Arm Exercise: The Bicep Curl

What is it for?

The Bicep Curl is probably one of the most popular exercises, especially with men who are a bit vain about their appearance. It is also a good exercise to practise for everybody as it has a very functional purpose through our daily lives. The bicep itself helps the back muscles to pull things towards you, for example in an isolated movement we use them to pick lighter objects up to place them on a table, desk or work surface. From the diagram you can see that it is the muscle positioned on the front of our upper arm highlighted in red in Fig.1. The bicep’s main job is to bend your lower arm up at your elbow. It is also used to aid the movement of bringing your arm straight up at the shoulder joint and last but not least to supinate your lower arm which means with your elbow at 90 degrees and your palm facing down it helps turn your palm to face up. If you try this you should be able to see the bicep shorten.

Equipment

For the Bicep Curl you will need some sort of resistance. So for the weaker of you choose the bag of sugar or tin can (full). For those of you who would not be pushed as much by this you can go for the Dumbbells (make sure you pick a weight that is not too heavy and allows you to complete the exercise with correct technique – .) or a resistance band (a large rubber band with handles that are used for exercise – .). A mirror would be a good addition to check your technique in.

Technique

For the inexperienced it may seem like all you have to do is bend your arm whilst holding a weight. This is not the case at all. Yes you have to bend your lower arm up, but you also have to make sure that you prevent your body from “cheating”, that’s the important part. Our bodies naturally like to cheat and will therefore find the easiest way to complete an exercise. It will do this by bringing in other muscles to help with the movement. You can watch people at your gym and see if you notice any of these bad techniques:

Shoulder Shrug: The shoulder rises up to aid the movement

The Body Swing: The whole upper body swings backwards to will the weights up.

These bad techniques often occur because of one reason: we think we are stronger than we really are! By selecting a resistance that is too heavy for our biceps our bodies will recruit other muscles to help get the weight up. This is bad because it can cause an injury that could take months to repair. Being aware of this will help you understand what a good technique really is and you will avoid any unnecessary injuries. To help prevent the body swing, draw your tummy muscles in to keep those muscles firm and tight.

Let’s get to the correct technique now. Stand in front of a mirror and hold your chosen weight in your hand with your palm facing forwards and your whole arm straight down beside your body. This is the start position. Now bring your hand up and towards your body, bending your arm at the elbow. Make sure in the mirror that your shoulder doesn’t raise up and that your body doesn’t swing to will the weight up. It is just the arm that should be moving in this exercise and more accurately the lower arm. The upper arm may move slightly forwards but keep this movement as small as possible – ideally there should be none. The movement itself should be slow and controlled taking about 2 seconds to get it to the top. When at the top the only way is down but keep this slow and controlled as well, again it should take 2 seconds on the way back down to the starting position. There you have it, you have completed one repetition. It is tempting on the way down to allow the shoulder to come in to help, don’t let it! It is also tempting to stop short of the original start position on the way down before beginning the second repetition. This is the body cheating as it knows it will be easier to complete by performing shorter movements. Again, don’t let this happen and make sure your arm returns to the start position. In some cases it is advised that you curl your wrist in towards your body as you lift the weight, it doesn’t actually matter if you do or you don’t as it has no effect on your biceps. Finally remember to breathe throughout the movement in a slow controlled manner.

 

The Do’s

Complete the movement slowly
Breathe in a slow controlled manner
Keep your body upright
Pick a weight that pushes you but still allows you to keep a good technique
Keep your stomach muscles drawn in and firm

The Don’ts

Don’t swing the shoulders
Don’t shrug your shoulders
Don’t swing your body
Don’t hold your breath
Don’t pick a weight that is too heavy
In your Program

The Bicep Curl is a good exercise to add to your workout. There are many ways that it can be added and many different combinations of sets and repetitions to achieve different goals. Make sure that the Bicep Curl comes towards the end of your workout if you are doing a full body workout. As a rule the larger muscles should come before the smaller muscles (there are exceptions but I will cover that another time). For example, legs come before chest and back, which come before shoulders. Shoulders come before arms, which in turn come before abs. If you follow this rule you should always have enough energy for the bigger muscles.

And a Warning…

Bicep exercises are one of the safest exercises that are out there as long as you don’t pick a weight that is too heavy. By picking that heavy weight you are exercising other muscles as well as the biceps, which means the emphasis is taken off the bicep and the results will be less effective than if you chose a weight where you can keep a perfect technique.

Good luck and as always any questions please send them through.