To develop an impressive set of biceps you need to target the muscles from every angle. That’s right, we said muscles. The biceps brachii (long and short heads), as well as the medial head and brachioradialis (forearm) must all receive some (tough and exhausting) love in order for you to achieve attention-grabbing guns. How do you do that? With proper exercise selection and rotation, and consistently altering things like rep speed, weights used, and sets completed.
“Generally six to eight reps is for strength, and 10 to 12 reps is suggested for muscle maintenance to keep the tendons strong and healthy,” says Franklin Antoian, ACE Certified Personal and founder of iBodyFit.com. “With tempos, executing reps faster can allow you to get your workout done quicker while elevating your heart rate and burning more calories. Using slower tempos allows you to use more of the muscle [fibers] and rely less on momentum.”
We asked Antoian to walk us through the benefits of a handful of curls that you may or may not currently use in your repertoire. We also requested that he skip longwinded execution explanations since, in general, curls are performed the same way: keep your arms at your sides, elbows close to the body, and bend your arm from the elbow as you bring the weight to your shoulder.
Here are 7 curling exercises you should incorporate into your biceps workout.
1. Incline Dumbbell Curl
Adjust a bench to a 45-degree angle and allow your arms to hang down toward the floor. Keeping your back flat on the bench will eliminate your ability to use momentum. “Keep your arms close to your body as you curl toward the shoulder,” Antoian explains. “Allowing your arms to flare as you curl recruits more shoulder muscles and may lead to injury.”
2. Hammer Curl
Along with targeting the short head, hammer curls also indirectly work the brachioradialis. You can perform these by bringing the dumbbell across your body to the opposite shoulder, or begin with a neutral grip where your palms face each other. Antoian prefers the latter variation. “Be careful with the amount of weight you use during this exercise,” he advises. “If you go too heavy you can easily injure your wrist.”
3. Barbell Curl
The objective is to make the biceps handle the entire weight load, so avoid swinging or turning these into cheat curls by keeping your upper body stationary as you curl the weight toward your chest. “It’s a classic go-to movement when you want to increase biceps strength,” says Antoian. “Start with a neutral grip when you’re first starting out, and routinely change your grips from wider to more narrow as you progress.”
You can also perform these with an EZ bar, which are called — that’s right — EZ-bar curls. In either variation, where you grip determines which part of the biceps you work. “It’s an inverse property,” he adds. “Gripping inside works the outside of the biceps, and an outside grip works the inside of the grip. Use an EZ curl bar for definition or to even out your biceps.”
You’re dividing the curls into three sets of seven for a total of 21 reps. “Do these first in your workout,” Antoian explains. “They’re a good overall mass builder because they hit every single angle of the biceps … but they’re also exhausting.” Beginners should do two sets and add more as they see fit.
5. Concentration Curl
Done either standing or seated, this isolation curl is meant to be performed deliberately slow and controlled. “I suggest doing them seated so you’re giving 100 percent of your energy to the curl,” he suggests. “Press your elbow into your knee, take two seconds on the concentric phase of the lift, and four seconds on the eccentric phase of the lift. You’re not trying to perform fast reps and calories; you’re objective is to build your biceps peak.”
6. EZ-Bar Reverse Curl
Grab the EZ bar with a pronated grip and raise the bar until your forearms are vertical. “You’re going to hit a huge chunk of the brachioradalis when you perform reverse curls, which is why they’re sometimes referred to as forearm curls,” explains Antoian. “They’ll also help develop the outside of your biceps.”
7. High-Pulley Cable Curl
Hook up two cable attachments at a cable station. Stand in the middle of the station with both hands grasping the cables so you’re making a “T” with you body. “Grab the handles, get into a lunge position, and keep your elbows stable and arms at a 45-degree angel as you curl toward your temple,” Antoian says. The target: the long head.