Concentration Curl

About

Understandably a popular choice among gym-goers, the concentration curl efficiently isolates the biceps by preventing scope for unintentional additional body movement, placing the training load exclusively on the targeted arm flexors muscles, namely the biceps.

With the athlete’s working arm pressed against their thigh during the curl we not only eradicate any cheating during the curl, therefore maximising training intensity, but also uniquely shift greater stimulus onto the long (outer) head of the biceps and away from the short (inner) head. The concentration curl shares this trait with the preacher curl, which similarly causes the short head of the biceps to enter active insufficiency, meaning it cannot exert enough tension to fully contract by itself. This gives credence to the “old-school” view that the concentration curl is an excellent exercise for developing the peak of the biceps.

By changing the grip used when grasping the dumbbell, it is possible to alter and manipulate the level of stress placed on each of the arm flexor muscles during the curl. As a general rule of thumb, a supinated (palms up) grip will most effectively target the biceps, while a pronated (palms down) grip places greater load onto the brachioradialis (upper forearm).

Instructions

Preparation

  1. Find a dumbbell of a suitable weight
  2. Sit on the edge of a bench, grasp the dumbbell with one hand and place the upper arm on inner thigh for support

Execution

  1. Keeping the upper arm pressed on your inner thigh, curl the dumbbell by contracting the biceps until peak contraction is reached
  2. Slowly reverse the movement
  3. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Common Questions

Both the barbell biceps curl and the concentration curl are great options for developing the biceps, yet there are subtle differences between the two.

The primary difference has already been mentioned in the introduction of the exercise – the concentration curl causes significantly greater activation in the long head of the biceps compared to the short head, a trait not shared with the traditional biceps curl which exhibits a more equalised recruitment between the two muscle heads.

Additionally, being seated and having the working arm stationary during the concentration curl does severely limit the scope of unintentionally cheating the weight up during the curl. Gym-goers usually find they cannot handle as much weight during the concentration curl compared to the traditional standing dumbbell curl, with the entire load solely placed on the target muscle group.

That said, we must of course not take the binary view that all “cheating” is bad when it comes to exercise form. It is always recommended that those new to training perform exercises with a comfortable weight using textbook form, yet we must acknowledge that for advanced trainers there is merit in using advanced training techniques, such as “cheat reps” and “negatives”, for maximum muscle development and continued progress.

Like the traditional dumbbell curl, the concentration curl can be performed with a variety of grip positions to shift the training load onto the various arm flexor muscles.

If the concentration curl is performed with the wrist fixed at a supinated (palms up) position the brachialis and biceps are the primary targets of the exercise, with the long head of the biceps substantially more active than the short head.

Alternatively, executing the exercise using a neutral (hammer) grip, whether it’s during the lower portion of the curl when rotating the wrist or maintaining a hammer grip throughout, will result in greater brachioradialis involvement.

Using a pronated (palms down) grip places the biceps in a mechanically weakened position and shifts the majority of the load onto the brachioradialis, making it a great choice for developing the forearms.

Standing concentration curlWhile this guide focuses on the seated concentration curl, it is also possible to perform the concentration curl in a standing position. Indeed, the standing concentration curl was favoured by Arnold Schwarzenegger who credited the exercise for helping to shape his distinctive biceps peaks.

The standing concentration curl is performed with the athlete bent at the waist and the working arm hanging free below the shoulder, not pressed against the thigh like during the seated version. While the mechanics of the curl are akin and will result in fairly similar stimulation, the standing version is considered more advanced as it places the athlete in a potentially hazard position and a decent level of overall body strength is required to hold correct form.

Generally it would be wise to stick to the seated concentration curl, but as you advance in your training the standing version is a good option to experiment with to see which you prefer.

Workout Ideas

Within a full body workout

Exercise Targets
Stiff leg deadlift Lower body and core
Dumbbell bench press Chest and arm extenders
High row Middle and upper back and arm flexors
Concentration curl Arm flexors
Exercise ball roll out Abdominals

Within a pull workout (e.g. if following push / pull / legs)

Exercise Targets
Chin up Latissimus Dorsi
One arm dumbbell row Middle and upper back and arm flexors
Seated shoulder press Shoulders
Concentration curl Arm flexors

Within an upper workout (e.g. if following upper / lower)

Exercise Targets
Pull up Latissimus Dorsi
Decline bench press Chest and arm extenders
Arnold press Shoulders
Concentration curl Arm flexors
Superset with  
Triceps dips Arm extenders

Other Arm Exercises

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