Category: Exercises & Workouts

How To Do Bicep Curls With Proper Form

Think back, way back before the words fitness or strength training were even part of your vocabulary. Can you recall the first muscle you ever learned? Chances are it was the biceps. Long considered by the general public to be the hallmark of weight lifting, strength, and, should I dare say it even masculinity. The exercise traditionally regarded as the key to biceps size was bicep curls. This will be the focus of our bio mechanical analysis this month.

The biceps is situated on the front of the upper arm and actually has two muscle bellies lying side by side, thus the name. Although the muscle bellies attach at two different points on the shoulder blade, they are joined at the distal ends by a common tendon of insertion. This tendon weaves between the two bones of the forearm and attaches on the back of the radius (outer of the two).

Arm Anatomy

The biceps is one of three muscles responsible for flexing (bending) the elbow against resistance. It is impossible to totally “isolate” the biceps from the other two elbow flexors, but it is believed that the biceps can be “emphasized” by maintaining a supinated grip (palm up) during resisted elbow flexion or “curling” exercises. (Although they are working considerably during biceps movements, you may want to spend some time emphasizing these other elbow flexors as well, as part of your overall arm routine.)

When performing the barbell curl the first concern is to determine the grip width on the bar. Traditionally we are taught to use a “shoulder width grip”. Now, if you’ve ever attempted this on a regular basis and with considerable weight, you may have detected a sensation that, for lack of better terms, I describe as a “shin-splint” type pain deep within in the wrist or forearms. This is due to the fact that a shoulder width grip on a straight bar violates a key aspect of the skeletal anatomy…the carrying angle.

If you stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides and fully supinate (palms forward) you will notice that your hands do not hang at shoulder width. This lateral angle that appears at the elbow (outward bend of the forearm) is the carrying angle. To grasp a straight bar without recognizing and allowing for your individual carrying angle is a true violation of joint limits and function. Allowing for the carrying angle usually results in a grip that is only an inch or two wider than shoulder width. If you look in the mirror and it appears that your hands are eight inches wider than your shoulders, you may need to check the position of your upper arm. Did you turn your entire arm outward instead of just supinating (turning the palm)? If you’re looking at the inside of your upper arm and elbow in the mirror, then you probably moved more than just your hand/forearm.

Once you’ve got the bar in hand, the key is to define (and practice) the correct path of motion. Traditional instructions only make reference to the motion of the bar. “Curl the bar up to your chin and back down.” This overly simplistic, and actually misdirected teaching, leads to the two major mistakes that ultimately defeat biceps lovers everywhere.

1) Shoulder extension (elbow appears to move backwards) to help initiate the movement, and
2) Shoulder flexion (elbow appears to move forward) to help finish the movement. The result…less biceps involvement and more shoulder work.

Now, let’s back up for a minute and examine this in common terms.

By only being concerned with the fact that the bar is traveling up and down you may miss the most important aspect of the entire exercise – which joints we’re moving.

Try this little experiment…

Stand with you side to a mirror and observe closely while slowly curling a light weight. Does your elbow/upper arm drift backward as you begin the curl? That’s really a shoulder joint motion called extension, and thanks to the posterior deltoid, you really haven’t used much biceps yet.

Now, as you continue, you’ll probably bring your entire arm forward…so far forward that your elbow/upper arm are now in front of your torso. As you finish the motion you’ll notice the elbow joint is directly beneath the bar with your forearm vertical. At this point the anterior deltoid is doing all the work because the weight is balanced over the elbow, therefore elbow joint muscles are not required. Oh sure, you can tighten them and really feel the squeeze, but there is virtually no load on them…and what was the point of the biceps exercise anyway? I thought it was to load/resist the biceps. If the goal was just to tighten without resistance, we didn’t need the weight.

Finally, as you lower the weight, does your elbow/upper arm just travel back behind your body again with very little actual change in the angle between your forearm and upper arm. And even though the weight is all the way down to your legs, is your elbow still bent and positioned behind your torso?

If any of the above was true, then it’s time to re-examine the mechanics and start really working the biceps. The key to the correct motion is to first identify the parts that should not move! You see, the goal is to have the biceps/elbow flexors control the weight, therefore, elbow motion is all that is desired. The shoulder joint should be static. Therefore your upper arm will not travel backward or forward at any point during the exercise. From the side you should detect an arc of travel of the bar as it moves around the axis at the elbow. When performed correctly, the bar is actually moving “forward,” then “up,” and then inward” in an arc from the bottom to the top of the motion, and the reverse on the return.

Any exercise which emphasizes the biceps will aid in developing big guns if it is performed correctly. Alternate between using the straight barbell, EZ curl bar and dumbbells, your biceps don’t know the difference. Each bicep curls exercise will work the muscles in a different way, which is extremely important for mass development.

