7 Different Types of Dumbbell Curls for Bigger Biceps

The biceps might be small in size compared to many other muscles in the human body, but that doesn’t stop it from having a special place in the hearts of fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders.

There are many exercises you can use to build bigger and stronger biceps, some more effective than others.

In this article, we’ll review the different types of dumbbell curls that should be part of your exercise arsenal for building the guns you want and need to perform and look your best.

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Biceps Anatomy and Function

What most people think of as “the biceps” is actually two muscles: the biceps brachii and the brachialis. It is relatively small compared to most other major muscle groups but still plays a significant role in athletic performance and upper body strength.

As you probably already know, your biceps are located at the front of your upper arm. It has two parts – the long and the short head. “Bi-” means two, and “-ceps” refers to heads, so “biceps” means “two heads.” 

Both heads start at different places on your shoulder blades and join together to form one muscle that runs down your arm and comes together at the elbow.

biceps anatomy for arm workout
  • The short head is on the inner side of your upper arm and adds to the width of your biceps.
  • On the outer side of your upper arm, the long head gives your biceps a peak.

The biceps have two primary functions.

  • The first job is elbow flexion, which is what you do when you bend your elbow joints. Like when you lift a can of soda to your mouth or curl a dumbbell in the gym.
  • The biceps also help you twist your forearm. For example, when you turn a doorknob or screw in a light bulb, your biceps allow you to do so.

In addition, your biceps play a role in lifting your arm forward and up.

The brachialis muscle lies below your biceps and adds size to your upper arms by lifting the biceps. It is actually a stronger elbow flexor than the biceps.

You have two primary ways to build bigger biceps:

  • Indirectly, when you pull things towards your body, like when you train your upper back.
  • Directly, like when you perform different types of biceps curls.

Some claim that your biceps get enough training from compound exercises like chin-ups, lat pulldowns, and barbell rows. However, once you’re past the beginner stage of your strength-training career, you want to add direct biceps work to your workout routine for the best results.

Benefits of Dumbbell Curls for Building Biceps

You can build biceps strength and muscle mass in many different ways: free weights like barbells and dumbbells, a cable machine, a resistance band, or even your body weight.

However, dumbbells offer several benefits.

  • You can use dumbbells for a wide range of exercises and movements. With a barbell, you basically have one barbell curl variation, but with dumbbells, you can twist and turn your wrists as you lift, hitting your biceps from different angles and through various movements.
  • Dumbbells allow for unilateral training (you work each arm separately), which helps you identify and correct muscle imbalances where one arm might be stronger than the other.
  • If you train at home and have limited space or money to spend on exercise equipment, dumbbells are more accessible than barbells or machines. With adjustable dumbbells, you only need a few pairs to train your entire body.

With that all out of the way, let’s dive into the list of the best types of dumbbell curls for your biceps gains!

#1: Dumbbell Curl

When it comes to building stronger and bigger biceps, the motto “back to basics” goes a long way. 

The traditional dumbbell curl, along with the barbell bicep curl, is the cornerstone of most arm training programs. For more than one good reason.

  • For the beginner, the simplicity and effectiveness of the dumbbell curl make it the best choice to get started with biceps training.
  • For advanced lifters and bodybuilders, its versatility and progression potential keep it in the rotation as one of the best biceps exercises regardless of training experience.

Dumbbell biceps curls allow you to use a heavy weight compared to most other bicep curl variations to overload your biceps for maximum muscle growth. At the same time, it’s still an isolation exercise that hits your biceps and nothing else.

When done with proper form, that is.

More often than not, you see people swinging the dumbbells up, seemingly training everything but the biceps. Heavy weights and good form is the best way to hit the right muscle fibers and make those biceps muscles grow.

You can do dumbbell curls in your living room without any equipment but a pair of dumbbells or in a high-tech gym filled with spaceship-looking machines. It fits into your routine no matter where you train or what your fitness goals are.

How to Perform Dumbbell Curls

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells in an underhand grip (palms facing forward), arms hanging by your sides.
  2. Curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders by only moving your forearms.
  3. Don’t let your upper arms travel back during the curl. Keep them at your sides or move them slightly forward.
  4. Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

#2: Hammer Curl

The hammer curl looks very similar to the regular type of dumbbell curls. You perform the two dumbbell curl variations almost exactly the same way, with one key difference: the grip. 

Unlike the standard bicep curl with a supinated grip (your palms are facing up), you hold the dumbbells with a hammer grip, your palms facing each other.

If you didn’t skip the anatomy section of the article earlier, you’ll remember that the brachialis muscle is the strongest of the elbow flexors. The hammer curl is a great exercise for developing this muscle, which helps you add size and thickness to your upper arms. The more well-developed your brachialis, the more they push up your biceps and add to that desirable bulge.

