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Default How to Use the Curl
by BendtheBar 11-25-2011, 03:37 PM

How to Use the Curl
by Peary Rader (1951)


If one were to ask the average bodybuilder what the most popular or most practiced exercise was he might answer in the majority of times – the curl.

Probably the reason this exercise is most used is because to many of the uninformed as well as to many bodybuilders the biceps muscle is “The Muscle”. Just ask a man to let you see his muscle and what does he show you? His chest muscles, his leg muscles, his back muscles? No, almost without exception he will roll up his sleeve and flex his arm to show his biceps muscle.

The reason the curl is so popular is because it is the most direct and effective exercise yet discovered for developing the biceps the quickest and most massively.

Because of the specialization on this muscle and the curl exercise, bodybuilders have evolved quite a large assortment of variations in the curl. Such men as Aronis, Pederson and Counts have developed their biceps to the peak of perfection and size by a wide variety of curls almost exclusively. They have worked the biceps from every angle. Of course you can obtain a very large biceps by doing nothing but several sets of the regular two arm curl but you will obtain a much larger development if you will use a great variety of curls. In some positions you will be able to force a greater and more complete contraction of the biceps. In others you are able to effect a greater extension.

We have not carried an illustration of the biceps and will not go into detail of the anatomy of the muscle because this has been covered many times previously. If the reader wishes to know the why and wherefor of the exercises we are about to present we suggest a study of the anatomy of this muscle with special attention given to its actions. In this manner you will be better able to intelligently apply the exercise.

You will hear much argument about the correct form for the curl. The bodybuilder if he listens to all the pro and con arguments will soon find himself quite confused. Loosely speaking we would say that there is no absolute correct way to do a curl. All methods are correct if performed with adequate poundage and maximum number of repetitions. They all have their own peculiar effect on the biceps. If you wish a certain effect then you will use a certain variation.

Generally speaking we might say that your favorite method of curling is the best for you since you are more likely to work harder on this method and the most important secret of success is plenty of hard work. so far we have found no other method for acquiring maximum muscular development and strength.

The first three illustrations are of common curling variations. In the first photo we have the regular curl performed on one of the new Dymeck curling bars. Of course you don’t need one of these bars for effective curling but they are of great use. They can help relieve the strain that is so common to the straight bar as the wrists are badly twisted. after trying one of these bars for a while you may like it too well to go back to the straight bars. Of course you can do this curl with pulley weights by using the floor pulley and if you have one of the cambered bars so often used on pulley weight outfits you can invert it and you will obtain the same effect, relatively, that you would with the Dymeck bar. We especially enjoy doing the curl with a floor pulley-weight outfit equipped with a floor pulley as the pull on the bar is so constant and smooth.

This standard curl is probably the most commonly used variation and the first style taught to beginners. It is also one of the most effective. Even in this style you can vary your performance considerably. The very strict style is of great importance. In this style you stand strictly erect and with arms completely extended you curl the bar to the shoulders bringing the elbows well up to finish. Then lower it to the thighs again. These movements should be smooth without a sudden jerk and not too fast so that you can “Feel” the curl all the way. There should be no body swing whatever to aid the curl. In other words you “muscle” it all the way.

Another effective way to prevent cheating in this type of curl is to stand with your back to a post or door frame and lean back slightly. This will prevent all body movement. You will find it necessary to lean back slightly to preserve your balance, otherwise the weight will carry you forward.

Of course many other variations of this style will occur to you. However one more important variation of the regular curl should be discussed. This is the cheating or swinging curl. In this style you use whatever body swing necessary to get the weight in motion and curled in to the shoulders. Most men start out with a weight that requires but little swing and then while increasing the poundage for each set they also increase the swing until they are almost making a dead hang curling clean. This style is most effective for developing great strength due to the heavy poundages used but it is also valuable for a developer and often will break down those stubborn tissues that have become accustomed to the regular style. Some instructors are of the opinion that every exercise should be done in the strictest possible form at all times but we know from experience that varying the program from strict to loose then back to strict styles again, etc. has great value. It breaks the monotony and also provides the muscles with a more varied field of effort which prevents them from becoming accustomed to one type of movement and thus coming to a standstill in growth.

