How to Dumbbell Curl

About the Dumbbell Curl

When it comes to targeting the biceps few exercises are more effective than the dumbbell curl. Being unilateral in nature (each arm works independently of the other), the dumbbell curl is an exercise which not only successfully works the two biceps heads and other arm flexor muscles, but is also a great choice for preventing, or addressing, muscle imbalances which may occur between each arm.

To perform the dumbbell curl, stand erect grasping a dumbbell in each hand. Whilst keeping a good posture, curl one dumbbell up while exhaling, rotating at the wrist so that at the top of the curl your palms are facing towards your shoulder. Squeeze the biceps are the top and then reverse the movement while inhaling. Repeat the movement with other arm.

While the above instruction illustrates how to perform the alternating dumbbell curl, the exercise can also be performed simultaneously so both arms are curled at the same time. Additionally, we have described the variation of the dumbbell curl in which the dumbbell is rotated during the exercise but it is also perfectly fine to perform the dumbbell curl with the wrists maintained in a supinated position (palms facing upward throughout the curl).

As with all exercises, make sure you pick a set of dumbbells which are challenging for your chosen rep range but are not so heavy that they cause your form to be impaired.

How to perform


  1. Locate a set of dumbbells of suitable weight
  2. Stand erect grasping the dumbbells to your sides
  3. Keep a slight bend in the knee and fix your upper arms to the side of your body


  1. Starting with a neutral grip (palms facing towards your body), curl the dumbbell in your left hand upward whilst rotating at the wrist so that your palm is facing upward once you reach the top of the exercise
  2. Reverse the movement back to the starting position
  3. Repeat for the other arm
  4. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Common Questions

There is no single, correct way to perform the dumbbell curl. The dumbbell curl can be performed in various ways, whether it’s in an alternating fashion with the dumbbell being rotated, simultaneously (both arms curling at the same time), a fixed supinated (palms up) grip throughout, or even simultaneous-alternating so one arm is at full contraction while the other arm is performing a curl and then vice-versa.

Because the rotating dumbbell curl mimics the initial stages of the hammer curl we can expect greater brachioradialis involvement at the beginning of the movement, compared to when strictly using a fixed, supinated grip.

Additionally, it may be argued that sticking to a purely supinated grip (by not rotating the dumbbell) will cause greater biceps engagement as it places the biceps in a mechanically strong position relative to the other arm flexors. However, this doesn’t appear to be the case when measured using EMG (which tracks electronical activity in the muscle during the exercise). In fact, it has been shown there is minimal difference between supinated, rotating and hammer grips when performing the dumbbell curl with regards to biceps activity. The exception, as expected, is using a pronated (palms down) grip which notably reduces biceps involvement.

In summary, both rotating and supinated dumbbell curls are great choices for targeting the biceps. Each will engage the arm flexors slightly differently so it’s always a good idea to switch up the exercises you perform from time to time; therefore it’s a wise choice to have both variations in your toolkit to call upon.

There is minimal difference between the dumbbell curl and the barbell curl when it comes to which is most effective at developing the biceps.

That said, there are a couple of reasons why athletes may prefer to perform the dumbbell curl:

Firstly, some gym-goers find the barbell curl too unforgiving on the wrists so the EZ bar curl or dumbbell curl may provide far more comfortable options, allowing for greater training intensity and loads to be used.

Secondly, dumbbells provide the trainer with a method of exercising the body unilaterally, with each side of the body largely working independently of the other. This is particularly useful for ensuring balanced development or addressing any muscle imbalances that may already exist.

The hammer curl is a variation of the traditional dumbbell curl and involves the palms remaining fixed in a neutral (palms facing inward) grip throughout the curl.

Interestingly, the hammer curl is in fact an excellent biceps exercise and has been shown to stimulate the two biceps heads just as effectively as the traditional dumbbell curl, even when using a supinated grip. This somewhat goes against what most believe, with many seeing the hammer curl as a mostly brachialis and brachioradialis targeting exercise, with the biceps playing less of a role.

Like the hammer curl, the rotating dumbbell curl will also exercise the brachioradialis (which is located in the upper forearm) but its engagement is greatly diminished if a supinated grip is used.

Workout Ideas

Within a full body workout

Exercise Targets
Front squat Lower body
Seated row Middle and upper back and arm flexors
Decline bench press Chest and arm extenders
Dumbbell curl Arm flexors
V ups Abdominals

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

Exercise Targets
Pull up Latissimus Dorsi
Bent over row Middle and upper back and arm flexors
Barbell upright row Trapezius and shoulders
Dumbbell curl Arm flexors

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

Exercise Targets
One arm dumbbell row Middle and upper back and arm flexors
Chest dips Chest and arm extenders
Dumbbell shoulder press Shoulders
Dumbbell curl Arm flexors
Superset with  
Triceps dips Arm extenders

Other Arm Exercises