bicep curls on upper or full body days, it's best to train the compound movements first, since tiring your biceps before you need them for rows, pull-ups, etc. will most likely mean you'll lose less lifting weights or doing fewer reps.
Here are a few suggestions for programming barbell bicep curls.
At the end of your workout, grab an unloaded barbell and perform 50 curls in as few sets as possible. If you can do two sets to get 50 reps, add 5 to 10 pounds and repeat.
When bigger arms and not the back are the goal, using a compound exercise that pre-exhausts the biceps paired with barbell bicep curls will result in longer time under tension and longer flex time. It goes against the advice above, but use this method sparingly to add variety. For example
1A Underhand Grip Reverse Row 8 to 15 reps
1B. Barbell bicep curls 12 to 20 reps
Here are some general strength, muscle and muscular endurance recommendations.
- For strength: Three to five sets of four to six repetitions each with an increased load have a positive effect on strength.
- For muscle growth: Do three to five sets of eight to 15 reps each at the tempo (see above) and engage them in a mind-muscle connection to "feel" them growing.
- For endurance: Do 2-3 sets of 15 reps each, resting only briefly, and you'll feel a burn.
Barbell Biceps Curl Variations
The standard barbell bicep curl is great, but to keep things fresh and progress, try these other variations. Your biceps will be happy.