Why You Need Reverse Curls in Your Strength-Training Routine


Cathe Friedrich doing reverse curls with dumbbells

Biceps curls are the most popular isolation exercise for the biceps, the muscle that gives your upper arm definition. Being an isolation exercise, they target the biceps muscles with laser-like precision and target no other muscle groups. However, that’s not true of a curl variation called the reverse curl. It also works a smaller muscle in your arm. Unfortunately, not everyone includes this curl variation in their strength-training routine.  Let’s look at what benefits it offers and why you should add include this curl variation in your training.

What are Reverse Curls?

The reverse curl is a variation of the traditional barbell curl that targets the biceps from a different angle. Rather than holding the barbell with a supinated grip (palms up), you grasp the bar with a pronated grip (palms down). The change in grip is the key to getting additional benefits from the exercise. However, reverse curls can be challenging to do correctly.

To perform reverse curls:

  • Stand up straight while holding a barbell (You can also use an EZ curl bar) with your hands gripping the bar on top with a pronated grip. (Palms toward the floor) Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • While holding the bar, curl the bar toward your shoulders.
  • Hold at the top for 2 seconds
  • Lower the bar slowly and smoothly to the starting position.

You can also do reverse curls holding a dumbbell with a pronated grip in each hand. The advantage of this is you can alternate sides. Dumbbells also allow you to focus on one side at a time to correct muscle imbalances. If you have wrist problems, using an EZ curl bar helps lower the stress on your wrists.

To improve the effectiveness of this exercise, focus on three things:

Your grip. You should use an overhand grip (palms facing down) with a slightly wider than shoulder-width distance between your hands. Keep your wrists straight throughout the movement.

Your form. Keep your elbows tucked close to your sides as you slowly raise the bar and return it to the starting position. Keep tension on the muscles throughout the entire range of motion (ROM). Don’t let gravity do the work for you!

The mind-to-muscle connection. The key to getting maximum results from any exercise is knowing exactly which muscles are working so that you can focus on isolating those muscles during the exercise.

Why Should You Include Reverse Curls in Your Strength Training Routine?

Most people do biceps curls using a dumbbell in each hand or a barbell with their palms underneath the bar and their wrists in a supinated position. (Pointing toward the ceiling) A standard biceps curl with a supinated grip targets the biceps brachii, the large biceps muscle that when it contacts raises your hands toward your shoulders.  By doing biceps curls using progressive overload, you strengthen your biceps.

Why are strong biceps important? The biceps contract to flex your arm at your elbow joint, but also assists with supination and helps stabilize your shoulder during certain movements like throwing a ball or swinging a bat.

Unlike standard curls, reverse curls also work the brachioradialis muscle, a smaller muscle in your forearms. The brachioradialis is one of the four muscles that comprise the extensor group (which externally rotates your forearm).

The brachioradialis muscle has two functions: it assists in flexing (bending) and extending (straightening) at the elbow joint, and it helps extend at the wrist joint. It’s also the most powerful of the forearm muscles. You also use the brachioradialis when you grip and lift during daily activities such as carrying groceries or pushing a wheelchair. This muscle also helps stabilize the elbow joint during movements such as throwing a ball or swinging a golf club

A More Balanced Arm Workout

When you do reverse curls, you work your biceps and your brachioradialis muscles. Working the brachioradialis muscle strengthens your forearms and also improves your grip strength. By strengthening your forearms and grip, reverse curls can improve your performance when you do standard curls and other exercises where you have to grip a bar. Grip strength can limit how much you can lift on some exercises, thereby limiting strength and hypertrophy gains. Plus, grip strength goes down with age. So, reverse curls help you build and retain grip strength.

Reverse curls give you a more balanced workout. When you do this exercise, you’re working your upper arm and your forearm. Most exercises you do for your upper body don’t target your forearms as much as the reverse curl. You’re still building biceps strength, but the movement also benefits your entire arm.

Should You Approach Reverse Curls Differently Than Standard Curls?

Beyond the difference in grip, there are some other things to keep in mind when doing this exercise. Don’t use the same amount of resistance with reverse curls as you do standard curls. It’s a more challenging movement and you’ll quickly discover you’re not as strong curling with your hands in a pronated position. Reduce the weight of the barbell by at least 30% when you first start. You can always advance the weight as you become more proficient with the movement.

Always control the weight without swinging it or using momentum. Keeping the movement controlled will increase the tension you place on your muscles and reduce the risk of injury.  Don’t stop doing standard curls either. It’s better to alternate reverse curls with standard curls to change the stimulus you place on your muscles.

The Bottom Line

Reverse curls are another approach to working your arms. They offer the advantage of working your entire forearm, not just your biceps. By strengthening your forearms, you get the added benefit of a stronger grip and better performance on other exercises and activities that require a strong grip.


  • Mistry PN, Rajguru J, Dave MR. An anatomical insight into the morphology of the brachialis muscle and its clinical implications. Intern J Anatomy Radiol Surg. 2021;10(2):AO16-AO20.
  • “The Surprising Benefits Of Reverse Curls | Coach – coachmaguk.” 22 Feb. 2022, https://www.coachmag.co.uk/exercises/arm-exercises/3716/the-benefits-of-reverse-curls.
  • “Brachioradialis: Origin, insertion, innervation, action | Kenhub.” 02 Aug. 2022, https://www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/brachioradialis-muscle.
  • “Brachioradialis Muscle Origin, Function & Definition | Body Maps.” 21 Jan. 2018, https://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/brachioradialis-muscle.

Related Articles By Cathe:

6 Powerful Ways to Get More Benefits from Biceps Curls

Why You Should Vary Your Hand and Arm Position When You Do Bicep Curls

Break Out of a Biceps Curls Rut & Get More Shapely Arms with These Exercises

If You Aren’t Doing This Variation on Biceps Curls, You’re Missing Out on Gains

Biceps Curls: Do You Get Better Muscle Activation with the EZ Curl Bar or a Straight Bar?

Blast Those Biceps: Beyond the Basic Biceps Curls

What’s the Best Tempo for Working Your Biceps Muscles?

6 Tips for Building Beautiful Biceps

What Are the Most Effective Biceps Exercises?

Break Out of a Biceps Curls Rut & Get More Shapely Arms with These Exercises

Strength Training: What Is an Eccentric Contraction?

Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs:

STS Strength 90 Day Workout Program
All of Cathe’s Strength & Toning Workout DVDs
Total Body Workouts
Upper Body Workouts

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