Many men as well as women are very guilty of improper bicep curl technique. These mistakes are common not only with dumbbell workouts, but also with the barbell bicep curl and the “preacher” machine.
Whether you’re looking to gain huge guns, moderate-size muscles, greater curling strength or a nicely sculpted biceps muscle group, cheating will keep you from achieving your best results.
Proper bicep curl form is an absolute must for hypertrophy, strength gains and overall smart conditioning of the body.
Common Mistakes With Bicep Curls Technique
1. Preacher Machine Rise
As the weight is lowered, the trainee (almost always a man) rises from the seat. This cheats him of the negative or eccentric phase of the lift. The negative/eccentric phase is the lowering or release of the weight.
During this phase, the muscle belly lengthens against resistance (the resistance of controlling the weight as it’s lowered).
When one rises, significant load is transferred from the biceps to the legs, thereby stripping the arms of a very important element of the lift: the eccentric phase.
This kind of cheating is known as muscle substitution pattern.
Exercise physiologists believe that most muscle cell damage occurs during this negative portion, and in order to build muscle, it must be torn down or damaged.
Performing just the positive (concentric) phase isn’t sufficient to cause much hypertrophy (muscle growth).
Cheating like this will also prevent good strength gains. Strength means efficiently raising as well as lowering a weight.
Solution: Remain seated at all times. If you cannot lower the weight without rising, then the weight is too heavy.
2. Incomplete Negatives
This occurs with the preacher machine, free dumbbell and free barbell curl. The trainee lowers the weight only part-way, sometimes only half-way when using the preacher equipment, before curling it back up again.
This deprives many muscle fibers from work and fools the trainee into believing he (or she) is stronger than he actually is.
The funny thing is, most people would never consider doing a lat pull-down, seated row or bench press only half-way; so why do a preacher, dumbbell or barbell bicep curl only half-way?
Think of this as working only half the muscle tissue. There’s no sense to this if you want muscle growth or attractive tone.
Solution: Reduce the load so that it’s possible to lower the weight into a full negative. This means that the forearms almost touch the pad before doing the next repetition with the preacher version.
For free weights, the arms get lowered to almost straight, just shy of a complete hang, before doing the next rep.
3. Hyperextending The Back During Standing Curls
This is another muscle substitution pattern and is sometimes done to the extreme, in which the exerciser is literally rocking his entire body back and forth with each lift and release of the barbell or dumbbells.
Some of the load is transferred to the lower back, depriving many biceps muscle fibers from being trained. Excessive arching of the back during curling may even injure an already weak lower back.
Solution: Stand against a wall to prevent the back arch, or sit against a high back support. If you can’t complete the concentric portion this way, then reduce the load.
4. Elbow Digging
This mistake is almost always committed by women when they use dumbbells. They plant their elbows into their waist above the hip bone, so that the entire back of the upper arms is against their abdomen and chest.
This locks up the upper arm in an unnatural way and imposes limits on how much weight can be lifted. Even if a woman only wants to tone and thus use lighter weights, elbow digging is still bad bicep curl technique.
Solution: Use a mirror and position elbows on either side of body throughout the routine. Elbows should not be against any portion of the body.
5. Upper Arm Traveling
This is seen amongst men and women, in which the upper arms travel forward and away from the body as the weight is curled.
This is a muscle substitution pattern that transfers some of the load to the shoulders. In an attempt to get the weight lifted as high as possible, the trainee is forced to do some shoulder flexion.
Solution: Keep the upper arms in a vertical position at all times, and keep them still; don’t let them move. By keeping them still, this isolates the biceps. It’s perfectly fine if the weight cannot be lifted equal to shoulder height.
6. Floppy Wrists
This occurs with the preacher machine that has the built-in handles.
The exerciser allows wrists to extend quite a bit as the curl progresses, so by the time the arms are fully bent, the handle is no longer being gripped; instead, it rests nearly at the ends of the fingers while the wrist is bent at nearly 90 degrees to the forearm.
This cheat tactic removes the grip element from the equation, making the curl easier.
Solution: Keep wrists aligned with the forearm. This means that an imaginary line that’s drawn along the underside of the forearm would be parallel to the palm.
This alignment should be maintained throughout the entire lifting up of the weight, as well as the release or negative portion.
Follow all of these proper bicep curl techniques to achieve whatever goals you have, be they maximum muscle growth, firmness and rounder shape, or simply being stronger.
When doing a barbell curl, consider using an E-Z bar rather than the standard straight bar, to minimize wrist strain.
For a comprehensive look at biceps workouts for building muscle, you’ll want to read No-Nonsense Muscle Building Program by Vince DelMonte.
This complete muscle-building and fat-burning book also covers all the exercises you need for becoming as lean and as muscular as possible, with 29 programs that change every week.
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