The hand spacing should be varied in this movement. Some of your curls can be done with the hands touching while others should be performed with a rather wide grip. Most men can curl a little more with a medium grip than with a narrow grip.

When performing this curl or any other of the variations you should also curl the wrist strongly as you curl the arms so that you also make the exercise a very valuable forearm developer.

In the middle photo we have the reverse curl, performed virtually the same as the regular curl except that the over grip is used instead of the under grip. Here the similarity ends however for the reverse curl is much different from the regular curl in that it strongly effects the upper portion of the forearms and also the biceps in a much different manner. Many men find that they can use very little weight in this exercise because of the construction of the forearm and the muscular attachments. It is also said that certain muscles are missing in many men’s arms which makes it hard for them to perform this movement with heavy weights.

Perhaps the best man on this movement is Al Berger of Philadelphia who can perform this movement correctly with 200 lbs. or over. In fact he is about equal to the best regular style curling experts. In the regular style many men claim correct curls with 200 lbs. and we have seen Davis do 205 correctly. At least two men claim 225 in this lift but it is doubtful if it was performed in strict style. It is said that Goerner did 220 in correct style. It is possible that he may have accomplished this for he certainly was one of the strongest men of all time. It is doubtful if anyone ever did more than this correct or should we say strict style.

This movement is also much more enjoyable and just as effective if performed with the Dymeck bar or a bent or cambered pulleyweight bar with floor pulley. This relieves most of the extreme twist of the wrists which in some men make it almost impossible to perform the exercise.

Another difficulty experienced by some men is that of holding as much weight in the hands as they can curl due to a weakness of the thumb. Of course this exercise will strengthen the thumbs but it will also be found that you can use a hook grip for a more secure hold on the bar. A hook grip is one wherein you lap the fingers over the thumbs thus securely bringing them into a strong grip. It is slightly painful at first but this soon passes.

The range of movement is the same as in the regular curl and you can likewise use both the strict style as well as the more lenient swinging style. The swinging style is of more value for weight lifters than for bodybuilders however. You should use care in adding weight too fast in this exercise due to the possibility of straining some of the small muscles involved.

In photo No. 3 we have an exercise that is not too often practiced but a very good one nevertheless. You can use dumbells only in this movement. You stand with bells hanging at sides and then curl them to armpits and as high as possible. This exercise has a very much different effect on the biceps from the other curls.

Before going to the next illustrations we would like to mention that the regular and reverse curl can both be performed with dumbells. Some men prefer dumbells for the exercise. In this case we often recommend the single dumbell as by working only one arm at a time you can give deeper concentration to the movement which is a very important factor if you wish satisfactory results. You can also perform dumbell curls with loose style as well as strict. In performing the reverse curl with dumbell you can also hold the dumbell pointing front and back throughout the movement. This does not give as great a twist to the wrist as the regular reverse position and yet effects the muscles in virtually the same way.

We would also like to mention the half movements that are often effective in jarring stubborn muscles loose and making them grow. These are usually of two variations. That in which you curl a heavy weight to about the waist and that in which you start at waist height and curl to the shoulder. In the latter movement you can if you like start from a low table or the backs of chairs.

Turning to photos No. 4, 5 and 6 we see some curls performed with the pulley weights. This apparatus we feel is equally valuable to body builders as the barbell. There are so many exercises that can be performed to much better effect with pulley weights than with barbell or dumbells.

Photo on the left shows the curl to back of neck with overhead pulley. This is one of the most effective curls as it causes the most complete contraction of the biceps muscle. In fact you probably will cramp the muscle quite badly if you are inclined toward cramps. Many instructors feel these cramping movements are the most effective developing movements and try to use them on all the muscles. We do not entirely agree on this but do believe they have certain values. Complete contraction (whether the muscle cramps or not) of a muscle is important to maximum growth. It is not too important, however, in the development of maximum strength. In fact a muscle in this position has but little of its strength in a more normal position. You should be sure of complete extension of the arm in this exercise for every repetition. Nothing can be gained by doing this exercise in a loose style since it is basically a strict movement. Of course it can be done either standing, sitting or kneeling. This exercise can also be done with two hands at a time on the long bar tho we prefer the one arm movement because of the ease of concentration with one arm.