Exercise FAQ

Warming Up For Exercise

Warming up prepares the body for physical action. The process involves stretching exercises and physical activities that gradually heat the muscles and elevate the heart rate. A brisk walk, slow jog, jogging or hopping in place, rope jumping, and selected calisthenics will raise the heart rate and increase muscle temperature. Participants should break out in a sweat during the warm-up. This indicates that heart rate and body temperature have increased to some extent and the individual is ready for more vigorous activity. The warm-up should last 5 to 10 minutes.

Increasing the heart rate gradually during the warm-up period is most important. This allows the circulatory system to adjust to the load. If the heart rate elevates suddenly, circulation cannot adjust rapidly enough to meet the oxygen and nutrient demands of the heart muscle. The effects of this lag time are abolished in about 2 minutes, but this practice can be potentially hazardous, particularly for those with compromised circulation caused by latent or subclinical heart disease. Even the healthy heart may be affected by eliminating this important phase of warm-up. One study showed that each of 44 healthy male subjects, ages 21 to 52 years, had normal electrocardiogram (ECG) responses to running on a treadmill when they were allowed a warm-up consisting of 2 minutes of easy jogging. However, 70% of the group developed abnormal ECG responses to the same exercise when they were not allowed to warm-up.

Warm-up may be specifically tailored to the activity to be performed. For example, joggers may warm-up by slowly jogging the first 1/2 to 3/4 mile, gradually speeding up to the desired pace. Cyclists, swimmers, cross country skiers, and rope skippers may use the same approach.

Passive warm-up techniques, such as massage, sauna baths, steam baths, hot showers, hot towels, and heating pads, should not be used as a substitute for an active warm-up. These techniques may precede an active warm-up if you feel stiff and sore from the previous workout.

Cooling Down From Exercise

The cool down is as important as the warm-up. Cool down should last 8 to 10 minutes and consist of two phases. The first phase involves approximately 5 minutes of walking or other light activities to prevent blood from pooling in the muscles that have been working.

Light activity causes rhythmic contractions of the muscles, which in turn act as a stimulus to circulate blood from the muscles to the heart for redistribution throughout the body. This boost to circulation following exercise, often referred to as the muscle pump, is essential for recovery and shares some of the burden of circulation with the heart. The muscle pump effect does not occur if a period of inactivity follows exercise. An inactive cool down forces the heart to work at a high rate to compensate for the high volume of blood returning to it because of blood pooling in the muscles. The exerciser runs the risk of dizziness, fainting, and more serious consequences associated with diminished blood flow to vital organs.

Light physical activity after exercise also speeds the removal of lactic acid that has accumulated in the muscles. Lactic acid is a fatiguing metabolite resulting from the incomplete breakdown of sugar. It is produced by exercise of high intensity or of long duration.

The second phase of cool down should focus on the stretching exercises performed during the warm ­ up. Most participants find that stretching after exercise is more comfortable and possibly more effective because the muscles are heated and more elastic.

Many activities contribute to one or more components of health related physical fitness. Activity selections should be based on objectives, skill level, availability of equipment, facilities, instruction, climate, and interest. Any rhythmic, continuous aerobic activity that uses large muscle groups, and can be performed for an extended period of time is suitable for the attainment of health and fitness.

The president’s council on physical fitness and sports (PCPFS) enlisted the aid of seven experts to evaluate 14 popular physical activities for their contribution to physical fitness and general well being. Although this assessment occurred several years ago, the ratings are as valid today as when they were originally conceived.

Selected sports have been evaluated for their contribution to the health related components of physical fitness. Lifetime sports (such as tennis, badminton, and racquetball) are more conducive for fitness development than team sports (such as volleyball, soccer, softball, and basketball) because fewer players are needed. Ideally, fitness should be developed and maintained primarily through self paced activities (for example, jogging, cycling, walking, and swimming), but the challenge inherent in sports may be necessary to sustain the fitness program for some people. Lifetime sports are challenging and fun, and they inject variety into the program.

However, fitness attained from these activities depends on skill level and a willingness to exert maximal effort in competition. The orthopedic demands of these activities may be greater than a sedentary beginner can tolerate. Quick stops and starts, bursts of high intensity activity, sudden changes of direction, and rapid twists and turns place a great deal of stress on the musculoskeletal system. The physically fit can handle the aerobic and musculoskeletal requirements of active sports. Attempting to “play yourself into shape” is a mistake. With knowledge of the principles of exercise, warm-up, cool down, and the contribution of various physical activities to physical fitness, you can design an exercise program using.