Reverse Curls Guide

Do you want bigger biceps? Would you like bigger forearms too? Are you fed up with doing biceps curls and wrist curls separately? Build your upper and lower arms at the same time with reverse curls.


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. 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.


Muscles Worked 

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 have 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 curl

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.
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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 for 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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


Superset with regular curls

Pump your arms up to the max by super setting 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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.
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Common Mistakes

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. White 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.


What are the Benefits of Wrist Curls?

reverse curl man dreads

If you build up your forearms and wrists you will be able to lift more weight while performing other exercises.

The majority of the exercises you do at the gym involve using your hands to hold on to resistance.


The strength in your hands comes from your forearms.

The benefit of adding wrist curls to your routine is you’ll be able to hold more weight in your hands.


When you first start super-setting, in an exercise program, the weights aren’t that heavy.

However, once you start adding on some muscle and start lifting heavier weights, you realize something is holding you back.

You are limited by your forearm strength—or lack of forearm strength!


When we think of bodybuilding, we think of arms and abs.

When we think of football and soccer we tend to give our legs priority.


And sports like soccer and baseball make us think of shoulder joints and rotator cuff tendons.

But, the often-forgotten forearms play a huge part in success on the courts, ball fields and achieving bodybuilding goals.


Although we use them constantly throughout the day, underdeveloped forearm muscles can hold the key to success in breaking through training plateaus and/or taking sports performance to the next level.

Not only are forearms rarely, if ever, prioritized in a training routine, but they are also often completely neglected and forgotten.

The tiny wrist joint is responsible for adduction, abduction, flexion-extension, and circumduction.

It is a combination of movements that allows the hand to move circularly.

The forearm’s supinator muscle controls the rotation or supination, while the pronator teres and pronator quadratus allow for medial rotation of the arm.


When was the last time you worked your pronator quadratus?

Your wrists and fingers can move in all kinds of directions.

Unlike your legs at the knee joint, for instance, which can only move forward and backward.


Flexor muscles flex your wrist toward your forearm and extensor muscles extend your muscles back to the straight position.

Two of the biggest flexor muscles in the anterior forearm are the brachioradialis and the flexor carpi radialis muscles.


The brachioradialis is used when you do bicep exercises because it’s an elbow flexor muscle.

The flexor carpi radialis flexes your hand at the wrist joint.


By doing wrist curls you are performing these movements with weights to strengthen the muscles involved.



Cheat Curls: Are They Of Any Benefit?


What are cheat curls? They are exactly what you would imagine. You are cheating on good form and technique, by using other means to assist in hoisting the weight you are curling. This sounds like a really bad idea, doesn’t it? 


It can be, but when done properly and placed into a workout in the proper place, it’s a beneficial strategy. 

The only drawback is that you have to be strict in your other sets and reps. Meticulously so, if you want cheat curls to be of any benefit to your arm growth. Since a lot of people cheat inadvertently by shrugging their shoulders, or leaning forward and throwing themselves rearwards while curling to propel the barbell or dumbbell up towards their pecs, they may want to consider a realistic look at what they’re already doing before incorporating an exercise which has intentional bad form.


When To Perform Cheat Curls

If you are a candidate for doing cheat curls, meaning you don’t carry too much stress in your shoulders, rotator cuff muscles, levator scapulae, and so on, you should place a strong consideration for where you put them in your bicep regimen. I always recommend people do them as the final exercise, as they are so demanding, that it will be virtually impossible to use proper curling techniques if you put them before your other exercises.


How To Perform Cheat Curls

For the sake of simplicity, let’s discuss performing cheat curls with a barbell, as opposed to dumbbells, or worse, any kind of a pulley system. 

To begin with, assume your normal grip and stance, but only now, you’ll have more weight on the bar than you could do cleanly for more than a few reps. For example, if you can barbell curl 80 pounds for 10 reps with good form, you would want to use anywhere from 90 to 100 pounds for cheat curls, but still, shoot for around 10 reps.


 I will never recommend anyone to shrug the weight, as it exacerbates imbalances and highly increases the probability of injury, so I suggest employing momentum instead. It’s certainly not foolproof to use momentum, but it is safer, unless you have a weak low back and/or shoulder imbalances, as you will invariably end up shrugging up reps with a weight too heavy for you to otherwise handle, and that is precarious at best. 


So, with your grip set, and normal foot placement, engage your abdominal muscles for all you’re worth, and tilt forward slightly while keeping your shoulders low. Now, while keeping your abdominal area muscles clenched, you will rear back with your upper body while simultaneously curling the bar as you normally would during a typical set of curls. 


The trick is to use only as much momentum that is needed to get the bar moving upwards and then letting your biceps take over the rest of the range of motion exclusively. If you swing too much, you won’t get anything out of it. If you swing too little, you won’t be able to budge it, so employ just the right amount of assistance.

Check out more about this topic on Boxing Bayside .


Wrapping Up

Whether you are a bodybuilder, a powerlifter, a tennis player, a climber, or just a general exerciser, reverse curls deserve to be part of your workouts.


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 is.


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