What is a dumbbell pinwheel curl?
The dumbbell pinwheel curl is a lesser-known exercise that offers numerous benefits. Thanks to the neutral grip, pinwheel curls shift emphasis away from our biceps and target the forearms and brachialis. As a result, the pinwheel curl offers better arm development.
Unlike hammer curls, the pinwheel curl has you lift the dumbbells close to your body, supporting your technique and preventing you from swinging back and forth. The slight technical nuance is beneficial because it allows you to use more weight with the pinwheel curl. As a result, you can cause higher mechanical tension and take advantage of more significant eccentric overload (1).
If you’re looking for a simple dumbbell exercise that allows you to use more weight safely, the pinwheel curl is a great option. The movement is also helpful if you struggle to activate your arm muscles with the traditional hammer curl.
How to do the Pinwheel Curl
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand tall with your shoulders back, chest up, and eyes forward.
- Position both dumbbells slightly in front of your thighs with your palms facing in and back. Your wrists should be in line with your forearms.
- Take a breath and curl one dumbbell in toward your chest until it comes slightly higher than your elbow. Hold the position for a second.
- Exhale and lower the dumbbell to the starting position. Make sure to extend your elbow entirely.
- Repeat with your other arm.
- Keep repeating in an alternating fashion.
What muscles does the dumbbell pinwheel curl activate?
Our biceps are the primary muscle group that works during dumbbell pinwheel curls. As the primary elbow flexors, our biceps have to produce force and shorten, allowing us to complete each repetition (2). The biceps are also active when lowering the weight and extending the elbows.
Dumbbell pinwheel curls also involve the brachialis (the muscle that lies underneath the bicep). The brachialis has a similar function to the bicep because its primary job is elbow flexion (3). Unlike the bicep, the brachialis isn’t involved in wrist pronation or supination, which means that using a neutral grip doesn’t put the muscle at a mechanical disadvantage. In other words, pinwheel curls allow us to emphasize the brachialis with more weight.
The last muscle group involved in the dumbbell pinwheel curl is the brachioradialis. The superficial forearm muscle flexes the forearm at the elbow and assists the bicep and brachialis muscles (4). Because of the bicep’s neutral position and mechanical disadvantage, the brachioradialis activates better, allowing us to complete each repetition.
What is the difference between a dumbbell pinwheel curl and hammer curl?
The dumbbell pinwheel curl and hammer curl are exercises where you lift and lower weight with a neutral wrist position (palms facing one another). Both movements feature the same range of motion and involve the same muscle groups: the biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis.
The primary difference between pinwheel and hammer curls is the direction of lifting the weight. You move the weight forward when doing hammer curls and across your body during pinwheel curls. The subtle difference in technique means that both movements affect us slightly differently.
Most notably, pinwheel curls allow us to keep the weight closer to the body, which means we can use slightly heavier dumbbells and maintain good technique. In contrast, hammer curls feature a forward motion, which moves the dumbbells farther from us, and can more easily result in swinging and using momentum.
Both exercises offer benefits for trainees, and you can take advantage of either in your training. You can even switch between the two movements at regular intervals. For example, do pinwheel curls for eight weeks, then switch to hammer curls for a couple of months. Which movement you choose to emphasize will also depend on preference. Some people feel better muscle activation with hammer curls and others – by doing the pinwheel curl.
Variations and Modifications of the Dumbbell Pinwheel Curl
1. Hammer Curl
Hammer curls are the most popular variation. As discussed above, both movements are identical, and their primary difference comes from the plane of motion. Instead of lifting the weight across your body, you would move it forward, similar to a traditional bicep curl.
2. Slow- Eccentric Pinwheel Curl
The slow eccentric pinwheel curl is a variation where you lift the weight as usual but prolong the lowering portion.In doing so, you engage the bicep, brachialis, and brachioradialis muscles more and cause more significant overload.
3. Single-Arm Pinwheel Preacher Curl
Single-arm pinwheel preacher curls are a variation where you train one arm at a time. Instead of doing them standing, you sit inside a preacher bench and place your upper arm against the pad. In doing so, you isolate your arm muscles and prevent the rest of your body from helping you through the use of momentum and swinging.
Mistakes to Avoid
A common pinwheel curl mistake to avoid is cutting the range of motion short. For example, you would lift the dumbbell to the top position but lower it halfway before raising it again. Doing so is unproductive because you deprive the involved muscles of a good stretch and only get half the benefit. Avoid the mistake by extending your elbows on each repetition.
Another common mistake to avoid when doing pinwheel curls is to turn the movement into an ego lift. Pinwheel curls indeed allow you to use slightly more weight. But some trainees push these boundaries and do the exercise with dumbbells they cannot control. Always pick loads that allow you to train with a full range of motion and smooth technique.
The third mistake to avoid is moving your elbows. Any effective bicep curl exercise requires steady elbows. Meaning, you have to lock your elbows in position and avoid moving them back and forth as you lift and lower the weight. In doing so, you ensure that your biceps and forearms do all the work and that you train through a full range of motion.
Similar Exercises to the Dumbbell Pinwheel Curl
Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)
The dumbbell curl is a classic exercise that strengthens our biceps. The movement is similar to dumbbell pinwheel curls because both have a similar range of motion, train our biceps, and require a pair of dumbbells.
Bicep and dumbbell pinwheel curls work well together into the same routine. Classic curls emphasize our biceps, whereas pinwheel curls shift the emphasis to the forearms, resulting in better arm development.
Seated Incline Curl (Dumbbell)
The incline bench bicep curl is a unique movement where your arms stay behind your torso as you curl. The unique position allows you to stretch your biceps better, resulting in superior growth.
Incline bench curls are similar to pinwheel curls precisely because both movements have a similar range of motion and build up your biceps.
Bicep Curl (Barbell)
The barbell bicep curl might seem like a unique movement, but it carries similarities to pinwheel curls. Most notably, both exercises allow you to overload your biceps with more weight, resulting in greater mechanical tension.