5 Ways to Do Biceps Curls
Want strong, defined arms? Master these curl variations and watch them transform.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The biceps curl is one of those exercises everyone already thinks they know how to do or is too basic to improve on. Just grab a pair of dumbbells and start curling, right?
The reality is there are several ways to do biceps curls to not only improve your arm development but also to take your upper-body strength to a whole new level.
Here are five must-try curl variations to help you strengthen and define your biceps so you can keep rocking it at the gym and everywhere else!
1. Hammer Curl
The hammer curl is one of the ways to do biceps curls most of us learn in the gym, often because it’s actually easier to perform than the palms-up version. Keeping your palms turned in in the “hammer” position recruits the forearm muscles and the brachioradialis. As a result, you’re able to lift more weight than a standard biceps curl. This makes the hammer curl a great way to do biceps curls for beginners to build strength as well as advanced lifters looking to lift more weight.
To perform the hammer curl, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides and your palms facing in. Keeping your upper arms stationary, hinge at the elbows to lift the dumbbells up, keeping your palms facing in throughout the movement. Pause at the top, then lower with control.
Pro Tip: It’s easy to accidentally swing your arms with this variation, so pay extra attention to make sure your upper arms and elbows stay stationary.
2. Kettlebell Curl
If you’re at all familiar with kettlebells, then you know they’re not exactly designed for biceps curls. Swings, squats, cleans, get-ups and carries, yes — but curls, no. However, if some of these advanced kettlebell moves are part of your lifting program, you can use kettlebell curls to build the strength and skill you’ll need to master them.
What makes the kettlebell so awkward to curl is the uneven weight distribution. As fitness entrepreneur Hannah Eden explains in her popular training program, you have to learn how to move around the kettlebell so it won’t bang into your arm. “The kettlebell shouldn’t hurt,” she explains. “It takes the right technique to master this radical tool.”
Instead of curling, Eden prefers moves like the single-arm clean as a way to do a biceps curl with a kettlebell that she can incorporate into a variety of flows that suit her fast-paced style.
Think about which kettlebell moves you’d like to master and let that dictate how you curl the kettlebell. For example, if you perform goblet squats in your split, grip each side of the handle and practice curling the kettlebell up to your chest. If you’d like to get better at cleans, practice rotating your arm around the kettlebell like Eden does in a slower, more controlled movement so you can perform the same feat at speed. As a way to do a biceps curl and simultaneously build more strength for carries, grip the handle and curl the kettlebell to the bottoms-up position or practice a 90-degree hold.
Pro Tip: Safety first. Start with a lighter kettlebell to get comfortable with the awkward mechanics before moving on to heavier weights.
3. Zottman Curl
Named for American strongman George Zottman, the Zottman curl is one of the most popular ways to do a biceps curl among serious lifters because it strengthens your grip and improves your form. By using a palms-up grip to pull the weight up and a palms-down grip to lower, this movement targets key muscles in the wrists and forearms that will help strengthen your grip for your heavier lifts.
To perform a Zottman curl, hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms by your sides and your palms facing forward. Keeping your upper arms and elbows stationary, flex your biceps to curl the dumbbells up. At the top of the curl, rotate both arms so your palms face forward. Lower the weights with control, then rotate your arms again at the bottom to reset for the next curl.
Pro Tip: Slow and steady wins on this exercise. Take your time with each portion of the curl, especially the eccentric lowering half.
4. Lying Curl
One of the hardest lifting habits to break is the tendency to swing your arms when you curl. Lucky for you, lying down is one of the ways to do a biceps curl that makes it impossible to swing, forcing your biceps to do all the work. It’s great for a dedicated arm day and perfect for any fitness level looking to fix their
Use a cable machine or a band for this exercise. Lie on your back on the floor with your feet pointed at the anchor point for your band or cable. Hold the handles in each hand with your arms by your sides and palms facing up. Keeping your elbows on the floor, bend your arms to curl the handles toward your head. Do not let your upper arms leave the floor. Pause at the top of the contraction before lowering your arms back down with control.
Pro Tip: Once you’ve gotten all the swing out of your curl, stand up and face away from the band or cable. This will extend your arms back slightly and increase the range of motion on your biceps curl.
5. TRX Biceps Curl
The chin-up is such an amazing biceps exercise, but if you haven’t gotten there yet, this exercise is a great way to do a biceps curl and build enough strength to get you up to the bar. The best way to get into position is to go backward from the top of the curl.
Stand holding the handles of your suspension system with both hands under your chin, palms facing you with your arms together and your elbows pointing out. Make sure all the slack is out of the TRX. Lift your toes to use your heels as a pivot point. Extend both arms, keeping your elbows close together and your body straight as you lower back with control. When your arms are fully extended, your body should be tilted back holding onto the handles with your palms facing up. Reverse the motion and bend your elbows, curling your hands back toward your chin to begin the first rep.
Pro Tip: Adjust the intensity of this exercise by moving your feet forward to make it more difficult or farther back to make it easier.