August 15, 2020 10 min read
Ok, so we’ve eaten the spinach our parents told us would give us big Popeye guns. But, come to find out, those coveted bulging biceps we see on Popeye, Arnold, and The Rock aren’t so easy to obtain as simply eating spinach and doing a few pushups. But before we put in the work, we have to first become versed in the basics of bicep curl form, which is one of the most popular arm exercises for building strength and muscle tone. Along with weight loss goals, strength is one of the most important areas of fitness!
Bicep exercises target several muscles in the arm, including the brachioradialis, front deltoid, and especially the biceps brachii, sometimes known as the two-headed muscle of the arm. The main function of the bicep brachii is the ability to bend and twist your arm. Made up of a short head and long head, the two parts work together as one muscle. Both parts extend from the shoulder region (the proximal end) to the elbow area (the distal end), allowing your arm to bend at the elbow. The short head is on the inside of the arm, while the long head is on the outside. The long head is what forms the hump of the bicep, while the short head contributes to its girth and width. Both are important for developing majorly impressive guns.
Bicep curls to increase arm strength can be done in a variety of ways, using barbells, dumbbells, and resistance bands, among others. The common factor that each variation has is that the bicep muscles are contracted as you hold the weight, and then returned to the beginning position. Sounds simple enough right? The reality is that this exercise leads to some of the most common weightlifting injuries in the gym.
The most common injury from bicep curls is tendon tears or tendinopathy. This affliction can be caused by overuse or using too much weight (ego lifting). Overuse is a natural result of aging, but it can also occur by the repetition of the exercise. However, tendon tears are more often caused by using too much weight. This is sometimes called ego lifting because you are trying to lift the amount your ego wants you to, not the amount that is safe and most helpful for your level of ability. One common sign of a tendon tear can be a Popeye deformity. Often caused by overuse and repetitive motion, this occurs when the muscle bunches up after a tear, forming a large, painful ball. Yes, this happens mostly to people over 50, but it does occur in younger people as well, and sometimes requires surgery to fix.
Tendonitis, another common injury, is an acute inflammation of the tendon caused by micro-tears due to its overuse. It can occur suddenly, or as a series of repeat micro-traumas. It is also said to be the eventual result of tendinopathy.
Other less common injuries include ulnar neuropathies and rupture of the pectoralis major.
One way to prevent tears from happening is to start new fitness routines slowly. Don’t overdo it like Popeye! Your body is not elastic and needs time to get used to new movements. Take breaks often to let your muscles rest, resist using heavier weights, and stop if you feel pain. Be patient, your body will catch up to where you want to be.
You might have noticed some stares from a personal trainer or two eyeballing your form from across the room. It is likely they may have caught you doing one of these common mistakes. Before we tell you how to properly perform the bicep curl, it is helpful to first know what not to do, so you can avoid it.
Another important thing to keep in mind when doing biceps exercises is how you are gripping the bar or dumbbells. Like other strength training exercises, the way you grip directly affects how effective and efficient your result will be. Changing up your grip will help you avoid plateaus. You can also target certain muscle groups just by the way you are gripping. The following are some grip variations to try out:
So now that you have a little background on where to place your grip, go grab a pair of dumbbells and let’s start our biceps workout.
Using the Cable Machine:
We recommend working on your sweet baby biceps about once a week. Try for 4 to 5 varied curls as long as you are doing a back workout during the week. Work from your skill level:
When you structure your workout around biceps, we recommend ending a bicep workout with compound pulling exercises like chin-ups. You can also superset them (working them in with an opposing muscle group without a break in between; you are resting when working the opposing muscle). An example would be trying tricep dips to superset the bicep exercises on arm day.
So now that you’ve learned all about proper bicep curl form, grip, and variations, don’t get stuck in the routine of an isolation exercise! Of course, everyone wants big guns like Popeye, but biceps should not always be the highlight of the routine. Make sure you are getting a full-body workout. Remember that squats, deadlifts, bodyweight exercises, and hang cleans should all be added to your regular well-balanced exercise routine. So get ready, grab those dumbbells and your protein shake, and hit the gym; you’re about to go make some gains!