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In Defense of…..The Bicep Curl

I want to write a few posts on specific exercises, especially those that have been sidelined and resigned to ridicule in the modern era of “functional training” It seems that these days is only functional if it involves some wacky piece of kit, impossible balance or a crossfit membership. So I want to take a look at a few exercises, routines and pieces of kit that have been left by the wayside and reevaluate their place in our training.

To start, we’ll go with the bodybuilders favourite, a lift that is guaranteed to have your modern personal trainer shaking his (or her) head as they lead their client past you to the Bosu section, the Bicep Curl.

Now, while I firmly agree that the majority of anybody’s training must be spent on large, multi joint compound movements. The Bicep curl is a single joint drill, an isolation movement. but do we need to eliminate all isolations? No, we just have to realise that there is a time and a place for everything.

In my studio, there is a place for the bicep curl, more specifically the Reverse curl, but not for the usual reasons.

Normally most trainees will pick up the biggest dumbells they can hold and swing them up to their shoulders and back with a vengeance in an attempt to fill out their shirt sleeves. If massive arms are your goal, get over to the pull up bar and bang out a load of chins with some added weight. Do the same at the dip station, throw in some squats and deadlifts and bang, big arms (and everything else!)

But here at Wild Geese, hypertrophy is rarely requested. Strength, speed and power are more usual goals from our boys and girls, after all huge guns are of little use in the ring and excess hypertrophy may slow you down or worse still, bump you up a heavier weight class. So why would I prescribe the curl?

Most of our guys are fighters of some description, kickboxers, Jujitsu players, Judoka and Eskrimadors. Each of these guys has to make powerful movements from the arm, often times the elbows are extended at very high speeds, sometimes with nothing in it’s path to arrest this motion if the opponent moves out of the way. Other times the elbows are forced into hyperextension by their opponent.

Very often, especially in our kickboxing community, we get elbow pain. Our elbow is an important joint, there is an awful lot going there (for exactly how much, read this series from Eric Cressey), and if you’ve ever felt the excruciating pain of a well applied arm bar, you’ll already appreciate the need for strength around and about it. Our boxers are constantly punching, but they are also trying not to be punched. This means they are very often firing out fast snappy punches and having to arrest the movement themselves. This can take it’s toll, the elbow joint often becomes sore and /or inflamed. For the grapplers, they have a similar issue, except their elbows are forcibly hyper extended by their partners, this happened to me many years ago when I didn’t know any better, my training partner at the time snapped on an armbar and I yelped like a kicked puppy. It was a full week before I could straighten my arm fully.

So in rehabbing these injuries, and often times, preventing these injuries I have found the bicep curl very useful. More accurately the Reverse Curl. The reverse curl does a great job of working the Brachoradialus muscle, this crosses the elbow from the forearm to the upper arm where it slips under the main biceps.

(Pic courtesy of

Strengthening this seems to relieve the majority of hyperextension injuries. I prescribe many of the fighters to perform them with light weight, and full range of motion. I encourage them to move in a controlled fashion, holding the weight, either a barbell or a kettlebell threaded onto a towel, with the palms facing the floor as they lift the weight from hanging arms right up to the forehead and back.

Moderate to high reps seem to work best, although I also strongly advise heavy pull ups (palms facing away) to hit the brachoradialis a little harder in the low rep range. I don’t advocate going heavy on single joint exercises, keep the big weights for the big drills, go lighter and stricter on the little drills.

Add this little gem to your training arsenal from time to time, I think your elbows will thank you for it, especially if you are involved in any sport with a large amount of elbow extension.



NEXT BOOTCAMP – starts 16th May at 7am sharp. This runs for three days per week, for 4 weeks. If you are serious about improving your strength, speed and power, give me a call and we’ll book you a place, otherwise, stay in bed.

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