Are Incline Dumbbell Curls the Answer to Your Small Biceps?

You expect to see results when you spend hours a week grinding in the gym, right?

Do your sleeves flop in the wind because those glorious biceps haven’t reached their full potential? Do you skip leg day to get an extra arm day?

The Bicep

Biceps Diagram

Your bicep brachii comprises of about one-third of the upper arm and is made up of a long and a short head. Pulling movements such as curls, chin ups, and most back exercises build strength and mass in your bicep. Top-tier bodybuilders rely on thick, strong biceps for that mountain peak look. Powerlifters rely on strong biceps for increased stability in your squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Most bicep exercises are performed in the vertical plane, but the torso may be angled forward for exercises like preacher curls and angled backward for exercises like incline dumbbell curls.

Incline vs Preacher Curl

It doesn’t matter if you are a weekend warrior or a seasoned strength athlete — bigger biceps sets you apart from the crowd.

I think now is the time to mention that endless sets of curls will not build the arms you desire. Carefully planned and executed training with proper nutrition creates the physique you desire.

The Incline Dumbbell Curl

We all know popular bicep workouts like standing dumbbell curls, alternating curls, and even curling in the squat rack. What many lifters miss out on are exercises that change the whole dynamic of training your bicep such as concentration curls, preacher curls, and incline dumbbell curls.

Arnold Incline Curls

Dumbbell incline curls are great because the exercise isolates your biceps and uses your brachialis (lower bicep) and your brachioradialis (upper/outer forearm) for supporting muscle groups. These supporting muscle groups will assist the target muscle group in completing the movement. Your front deltoids and wrist flexors also act as stabilizers during this movement.

Did you know that stabilizer muscles help maintain the posture of a joint or fixate that joint by contracting without significantly moving?

Along with removing any momentum, the backward incline of your torso with this exercise increases the difficulty of curling. This is because your bicep is in a mechanically less advantageous position.

Similar to a preacher curl, incline dumbbell curls allow you to get a good stretch and a great contraction of your bicep.

Arnold Incline Curl

Performing the Incline Dumbbell Curl

Performing a dumbbell curl on an incline bench is pretty simple, but there are some tips to maximizing your efforts.

Generally speaking, performing three to four sets of 12 to 15 reps is plenty for this exercise. Supplement your bicep training with other curl variations, pull exercises, and even squats.

1.) Grab an adjustable bench and set it to around a 45 to 60-degree angle. You don’t need to bring a protractor or anything, just set the bench somewhere between vertical and horizontal. I usually use the first or second setting from all the way vertical.

As your angle increases, you’ll notice that it feels less and less like the dumbbell curl you’ve learned to love. Adjust the seat to a comfortable setting.

2.) Grab a pair of dumbbells and pick a workable weight. Remember, this exercise removes any help you get from momentum or sloppy form. If you normally curl 30 pound dumbbells, try 15s or 20s for your working weight. Pick a weight you can perform 12 to 15 reps per set with.

3.) With the dumbbells in your hand sit on the seat and lean back. Allow the dumbbells to hang to your side. You can use a traditional grip or a false grip with this exercise. Start with a neutral or supinated grip.

4.) Start the exercise by taking a deep breath and bracing your core, squeeze the dumbbells as hard as possible and pull your hands up towards your shoulder. Your upper arms and elbows should not drift out of place. You want all stress to be on your bicep.

5.) As you curl, continue until your forearms are about perpendicular to the ground. Everyone’s mechanics are built a little different, so get the best contraction you can — you don’t want to start using other muscles just to get your arm perfectly perpendicular to the ground.

6.) Squeeze your bicep at the top of the lift and hold for one to five seconds.

7.) Start lowering the dumbbells in a controlled manner back to your starting position and capitalize on the eccentric portion of the lift.

There is a lot of versatility with dumbbell incline curls. You can perform straight sets, supersets, slow negatives, paused reps, giant sets, drop sets, pre-exhaust sets, and even rest-pause sets. If you normally curl using both arms at the same time, try alternating arms.

Bicep Pose

Incline Dumbbell Curls Form Tips

Here are a few tips for this exercise. As always, you get out what you put in — being sloppy with this exercise won’t get you a ticket to gainz-ville.

Watch the Weight

Look, you need to pick a weight that is hard to perform more than 12-15 reps.

You need to be struggling with the final reps in each set. If you pick a weight that is too light, your body won’t be able to tear down the muscle and it certainly won’t have the anabolic response you are hoping for.