In addition to building the brachialis muscle, hammer curls work your biceps, emphasizing the long head that runs along the outside of your arm and adds to its peak.

The benefits of the hammer curls don’t end with your upper arms, though. They also give your forearm muscles a good workout, particularly the brachioradialis. That’s the meaty muscle near the elbow that closes the gap between your biceps and forearms.

In short, you don’t want to overlook the hammer curl if your goal is to build bigger arms. Few other isolation exercises hit your arms from as many different angles as this excellent biceps curl variation.

How to Perform Hammer Curls

  1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms at your sides, holding a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip (your palms facing each other).
  2. Bend your elbows and curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders, keeping your upper arms close to your sides. Don’t swing the dumbbells up; focus on contracting your biceps to curl them up.
  3. At the top of the movement, your forearms should be parallel to the ground, and your biceps should be fully contracted.
  4. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position, under control.
  5. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

#3: Dumbbell Preacher Curl

Of all the different types of bicep curls, the preacher curl is the one that isolates your biceps the best. That’s because you place your upper arm in a fixed position, making it almost impossible to cheat by swinging the weight up.

You can use a dedicated preacher bench, or, if you work out at home and don’t have any specialized equipment, a regular incline bench and place your upper arm against the backrest. The only potential drawback with a regular bench is that you have to train one arm at a time, while a preacher bench has room for both.

This is one exercise where using as much weight as possible might not be the way to go. Instead of reaching for the heaviest dumbbell in the gym, use a lighter weight and focus on mind-muscle connection, a full range of motion, and really feeling your biceps work.

How to Perform Dumbbell Preacher Curls

  1. Use a preacher curl bench, or position the back rest of a regular training bench so that it leans back slightly.
  2. Grab a dumbbell, stand behind the bench, and rest your upper arm against the back rest.
  3. Lower the dumbbell as far as you can, and then reverse the motion, returning to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

#4: Incline Dumbbell Curl

The incline dumbbell curl is similar to regular dumbbell bicep curls but with two differences.

While you can do dumbbell curls either standing or seated, the way you prefer, you always perform incline dumbbell curls seated. The inclined bench is the secret ingredient.

To maximize the training stimulus of a biceps workout, you should include exercises that place your shoulder joint at different angles.1 Incline curls are a valuable addition to your biceps workout as it is one of few exercises where your arms move behind your body, stretching your biceps and putting constant tension on the muscle through the whole range of motion. This type of dumbbell curl is particularly effective for targeting the long head of the biceps.

You’ll be surprised at how much heavier incline curls feel compared to regular curls where you’re standing or sitting up straight. That’s okay, though: your biceps can’t see how heavy are the dumbbells you lift. When you’re leaning back, like in the incline dumbbell curl, your biceps are in a weak position, and even relatively light weights will put maximum stress on them.

The most common mistake many people make in the incline curl is they bring their shoulders forward as they curl the weight up. Doing so allows your front delts to come into play. You want to keep them down and back and make the bicep muscles do all the work.

How to Perform Incline Dumbbell Curls

  1. Adjust an incline bench to an angle between 45 to 60 degrees.
  2. Sit back on the incline bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
  3. Let your arms hang straight down to the sides with your palms facing forward.
  4. Curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders. Keep your upper arms stationary, moving only your forearms during the curl.
  5. Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells back to the starting position while keeping your elbows from moving forward or backward.
  6. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

#5: Zottman Curl

Different types of dumbbell curls: Zottman curl exercise technique
Zottman Curl

The Zottman curl is a classic type of dumbbell curl that works not only the biceps but also hits the brachialis and forearms very effectively. This excellent exercise is sadly heavily underused in bodybuilding arm workouts today.

Named after the 19th-century strongman George Zottman, known for his mighty and well-developed forearms, the Zottman Curl is a hybrid movement combining the standard bicep curl and a reverse curl.

The first part of the Zottman curl, the concentric contraction where you lift the dumbbells, is identical to the standard dumbbell curl. The full focus is on your biceps. However, instead of lowering the dumbbells as usual, you rotate your wrists at the top of the movement to an overhand grip with your palms face downwards.

This unique twist turns the Zottman curl into a triple combo that not only builds bigger and stronger biceps but also enhances your forearm girth and grip strength.

How to Perform Zottman Curls

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms fully extended and palms facing up.
  3. Curl the dumbbells upwards while keeping your upper arms stationary.
  4. Stop the movement when the dumbbells are at shoulder level, and your biceps are fully contracted.
  5. At the top of the curl, rotate your wrists so that your palms face downwards.
  6. Lower the dumbbells with your palms facing down, controlling the movement to maximize forearm engagement.
  7. Once your arms are fully extended at the bottom, rotate your wrists back to the starting position with palms up.
  8. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

#6: Concentration Curl

The concentration curl stands out from many other different types of dumbbell curls because it places your arm in an anchored position, creating more tension on the biceps.

