How to Do Biceps Curls: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Also Known As: Arm curls, dumbbell curls

Targets: Biceps

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells

Level: Beginner

The biceps curl is a highly recognizable weight-training exercise that works the muscles of the upper arm and, to a lesser extent, those of the lower arm. It's an excellent exercise for seeing results in strength and definition.

Different equipment and grips can be used for this exercise including those using dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, resistance bands, or cable machines. Curls are a typical exercise used in upper-body strength training routines.

How to Do Biceps Curls

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Select dumbbells of weight you can lift 10 times with good form, ensuring the last three are very challenging to the point you feel you could not lift another rep. From here, either use this same weight to perform eight reps or lower the weight slightly and perform 10 reps.

Increase the repetitions and/or weight when you are able. This usually occurs by the next week, if you are training consistently. Slightly increase your weight and/or reps over time to gain muscle and strength.

  1. Begin standing tall with your feet about hip-width apart. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged.
  2. Hold one dumbbell in each hand. Let your arms relax down at the sides of your body with palms facing forward.
  3. Keep your upper arms stable and shoulders relaxed, bend at the elbow and lift the weights so that the dumbbells approach your shoulders. Or for a full range of motion, raise the dumbbells to your eyes or forehead level. Your elbows should stay tucked in close to your body.
  4. Exhale while lifting.
  5. Lower the weights to the starting position.
  6. Perform the desired reps, staying within 3 to 5 reps of total failure.


Consistently performing the biceps curl will help you build strength in the upper arm and learn to use your arm muscles correctly, bracing with your core muscles. Curls work the biceps muscles at the front of the upper arm and the muscles of the lower arm—the brachialis and brachioradialis. You use these muscles anytime you pick something up, which is common throughout daily life.

Common Mistakes

Get the most out of your biceps curls by avoiding these errors.

Going Too Fast

Concentrate on proper form rather than rapid execution. Lift the weights with a smooth motion, taking as much time to lower the weight as you do to lift it. Lowering the weight slowly (eccentric portion) may help you build more muscle, making the most of your time in the gym.

Improper Elbow Position

The position of your elbows should remain close to the side of your body, and only the lower arm should move until the top end of the movement when your elbows will rise so that you can complete the full range of motion. If you notice your elbows moving away from your torso or swinging behind the body, you are probably lifting too much weight.

Using Momentum

Don’t recruit the shoulders or torso to swing the weights up when doing the dumbbell curl. This can feel like a swinging, twisting, or heaving movement. Do not allow your hips to hinge or your lower body to assist the movement in any way. Try to keep your elbows at your sides until they come up at the top of the movement to complete the full range of motion.

Concentrate on maintaining a tall, upright spine and a tight core. Keep the shoulders relaxed and watch that they don't move forward to initiate the movement. Choose lighter weights or reduce the number of repetitions if this occurs.

Other Variations of Biceps Curls

Try these variations for different muscle stimulus and to keep your training interesting.

Barbell Curl

While there are several bicep curl variations, one of the most popular biceps curl variations is the barbell curl.

Start in the same position as a biceps curl. Grasp a barbell with an underhand grip. Alternatively, use a pre-loaded smaller barbell or an EZ curl bar.

  1. Hold the barbell so it hangs touching your legs.
  2. Raise the barbell slowly by bending your elbows, keeping your arms close to your body.
  3. Raise the barbell to shoulder, eye, or forehead height, depending on you desired range of motion. A bigger range of motion can recruit more muscle fibers and help with muscle growth.
  4. Lower the barbell slowly, controlling the weight until your arms are fully extended.

A barbell, cable machine, or resistance bands can also be used similarly for curl exercises. You can use these variations to challenge your biceps in different ways.

Additional Variations

Some additional variations you can try include:

If you are rehabilitating from an injury or you are deconditioned, you might use light weights such as 2 pounds. You can also do the exercise with assistance, where a partner helps you raise the weight and then lower it. You can do this exercise seated in an armless chair or on a weight bench if standing is difficult.

Safety and Precautions

This exercise is generally recommended for most people. But if you have an arm injury or experience pain during the motion, do not continue.

You can expect to feel fatigue and even burning in your biceps and forearm muscles after a few lifts, and this is desired to get your muscles to strengthen and grow. However, do not force extra repetitions once you are unable to do the curls with good form. Take a rest before doing the next set.

Don’t try to lift too heavy of a weight to begin with, and stop if you feel any pain. Building big biceps is popular, but don't rush to get to heavier weights before you're ready. Injury to the elbow or wrist can occur, and that'll put a damper on your entire workout routine.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Marcolin G, Panizzolo FA, Petrone N, et al. Differences in electromyographic activity of biceps brachii and brachioradialis while performing three variants of curl. PeerJ. 2018;6:e5165. doi:10.7717/peerj.5165

  2. Marzilger R, Bohm S, Mersmann F, Arampatzis A. Effects of lengthening velocity during eccentric training on vastus lateralis muscle hypertrophy. Front Physiol. 2019;10:957. doi:10.3389%2Ffphys.2019.00957

  3. Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J. Effects of range of motion on muscle development during resistance training interventions: A systematic review. SAGE Open Medicine. 2020;8:205031212090155. doi:10.1177%2F2050312120901559

By Paul Rogers
Paul Rogers is a personal trainer with experience in a wide range of sports, including track, triathlon, marathon, hockey, tennis, and baseball.