There’s no need to ego lift here. This is not a glamorous exercise, but it is highly effective.

Don’t Be Sloppy

Your bicep is at a mechanical disadvantage during this exercise. If you perform this exercise with the same slop you do when you’re trying to impress the girls… you won’t get any benefit from this exercise.

Feel the burn, maintain tension throughout the exercise, and start getting serious about building the physique you dream about.

Increase your time under tension by lengthening the time it takes for each phase of the exercise. Take three seconds to perform the concentric portion of the exercise, squeeze at the top for three seconds, and take three seconds on your eccentric portion of the exercise.

Choose a Good Angle

If you have a preexisting shoulder injury or have any mobility issues, using a more upright bench may be more beneficial to you. This will help remove stress from your shoulders and rotator cuff muscles while still putting your bicep at the mechanical disadvantage we want.

Find what works best for you.

No Momentum

Seriously, don’t try to ego lift.

Performing this exercise in a controlled full range of motion forces your bicep to grow. You performing an isolated movement that targets the two heads of your bicep and nothing else. Don’t let your shoulders roll in during the movement and don’t try to shrug at the top of your lift to make it easier.

As you lower your weights back to the starting position, don’t let your arms swing. Keep a tight, firm grip and allow the bicep to get a full stretch.

Don’t Flare Your Elbows

A common mistake while performing dumbbell incline curls is allowing your elbows to flare. Your elbows should remain by your side and vertically in line with each other throughout the movement. If you are flaring your elbows during the lift, you may be using too heavy of a weight.

Keeping your elbows to your side allows you to maximize bicep stimulation and helps you get the most out of every rep.

Maximize Efforts

If you’re like most lifters, you want to build a strong, functional, and aesthetic physique. Maximize your efforts in the gym by consistently putting in quality work in the gym and eating nutritious foods. You can break your muscles down in the gym, but building them bigger and stronger comes from what you shove into your pie hole.

If you don’t have one yet, try a solid muscle building routine and start getting the progress you’ve been hoping for.

Related: Cardio or Weights First: The Effects of Cardio on Muscle Growth

Incline Dumbbell Curl Benefits

The main benefit of this exercise is its ability to build beefy mountain peak biceps when performed correctly.

You are able to benefit from using the full range of motion of your bicep, an increased time under tension, and full isolation of the bicep in a mechanically disadvantageous position.

Incline Dumbbell Curl Arnold

Incline Dumbbell Curl Alternatives

Prone incline dumbbell curls are versatile and do not require much equipment. Do you already perform incline dumbbell curls? Don’t have an adjustable bench? Here are some alternative exercises you can try.

How Can I Perform Incline Dumbbell Curls Without A Bench?

While you can’t technically bench press without a bench, there are a couple of alternatives you can try:

  • Sit on a stability ball to simulate the inclined position. This is great for a stronger core.
  • Lean your back against a machine that has plenty of room for your arms to perform the exercise.

Incline Dumbbell Reverse Curls

A standard dumbbell curl is performed with a supinated grip, meaning your palms are face up. Performing this exercise with a pronated grip — or palms facing down — encourages different muscles to work.

Reverse curls will target your biceps brachii and brachialis. The brachialis is not a muscle you can readily see, but it acts as a structural bridge between your forearm and humerus (upper arm bone) and it is the prime muscle for elbow flexion. Normally an “out of sight, out of mind” muscle, training can help improve the size and look of your overall bicep.

Perform an incline dumbbell curl with your palms facing down.

Incline Dumbbell Hammer Curls

Instead of a supinated or pronated grip, keeping a neutral grip while performing curls can be a challenging and fun new exercise.

Hammer curls target the long head of the biceps, along with the brachioradialis and brachialis. Other stabilizer muscles are your extensor carpi radialis, your traps, and front delts. They are great for improving strength and allow you to target different muscles than your standard incline dumbbell curl.

Hammer Curls

Perform an incline dumbbell curl, but maintain a neutral grip with your palms facing each other. Your dumbbell handles should be mostly perpendicular to the ground.

Wrapping It Up

Consistency, proper form, and eating the right foods will build the beefy biceps you’ve always wanted.

Incline dumbbell curls force you to change how you look at a curl. You aren’t trying to move the most weight possible — you’re trying to place the most time under tension through the muscle’s full range of motion.

Let me know in the comments if you like this exercise.

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