The bicep curl is a movement often saved for aesthetic training and accessory blocks. While some strength, power, and fitness athletes may brush off biceps training, others are finding good returns on integrating in biceps exercises into their accessory program.
In this article we will discuss:
- The Importance of Biceps Training
- How to Integrate Biceps Training Into Your Program
- 11 Lunge Variations You Should Try
Why Train Biceps?
Biceps are a muscle too, one that is highly active in pulling movements such as deadlifts, cleans, and pull ups. While they may not be solely responsible for moving heavy loads, well developed biceps can help with grip strength, elbow health, and filling out those training tees. If you still aren’t sure if you need to train biceps, here’s why it’s not just OK to train biceps, but sometimes actually needed!
How to Integrate Biceps Training Into Your Program?
Training biceps in most strength and power programs is not something coaches/athletes devote a great amount of time to. That said, most pulling movements like deadlifts, rows, pull ups, and carried can build general arm strength that may be sufficient for most athletes.
In the event a lifter wants to gain size and strength specifically in the biceps/arms and/or has a need for rehabilitation reasons, they can add biceps exercises into training sessions at the end (after main sport, skill, strength, and power work). Simply adding 8-12 working sets a week (2-4 different exercises) can be enough to stimulate progress for most athletes.
11 Bicep Curl Variations for Strength and Mass
Below are eleven (11) bicep curl exercises and variations that can be used to build strength, muscle mass, and increase arm pulling performance.
The barbell curl is a well know bicep exercises variation that can be done with a variety of grip widths, tempos, loads, and ranges. For most individuals, this will be one of the best general strength and mass building movements as it allows lifters to (1) load up with significant amounts of weight, (2) is accessible in most training environment, and (3) requires little technical knowledge (beside basic bicep curling technique). Lastly, many strength and power athletes use a barbell in their respective sport (powerlifting/weightlifting), which can also be beneficial to use this to reinforce grip and arm strength specific to sporting movements.
Reverse Barbell Curl
The reverse curl can be done with a barbell, dumbbell, and many of the below variations. By training the curl using a pronated grip (palms facing away from the lifter), the lifter is able to train the forearms to increase grip strength and size. For lifters who rely on a strong grip (nearly every strength and power based athlete), this can also help to support pulling and injury resilience for the wrist joint.
Seated Incline Hammer Curl
The seated incline hammer curl is very similar to the hammer curl, however done in a position that (1) limits anterior shoulder involvement and (2) isolates the lateral aspect of the biceps. The hammer curl is done with the hands kept in the neutral position, much like one would take when using a hammer to hit a nail. The below video demonstrated proper technique and set up for the seated incline hammer curl.
The preacher curl can be done using a seated preacher machine, with free weights, or done even with an incline bench. The preacher curl is set up so that the arm is supported on an angle, which can (1) limit shoulder involvement to better isolate the bicep, (2) increase stability to allow for greater loading and training volume, and (3) help lifters to stay vigilant with technique as they fatigue (due to them not having to worry about proper set up due to the preacher positioning/support). This unique setup makes the preacher curl exercise very versatile; one that can be done using a wide array of equipment, such as barbells, dumbbells, cables, and specialty bars.
EZ Bar Curl
The EZ bar is a speciality bar that is designed to have the lifter use a slightly angled grip which can target the biceps differently. This movement is often done either standing or seated in a preacher curl setup, however some companies do also make cable attachments as well.
The dumbbell curl offers a wide array of variations to lifters to target the biceps on a unilateral basis. Dumbbells, which can be applied to hammer curls, reverse curls, preacher curls, etc; can be used to address muscle development imbalances and help customize wrist positions if the barbell or fixed angles of a specialty bar/machine are impeding training.
Cable systems offer lifters a way to challenging the muscle with continuous time under tension and target the biceps from various angles, thanks to the pulley systems. Cable curls can also be done with a variety of attachments, such as EZ bars, reverse straight bar curls, rope hammer curls, and more.
Fat Grip/Axle Bar Curl
The fat bar grips and axle bar are two bicep curl variations that can be applied to barbells, some specialty bars, and dumbbells. By having the lifter perform curls with a fat grip or axle bar, you force the lifter to activate the grip muscles which in turn can enhance muscle activation of the biceps. These are very helpful for lifters who want to train grip strength and arm strength simultaneously.
Suspension training, which can be done with straps or other suspension systems, are a great way to increase muscle development by challenging time under tension, grip strength, and train a wide array of angles and ranges of motions. The suspension curl can be done using body weight and customized based on body positioning (step further under the anchor for more resistance, and vice versa) which can help lifters train to voluntary failure simply by changing the angle (within a work set) at which they perform the movement as they fatigue.
Accommodating Resistance Bicep Curl
Accommodating resistance, in the form of resistance bands and chains, can be used with most of the variations on this list. By adding chains and/or bands to barbell, specialty bars, and even dumbbells, you can stimulate new muscle growth, increase rate of force production, and exhaust a muscle throughout the entire range of motion.
Manual Resistance Bicep Curl
Manual resistance training is a technique that can increase the strength of all three types of muscle contractions (concentric, isometric, and eccentric). This method can be applied to most bicep curl variations above, and is easily accessible for most lifters who train in groups settings or with a training partner.
Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram