Biceps curls are one of the best exercises for getting stronger, more defined biceps. But, if you curl at the same angle and tempo every time you do the exercise, you’ll eventually reach a plateau, Plus, your training will become boring and unidimensional. A little variety can do wonders for your motivation! In addition, adding variety will work your biceps in a more balanced way. Could your biceps training use a jumpstart? Here are some ways to take your biceps workouts up a notch and get more benefits.
Focus on the Eccentric
Eccentric training is more demanding on the muscle, and the increased demand it places on muscle tissue can lead to greater growth. Muscle contractions are divided into two phases: the concentric portion and the eccentric.
The eccentric portion of an exercise is when you lengthen the muscle. If you’re holding a weight as you lengthen the muscle, the muscle has to control the movement or “brake.” This braking action damages more muscle fibers than the concentric phase of a muscle contraction. The concentric is the portion where the muscle shortens. To relate this to biceps curls, the concentric is where you bring the weight toward your shoulders. The eccentric is when you lower the weight back down to the starting position.
To train eccentrically, slow the movement during the eccentric phase, in this case, when you lower the weight. If you typically lower the weight in two seconds, take 4 or 5 seconds to bring the weight back down and really concentrate on the muscle as you lower it. Eccentric training keeps the muscle under tension longer to stimulate maximal muscle growth. There’s even an approach to training called super-slow training where the eccentric phase is 10 seconds or longer! This takes eccentric training to a whole, new level.
You can support more weight during the eccentric phase of an exercise, but first, you have to get the weight up. If you have a partner, ask them to assist. First, do a set of biceps curls to fatigue. Then, pick a weight that’s 20% greater than what you just used. Have your partner help you curl the weight during the concentric or lifting phase. Then, lower the weight eccentrically without assistance. Do several sets in this manner. By doing this, your biceps will learn to handle more weight when you curl.
Pronate and Supinate When You Curl
You can also add a new dimension to biceps curls by pronating and supinating when you do the exercise rather than holding your biceps in a fixed position. When you twist your forearm as you curl, it allows more complete activation of the biceps muscle. You can’t easily do this exercise with a barbell, so grab a pair of dumbbells – but go lighter.
Choose a dumbbell around 70 to 80% of your one-rep max. To do the exercise, hold the dumbbells by your side with your palms facing toward you. Slowly curl the dumbbells while twisting your forearms outward as you curl. At the top of the movement, your palms should be facing up. Return to the starting position by lowering the weight and reversing the twist so your palms are facing toward you again at the bottom. You can do this variation seated or standing. Aim for 3 sets.
Switch the Type of Resistance You’re Using
For biceps curls, you can use dumbbells, a barbell, or even resistance bands. Each form of resistance slightly changes the path your biceps take when you curl. You can even combine dumbbells and resistance bands into a single movement by performing banded dumbbells. To do this, place a looped resistance band on the floor and stand on it. Place the loop of the resistance on the inside of each dumbbell you’ll be using to curl. Hold the dumbbells with the loops, one in each hand with your palms facing up. Then, curl the looped dumbbells. Feel the burn!
Do a Variety of Curls
Too often, people get stuck in a rut of only doing standard biceps curls. Don’t let that happen to you. Vary the type of curls you to do so that you work your biceps at different angles. Your biceps have two heads and you want to hit them both. We already mentioned alternating between dumbbells, barbells, and bands, but change things up a bit by doing hammer curls and reverse curls.
With the hammer curl, the grip is a neutral one where your palms face toward you. The advantage of this exercise over other curls is it works two additional muscles in your arms that other curls don’t – the brachialis and the brachioradialis. When these muscles are strong, the entire front of your arm is stronger.
To do a reverse curl, curl the weight up with your palms facing down rather than up. Select a weight that’s half the resistance of what you typically use for curls. You won’t be able to handle as much weight with this variation. One of the benefits of reverse curls is it helps you develop greater grip strength.
You’ll also want to add concentration curls to the mix, as you’ll see next.
Make Sure You’re Doing Concentration Curls
Why should concentration curls be part of your biceps routine? ACE researchers hooked 16 young men and women up to an EMG machine. The goal was to measure muscle activation of their biceps when they did various biceps exercises and see which movement activated the biceps muscles the most. The winner was the concentration curl. The biggest loser was the preacher curl. It seems that the concentration curls target only on the biceps muscles. In contrast, preacher curls also work the anterior deltoid muscles along with the biceps. So, you hit the biceps in a more focused manner with a concentration curl. Plus, the concentration curl targets the biceps along the full range-of-motion of the exercise. It’s intense biceps therapy!
Do Unilateral Biceps Curls
Doing unilateral curls lets you isolate the biceps muscle more than working both biceps at the same time. Most people have better range-of-motion when they work one side at a time too. Unilateral curls are also ideal for correcting strength asymmetries. If one side is weaker, do unilateral curls to bring that side up to speed.
The Bottom Line
Don’t let your biceps training get stale! Add some variety to your training and break through plateaus with these variations. You have lots of options.
ACE Fitness. “ACE Study Reveals Best Biceps Exercises”
Muscle and Fitness. “How to Perfect the Banded Curls for Massive Biceps”
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