Google the term biceps curl and you’ll get over 20 million hits. There’s no shortage of information about this beloved muscle group and its most popular exercise. Think back to your first time at the gym when you didn’t know much about weight lifting. Was one of the first exercises you performed a bicep curl? (To be honest.)
Bicep curls are one of those exercises where you can proudly look in the mirror when your arm swells up after each curl. And no one will blink when you roll up your sleeve and open a bicep flexion pose. With a multitude of variations, there’s a curl that gets lost in the wash like a pair of disappearing socks.
This is the barbell bicep curl.
If it’s been a while since you’ve done a barbell bicep curl and you need to familiarize yourself with this excellent bicep variation, this is for you. Here well dive into this old school exercise for your bicep flexing pleasure.
What is the barbell bicep curl?
There are many variations of the bicep curl, but only one barbell bicep curl. Using a supinated grip (underhand grip) or reverse grip (pronated grip), grip the barbell tightly as you bend over at the shoulders. The beauty of the barbell curl is that the barbell locks you into a specific range of motion, which allows you to load more than most other bicep variations.
How to do the barbell biceps curl
- Grab the barbell with an underhand grip around shoulder-width apart, with your chest up, shoulders down, and the barbell in front of your thighs.
- Keeping your upper arms by your side and your upper back engaged, curl the barbell up to your front delts.
- While maintaining an upright position and feeling a contraction in your biceps, lower yourself down to the starting position, reset and repeat.
Well, you know one because it’s in the title, but other muscles are trained with barbell bicep curls that allow your biceps to do their job. Here are the primary muscles worked by the barbell bicep curl.
- Brachial biceps: (short head and long head) are the primary muscles of elbow flexion. Using a wide or narrow grip determines which head of the biceps you focus on more.
- Brachialis (forearm flexor): A powerful elbow joint flexor that spans the elbow joint.
- Brachioradialis (forearm flexor): Function similar to the brachialis but activated less during the barbell bicep curl.
- Anterior deltoid: The biceps also cross the shoulder joint; assists the anterior deltoid with shoulder flexion, which occurs near the end of the curls’ range of motion.
- Upper back (isometrically): Keeping your chest up and shoulders down keeps you in good lifting posture because the weight is in front of you and pushing you forward.
3 benefits of the barbell bicep curl
Obviously, for bigger biceps, of course. Due to its relative stability, the barbell variation allows you to use more weight than other bicep variations for better size and strength. Have you ever seen a huge weight lifter who didn’t have massive arms? I have nothing to add.
Here are some other little-known benefits of the barbell bicep curl.
- Improved Shoulder Stability: Because the biceps have two heads, the short head originating from the top of the scapula and the long head just above the shoulder joint, both assist the rotator cuff with shoulder stability, primarily through the anterior shoulder.
- Sneaky Shoulder Brace: Since the biceps originate in and around the shoulder joint, they also play a minor role in shoulder flexion. Additionally, both biceps muscles are activated to assist the anterior deltoid during shoulder flexion exercises. Then, bicep curls sneakily strengthen the shoulders. But the icing on the cake is the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder blades; the lats, rhomboids, and lower traps are engaged isometrically to keep the shoulders from rolling forward during curls.
- Improved traction performance: You’ve heard the term; You are only as strong as your weakest link. Since the biceps play such a vital role with all things rowing and pull-ups, wouldn’t it be a shame for the biceps to give out before you’ve reached full shoulder and back? Since you are only as strong as your weakest link, having stronger biceps will only help build a strong, muscular back.
3 common mistakes in barbell bicep curls
The barbell bicep curl is pretty simple, but to get the most out of this amazing bicep builder, it’s best to avoid these common mistakes.
- Too English for the body: There’s a time and a place to use some English to finish a repetition, but we’re not discussing that here. When you use your lower body and lower back to complete a rep, you’re doing it, but you’re taking the tension off your biceps, and isn’t that the point of the exercise? Don’t let your ego get in the way of flex time.
- Don’t shorten yourself: Because of the angle at which the barbell bicep curls are performed, the bottom portion of the repetition with elbows extended is a challenging starting point to build from. For this reason, particularly when an athlete fatigues, they avoid it and do not perform a full range of motion. This leaves gains on the table. There’s a time and place for partial ROM lifts, but isolation exercises like bicep curls aren’t one of them.
- Do not lock elbows in: When you want maximum tension on your biceps, your upper arms should be locked and still. If your elbow swings forward or flares out to the side, this takes the strain off your biceps and shoulders.
Top 3 biceps training tips
Mechanical tension (the amount of weight) is the primary driver for muscle growth, and only a few other exercise machines build more muscle than the barbell. But time under tension and changing your grip or body position are other ways to progress the barbell biceps curl.
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 but emphasize one over the other, which is done by changing your grip and arm angle. A wider grip (than shoulder-width apart) emphasizes the short head, while a narrower grip (than shoulder-width apart) will focus on the long head. Changing grips is an underrated method of progression.
- Think tension, not weight: There’s always the temptation to emphasize weight over tension because, you know, ego and cool factor. Use a weight that allows you to perform the reps with good form and to feel your biceps working. Body English has its place and failure too, but with isolation exercises like the biceps, it’s best to focus on the tension and not the weight.
- Use Time: Time and tension are two sides of the same coin. Each rep has four parts the eccentric (sag), bottom, concentric and lockout, and each number is represented by how many seconds it takes.
For example, the tempo 3212 barbell curl requires three seconds to lower, a two-second pause at the bottom, followed by a second to lift, and a two-second squeeze at the top of the rep. Lifting over time puts the muscle under tension for longer, a critical factor in building biceps.
Tips for programming the barbell biceps curl
You can program barbell bicep curls in a number of ways because, you know, biceps. When doing barbell bicep curls throughout your upper or full-body day, it’s best to train compound movements first because straining your biceps before you need them for rows, pull-ups, etc. will most likely mean you lift less weight or reps. .
Here are some tips for scheduling barbell bicep curls.
At the end of your workout, hold an unloaded barbell and perform 50 curls in as few sets as possible. When you can do two sets to get to 50 reps, add 5 to 10 pounds and start over.
When larger arms and not the back are a goal, using a compound exercise that pre-fatigues the biceps coupled with barbell biceps curls will lead to increased time under tension and flexion time. It goes against the advice above, but only use this method sparingly to turn things around. For example
1A. Underhand Grip Reverse Row 8 to 15 reps
1B. Barbell bicep curls for 12 to 20 reps
Here are some general recommendations for strength, muscle, and muscular endurance.
- By force: Doing three to five sets of four to six repetitions with a heavier load works well for strength.
- For muscle growth: Three to five sets of eight to 15 reps using tempo (suggested above) and creating a mind-muscle connection with them to feel them grow.
- For resistance: Two to three sets of 15 repetitions, using only short rest periods, will leave you feeling the burn.
Barbell Bicep Curl Variations
The standard barbell bicep curl is great, but to keep things fresh and to progress, take these other variations for a spin. Your biceps will be happy.
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