Why is it beneficial to do Reverse Curls?
Reverse curls are a lesser-known and often overlooked exercise that offers numerous unique benefits. To do the reverse curl, you have to engage your biceps with your palms facing down. You can use dumbbells, straight bars, an EZ bar, cable attachments, and more. The reverse curl is highly beneficial because it engages your forearms better, which grows them and strengthens your grip.
As a direct benefit, you’re able to hold onto heavier weights, carry things in your daily life with ease, and enjoy well-developed forearms. Plus, you can easily include reverse curls into your bicep training without changing much.
How to a Reverse Curl
- Add weight to an EZ bar. Begin with roughly half of what you can bicep curl.
- Grab the bar with an even overhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Stand tall, straighten your arms, and have the bar rest against your thighs.
- Bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, straighten your wrists, and take a breath.
- Curl the EZ bar up until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows. Don’t use momentum to lift the weight.
- Hold the top position for a moment. You should feel your biceps and the front of your forearms working. Don’t let your wrists bend in any direction; have them in line with your forearms.
- Lower the EZ bar slowly, making sure to extend your elbows at the bottom as you exhale.
- Take another breath and repeat.
The above instructions were for the EZ bar reverse curl, but they also apply to dumbbells, straight bars, and more.
What muscles do reverse curls activate?
The primary muscle involved in reverse curl is the bicep. As the elbow flexor, your bicep works during all sorts of curling exercises, including those you do with palms facing down.
Similarly, reverse curls train your brachialis – the large muscle underneath the bicep that assists elbow flexion. As you develop this muscle group, it pushes the bicep up, making it more prominent. Reverse curls also train some of your forearm muscles. Most notably, the movement involves your brachioradialis, which is more active and assists the bicep better because of your hand position (1).
Aside from these muscles, reverse curls can also involve your core and upper back, both of which contract isometrically to keep you in position. But given that you’ll be doing reverse curls with a lighter weight, stability requirements won’t be that high.
Reverse Curls Vs. Bicep Curls
At first glance, reverse and bicep curls seem similar and interchangeable. Do either of the two, and you’ll be okay. It’s true to some degree. Both movements revolve around elbow flexion and involve your biceps. But upon further inspection, you notice that there is one significant difference that dictates how each activity impacts you.
To do bicep curls, your hands have to face up, which puts your biceps at a mechanical advantage (2). As a result, your biceps do most of the work, grow, and get stronger. Bicep curls also allow you to lift slightly more weight, especially when using a straight or EZ bar.
Reverse curls have you lift the weight in the same way but with palms facing down. Doing so puts the relatively small (and weaker) brachioradialis muscle at a mechanical advantage. As a result, the muscle plays a much more significant role, and you feel your forearms working much more. The downside is, by putting your brachioradialis at an advantage, your biceps can’t contribute as much, which means you have to train with a lighter weight (1).
Variations and Modifications of the Reverse Curl
1. Dumbbell Reverse Curl
The dumbbell reverse curl is simply a variation where you do the movement with a pair of dumbbells. You can lift both dumbbells simultaneously or alternate between left and right.
2. Cable Machine Reverse Curl
The cable machine reverse curl is a variation where you attach a straight bar on a cable pulley machine and curl the weight as you usually would.
3. Reverse Curl 21s
Similar to classic 21s, this variation has you do 21 total repetitions. You do the first half of the range of motion for seven reps, then the middle to top half for another seven reps, and finish with seven complete reps. Doing so is excellent for maximizing time under tension and metabolic stress (3).
4. Pause Reverse Curls
Pause reverse curls are a variation where you lift the weight and hold the top position for one to three seconds. The variation is good for increasing time under tension and making your forearms burn.
Mistakes to Avoid
A common mistake to avoid with reverse curls is lifting as much weight as you do when doing a bicep curl. Yes, reducing weight isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary to maintain proper technique, train the right muscles, and achieve good results.
Another common mistake is using momentum and a partial range of motion. When you use too much weight, you can’t lift it smoothly and through the full range of motion. Instead, your body finds ways to overcompensate, which means using a shorter range of motion and momentum. The problem is that doing so removes the tension from the muscles you want to develop, defeating the movement’s whole purpose.
The third mistake to avoid is doing reverse curls at the end of your workouts, almost like an afterthought. Give reverse curls some of your attention earlier in your workouts. Doing so allows you to train your forearms in a more recovered state, do more productive work, and cause a stronger disruption.
Similar Exercises to the Reverse Curl:
Hammer Curl (Dumbbell)
Hammer curls are a fantastic movement because they are in the middle between reverse and bicep curls. Specifically, your hands are in a neutral position (palms facing in), which means the hammer curl trains your biceps and forearms more evenly.
Wrist Extensions (Dumbbell)
To do the dumbbell wrist extension, you have to position your forearm on something (such as a gym bench) and only have your wrist hang in the air with your palm facing down. You would then begin to move your wrist up and down, which allows you to isolate the brachioradialis muscle.
Preacher Reverse Curl
Similar to preacher curls, you do this variation on a preacher bench. The goal is to curl the weight while resting your arms on a large pad, which prevents you from using momentum.
The Zottman curl is essentially a mix of bicep and reverse curls with dumbbells. You curl the weight with your palms facing down, rotate your wrist 180 degrees at the top, and lower the weight with your palms facing up. The movement reinforces proper technique and trains your forearms and biceps more evenly.