• Barbell Curls

    by Puma

    Biceps barbell curl is the most popular isolation exercise performed for biceps development. It is commonly described as universal, equal for both heads, full range exercise. The problem is –it is NOT.

    The mistake is in words “Isolation, both heads, full range”. Sadly whole description goes to trash. The most sad thing is that most often people destroy performance of this “not so ideal” exercise. No secret why there as so many small-gunned people in the gym these days. Biceps is one of the easiest muscles to develop using the simplest tools – basic exercises. You do your rows, chins, deadlifts and add few curls variations here and there – and it suits you for first two years. No specialization needed. To track the source of modern day biceps impotency we will do some math. I know, I know, bodybuilders are no stereotypical big brains, but:

    - We are natural bodybuilders
    - We must master our performance cause no injection will do mass for us

    In short – analytical bodybuilder is a big bodybuilder. We love math – period.

    As we stated before, we train our biceps using big compound movements like wide variation of rows, pull ups, pull downs and even barbell overhead presses. What we need to do at direct guns training is to target both biceps heads in flexion, hammer them in supination and viola – big growth.

    In this article we will stick to “heavy” elbow flexion with barbells in free-weight-no-machines method - Puritan style. Keep in mind that heavy is used as opposition to dumbbells, so not “row heavy” but “heavy as for biceps”. Got nothing beside barbell and want big guns? Problem solved – read article and you will learn how to give hell to both heads separately.

    Isolation barbell curl with clean technique

    In order to perform good strict movement we must obey basic rules:

    Arm [shoulder-elbow] must be at all-time perpendicular to the floor. Using free weights means that we only fight versus the force of gravity. In such position both heads are equally involved and equally parti****ting in the curling. Of course the process is much more complex but we will simplify things as for now.

    If we would move our elbows to front during curling – we would change isolation movement to compound movement [harder, more CNS usage, front deltoid use]. Keep in mind – with frontal elbow movement we initiate shoulder flexion. By doing that we completely eliminate biceps short head’s elbow flexion – thus making exercise awkward, harder and less “direct biceps building”. In other words we are exchanging isolation exercise for the worst clone of standing press.

    If we would move our elbows to the rear, we would again switch the movement to compound one, thus eliminating the usage of one head, making things harder and switching some work to posterior deltoid. Still no “equal head” compliance.

    Now we know why are our arm must be perpendicular to the floor. From now on our biceps heads should work simultaneously with no problems, right ? No.
    We must ensure that the rest of our body position [bones, tendons, other muscles] are allowing our biceps to do the direct work.

    During elbow flexion our body must be in proper technical position:

    -chest up
    -head straight
    -abs tight
    -back arched
    -glutes tight
    -shoulder blades retracted

    That will guarantee us stable position during the movement and no mechanical obstructions.

    Let see how does it looks like in practice. In order to see everything as it is in reality we made a session with one of our IT specialist. Reason is simple – too big mass often shorten ROM and cover wrong technique.

    Blue line – line parallel to the force of gravity
    Green line – line parallel to the floor and also the line marking the biggest force acting on biceps
    Yellow angle a+b+c+d – theoretical full angle of full elbow flexion. Equals 180 degrees.

    As we see, actual proper isolation performance greatly differs from what we see commonly at the gyms. Perpendicular arms blocks full elbow extension as the start of the exercise. Our range of motion is shortened. We must eliminate angle “a” form ROM, and that leaves us with only 145 degrees of workable space. With further sticking to “perpendicular rule”, bar path is blocked by chest. Again – angle “d” must eliminated from full range of motion. That leaves us with only 100 degrees of ROM. We are left with only merely half of movement! Pay attention to the green line – it signs the place where the biggest force is applied to the biceps. It is in the middle of the exercise. That means – going up form this point make things easier.


    - Crucial first stage of ROM is avoided
    - Crucial final peak of ROM is avoided
    - Actual peak in not in biggest force point
    - Only 100 degrees of motion


    - True isolation movement
    - Exercise is healthy and pain free
    - Both heads are worked equally
    - No other major muscles isotonic work
    - Only one function of biceps Brachii is used

    True isolation barbell curl is decent exercise but it cannot be the only exercise you perform. It is not optimal and it does not cover the full ROM. It can be used as an auxiliary exercise. Preferably as the last exercise for biceps in your routine. Constant tension is a plus, but ROM shortage is something that cannot be forgotten.
    What now? Switch for dumbbells for prime exercise, or worse – stick with machines? Far from that. Vincent Gironda – “Iron Guru” invented barbell full ROM exercise that covers every weakness of the proper curl.

