While it’s true that biceps curls have gotten a bad rap in recent years, they have always been and always will be a phenomenal exercise for building big biceps, especially if you make sure to play with different styles. In fact, you can grow an impressive pair of bi’s by only doing this one exercise, which cannot be said for any other body part. That is, if you know how to use it smartly!
When it comes to curls, a simple change in wrist position or source of resistance will allow you to recruit the muscle fibers in unique ways and build serious mass and density, so you really want to include a variety of curling styles in your routine. Today we’ll go through three must-do curling variations prescribed by bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger himself for anyone who’s struggling to build a pair of Austrian Alps between his rotator cuffs and elbows.
#1. Cheat Curls
“Break the rules, not the law, but break the rules. It is impossible to be a maverick or a true original if you’re too well behaved and don’t want to break the rules.”
The Austrian Oak always saw barbell cheat curls as an opportunity to fully tax arm muscles and as the best way to build sheer mass in the biceps. But he had his own brand of controlled cheating, which he claimed made the exercise even more difficult. He would choose a weight that was too heavy for strict curls and begin the movement by holding the bar at thigh level with a shoulder-width grip, then push it into motion with the help of a slight kick from his body. The obvious benefit here is overcoming your sticking points and maximally stressing your biceps at the negative phase of the lift. However, keep in mind that you must keep your lower back and abs tensed while utilizing the swinging movement on cheat curls to avoid back injury.
#2. Incline Dumbbell Curls
“When you have a lot of fibers contracting all at once, you are building mass. I strive for full extension and full contraction.”
Incline dumbbell curls were another staple of Schwarzenegger’s biceps routine. He would set the bench to an angle of about 45 degrees to ensure maximum stretch throughout the muscles and keep the tension during the entire movement upward. The main advantage of incline dumbbell curls is that they provide constant tension through the full range of motion, so performing them in a very slow and controlled manner will allow you to reap incredible gains. According to one of the basic rules of muscle kinetics, the greater the initial tension on the muscle, the greater the number of contracting fibers during flexion, which in turn translates to more muscle growth. Once you reach the peak position, be sure to pause for a second and give your bi’s a hard squeeze to emphasize this effect.
#3. Concentration Curls
“Concentration curls are the single best exercise for maximizing the biceps’ peak and they should definitely be included in your own biceps workout.”
One-arm concentration curls were Arnold’s go-to move for isolating the biceps and inducing a superior pump, as they are one of the most effective exercises for targeting the outer head of the biceps and peaking the muscle. He liked to do them at the end of his biceps training and used as much weight as possible, since the movement is for height, not definition. The beauty of concentration curls is that they force you to perform each rep with perfect form, thereby maximizing muscle activation, so it’s really important to concentrate on the contraction and on being strict to get the most out of the exercise.
If you choose to perform these in a seated position with the back of the arm placed on the same-side thigh, make sure not to lean back too far in an attempt to assist the movement of the dumbbell. You can also perform the exercise while standing and bending forward from the hips to let the dumbbell hang straight down, as Arnold advocated, to ensure full contraction at the top of the movement. In the top position, squeeze your biceps as hard as possible before slowly returning the weight back to the start. Also, try to prevent moving your elbow from the vertical plane of the curling movement – according to the Terminator of training, keeping your upper arm vertical on concentration curls is the true secret to optimal peak biceps development.
And in case you’re wondering how the ideal curling routine would look like, here’s Arnold’s vision.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s curling routine:
Barbell cheat curls (warm up): 1 x 15
Barbell cheat curls: 5 x 8-12
Incline dumbbell curls: 5 x 8-12
Concentration curls: 5 x 8-12
The Master has spoken. Now it’s your turn to put his hard-gained wisdom to use, so get up and start blasting your bi’s like there’s no tomorrow!