In the middle photo we have the regular one arm curl performed with the floor pulley, and by the way you can perform more exercises with the floor pulley than you can with an overhead pulley so no pulley weight set is complete without some form of floor pulley – be sure it is correctly fastened to the floor. This exercise is about the same as the one arm curl with dumbell except that you have a more constant resistance to the completion of the movement with the pulley than you do with a dumbell. Another variation with floor pulley is the curl to the back instead of the front of the body.

On the right we see a variation with the wall pulley in which the exerciser starts with arm extended towards the wall and then curls it in to the shoulder as shown. You will like this variation as a change in your routine and it is a fine developer if you have a wall pulley available. You can vary this movement alternately by bringing the hand to the back instead of the front.

Now let’s lift our gaze to the next set of pictures and get ourselves seated in a chair for some really serious curling. This shows Bud Counts doing a one arm dumbell curl and you can see how great the contraction of the biceps is in this position. This is a favorite movement of Bud’s as well as many of the big arm boys. They spend a lot of time on this movement. Note the position of the free hand and supporting knee. This is important as it gives a solid support from which to work. A few sets of this movement will make your biceps ache. This is essentially a muscle building movement. There are several slight variations of this exercise but we feel the one shown is the best.

In the next photo we find another exercise preformed with the wall pulley. However you can also use a dumbell for this movement although we feel the wall pulley weight is much to be preferred since it maintains steady resistance over the complete range of movement. This exercise gives strong action over a complete range of the muscle from extension to almost complete contraction. You will find it a superb exercise. Of course you can use a box or a convenient support.

Now down to the next series of photos. We have Hal Stephens demonstrating two more exercises with the floor pulley. Both of these can also be performed with either barbell or dumbells. We especially like the pulley weights for these because of the steady resistance over the entire range of movement.

The two photos on the left show the beginning and finish of the curl with elbows resting on knees for support. This is an excellent exercise and gives almost complete contraction to the biceps. On the right Hal is shown as he performs the curl while bent at the waist. This position should be maintained all during the curl with no up and down movement or “cheating”. In both exercises you should bring the bar s high as possible so to obtain complete contraction of the biceps.

Now in the next series of photos we see our model doing the curl while prone on the flat bench. In this case he is using one arm and dumbell. Some men prefer to use the barbell and two arms. If you do this you should use a rather high bench and position yourself farther forward over the end of the bench. In the photo on the right the model demonstrates the dumbell curl on the incline bench. This is a favorite with many bodybuilders and is considered one of the best as it gives such a complete extension to the biceps whereas most of the other curls discussed give complete contraction although not quite complete extension. Starting the curl from a complete hang you will feel the biceps completely stretched out then curl them to as near the shoulders as possible. In the first exercise you should not use a poundage that will not permit of strict performance although in the incline bench curls many bodybuilders work up to heavy weights with a slight swing with benefit. However some of your curls should be in strict style.

We have by no means exhausted the varieties of curling exercise. There are a great number of other styles used by various bodybuilders but we have selected what we consider the best to present in this article and any more would result in confusion. If you are an advanced man you may develop certain variations that you like better than others. If they prove effective then they are probably best for you because you will certainly work harder on an exercise you like more than one you don’t like. Again we repeat, it is hard work intelligently applied that gives results. Of course we can’t minimize the importance of diet, sleep and other factors conducive to health.

With such a list of exercises we know you will be undecided as to how to make up a biceps building or curling program. The biceps can stand a lot or work and you are not in as much danger of going stale with biceps work as you would be with presses or squats. If you are a beginner we would of course suggest that you break in gradually with the regular curl and work up to about 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps then add another exercise, in this case the reverse curl. By this time you will have reached an advanced stage where you can use one of the following programs:
Regular curl with back against post.
Incline bench curl with dumbells.
One arm reverse curl.

