The barbell curl

Most people who start working out at the gym invariably include working their biceps regardless of other muscles worked. The bicep is perhaps the most popular muscle for show despite its small size compared to other muscles. An introduction to a muscle-building exercise for the biceps – the barbell curl – is well due.

The barbell curl as a mass builder for the bicep means that it targets the whole muscle to assist in the execution of the exercise and allows you to move a lot of weight compared to other biceps exercises. You might well need to get a new set of clothes after trying that! In general, the heavier you can lift, the more muscle fibres you recruit and the more you have the potential of putting on. The barbell curl allows you to do just that.


Grab a barbell for this exercise with your hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing up. Stand straight, abs rigid, chest out, shoulders back and feet firmly planted apart for balance. Start by taking a big breath in then with your arms extended in front of you and elbows slightly bent, curl up the barbell using the power in your biceps. Keep your elbows in at your side, your upper arms fixed and let your forearms do all the movement. It is very easy to use a sloppy form in this exercise and that will shift the focus away from the biceps.

The key to performing the barbell curl well is to keep the whole body fixed and allow only the forearms to move. The biceps powers motion to the weight through the forearms and the elbow joins the lower arm and upper arm together whilst preventing the latter from moving the former. Try to stick out your elbows to the side – you will find the exercise easier because you reduce the range of motion and target the biceps less. It’s therefore very easy to cheat that way and stick out the elbows a little bit when the weight starts getting too heavy. So always consciously keep elbows tucked in.

Another poor execution arises when the body rocks forward and backward. Again, this rocking motion serves to reduce the range of motion of the exercise – instead of the weight moving up and down, the body is moving itself closer to the weight and away from it. And nearly everyone doing the barbell curl cheats by bending the body backwards excessively on these last few reps just to manage to get the bar up.

It is actually not easy to keep the body fixed during the barbell curl. You have a big weight sticking out in front of you so you have to shift your centre of gravity backwards to prevent yourself from toppling forward. In the end, you could concentrate too much on keeping your body immobile rather than focussing on the work your biceps have to do. I find a good way around this is by standing with the back to a column. Lean back slightly so that your back makes contact with it. Don’t use a wall for it as your elbows will not have room. With your back to this column, as long as you do not move your feet, you will be unable to bend backwards no matter what, so it allows you to curl the bar in a very strict fashion.

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