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 a great exercise for seeing results in strength and definition. There are several variations of this exercise, including those using dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, or cable machines. Start with the standing alternating dumbbell biceps curl, which you can do anywhere. Curls are a typical exercise used in upper body strength exercise routines.


Curls work the biceps muscles at the front of the upper arm, and also 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. Doing the arm curl, you build strength and learn to use your arm muscles correctly, bracing with your core muscles.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Bicep curls
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Select dumbbells of weight you can lift 10 times with good form. Suggested starting weights are 5 pounds or 10 pounds per dumbbell. If you are rehabilitating from an injury or deconditioning, you might start with 2 pounds.

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at the sides with palms facing in toward the side of the thigh and arms straight down.
  2. Position the feet comfortably about shoulder-width apart. Brace the core muscles to be ready to lift the weight.
  3. Lift one dumbbell toward the shoulder, rotating the arm as it moves up so that the palm with the dumbbell is now facing upward (supine) and the elbow is pointing to the ground with the forearm almost vertical. Keep the elbow close to the body. Exhale while lifting.
  4. Lower to the side position and perform the same movement with the other arm. Inhale while lowering the weight.
  5. Continue to alternate until the set is complete.
  6. Do 10 curls with each arm for three sets. If this is too much to start with, don't reduce the weight but do five exercises with each arm.

Common Mistakes

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

Going Too Far

Don’t pull the dumbbell so far back that the forearm moves beyond a vertical position. That is, don’t have the dumbbell headed over your shoulder.

Going Too Fast

Concentrate on good form rather than rapid execution, at least when starting out. Lift smoothly and slowly, feeling the burn.

Elbow Position and Motion

Your elbows should not move during the curl. They should be close to the side of your body and only the portion of your arm below the elbow should be moving.

Using Shoulders or Torso

Don’t recruit the shoulders and torso when doing the dumbbell curl, which can end up as a twisting and heaving movement. Concentrate on the arms and maintain the correct form. Choose lighter weights or reduce the repetitions if this occurs. If you find yourself swaying, brace against a wall so you will become aware of the motion. You can also do it seated or kneeling.

Modifications and Variations

Variations of the curl include standing position, seated, incline seated and "concentration" position with your elbow resting on the (seated) inner thigh. The barbell and cable machine are used in a similar set of curl exercises. You can use these variations to challenge your biceps in different ways.

Need a Modification?

If you are rehabilitating from an injury or deconditioning, you might use light weights such as 2 pounds. You can also do it assisted, where a partner helps you raise the weight and lower it.

You can do this exercise seated in an armless chair or on a weight bench if standing is difficult.

Up for a Challenge?

Once you have perfected your form doing the unilateral biceps curl, you can do it bilaterally, lifting both arms at the same time. This requires more core stability to keep from using your shoulders and swaying with each lift.

You can also perform this exercise while standing on a balance disc or BOSU for a balance challenge.

Safety and Precautions

This exercise is generally recommended for most people. But if you have any arm injury or experience pain during the motion, do not continue. You can expect to feel fatigue and even burning in your biceps 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 lift too heavy a weight to begin with and stop if you feel any pain. Building big biceps is popular among men, 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:

Was this page helpful?