Perform the above exercises 8 to 12 reps adding 2˝ pounds for each hand when you reach 12 reps. Start with one set of each exercise than add another set each two weeks.

When you reach four sets of each exercise for four weeks then change to another program such as the following:
Heavy, swinging curls with barbell.
Seated one arm curl as shown in photo No. 8.
Curl to back of neck with overhead pulleyweight. (if you don’t have a pulleyweight substitute bent over curl in rowing position.)

Use the same rep and set system as for first program.

Your next program will be made up of pulleyweight exercises entirely:
One arm curl, standing, with floor pulley.
Side curl with wall pulley with elbow raised as in photo No. 6.
Two arm seated curl as shown in photo No. 10.
Reverse pulley curl with one or two hands.

Use same set and rep schedule.

The next program will be made up of cheating exercises and will aim at developing additional power and also additional size from a change of style and poundage and considerable effort:
Two arm swinging curls.
Two arm reverse swinging curls.
Swinging curls with dumbells on incline bench.

In the above program you should change the rep schedules and do from 6 to 8 reps and work up to 5 sets of each exercise by one additional set each two weeks.

This gives you four programs of specialization which should take you approximately 8 months to complete. By this time your biceps should be approaching their maximum in size and strength. We suggest that you may wish to change these programs slightly by including some of the other styles and variations we have given. If you are an advanced bodybuilder you are probably quite justified in making a beneficial change if you wish. However, if you are quite new to the game, we suggest you follow them just as we have given them.

Some confusion may result from our instructions regarding the increasing of the sets in each program. You should drop back to 1 set of each exercise when starting each program and progressively work up to the suggested number of sets which is usually 4 of each exercise. This constant variation of effort is more conducive to rapid growth than if you maintained one permanent schedule of 4 sets per exercise after you reached this number.

We realize too that all men do not gain best on the same number of sets, or above all, the same number of reps. Quite a few bodybuilders go as high as 15 reps while a great number never go over 8 reps per set with equally good results. I personally prefer the latter. Some variation in this should be practiced from time to time. Try different numbers until you find the one best suited to yourself. Rest only about 1 minute between sets, but 5 to 10 minutes between exercises.

It is also likely that many fellows will not feel up to doing 3 exercises for 4 sets due to low energy. In this case it is wise to cut down somewhat, perhaps to only 2 exercises. However, nearly everyone will be able to do 3 exercises if they work up to it properly and gradually. You should never start right in with a high number of exercises. Not only do you overwork, but you also cheat yourself of progress and greater growth by jumping several progressive stages thus loosing the value that you would have accrued had you built up progressively.

We must caution you to always make your movements complete, unless you are purposely practicing the suggested half movements. Especially be sure that you get complete extension for flexibility of the muscle and complete contraction for development. Always warm up properly to avoid a strained biceps muscle. Wear a sweat shirt to keep warm, even though your vanity may suffer. Above all, don’t become so enamored of biceps development that you forget the even more important arm muscle, the triceps, which we shall deal with later.
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Old 11-25-2011, 03:42 PM   #2
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I refuse to believe that the bicep needed an article that long...
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Old 11-25-2011, 03:48 PM   #3
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If Lyle McDonald wrote it you would have memorized it.
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Old 11-25-2011, 04:22 PM   #4
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Contrary to common belief, no I wouldn't. I look for things that can be backed by other sources and research I do on pubmed. Lyle's work can pretty much always be corroborated, and when I read his info and find something questionable, I dig deeper. He may seem like my only source of information when I bring in articles into a discussion, but that's because he makes things easy to comprehend and is generally right. That doesn't make him my only source of information. I'd say I do more dicking around on pubmed than I do on his site - by far.
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Old 11-25-2011, 04:39 PM   #5
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Just a joke hombre.

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Old 11-25-2011, 04:40 PM   #6
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I'm well aware, but you wouldn't be the first person to say something along those lines to me.
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Old 11-25-2011, 04:41 PM   #7
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I haven't read that article in years. Thanks for the memories.
But ya, too much article for a little exercise. I like barbell curls with microloading.
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