How to Do a Reverse Bicep Curl

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Reverse Curl

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Reverse Arm Curls or Reverse Curls

Targets: Biceps, Forearms

Equipment Needed: Barbell, Dumbbells, or EZ-Curl Bar

Level: Intermediate

The reverse bicep curl is performed by contracting the biceps with your palms facing down using a barbell, dumbbells, or EZ-curl bar. This is a variation of the standard bicep curl where the barbell is gripped palms up. The motion is the same but the change in grip allows for specific arm muscles to be targeted.

The primary muscles targeted during the reverse curl are the biceps (biceps brachii) and brachialis. The brachialis is not a readily visible muscle because it’s hidden under the biceps. It provides a structural bridge between the upper arm bone and the forearm. It’s also the prime mover of elbow flexion (biceps contraction). It can be considered the “out of sight out of mind” muscle because of its location. However, to improve the strength and structure of your biceps, you may want to consider adding this underrated exercise to your arm workout.

Reverse bicep curls are said to be the most effective exercise to target an underdeveloped brachialis muscle. Adding this exercise can increase your ability to lift heavier weight during standard bicep curls and correct muscle imbalance between flexor and extensor muscles. It’s also a pivotal exercise to develop bigger arms and a better biceps flex.

The exercise is performed using a lighter weight—another reason weight lifters may shy away from reverse bicep curls. However, the quality of contraction always trumps the amount of weight being lifted. It’s better thinking to consider reverse bicep curls a bonus exercise to enhance those heavier lifts. Adding this exercise to your current arm routine can help build better biceps and make other workouts more efficient.

If you are new to this exercise or weight training, it may be a good idea to enlist the guidance of a qualified personal trainer.

Benefits

Reverse bicep curls are an effective way to work the forearms and biceps, especially the commonly underdeveloped brachialis muscle. It may be a curl that requires less weight resistance but the benefits outweigh avoiding this exercise.

The following is a shortlist of benefits on why you should be performing the reverse bicep curl:

  • Increased arm strength and development.
  • Improved muscle imbalance between extensor and flexor muscles.
  • Decreased elbow pain with improved muscle balance.
  • Reduced risk of injury with better grip strength.
  • Improved ability to lift heavier.
  • Improved brachialis muscle development.
  • Better biceps flex and structure.
  • Improved exercise form and technique.

Step-by-Step Instructions

The reverse bicep curl is an intermediate exercise you can perform at the gym or in the comfort of your home using the following simple steps:

  1. Stand with hands and feet shoulder-width apart. Grip the barbell palms facing down (pronated grip) while keeping your body straight and chest lifted.
  2. Holding the upper arms stationary, exhale and lift the bar toward your shoulders bending at the elbows.
  3. Continue to curl the bar toward your shoulders until you feel a complete biceps contraction.
  4. Slowly lower the bar with control to the start position.
  5. Repeat the exercise for a determined amount of reps and sets.

Common Mistakes

The reverse bicep curl is a great way to work your arms, but because the exercise is underutilized, you may not be too familiar with proper form and technique.

That said, and like with any weight resistance training, proper form and technique are essential for exercise effectiveness and safety.

The following are common mistakes to avoid during the reverse bicep curl:

Weight is Too Heavy

The standard bicep curl may allow for heavy lifts, but this is not the case for reverse bicep curls. The palms down grip require lighter resistance for effective and proper completion of the exercise. The goal of this exercise is not to blast the biceps with heavy weight, but to develop the hidden muscle under the biceps. Using too heavy of weight increases the risk of muscle and wrist injury. This is easily corrected by dropping the resistance down to the appropriate level.

Using Momentum

Performing this exercise requires your upper arms to remain stationary as you bend at the elbows to lift the bar toward your shoulders. Your hips/low back should also remain stable. Using momentum is a big indicator that the weight is too heavy and places you at risk for potential shoulder and low back injury. Be aware of proper weight resistance and body mechanics at all times during this exercise.

Extending Wrists

It may feel natural to extend the wrists during elbow flexion but doing so causes unnecessary stress on the wrist joint and extensor muscles. Maintain straight wrists throughout the full range of motion of the reverse bicep curl for the effective and proper execution of this exercise.

Modifications and Variations

The reverse bicep curl can be performed in a variety of ways to accommodate your fitness level and lifting preference.

Need a Modification?

If you’re new to performing a reverse bicep curl, you may want to apply a few modifications as follows:

  • Perform the exercise using an EZ-curl bar for wrist comfort during the exercise. This will allow you to develop strength and exercise confidence before progressing to the straight barbell.
  • Give dumbbells a try if you don’t feel comfortable using a barbell. The same muscle groups are targeted and benefits achieved with this mode of weight resistance.
  • Perform the exercise using a cable station with a bar attachment if you prefer working with cables. Simply attach the bar to the lowest pulley and you’re ready to go.

Up for a Challenge?

Once you have mastered the proper form, you can add the following variations to the reverse bicep curl to make it more advanced:

  • Try a prone incline reverse curl to provide a challenging angle during this exercise. This can be performed with a barbell, EZ-curl bar, or dumbbells and using an incline bench.
  • Perform a preacher bicep reverse curl instead of standing. The preacher chair will offer support and really challenge the peak contraction of the biceps and brachialis muscles. If the wrists feel uncomfortable, try the exercise using an EZ-curl bar and find the angle that works best for you.
  • Stand against a wall to perform the reverse curl. This simple change-up will keep you from cheating the exercise and allow for more effective lifts. It won’t take long to feel the burn on this one!

Safety and Precautions

The reverse bicep curl, like all resistance exercise, requires good form and technique for effectiveness and safety.

The following tips will help you perform the reverse bicep curl correctly and reduce the risk of injury:

  • Start with a light weight for proper exercise form and avoid placing unnecessary stress on the biceps, forearms, and wrists.
  • Maintain straight wrists during the full range of motion of the exercise to protect the wrist joints and extensor muscles.
  • Avoid using momentum to lift the barbell. Maintain stable upper arms and hips as you bend at the elbows to bring the bar toward your shoulders.
  • Use an EZ-curl bar if you experience wrist discomfort.
  • If you experience pain or discomfort that doesn’t feel right during the reverse bicep curl, discontinue the exercise.

Try It Out

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

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