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Bicep Curl (Dumbbell) – How to Instructions, Proper Exercise Form and Tips

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Benefits of Dumbell Bicep Curls

The dumbbell bicep curl is arguably one of the most popular gym exercises today. But despite its popularity, many people struggle to master the exercise and cannot reap its full benefits. 

When done correctly, curls emphasize, strengthen, and develop the biceps. Plus, thanks to tweaks in technique, you can work your biceps in unique ways and cause a more varied growth stimulus. 

Solid biceps might not seem all that important, but these muscles play an essential role in elbow flexion, which occurs hundreds of times each day. From picking something off the floor to playing sports, the biceps assist countless upper body motions. 

You can include bicep curls into your training as you see fit. For example, some trainees enjoy having an arm workout, which allows them to do bicep curls early on and train the muscle with more weight. Alternatively, you can include bicep curls near the end of your push or pull workouts.

How to do a Dumbbell Bicep Curl

  1. Grab a pair of dumbbells that allow you to do at least ten smooth repetitions.
  2. Stand tall with your shoulders back, gaze forward, and arms to the sides. Your feet should be hip-width apart.
  3. With your arms straight, twist your wrists to point forward.
  4. Take a breath and curl both dumbbells up until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows. Throughout the entire repetition, your elbows and shoulders should remain stationary.
  5. Hold the contraction for a second as you exhale and bring both dumbbells down until your arms are straight.
  6. Inhale again and repeat.

What muscles does a dumbbell bicep curl activate?

Bicep curls are an isolation exercise that develops your biceps, which cover the front side of your upper arms (1). The muscle’s primary function is elbow flexion (arm bending), which occurs during every repetition (2). Flexing your elbows against resistance forces your biceps to work extra hard, strengthening them and leading to growth. 

Dumbbell curls are particularly beneficial for the bicep because of wrist rotation. Aside from flexing the elbows, our biceps cause wrist supination, which we can include at the top of each repetition. For example, as you curl the dumbbell, rotate your wrist to the ceiling and finish the repetition that way. Doing so is beneficial for activating your biceps slightly more, possibly causing a more potent growth stimulus.

The dumbbell curl also develops the brachialis muscle, which lies underneath the bicep and produces elbow flexion (1).

Tips on how to Master the Dumbbell Bicep Curl 

Making the most of the dumbbell bicep curl requires three things:

  1. Training through a full range of motion
  2. Supinating your wrists
  3. Lifting the weight smoothly and with control

While simple, the bicep curl can be challenging to master, and countless trainees do the movement suboptimally even after years of training. 

The first step to mastering the dumbbell curl (and any exercise, really) is to pick the appropriate weight that allows you to train safely. You should be able to do at least 12 to 15 smooth repetitions with a full range of motion—anything less borders on ego lifting, especially for less experienced trainees.

Once you’ve picked the appropriate load, the next step is to ensure that you’re performing each repetition with a full range of motion. You have to extend your arms fully and flex until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows. Holding the top position can also help with the mind-muscle connection. Also, rotate your wrists to the ceiling at the top of each repetition to contract your biceps even more. 

Lifting the dumbbells smoothly and keeping your elbows in a steady position is vital for keeping the tension on your biceps.

Variations and Modifications of the Dumbbell Bicep Curl

1. Dumbbell Bicep Curl With a Pause

Dumbbell bicep curls with a pause are an effective variation you can do to improve your technique and establish a good mind-muscle connection. The pause at the top forces your biceps to work extra hard, making the movement useful, especially if you don’t have access to heavier dumbbells.

2. Preacher Curl

Preacher curls are a variation where you place the back of your upper arms on a preacher bench and do curls. Doing so allows you to emphasize your biceps even more and prevent other muscle groups from contributing.

3. Incline Dumbbell Curl

Incline dumbbell curls are a variation where you sit on an incline bench with your arms to your sides and perform curls. The unique position of your arms relative to your torso allows you to stretch your biceps better, possibly leading to more growth.

Mistakes to Avoid

One of the most common mistakes with bicep curls is shortening the range of motion. Many trainees curl the dumbbells to the top position but lower them halfway down, robbing their biceps of a good stretch. Using a full range of motion on every repetition is vital for getting the most out of the exercise and growing effectively. Curl the dumbbell until your wrist is slightly higher than your elbow, then extend your arm fully on the way down.

Another mistake with bicep curls is swinging your body and using momentum to curl the weights. Doing so might allow you to train with heavier dumbbells, but it doesn’t offer any real benefits. If anything, swinging back and forth robs your biceps of the tension, they need to grow. Avoid the mistake by curling the weights smoothly, ensuring that your biceps do all the work from start to finish.

The third mistake to avoid with bicep curls is not rotating your wrists up at the top. As discussed earlier, our biceps are responsible for wrist supination, so including that motion near the top allows for a stronger bicep contraction.

Similar Exercises to the Dumbbell Bicep Curl

Hammer Curl (Dumbbell)

man hammer curl dumbbell

Hammer curls are an effective variation that trains your biceps and brachioradialis more evenly. The goal is to maintain a neutral wrist position (palms facing in) from start to finish. Compared to bicep curls, hammer curls allow you to use slightly more weight and overload both muscle groups.

Bicep Curl (Barbell)

man dumbbell bicep curl

Barbell curls are a classic bicep exercise that effectively strengthens and develops the muscle group (1). Using a barbell allows you to train both sides simultaneously, saving time. Plus, you can use more weight and cause greater mechanical tension.

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