We’ve all felt a little apprehensive when attempting a new exercise in the gym, right? Whether it’s bicep curls, deadlifts or even weighted squats - what if I do it wrong in front of everybody? How will I cope with the shame?
In reality, feeling a bit embarrassed should be the least of your worries. Performing an exercise or using a machine incorrectly can lead to serious injury, so it’s vitally important that you know what you’re doing. Also, if you’ve got your form all wrong, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll achieve your fitness goals.
To that end, we asked our personal trainers for some expert tips on how to do bicep curls correctly.
What are the most common bicep curl mistakes?
Carly Tierney believes that a lot of people “cheat” when doing bicep curls.
“People swing their bodies, move their elbows and use other body parts to complete the movement, taking their biceps out of the equation,” she said.
“Many people also have tunnel vision when it comes to their biceps and complete the same curls day in, day out. In order to stimulate your muscles and progress you need to be changing things up, so try different types of curls using different equipment and training methods to hit the muscle in slightly different ways.”
Eddy Diget, whose incredible story you can read about here, thinks that a lot of gymgoers try to take on too much, too soon when it comes to bicep workouts.
“They will normally pick the heaviest weight they can lift, either dumbbells or a barbell, stand in front of the mirror and swing it up,” he commented.
“As the weight maybe too heavy for them, they’ll drop it and look into the mirror to see if there is any change in the arms!”
What are the benefits of a biceps workout?
Carly: “Bicep curls are a particularly important exercise if you want to tone your arms. Your biceps are major, highly visible muscles, so the training that you do for your biceps will have a significant impact on the appearance of your arms.
“Curls are also highly functional. Think about how many times a day you do a similar movement at work or at home. It can help to make the action of picking things up and moving them around easier.
“Bicep curls are also an efficient exercise. Although the biceps are the primary muscle used, and this is classed as an isolation exercise, other muscles in your back and shoulders are also utilised as they are stabilisers.”
Eddy: “Ironically, it is the tricep (back of the arm) that gives the arm its shape and responds faster than the bicep with training.
“The bicep, as the world alludes to, means “Two”, but you do have other muscles in the front of your arm. These are biceps brachii (short head and long head), along with the brachialis and coracobrachialis.
“This muscle grouping, along with the triceps, are instrumental in bending and straightening the elbow, working with the forearm to rotate the arm and flex the wrist and fingers in contraction, medial and lateral rotation.”
So, how do I perform bicep curls properly?
Carly says there are five key things to consider when perfecting your bicep curling form.
1) Maintain a good posture – don’t allow yourself to jerk forwards. If you do, you might need to switch to a lower weight.
2) Again, if you’re trying to lift too much, you’ll find your elbows start to stray out of position.
3) Know how to work your own muscles as you lift.
4) It’s easy to injure your wrists while attempting bicep curls. Don’t bend them in ways that they’re not supposed to go!
5) You don’t want to put your back out. Keep it straight!
How many times a week should I be doing bicep exercises?
Carly: “My advice would be not to over-train your arms. Arms are a highly visible body part so there can be a temptation to prioritise them over less obvious body parts. However, to develop a well-balanced and strong body, you need to think about working everything as evenly as possible.”
Eddy: “Biceps should not be treated unlike any other muscle grouping, so train them a maximum of twice per week or when you do your chest. Remember, you achieve growth when you rest a body part after training!”
How long before I notice improvements?
Carly: “Improvements don't happen overnight unfortunately. Progress can be slow but it does happen, you just have to stick at it. I would generally say that it takes a couple of months for results to start showing when you do regular arm exercises.”
Eddy: “The bicep is not a fast responsive muscle group. It is a 'small' muscle grouping when compared with the triceps, back or chest etc. Therefore, it needs to be stimulated, but NOT destroyed every session.”
Is it best to use free weights or a bicep curling machine?
Carly: “There isn't really a ‘best’ way to do anything. Variety is something that I believe in and encourage. Often people start off using machines to ensure that their form is good and that they are confident with the exercise prior to progressing to working with free weights. Machines can be good as they force you to remain in position and there is much less room to cheat.”
Eddy: “Both have their benefits, but there is a third way too - cable curls.
“Unlike free weights and machines, cable curls do not have any relaxation on the bicep through the total range of movement - it is constant!”
Is the weight important? Is there a certain tempo I should aim to achieve?
Carly: “It depends entirely on your goals, your training and your experience and strength. As a very general rule I'd say that form is paramount; if you aren't using good form you probably aren't working your biceps, or at least to their full potential.
“With regards to tempo, I would suggest that people slow their reps down, which will put their biceps under more tension, resulting in them working harder and becoming stronger. I would always choose a weight that you can control.”
Eddy: “Everyone must start somewhere according to their ability; weight is only relative to what a person can lift. Weight is NOT important - good form with a weight you can use to its maximum will always provide better results.”
Are there any good bicep-building foods to eat?
Carly: “This relates to anyone wanting to gain muscle in any area of their body, not just biceps. You need protein, carbs and good fats. A good meal to have to fuel your muscles would be sweet potato, chicken breast and avocado.
“It's also imperative that you are fully hydrated when training as dehydration can affect your performance by up to 10%. Post-workout, nutrition is still essential to help your body recover and repair. This is why many people, men and women alike, use protein shakes as a convenient way to get nutrients after training.”
Eddy: “I would suggest that on the days you train you go for a high protein intake and low carbs to replenish and grow those muscles worked.
“On your days off from training, reverse it - high carbs and low protein - to give you the energy for your next session as you have no need to repair tired muscles.”
Put your new-found bicep curling wisdom into practice at your local DW Fitness Club. Check out our latest membership deals and offers here.