A 2014 study from the American Council on Exercise actually found that the concentration curs is the best exercise for activating the biceps brachii muscle.2

Many bodybuilders believe the dumbbell concentration curl is number one for building the peak of the biceps. Biceps peak is mainly determined by genetics, but there is some truth to the notion, as doing concentration curls is a great way to target the long head of your biceps.

Bodybuilders often use the concentration curl as a finishing exercise at the end of a workout for maximum pump. Regardless of when you do them, the concentration curl exercise isolates your biceps and helps you add muscle mass to your upper arms.

How to Perform Concentration Curls

  1. Sit on a bench or chair with your feet flat on the ground, and hold a dumbbell in your right hand with a supinated grip (palms facing up).
  2. Lean forward and place your elbow against the inside of your thigh, just above your knee. Keep your upper arm close to your body and your other hand on your opposite knee for support and stability.
  3. Curl the weight towards your shoulder while keeping your upper body, arm, and elbow stationary. All the movement should be in your elbow joint.
  4. Squeeze your biceps at the movement’s top, and hold briefly before lowering the weight to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the movement for the desired number of reps, switch arms, and repeat the exercise with your left hand.

#7: Spider Curl

You don’t have to get bit by a radioactive spider to benefit from the spider curl. 🕷️ And while it doesn’t give you the proportionate strength of a spider either, it is a very effective isolation exercise for your biceps, as it places you at a gravity-defying angle, which minimizes your ability to “cheat” the weight up using momentum​.

Lying face down with your torso against an incline bench forces the short head of the biceps to spring into action, helping to add width to your upper arms. You’ll also find that this arm position works with gravity and leverage to make the dumbbells feel really heavy. Don’t be surprised if you must use a light set of dumbbells for spider curls.

How to Perform Spider Curls

  1. Lie down on your chest and stomach on a 45-degree bench, holding a pair of dumbbells in an underhand (supinated) grip.
  2. With your upper arms vertical, lift the dumbbells with control, by flexing your elbows.
  3. Don’t let your upper arms travel back or forwards during the curl. Keep the movement to your forearms only.
  4. Reverse the movement and lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

Dumbbell Curl Workouts for Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced Lifters

There you have it! The seven best types of dumbbell curls to build strength and muscle mass. Use these different exercises in your arm workouts, and you’re on your way to build the biceps you’ve always wanted.

But how do you design a good dumbbell biceps workout, you might wonder.

Here are three complete workout suggestions for beginners, intermediates, and advanced lifters that you can use whether you train at home or in a commercial gym.

Beginner Dumbbell Bicep Workout

  1. Dumbbell curl 3 sets x 8–10 reps

Yes, that’s it! As a beginner, you don’t need a checklist of every type of bicep curl you can imagine to build your arms.

Do three sets of dumbbell curls two or three times weekly, and your biceps will respond. If you train your back (which you should), your biceps get added work from your pulldowns and rows, too.

Intermediate Dumbbell Bicep Workout

At the intermediate level, meaning you have at least a couple of months of training experience behind you, you can do one exercise where you use heavy weights and low reps and one exercise using lighter weights where you completely isolate your biceps.

  1. Dumbbell curl or hammer curl 4 sets x 6–8 reps
  2. Dumbbell preacher curl or concentration curl 4 sets x 10–12 reps

Do this workout two times per week and watch your biceps grow.

Advanced Dumbbell Bicep Workout

At this level, you’ve been training for years, and your newbie gains are a thing of the past. You need a higher training volume and effort to blast through plateaus and get your biceps growing again.

  1. Dumbbell curl 4 sets x 6–8 reps
  2. Hammer curl 4 sets x 8–10 reps
  3. Dumbbell preacher curl 3 sets 10–12 reps
  4. Incline dumbbell curl 3 sets 10–12 reps

Two weekly bicep sessions will kickstart biceps muscle growth, even if you’re an experienced lifter or bodybuilder.

Complete Arm Workout With Dumbbells at Home

Are you looking for a complete dumbbell workout to build muscular biceps and triceps? StrengthLog’s Arm Workout With Dumbbells at Home has everything you need to build bigger arms in the comfort of your home and without expensive gym equipment.

This workout is available in your StrengthLog workout tracker now.

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References

  1. Sports 2019, 7(9), 204. The Effects of Varying Glenohumeral Joint Angle on Acute Volume Load, Muscle Activation, Swelling, and Echo-Intensity on the Biceps Brachii in Resistance-Trained Individuals.
  2. ACE Prosource, August 2014.
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Andreas Abelsson

Andreas is a certified nutrition coach and bodybuilding specialist with over three decades of training experience. He has followed and reported on the research fields of exercise, nutrition, and health for almost as long and is a specialist in metabolic health and nutrition coaching for athletes. Read more about Andreas and StrengthLog by clicking here.