There is no escaping the fact that big biceps look cool. They show the rest of the world you are a bodybuilder. The biceps are probably the most well-known muscle in the body. After all, ask anyone, even a kid, to show you a muscle, they’ll probably throw up their arm and flex their biceps!
But, as important as your biceps are, they’re nothing without matching, muscular forearms. In fact, it could be argued that the forearms are more important as they are on show more often. All you need to do is roll up your sleeves, and there they are!
That means you need to pay as much attention to your lower arms as you do your upper arms. Not only will your forearms grow, but your grip will also get stronger too, and that’s never a bad thing
One of the best exercises for both your biceps and your forearms is the reverse curl.
It’s always useful to know what muscles are involved in the exercises you include in your workout. That way, you should be able to choose the best exercise for your needs, and won’t accidentally create an ineffective workout by including moves that don’t work the area you are targeting.
The muscles involved in reverse curls are:
Biceps brachii – biceps brachii is usually just called your biceps. The biceps has two origin points up on your shoulder, and one insertion point down on your forearm. It’s a biaxial muscle, which means it crosses and affects two joints. The functions of the biceps are:
- Shoulder flexion
- Elbow flexion
- Supination of the forearm
Brachioradialis – the brachioradialis is one of your main forearm muscles. A well-developed will push your biceps out, making for a more impressive upper arm. This will make your biceps look bigger, simply by “propping it up” from beneath. The brachioradialis muscle works alongside the biceps brachii to flex the elbow. It is also a forearm flexor.
Brachialis – located beneath the biceps brachii, the brachialis is another elbow flexor that is especially active at the start of any curling movement. Like Brachioradialis, it can push your biceps up to add to your arm size and shape.
How to Perform Reverse Curls
Reverse curls are a relatively straightforward exercise to perform, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it wrong! Follow this step-by-step guide to make sure that your sets of reverse curls are as effective and safe as possible.
How to do it:
- Hold a barbell with an overhand, hip-width grip. Place your thumbs on top of the bar. This is called a false grip and makes the exercise more demanding and effective. Stand with your feet firmly planted and about shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly for balance. Rest the barbell across the front of your thighs, arms straight. Stand up tall, look straight ahead, and pull your shoulders down and back. Brace your abs.
- Without jerking or leaning, bend your arms and curl the bar up to your shoulders. At the top of the movement, flex your wrists slightly to maximize forearm activation.
- Smoothly extend your arms and repeat.
Reverse Curls Benefits
Still not sure if reverse curls should be part of your arm workouts? These benefits should convince you!
Time-efficient– because reverse curls work your biceps AND your forearms at the same time, they save you from having to work these muscle groups separately. If you are short on time, this arm training twofer could be very welcome.
Build a stronger grip– a strong grip is a big part of successful strength training. Exercises like deadlifts, rows, and pull-ups can be punishing, and if your grip fails, your set may come to an abrupt and premature end. A stronger grip will have a knock-on effect on the rest of your workouts, allowing you to lift heavier weights or do more reps.
Less elbow pain– a muscle imbalance between forearm flexors and extensors can cause unpleasant elbow pain. By targeting the brachialis and brachioradialis, reverse curls can repair any imbalances between flexors and extensors, eliminating a common cause of elbow pain.
Great-looking arms– if you want big biceps and bowling pin forearms, this is the move for you. Reverse curls will change how your arms look, giving you upper AND lower arms you can be proud of.
Important Reverse Curl Training Tips
Get the most from this exercise with these useful tips!
1. Use a false grip
Some exercisers prefer to do this exercise with their thumbs wrapped around the bar. That’s fine and will probably allow you to lift more weight.
However, a thumbless grip may be more rewarding, even though you will have to use a little less weight. Without your thumb in play, you’ll have to work much harder to grip and hold the bar. This is the same technique used in the demonstration video.
2. Keep your elbows by your sides
Pin your upper arms into your ribs to make this exercise harder but also more effective. This helps eliminate momentum and also ensures your lower arms are fully pronated.
