When looking to build bigger arms, people often think of getting massive biceps or triceps. While this is certainly the goal, it is also important to increase the size and strength of the forearm muscles. The Zottman curl is a great way to build bigger forearms and biceps, making it both effective and efficient.
Because the Zottman curl is still a bicep curl at heart, it can be a direct biceps builder. However, it also gives you the opportunity to increase forearm size and grip strength as you lower the load.
With Zottman curls, you must twist your wrist to have your palm facing down as you slowly lower the weights down to your sides. By having your palms down during the eccentric phase, you place a ton of muscle-building stress on your forearms.
In this article, you’ll learn all about how to properly perform the Zottman curl. You’ll also learn about the unique benefits of the Zottman curl, which muscles it works, and how you can integrate it into your training program to build bigger arms and a stronger grip.
- How to Do the Zottman Curl
- Benefits of the Zottman Curl
- Muscles Worked by the Zottman Curl
- Who Should Do the Zottman Curl
- Zottman Curl Sets and Reps
- Zottman Curl Variations
- Zottman Curl Alternatives
- Frequently Asked Questions
How to Do the Zottman Curl
The Zottman curl is a dumbbell exercise that combines a twisting dumbbell curl with a reverse dumbbell curl. This makes it a great isolation exercise to increase biceps strength. It also is an effective move for isolating the forearm muscles and helping to develop a stronger grip.
Below is a step-by-step guide on how to perform the Zottman curl. This particular exercise guide will describe the double dumbbell Zottman curl.
Step 1 — Grab the Dumbbells
Start by grabbing a pair of dumbbells, one in each hand, with the dumbbells to the sides of your body (you can do these seated, standing, or seated on an incline bench).
With your hands by your sides, have your hands supinated so that your palms are facing forwards. Keep your chest up, your shoulders back, and your elbows fully extended.
Coach’s Tip: Think about opening up your chest and front of your shoulder, rather than be slouched forward.
Step 2 — Sit Up Tall and Curl the Weights Up
Sit or stand up as tall as you can, feeling a stretch on your biceps. Curl the weights upwards to chest height, making sure to keep the weights in front of you. Your elbows should not move backwards as you lift the weights, but rather stay slightly in front of your torso.
Coach’s Tip: When you do the curl, do not swing the weight up. Additionally, make sure that your elbows stay in, instead of letting them flare outwards.
Step 3 — Turn Your Palms Down at the Top
Once you get to the top of the lift, turn your palms downwards so that your hands are pronated. This will shift the tension at the top of your forearms and grip muscles.
Coach’s Tip: When you turn your palms downwards at the top, make sure to not let your hands lower. Your elbows may want to flare out, but don’t let them.
Step 4 — Lower Your Hands Down Slowly
Lower the dumbbells slowly, making sure to keep your elbows in front of your body. By lowering the loads slowly and controlling the eccentric phase of the movement, you will place high amounts of muscle building tension on the forearms.
Coach’s Tip: Lower the weights slowly, and fully extend your elbows at the bottom. Doing this will help you maximize the eccentric phase and promote more muscle growth than letting the weights drop quickly.
Benefits of the Zottman Curl
The Zottman curl is a great arm-building exercise for any level. If you are on the fence about adding it into your arm training routine, learning more about the Zottman curl’s unique benefits might convince you.
Builds Grip Strength
Gripping and grabbing objects is a great way to build general grip strength. However, sometimes that is not enough to build the serious grip strength you need to lift heavy weights. Zottman curls are a great accessory exercise to build stronger biceps and grip muscles to aid grip performance and injury prevention.
This exercise allows you to load the biceps in the curl, and overload the forearm during the lowering phase (eccentric) of the movement.
Time Efficient Way to Grow Your Forearms
Specifically training the smaller muscle groups — like your forearms and calves — can sometimes be neglected. While most heavy lifting programs will do a good job of training grip strength, adding in movements like the Zottman curl can help you train more muscles at the same time. So instead of doing dumbbell curls and then reverse curls, you can perform the Zottman curl and get the same benefits from one exercise (and in less time).
Milks the Eccentric Phase for More Muscle Growth
The forearm muscles are targeted during the lowering phase of the movement, also known as the eccentric phase. This is a key phase for muscle building, and can be a huge factor in overall size and strength development.
Because the Zottman curl targets the forearms during the eccentric phase of the movement, you’ll also able to lift heavier loads. This is because you can generally handle more load eccentrically than concentrically (the curl phase of the lift). And moving more weight will help fast track your grip strength and forearm size goals.
Muscles Worked by the Zottman Curl
The Zottman curl trains the biceps and forearms together, making it a great overall arm and grip builder. This exercise can be done with light weights for more grip endurance or with heavier loads to build overall strength and size.
Below are two of the primary muscle groups used when performing the Zottman curl. If you start to feel these in your shoulders, you may be swinging the weights around too much. In that case, slow down and focus on feeling the following muscle groups only.
The biceps are targeted during the Zottman curl during the lifting portion of the lift (concentric), just like they are targeted during most curl variations. During the eccentric phase (lowering phase) the biceps are trained less since the palms are pronated, which shifts loading to the forearm muscles.
Brachialis and Briachioradialis
The brachialis and the brachioradialis muscles are muscles located in the forearms, and are the visible muscles on the top part of the forearm. Both of these muscles assist in elbow flexion and wrist extension, and are active when the palms are pronated in a curl. During the lowering phase of the Zottman curl, these muscles are eccentrically loaded, which in turn can promote muscle growth.
Who Should Do the Zottman Curl
Zottman curls can help lifters of all levels grow and strengthen their arms, regardless of sport or training level. Whether you are looking to add serious size to your arms or to improve your grip strength, the Zottman curl can help you reach your arm and grip training goals.
