Why It’s Okay (and Sometimes Good!) to Do Bicep Curls

As competitive athletes, most of what we do in the gym should have a specific purpose. Squats, Olympic lifts, sprints, corrective and mobility training, and accessory work claim a large amount of our training energy. Sometimes, however, we are given the opportunity to add in a few exercises that may not be in the “mainstream” programming for weightlifters, functional fitness athletes, and powerlifters. In this article, I will shed some insight on the justification of bicep curls within a sounds training program for olympic weightlifters, powerlifters, and yes, CrossFitters.

Bicep Curls Are Not “Functional”

A photo posted by Mike Dewar (@mikejdewar) on

Pulling Abilities

Grip and bicep strength play a large role in one’s ability to pull, whether it’s a deadlift, clean, or lifting large objects. Bicep training, when done using various grips, can be a great accessory to a sound training program. When I often discuss this concept, many people state that chin and pull ups are all one every needs, and while I agree that those two exercises are amazing at bicep and strength development, I do feel that standard bicep training can further enhance pulling. Without the bicep being able to withstand large amounts of isometric (deadlifts and other pulls) and eccentric (shall I say, kipping pull ups), the biceps may be prone to injury ad or limited capacities. In athletes who find themselves having issues holding onto heavy barbells and/or increased soreness in the arms following pull up workouts, bicep training may be beneficial to improve overall muscular and connective tissue health and performance.

Overuse Injuries

Like any muscle, the bicep can be subject to a great deal of stress through the routine training of athletes. Torn biceps in deadlifts, elbow tendinitis, and other common injuries may be combated with a well rounded approach to training arm and grip muscles in different planes that may be lacking in one’s training. The greater amount of force a specific muscle can withstand via increased muscle mass, contractile units, and connective tissue health will result in increased injury resilience and continued performance over time.

Tricep Lockout Performance

More understood in the world of arm training are the triceps. Whether you are a powerlifter (bench press lockout), weightlifter (overhead lockouts and stability in snatch and jerks), or fitness athlete (wall balls, pressing, burpees, weightlifting), it is hard to argue against the triceps’ role in optimal performance. Bicep training can also play a critical role in those same movements since it is an antagonist to the tricep.

Simply put, for a tricep to extend the elbow stronger, and with greater speed (vital in jerks and snatches), the bicep must “relax” so that it doesn’t impair the function of the tricep. If the bicep is not strong enough to withstand forceful extension of the elbows in such movement, injury can occur at the elbow joint and surrounding connective tissues and/or the body may limit one’s ability to rapidly extension the elbows. Assuming a training regimen includes sounds programming, performing isolated bicep training throughout the full range of motion may increase elbow extension performance.

“Me Days”

Every now and then (nearly every week for me) there comes a time when I have a few extra minutes at the end of a training session or even an urge to lift something even though I am technically “on a rest day.” Other times, I simply see what a certain body part could be, and go to work. I call these days, “Me Days”, as in, I am going to do a workout that allows me to have fun, do nostalgic things, and get an immense arm pump for that day. “Me Days” are an often overlooked aspect of the sustainability of a rigid and systematic training program, much like “cheat meals” are to nutritional success. As long as the workout does not negatively impact the following sessions (too much volume, performed when in an intense training cycle or contest prep, etc), taking a “Me Day” is not the end of the world.

Check Out These Bicep Believers…

Silent Mike and the SuperTraining Crew enjoying themselves on a “Me Day”.

The Fittest League discusses bicep specific hypertrophy for fitness athletes…

Preacher curls and biceps for you strongmen and strongwomen out there…

Final Words

Bicep curls very well may be beneficial to many athletes, when done with the right intent. However, without adhering to the foundation movements; squats, pulls, cleans, snatches, bodyweight calisthenics, sprints, etc of your specific sports, bicep curls may very well be a waste of time. If however, you find yourself with nagging injuries/limitations/sadness as you peer into the mirror, bicep curls may be for you. At the end of the day, get the work done in the gym, and have some extra fun when it’s appropriate.

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Featured Image: @mikejdewar on Instagram

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.

Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.

Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.

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