The barbell curl is most of the time presented as an excellent exercise for the biceps. So it is, but no exercise is perfect. Given how much newbies want big biceps and the barbell curl has been acclaimed as a mass builder, even in this blog, it is only fair that the other side of the coin is shown.
Biomechanics and form of the standing curl
The biomechanics of the barbell curl exercise puts you at a disadvantage to work your biceps to its limits. The elbow acts as a lever and the weight is at its heaviest when your forearms are at 90 deg. This is because the weight is at its furthest from the elbow and all the force is used to raise the weight vertically up and directly against gravity. In this position, you are feeling the full effect of the weight.
At the top of the exercise, there is minimal effort from you as the weight is close to your arm and there is little vertical lifting necessary. Part of the effort is used to move the weight in a horizontal displacement to bring it closer to you so you are not lifting against gravity.
Thus the effort you apply throughout this exercise is not constant and varies enormously. You can only lift as heavy as the weight feels when your arms are at 90 degrees. That is the sticking point of the exercise and much of it is wasted past this point because the weight becomes too light and does not challenge your muscles.
Because of the sticking point, I never enjoyed nor benefited from the barbell curl – it is one of my least favourite exercises and I have made little progress with it from the day I started lifting weights. Instead, I much prefer the standing dumbbell curl where I am able to lift much more weight and the motion feels much more natural.
Another way around this sticking point is to do the barbell curl sitting down. You start the exercise with your arms already at 90 degrees. In effect, you perform only the second half of the exercise. However, as you are sitting down, you cannot bring your body into play to help you lift the weight, as long as you don’t lean back too much; so your form is quite strict. Be careful with this exercise: since only the top half of the exercise is performed and you can go heavy as there is no more sticking point, your biceps do not benefit from a full range of motion and can shorten if the sitting barbell curl is performed too frequently.
More exercises for the biceps will be described as time goes by.
The barbell curl might be a classic exercise recommended to add meat to the biceps but it doesn’t work with everyone. Learn what works for you and discard those that don’t.