Upper body strength matters. You might not understand how important until you’re in a situation where you need it and don’t have it. For example, you’re flying on an airplane and need to hoist your suitcase into the overhead bin. You try to do it and discover you don’t have enough strength or power to do it.
It’s not enough to walk for exercise, as most people do. Walking and even running do nothing to build upper body strength. For that, you need a balanced upper body strength training program. Building upper and lower body strength will help you avoid the age-related muscle loss that leads too many people down the path to frailty.
How balanced are your upper body workouts? If you’re like most people, you train your biceps harder than your triceps, which often gets neglected. We like to work the “mirror muscles,” the ones they see in the mirror and are more neglectful of the opposing muscles, the ones they can’t see. The muscles on one side of your body should be as strong as those on the opposite side. You also want the ones in the front to have similar strength to the opposing muscles in the back.
Work Those Triceps!
For the biceps, the opposing muscles are the triceps, and they need strengthening too. Unless you show those muscles the same attention you do your biceps, you’ll end up with a strength imbalance. Not only are strength imbalances not aesthetically pleasing, but they also increase the risk of injury since you force one muscle group to work harder to compensate for the weakness of another.
What exercise are you doing to strengthen your triceps? If you’re like most people, you’re doing push-ups, triceps kickbacks, and triceps dips. These are all effective exercises, but there’s another one you’re probably not doing that will help you build triceps strength and build a stronger upper body framework. It’s the barbell reverse curl.
How to Do a Barbell Reverse Curl
You’ll need a barbell for this exercise. You can use a straight barbell or an EZ curl bar for doing barbell reverse curls. You’ll also have to go lighter on the weight, as reversing your hand grip makes the exercise more challenging. Choose a barbell that’s 40 to 50% lighter than what you use for standard biceps curls. You can always advance the weight once you master the movement.
If you’re using a standard barbell:
- Grab the bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart using a pronated or overhand grip, and let it hang down in front of you with your arms extended.
- Keep your feet together with your knees relaxed, not locked out.
- Slowly curl the weight up to shoulder height without arching your back.
- Hold the position at the top for 1-2 seconds.
- Lower the barbell back down to the starting position using proper control.
- Keep repeating for 8 to 10 repetitions.
- Do 2-3 sets.
It’s possible, but more difficult to do this exercise with a dumbbell in each hand. However, it’s more challenging to balance the weights if you use dumbbells, and the barbell helps keep your hands in a pronated grip throughout the movement.
What Are the Benefits of Barbell Reverse Curls?
Working your triceps with barbell reverse curls trains them differently, and it’s a way to expand your triceps training routine and devote more time to these sometimes-neglected muscles. Plus, this exercise also develops the muscles in your forearms, another group of muscles that don’t get enough focus. If you play a sport like tennis or golf, having extra forearm strength can help your performance. Extra forearm strength also comes handy for practical things, like opening a tight lid on a jar.
Barbell reverse curls also work the brachialis muscle, the main forearm flexor, in your upper arm. Every time you flex your elbow, you recruit your brachialis, a muscle that runs deep to the larger biceps muscle. Standard biceps curls with a supinated or underhand grip are still the best way to isolate your biceps muscles, but a pronated grip forces the brachialis, and another muscle called the brachioradialis, to get in on the action too. By working these muscles, you build more balanced biceps that can manage other strength-training challenges better.
Want to improve your grip strength? Barbell reverse curls will help you do it. Why is grip strength important? A strong grip will help you better secure barbells and dumbbells in your hands, so you can manage more weight without injury. Interestingly, a study also found that grip strength correlates with total body strength and is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular death.
When Should You Do Barbell Reverse Curls?
The best time to do barbell reverse curls is after your biceps are fatigued after a bicep’s workout. Doing this can help you break out of a strength plateau because you are working your arm muscles when they’re tapped out. That extra stimulus will help them grow and help you continue to make gains. Try doing a few sets at the end of your upper body workout as a finisher for your upper body workout. If you feel wrist or elbow discomfort when you do a reverse curl with a barbell, try using an EZ curl bar instead.
The Bottom Line
The barbell reverse curl is an exercise that will balance your upper body development, improve your forearm strength, and enhance your grip. It is best to use a barbell to do reverse curls, but if you don’t have one, you can do the exercise with a dumbbell in each hand. With its many benefits, it’s an exercise that can help you build more balanced strength.
Trosclair, D1; Bellar, D1; Judge, L W2; Smith, J1; Mazerat, N1; Brignac, A1 Hand-Grip Strength as a Predictor of Muscular Strength and Endurance, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: March 2011 – Volume 25 – Issue – p S99 doi: 10.1097/01.JSC.0000395736.42557.bc
“Muscle Imbalance: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention.” www.healthline.com/health/muscle-imbalance.
“The Surprising Benefits of Reverse Curls | Coach.” 09 Jun. 2017, www.coachmag.co.uk/exercises/arm-exercises/3716/the-benefits-of-reverse-curls.
“ACE Study Identifies Best Triceps Exercises.” https://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/3008/ace-study-identifies-best-triceps-exercises/.