How To Do The Zottman Curl

Man performs lowering portion of the Zottman curl using dumbbells
(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

The forearms are neither the easiest nor the most exciting part of your body to train. They don’t look good in beach photos and only impress in social situations when you get a chance to show off your awesome grip strength with a firm handshake.

That doesn’t mean you should neglect them, however, because a strong grip will be a major boon when you attempt all manner of other lifts, not to mention life-or-death situations. Should you ever find yourself hanging from a ledge, you’ll definitely regret spending all your time on squats when you could have been building stronger forearms.

If you’re still not convinced of the merits of forearm training, the Zottman curl might be a good way to ease yourself in, because the exercise also helps build bulging biceps while working your lower arms. In fact, because you rotate the dumbbell as you perform the curl you hit the entire biceps group of muscles. That’s greater functional strength and bigger mirror muscles courtesy of one simple arm exercise. Why isn’t everyone doing Zottman curls?

How To Do The Zottman Curl

Hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides with your palms facing. Curl the weights up to your shoulders, keeping your upper arms still and turning your hands so your palms face up as you lift. Pause at the top of the movement and slowly rotate your grip so your palms are facing downwards. Lower the dumbbells slowly back to the starting position using this overhand grip, counting for three to five beats as you lower the weight to make sure you’re not moving it too quickly. When the dumbbells are close to your thighs again, turn your hands so your palms are in the starting position facing one another. You can perform Zottman curls with both arms at the same time, or alternate the arm you lift with.

What weight should you choose for the Zottman curl?

Don’t go heavy because the slow lowering section of the Zottman curl will quickly become impossible if you overdo the weight, and the dumbbells will descend too fast. That said, if you do want a target weight to build up to, 19th-century strongman George Zottman—the man the exercise is named after—used to do it with 22.5kg weights.

Zottman Curl Benefits

Named after early-20th-century American strongman George Zottman, this curl variation offers a more comprehensive approach to building bigger arms than the standard biceps curl.

“I absolutely love Zottman curls and have been on a mission to get everyone to incorporate them into their routine,” says certified strength coach Melissa Kendter.

About Our Expert
About Our Expert
Melissa Kendter

Melissa Kendter is a functional strength coach, ACE-certified personal trainer and UESCA running coach. She is the owner of Melissa Kendter Fitness LLC, which provides workout programs to clients of all experience levels. 

What are Zottman curls good for?

“It utilizes different hand positioning at different portions of the lift to maximize arm growth,” says Kendter. “The first portion, a regular curl, allows the lifter to focus on their biceps strength, and the lowering phase is a controlled reverse curl.”

The beauty of this, says Kendter, is you can use a heavier weight than you would normally be able to use for a reverse curl, “allowing you to overload the forearms” during the eccentric (lowering) phase of the lift for growth in this area. 

Zottman Curl Variations

Reverse curl

Man demonstrates two positions of the reverse curl

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

If you’re ready to go full forearm with your curl, then skip the rotation part of the Zottman and do a reverse curl. Holding dumbbells with your palms facing you means you target the brachioradialis (which links the biceps to the forearm) and the upper forearm muscles, with less focus on the biceps.

Hold dumbbells in a reverse grip with your hands hip-width apart. Slowly lift them to your shoulders, keeping your elbows close to your sides. Pause at the top of the lift, then slowly lower.

Zottman preacher curl

Combine these two classic curls by resting your arms on a preacher bench during the exercise. In doing so you’ll be putting all the focus on your biceps, with the rotation during the movement ensuring you’re hitting them from different angles.

Set up on a preacher bench with your upper arms resting on it, holding a dumbbell in each hand by your shoulders with your palms facing away from you. Slowly lower the weights until your arms are fully extended, then turn your palms around so they are facing you and curl the weights back up to your shoulders.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.

With contributions from