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, resistance bands, 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 training routines.

Benefits

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 standing arm curl, you build strength in the upper arm 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 a weight you can lift 10 times with good form. Suggested starting weights are 5 pounds or 10 pounds per dumbbell. If you are just beginning, rehabilitating from an injury, or returning to exercise after a sedentary period, you might start with 2 pounds.

  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. Keeping your upper arms stable and shoulders relaxed, bend at the elbow and lift the weights so that the dumbbells approach your shoulders. Your elbows should stay tucked in close to your ribs. Exhale while lifting.
  4. Lower the weights to the starting position.
  5. Do 8–10 curls, then rest and do one or two more sets.

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.

Improper Elbow Position

The position of your elbows should not change during the curl. They should remain close to the side of your body and only the lower arm should move. If you notice your elbows moving away from your torso or floating in front or 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 end up feeling like a swinging, twisting, or heaving movement.

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.

Modifications and Variations

Variations of the curl include seated curls, preacher curls, reverse curls, incline seated curls, and "concentration" curls with your elbow resting on your inner thigh while you are seated. You can also do an alternating hammer curl to add variety to your workout.

To do an alternating hammer curl, start in the same position as a biceps curl, but the palms should face the midline of the body (so your thumbs are facing forward).

  1. Bending at the elbow, lift one dumbbell toward your shoulder, rotating your arm as it moves up so that the palm with the dumbbell faces up during the movement and eventually faces the shoulder.
  2. Lower the weight to the starting position and perform the same movement with the other arm.
  3. Continue to alternate until the set is complete.

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.

Need a Modification?

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.

Up for a Challenge?

Once you have perfected your form doing the biceps curl, you can do it while standing on a balance disc or BOSU for a stability challenge.

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 lift too heavy 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:

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Article 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.