Strength Athletes, Powerlifters, and Olympic Weightlifters
The Zottman curl is a valuable accessory exercise to build strong arms and improve grip strength. Additionally, training the forearms can help decrease potential injury risk from strains and pulls on movements like stone lifting, deadlifts, carries, and even heavy Olympic lifts. Seeing that the forearm and biceps are often active in heavy pulling movements, it makes sense to increase their eccentric strength and abilities to improve performance and decrease injury risks.
The Zottman curl can help anyone looking to increase the size and strength of their biceps and forearms. By adding this curl variation into your regular arm training, you can also increase grip strength and help improve wrist stability.
Furthermore, regular gymgoers often have issues with grip strength during heavy deadlifts and carries. This makes the Zottman curl a great combination exercise to train the biceps, forearms, and grip in a time-efficient manner.
Zottman Curl Sets and Reps
If you are looking to add the Zottman curl into your workout program, you may want to add it later in the session to avoid pre-exhausting your grip. When programming the Zottman curl, it is important that you adjust your other days to account for the muscle soreness and temporary lack of grip strength since the muscles of the arm and forearms may be fatigued following direct training.
Below are the two primary sets, reps, and weight (intensity) recommendations for you to properly program the Zottman curl.
To Build Muscle Mass
The Zottman curl can be programmed very similarly to other isolation movements, and should be trained both in high rep and moderate rep ranges to build general strength, muscle mass, and grip performance.
Start by programming three to five sets of 10 to 15 repetitions with moderate to heavy loads OR two to four sets of 15 to 25 repetitions with moderate loads to near failure, keeping rest periods of 45 to 90 seconds.
To Increase Strength
You can perform the Zottman curl with heavier weights to boost your strength. Make sure that you’re controlling the eccentric so it’s not too aggressive on your forearm muscles. Because the eccentric phase is often trained with heavy loads, muscle soreness may increase and grip strength may temporarily decrease right after hard training. Be sure to adjust your training accordingly — in other words, you might want to avoid heavy deadlifts the next day.
Start by programming three to five sets of five to 10 repetitions with heavy loading, resting as needed.
Zottman Curl Variations
The Zottman curl is a unique dumbbell curl variation. However, if you’re looking to perform a variation of the Zottman curl, you don’t have to go further than the two moves below. Both of these exercises offer the same benefits as the dumbbell Zottman curl, while also offering some additional perks.
Cable Rope Zottman Curl
The cable rope Zottman curl is a standing rope curl done with cables. To do these, set a cable pulley to the low position and attach a rope to the clip. Grab each end of the rope. Start with your arms fully extended downwards, with your palms facing each other or slightly turned upwards (supinated). At the top of the curl, turn your palms downwards towards the ground as best as possible. Lower slowly, like you would in the dumbbell Zottman variation.
The rope also allows you to pull your hands wider apart at the top, or keep your hands narrow. This offers you different angles from which to attack the forearms.
Incline Zottman Curl
This is a more strict version of the standing Zottman curl, with the added bonus of increasing the range of motion. To do this, start by setting an incline bench to a high back position, one where you are slightly reclined (more upright than lying on your back). Perform the Zottman curl as usual, making sure to stay reclined. This will increase the range of motion and demand on your muscles while also not letting you use momentum to move the load.
Zottman Curl Alternatives
In the event you want to find an alternative to the Zottman curl, the below exercises will help. These place emphasis on the same muscle groups used in the Zottman curl. Most of these alternatives attack the grip muscles and the forearm.
The reverse curl is almost identical to the Zottman curl. The only difference is that you start with your palms down and keep them down during both the lifting phase and the lowering phase. Reverse curls can be performed with barbells, cables, and dumbbells. Whatever implement you use, they all place a big emphasis on the forearms.
The hammer curl is a biceps and forearm exercise that has you perform a curl with your palms facing each other during the entire range of motion. Start by having your hands by your sides, with your palms facing the body (thumbs up towards the sky). Imagine holding a hammer. Perform a curl and bring the weights to about chest height. Pause, then descend under control.
The wrist roller is a forearm and grip exercise that can be done to increase both wrist flexor and extensor strength. To do this, you can use a wrist roller. You can make your own by drilling a hole through a PVC pipe, threading a rope through, and securing a knot on one end. The knot should be large enough that it doesn’t slip through the hold in the PVC pipe. On the other end, tie on a carabiner and loop the rope through some plates. Clip the carabiner, and know you have your own wrist roller.
From there, extend your arms in front of you with straight elbows. Roll the PVC pipe so that the rope starts wrapping itself, lifting the weights higher and higher. At the top, reverse the rolling direction (don’t let gravity pull the weights down, lowering them slowly). Repeat for reps.
The Zottman curl is a classic arm-building exercise that combines the benefits of the dumbbell curl with the reverse curl. Although it may look it, this exercise is not purely aesthetic. You can integrate this into your training routine to help you move more weight across the board. Remember, a stronger grip means stronger lifts.
Looking to learn even more about Zottman curls before you grab your dumbbells? These frequently asked questions have got your back (and your arm gains).
How heavy should you train Zottman curls?
This exercise doesn’t require you to train with excessively heavy loads for low reps (less than five). The eccentric component of the movement can be damaging to your muscles at loads like that, since the forearm muscles are often not as strong as the biceps. You are better off sticking in the moderate rep range with moderate weights and slowing down the eccentric phase to get more muscle growth. Save the heavy arm and grip training for heavier compound lifts.
Do you need to train the Zottman curl if your grip strength is already good?
If you already have a strong grip and big forearms, then you may not need to spend much additional time training those muscles. That said, it can be helpful to throw direct forearm and arm training into workouts throughout the year to maintain your grip strength and forearm size. This could make the Zottman curl a viable option when looking to hit more muscles at once.
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