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4 Exercises Better than the Barbell Curl

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Think standing barbell curls are the best you can do to force your bi’s to grow? Here are four unique variations that make an outstanding biceps move an even greater one for adding size.

By Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS

Let’s face it, the legs have the squat, the shoulders have the overhead press and the biceps, of course, have the barbell curl. No other exercise is better known for adding size and thickness to your upper arms than holding a loaded barbell and busting out grueling hardcore sets. However, even the best exercise can be improved and enhanced and that’s our focus this month; to take an already phenomenal exercise — the standing barbell curl — and show you ways to make it even better. If you’re stuck in a rut, despite the fact that you’ve conquered the curl, the writing on the wall is clear: It’s time to make a change for the better.

It’s that very reason why we’ve assembled four exercises with all of the essential elements of the curl but with striking differences that’ll stress and target your musculature and your form dramatically. After reading about the benefits of each, we’ve designed a four-week training scheme to help you incorporate each into your routine. Your biceps should be a signature bodypart for you. If they’re not, it’s time for a change.

1. Seated Barbell Curl

Seated Barbell Curl

If you haven’t given this off-the-beaten-path exercise a shot, then you’re not giving your biceps a chance at serious growth. You see, typically during a standard barbell curl, you seldom exhaust the upper portion of the curl simply because you usually fail to move the bar past the parallel point. Think about it: When you hit the sticking point on curls, it’s always about 8 inches into the curl when you have to drop the bar. However, the strongest portion of the curl is the top half of the arc. The reason you fail during the lower portion of the curl is because that section of the curl is governed predominantly by the brachioradialis, not the stronger biceps brachii. So why not spend some time up high where the biceps brachii can be fully activated? The seated barbell curl does just that, allowing you to work your biceps to a point of exhaustion they seldom — if ever — experience.

The beauty of doing these on either a standard bench-press station or sitting reverse on a decline bench is that the rack is right there for easy dismount, and it’s also great for when you want to quickly superset exercises, such as the seated curl and lying triceps extension. What you want to do is sit backward on the bench, with your feet facing where a spotter would stand. Sit up straight, chest up and shoulders back, directly in front of the bar. Grasp the bar at shoulder width and unrack it, lowering it to your lap. As you would during the standing version, take a deep breath and curl the weight toward your shoulders, keeping your elbows back by your sides. Squeeze and slowly lower the bar back to your lap and repeat. To extend the set, go ahead and stand up and continue doing curls until you reach failure from a full-range perspective.

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