Here at AoM, we’re big proponents of doing strength exercises that give you the most bang for your buck. That means we advocate for compound barbell lifts that allow you to work the most muscles possible, lift the most amount of weight, and get all-around strong. We’re talking deadlifts, squats, shoulder presses, bench presses, and various Olympic lifts.
When you follow this philosophy, it can be easy to become overly dismissive of the kind of exercises that one associates with “bros” working out in front of the mirror at globo gyms — exercises that are focused on honing the aesthetics of one’s physique and target single, specific muscles like curls, tricep extensions, and lat pulldowns.
But while these lifts are often associated with vanity, they do serve functional purposes and can be a part of a balanced strength training program. Not to mention, they can also be a lot of fun; getting a nice pump from doing a set of bicep curls is an undeniably great feeling, and you don’t need to apologize for that.
While these exercises shouldn’t be criticized for being pointless, they should be criticized for often being done poorly. Just because they’re not as “serious” as stuff like the deadlift and squat, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn how to perform them with good technique and form to maximize their benefits.
So today, we begin a series on the whys and hows of these accessory exercises. We’re calling it “Bro Basics.”
We begin with the Platonic Form of the Bro Basic: the bicep curl. For insights on how best to perform this exercise, I talked with my strength coach and head of Barbell Logic Online Coaching, Matt Reynolds.
The Anatomy of the Bicep(s) Muscle
Before we dig into how to do different variations of the bicep curl, a quick anatomy lesson.
While we commonly refer to the muscle on the front part of the upper arm as a “bicep,” the muscle is technically called “biceps,” as it’s made of two (bi) muscle heads — the long head and the short head — that work together as one muscle.
The long head originates from up by your shoulder in a cavity in your scapula called the glenoid. The short head originates at a projection in the scapula called the coracoid.
The long and short head join together in the middle and connect to the bone via tendons just beneath the elbow joint on a place called the radial tuberosity.
Something to point out about the biceps is that it’s a lot longer than you think it is. It crosses both the shoulder and elbow joints. To ensure we work the entirety of the biceps as much as we can, we want to perform a curl that uses the muscle’s full range of motion. More on that a bit. But store that info away in your working memory for the next 30 seconds.
Why Do Bicep Curls?
Strengthens a functional movement you do multiple times a day. The bicep muscle is what allows you to bend your arm at your elbow and rotate your forearm. Think about all the movements you do that require that motion — pulling the lawnmower starter, hammering, unscrewing a stuck jar lid, picking up heavy stuff. Curls strengthen your biceps, which makes these movements easier.
Rehabs tendonitis. Bicep tendonitis is a common ailment for people who are serious about weightlifting. I’ve battled it a few