5 types of bicep curls and their unique benefits

It's time to blow up your biceps!

An athletic man performing concentration bicep curls
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Operation big arms often means one thing – bicep curls! After all, this isolation exercise is pretty easy to execute, making it ideal for lifters of all levels, and it delivers the goods when it comes to size and strength.  

But, no matter how effective, constant curling can get boring. Not to mention, if your goal is to build dimensional biceps, it's best to incorporate other variations in your training so you’re hitting both the short head (inner portion of the bicep) and the long head (outer portion). Here’s five variations of the bicep curl to help you build stronger arms. 

1. Hammer curls

Man doing Zottman curl

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When biceps curls aren’t in someone’s programme, you can bet hammer curls are instead. With hammer curls, the dumbbells are curled with a neutral grip (palms facing inward) so, not only do they hit the long head of bicep, but they work your forearms too. They also target the brachialis muscle (which sits below the long head) and, although it isn't technically part of the biceps, it contributes to its overall thickness. If you therefore want to increase the overall size of your arms whilst boosting your grip strength, hammer curls are a good go-to.

2. Barbell curls

A man performing a bicep curl using an EZ bar

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If you’re looking for size, strength, and definition, the barbell curl is your ticket. Using a barbell allows you to lift more weight as you’re using both arms at the same time, helping you to overload the biceps and drive more muscle growth. To really reap the benefits though, you need to focus on the eccentric portion of the lift, as this is the part of the exercise where the muscle damage occurs, helping them grow back bigger and stronger. So, slowly lower the barbell, don’t just drop it! Also, if your wrists hurt with a regular Olympic barbell, opt for an EZ bar instead.

3. Zottman curls

T3 Active Writer doing Zottman curls

(Image credit: Future)

You may not be familiar with Zottman curls, but it’s a nice variation to mix things up a bit (not to mention they leave a very impressive pump too). Zottman curls use an underhand and overhand grip during different portions of the lift, so as well as hitting both bicep heads, they also work your forearms too. Is it the most effective bicep exercise out there? Possibly not, as the eccentric portion of the lift places more focus on the forearm. That being said, it’s still a great one to include for some diversity.

4. Spider curls

A man performing spider curls with a pair of dumbbells

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

We’re still unsure where spider curls got their name from, but it’s a dumbbell curl performed with your chest resting against an inclined weight bench. This isolates the biceps and prevents other muscles from helping you move the weight, so your biceps are forced to work harder. However, this does mean you’re most likely not going to be able to lift as much weight as you would with other bicep exercises, so don’t be disheartened if you go down a couple of dumbbells.

5. Incline dumbbell curl

A man performing incline bicep curl

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The incline dumbbell curl is quite self-explanatory, where you perform a bicep curl sitting on an incline weight bench. However, it's the incline position that adds a little extra magic to this move, as it positions your hands behind your body. What this does is place extra emphasis on the long head of the bicep and extends the range of motion that the dumbbell has to travel, putting more tension on the muscles. This also makes it a great choice if you're really looking to achieve that all-important mind-muscle connection, which studies have shown drive hypertrophy.

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.