    Perfect Curl

    Blue line – line parallel to the force of gravity
    Green line – line parallel to the floor and also the line marking the biggest force acting on biceps
    Yellow line – theoretical full angle of elbow flexion. Equals 180 degrees.

    Exercise performance in quite tricky. You need to master it in order to achieve magnificent gains. Really funny thing is that the exercise [actually first stage] is often showed in popular mass media magazines as “Gironda’s failure”, describing it as some kind of swing power curl. I don’t know is it a matter of the really bad will of authors or their very low IQ. Let’s leave it for them to consider, cause we got out wonder tool – perfect curl.

    How to do it correctly:

    - Acquire technical position and grab the bar as you would do with normal curls
    - Bent backward by bending knees only. No back hyperextension. Bent as far as you can while still maintaining full stability and full technical position. At first it could be only 10 degrees. More will come when you will master it.
    - Start curling the bard using classic radial path
    - After defeating inertia [1 inch] start straightening position while still constantly curling the barbell using radial path
    - Reach middle point, which looks like the same point in classic barbell curl
    - Start bending forward by moving your hips backward while still constantly curling the barbell using radial path and still maintaining technical position.
    - Reach the top point where bar path is finally blocked
    - Squeeze biceps
    - Start eccentric phase using reverse order

    Tip: Elbow is immovable. Whole body is moving – elbow stays in the same relative position [except going up and down via knees work which creates elbow radial path with the center of axis in the floor but still rest of the body is performing this move, not elbow].

    Now you understand that there are few things to master. But nothing biggy. Out IT guy while being complete amateur catch the basic performance in under hour [taught by two coaches at once].

    Great list of advantages compared to classic curl:

    Perfect Curl: Proper existing first stage of motion in flexion movement with actual non-zero force acting on biceps.
    Classic Curl: Non-existing first stage of motion.

    Perfect Curl: Proper existing last stage of motion in flexion movement with +- 3 / 4 of maximal force applied on biceps.
    Classic Curl: Severely reduced range of last phase.

    Perfect Curl: 170 degrees of elbow flexion
    Classic Curl: 100 degrees of elbow flexion

    Perfect Curl: Mobile and immobile equality in biceps heads involvement
    Classic Curl: Immobile equality in biceps heads involvement

    Perfect Curl: Very low amplitude of force acting on biceps. Constant work in golden zone.
    Classic Curl: High amplitude of force acting on biceps.

    Perfect Curl: Not depended on user bodyweight. Shifting forces promote good technique.
    Classic Curl: Very depended on user bodyweight. Too big barbell weight will shift body forward destroying technique.

    What you see above means Perfect Curl flawless victory over Classical Curl. Now you know why it’s called perfect.

    And now take another look a photo, and treat each frame as different exercise. What do you see ?

    1: Alternative variation of Scott Curl
    2: Classic Curl
    3: Alternative variation of Reverse Scott Curl

    Workout Routines

    Both exercises can do wonders if used together. The simplest biceps routine:

    Perfect Curl 6 x 8 reps
    Classic Curl with back against the wall 6 x 12 reps

    …and biceps well fried. Both heads in equality.

    If one head is lagging – switch to:

    Perfect Curl 5 x 8 reps
    Standing variation of Scott Curl or Reverse Scott Curl 4 x 10 reps
    Classic Curl with back against the wall 3 x 12 reps

    Add some decent exercises for forearms and yours arm is done. Simple, effective and using barbell only.

    One tool fits all heads. Depending on your flexibility, experience and strength – you can go deeper on angle curls / Reverse angle curls. In case of forward bend you can go as deep as back parallel to the floor for greater isolation, but keep in mind that the exercise will become very weight dependent. But it is normal for “sniper” tools.
    One barbell + curling = 4 different exercises.

    In the next part we will still use barbell only methodology without any support. Mythical “drag curl” – power horse but yet specialist tools. Stay tuned!