Bulk Up Your Biceps With Dumbbell Curls
Time to work on your glamour muscles with our form guide to biceps curls
In This Series
- Biceps Curls Guide
- Dumbbell Curls
- EZ-Bar Curl
- Barbell Curl
- Concentration Curl
- Hammer Curl
- Preacher Curl
- Reverse Curls
- Zottman Curl
- Spider Curl
Working out any muscle is a good thing, but there are clearly some parts of the body where extra focus brings with it certain benefits. It’s never going to hurt to have huge upper arms when out on the town, and sometimes all you want to do after a workout is gaze in the mirror and tense something impressive – hey, we all do it. For that purpose, you can’t go wrong with biceps curls, but it’s not all about glamour. Working your arms with curls and other variations can improve your grip strength, which can make all the difference when you’re trying to push through those last few pull-ups and other pulling exercises.
How To Do Dumbbell Curls
Grab a pair of dumbbells. Don’t opt for weights you can barely lift – you’re looking to complete whatever set and rep range your training demands (ten to 12 reps is common if you’re aiming for growing bigger muscles) so that the final few reps present a challenge to complete. Obviously this takes some experimenting to get right, so when you’re starting out it’s worth making a mental note after every session of whether or not your choice of weight worked.
Hold the dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing forwards. Bend at the elbow to curl the weights up to your chest. Don’t lean back and don’t swing the dumbbells as you’re using momentum to lift rather than your muscles. Correct that by fixing your elbows to your sides and keeping your upper arms still throughout the rep. Shoot for three sets.
You can opt to curl both dumbbells at the same time or alternate them, but either way it’s vital to lower the weight back to the start point after each rep in order to stretch the muscle properly and work all the muscle fibres.
Dumbbell Biceps Curl Workout
Follow this quick workout to build strength in your arms: complete a set of five reps with a heavy weight, making sure that you lower the weight or weights under control. Reduce the weights as you increase the reps with minimal rest. Go from five reps to eight to 12, then work to failure.
Dumbbell Biceps Curl Form Tips
Drop the weight
Not literally, at the end of the set, but at the beginning – by decreasing the load you lift.
Why it works: “So many people think that growing bigger biceps means using bigger dumbbells, but that’s not the case,” says former Royal Marines PTI Sean Lerwill. “Reducing the weight and performing slow and controlled reps will build muscle faster because it makes your biceps do all the work so you can’t cheat using momentum.”
Fix your elbows
Fix your elbows
“Your elbows need to be locked into the right position, close to your sides, so they don’t move when you lift then lower the weight,” says Lerwill.
Why it works: If your elbows move during a rep, you’re taking tension off your biceps. “You can also make the move even more effective by keeping your elbows behind your body. This will prevent any cheat reps and keep the biceps engaged,” Lerwill adds.
Rotate your wrists
One of the main roles of the biceps muscles is to externally rotate your wrists, so use this to your advantage during dumbbell curls.
Why it works: “Start with your palms facing each other. Then, as you lift each dumbbell, start to rotate your wrists so you finish in the top position with your palms facing the fronts of your shoulders,” says Lerwill. “Reverse the movement as you lower to activate more muscle fibres.”
Squeeze at the top
One of the best ways to add muscle size is to get a good pump, and squeezing your biceps at the top of a curl will achieve this.
Why it works: “Getting a pump looks and feels great, but science suggests it’s also an important factor in initiating a muscular growth response,” says Lerwill. “Pausing to squeeze your biceps at the top of each rep reinforces your mind-muscle connection, and pumps more blood into the tissue.”
Take your time
If building bigger biceps is a race, think of it as more of a marathon than a sprint.
Why it works: “Rushing your reps is one of the biggest gym sins because you won’t work the muscles anywhere near hard enough, so you’re ultimately wasting your time,” says Lerwill. “Keeping to a strict tempo of curling the weight up powerfully and lowering it slowly makes a huge difference to unlocking growth potential.”
Tense your triceps
Fully straightening your arm at the bottom of each curl rep ensures you move through the fullest range of motion.
Why it works: “When you tense your triceps to fully straighten your arm before you start another curl, it makes your biceps muscles move through a full range and work harder,” says Lerwill. “It also acts to refocus your mind ahead of every rep, and greater focus means greater results.”
See related :
- The Best Biceps Workout
- The Biceps Exercises You Need To Get Bigger Biceps
- The Simplest (And Most Effective!) Dumbbell Biceps Workout You Can Find
Biceps Curls Variations
Biceps Curls Variations
If you find you can’t stop yourself using a little thrusting momentum to generate extra momentum when you’re struggling towards the end of a set, try sitting down. Placing your back against the pad locks your hips into place, putting all the emphasis on your biceps.
With the backrest set to 90°, sit with your back flat against the pad and your feet flat on the floor. Start with your palms facing forwards and elbows tucked in to your sides, head up and core muscles tight. Curl the dumbbells towards your shoulders, pause, then lower slowly under control.
Incline dumbbell curl
By lying back on an incline bench, you maintain the resistance on your biceps throughout the full range of the curl. Set the bench at 30-45°.
Gym ball dumbbell curl
Sitting on a gym ball requires you to hold your core muscles tight to prevent wobble, thus demanding perfect posture. Pick a ball size that lets you sit with knees bent at 90°. Sit upright and hold your core tight. Naturally, start with a lighter dumbbell than usual while you get used to the additional challenge.
Switch your grip on the weights so your palms are facing behind you at the start of the curl. Make sure you use lighter weights than with the standard biceps curl, because this is a tricky variation that will test your grip and forearm strength to the max. The benefit of building greater grip and forearm strength will become obvious when you tackle pretty much any other lift, so the reverse curl is well worth adding to your workout schedule.
This variation targets the brachialis muscle, which is found on the outside of your upper arms next to the biceps. It’s an oft-neglected part of the body and if you’re hitting the gym with the specific aim of building massive upper arms, you’re going to want to target your brachialis muscles. You can do this with the hammer curl, which largely employs the same form as the biceps curl with the key difference being that you hold the dumbbells with your palms facing each other throughout the movement.
While the dumbbell biceps curl is great for working each arm in isolation, when you really want to increase the weight you’re lifting it’s best to use a barbell. Don’t lean back during the exercise to help lift the bar – if you feel you need to, you’ve probably been overambitious with the weight you’ve chosen. Try lifting with your back flat against a wall to learn how to avoid this.
Additional reporting by Scott Blake (@Scott_Blakey (opens in new tab))
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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.