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Biceps curls: Tips to get form and variations right 
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Biceps curls: Tips to get form and variations right 

Incorrect form while doing biceps curls can lead to elbow, lower-back and shoulder injuries
Dumbbell curls
Dumbbell curls.

Flexing the muscles after working out and posing in front of the mirror is a gym habit. And arguably the most posed muscle are the biceps. If you pick a random newbie at the gym and ask them about their immediate goal, they are likely to say that they want to build great biceps to flex and flaunt. As far as building these set of arm muscles is concerned, the tried, tested and proven exercises are the biceps curl and its variations.

The biceps curls can be done with both dumbbells and barbells. But though the movement involved seems simple, if not done sticking as close to the right form as possible, the curls lose their effectiveness in building the muscle group. This could lead to muscle imbalance and lopsided development of the arms. Injuries are also a possibility, especially if one is lifting loads more than one’s capacity.

The biceps brachii muscles, found on the ventral portion of the upper arm, consists of a long and a short head. Both heads originate at different points in the shoulder and taper together across the anterior aspect of the elbow.

The biceps curls target the entire biceps brachii muscles. Three of the most common variations of this exercise are the dumbbell curls, barbell curls and cable curls. Other variations include concentration biceps curls, preacher curls and hammer curls.

“Both dumbbell and barbell curls should be a part of the workout routine,” says Ahmedabad-based senior fitness trainer Kishan Thapa. “Biceps curls also strengthen the muscles of the forearm. A stronger forearm helps in improving grip strength. But if someone wants to skip these set of exercises, an alternative would be pull-ups with a close neutral grip .”

The reps for curls — high reps and lightweight or heavy weight with low repetitions — can be decided based on the goal, whether it is to build mass or tone.

Barbell curls
Barbell curls.

Mistakes during biceps curls

An improper elbow position while lifting and trying to pump weights more than one’s capacity are two common mistakes people make while doing biceps curls.

“While doing dumbbell and barbell curls, it is important that the elbows should not be held too far from the body. They should be exactly on the side of the body,” says Thapa.

The movement of the hand needs to be smooth while lifting the weight by bending the elbow as well as while lowering.

“Sometimes we see people move their upper body forward and backwards while doing the curls,” says Thapa. “The back should remain straight during the entire exercise and the shoulders should be relaxed and in a retracted position.”

If not done properly, with appropriate weights, curls could lead to injury to the elbows and the lower back. “If the position of elbows is not proper, it can also put unwanted pressure on the shoulders, leading to injuries,” adds Thapa.

Cable curls
Cable curls.

Grip position for biceps cable curls

The grip position can be changed during the biceps cable curls to activate different heads of the biceps brachii muscles as well as varying the load on them. In a 2023 paper, researchers studied 10 competitive bodybuilders performing the biceps cable curl exercise with the supinated (palms facing down), pronated (palms facing up) and neutral grips (palms facing sideways).

The paper concluded that the supinated grip produced greater activation of the biceps brachii and the brachioradialis muscle of the forearms during the ascending phase when compared with the pronated and neutral grips. There is not much difference in muscle activation while lowering the hand. A greater muscle activation was found while taking the weight upward.

How to do biceps curls

  • Stand straight with shoulders retracted, back straight and chest up.
  • Keep the elbows to the side of the body and bend the hand from the elbow joint. Lift the weight by fully folding the hand and then slowly lowering it back to the starting position.

Takeaways

  • Though the movement seems simple, incorrect form while doing biceps curls can lead to injuries to the elbows, lower back and shoulders.
  • Pull-up exercise with a neutral grip is a good alternative to the curls, and provides similar activation to the biceps brachii muscles.
  • By changing the grip position while doing the biceps cable curl exercise, the different heads can be targeted and the load on the biceps brachii muscles can be varied. The supinated grip produces a greater activation during upward movement of the weight when compared to the pronated and neutral grips.

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