3. Lean your back against a wall
If you find it hard not to use your legs or back to help you lift the bar, stand next to and lean against a wall. This will all but eliminate your ability to cheat.
4. Use chalk
Sweaty hands could bring your set to an unplanned halt. Apply some powdered or liquid chalk to your palms before every set, especially if you are using the thumbless grip described above. No chalk? Wipe your hands on a towel before you start each set.
5. Superset with regular curls
Pump your arms up to the max by supersetting reverse barbell curls with regular biceps curls. Simply do as many reps of reverse curls as you can and then, on reaching failure, put the weight down, adopt an underhand or supinated grip, and crank out some more reps.
While standard barbell reverse curls are very useful, you don’t have to limit yourself to that single exercise. Here are a few alternatives to try that will add variety to your workouts.
1. Thick bar reverse curls
Thicker bars are much harder to grip than standard diameter bars. They stop you from overlapping your fingers, which means less friction. Using a thick bar for reverse curls will make them much more challenging. No thick bars at your gym? Wrap a towel around your bar or buy some clip-on thick grip handles.
3. Dumbbell reverse curls
You don’t need to use a barbell for reverse curls. Dumbbells work equally well. Use one dumbbell at a time, curl two dumbbells up together, or use an alternating arm action as preferred.
4. EZ bar reverse curls
Some people find doing reverse curls with an EZ bar more comfortable than using a straight bar. An EZ bar has zigzag bends that place your hands in a semi-pronated grip, which could help take the stress off your wrists.
5. Cable reverse curls
There is no need to limit yourself to free weights for reverse curls. Attach a straight or EZ bar to a low pulley and do cable reverse curls instead. Using cables tends to ensure that there is no decrease in muscle tension at the top of each rep.
6. Preacher reverse curls
A preacher bench immobilizes your upper arms so you can’t use any other muscles to help you lift the weight you are using. This stricter movement is much harder, but that’s why it works so well. Do preacher reverse curls if you can’t stop using your legs or back to lift the weights. You can do barbell, EZ bar, dumbbell, and cable preacher reverse curls.
7. Wide or narrow grip
Change the feel of reverse curls by moving your hand further apart or closer together. If you are doing three sets, try doing one set with your hands close together, one using a medium-width grip, and one set with a wide grip. This will provide your muscles with plenty of muscle-building variation and will hit your arms from several different angles.
Don’t derail your progress by making these common mistakes.
Using your legs or back to lift the weight – while cheat reps can be useful from time to time, they aren’t so good for reverse curls. Cheating will put a lot of stress on your wrists, and that could lead to injury. Instead, use moderate weights and a smooth, steady tempo to maximize muscle tension while reducing joint strain.
Flexing your wrists – don’t bend your wrists downward during reverse curls. Doing so reduces muscle activation and increases the stress on your wrist joints. Instead, keep your wrists straight or, better still, extend them slightly at the top of each rep to maximize muscle tension.
Doing reverse curls before your back workout – doing this exercise before something like pulldowns or pull-ups might sound like a good idea, but it’s not. If your forearms are tired, you won’t be able to lift as much weight or do as many reps, and your set of back exercises will end sooner than it should. Reverse curls should be one of the last exercises in your workout.
Wearing wrist wraps or straps – where wrist wraps help support your wrists, wrist straps reinforce your grip. While useful at times, using either of these things will reduce the benefits of doing wrist curls. While chalk is fine, straps are not, so don’t use them during this exercise.
Using a fast tempo – while fast reps are useful for building power and are vital for plyometric exercises like squat jumps, the best way to do reverse curls is slow and steady. Slow, controlled reps will keep your muscles under tension for longer and will also eliminate any unwanted momentum. The result? A much harder, more effective workout.
Despite the fact you won’t be able to lift as much as you can for regular curls, this exercise will build and strengthen your biceps and forearms. Add this exercise to your arm workouts, and you’ll soon see for yourself just how beneficial this exercise really is.