The objective of weight training is commonly associated with bodybuilding, but the recent rise of fitness as a lifestyle trend gives it a healthier perception. A well-defined physique is no longer limited to bulking up a physique, but it also has tremendous effects towards weight loss, or even to achieve toned or lean muscles.

You would have seen several people hover around the dumbbell rack to pick up weights suited to their strength and performing countless sets of dumbbell curls, hoping to make their arms look like their favourite athletes or movie stars. The extra layers of fat hanging loose from the arms are also tended to in the process as various exercises for the upper arms, particularly the biceps and the triceps, are worked upon.

Bicep curls are of varying styles but the standard dumbbell curl remains a favourite among fitness enthusiasts. Bending the elbow and lifting weights manages to isolate the bicep muscles and gives them a solid workout, and is one of the simpler movements which makes it a top draw even among beginners.

Whether standing up or sitting down, the dumbbell curl is a simple movement that can also be performed in the comfort of your own home. There is, however a simple rule to lifting weights: lift heavier for muscle gain, and lift longer (more repetitions) for muscle definition.

Also read: Beware of these infections in the gym

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  1. Types of dumbbell curl
  2. Benefits of dumbbell curl
  3. How to perform dumbbell curls correctly
  4. Precautions for dumbbell curl
  5. Alternate exercises to the dumbbell curl
  6. Takeaways for the dumbbell curl

The dumbbell curl is a simple yet effective movement for the upper arms, and can be performed in various techniques:

  • Alternate dumbbell curl (one arm at a time)
  • Reverse dumbbell curl (with palms pointing down)
  • Seated dumbbell curl
  • Standing dumbbell curl

Also read: Decline dumbell curl

The dumbbell curl remains one of the favourite movements among gym-goers of all ages, gender or even body types thanks to its universal appeal as well as its direct impact on the arm muscles. The 'curling' (pulling up) movement of the dumbbell by the upper arm comes naturally to even beginners and has a relatively short turnaround time towards visible results, along with the following benefits:

  • Muscle definition: The relatively smaller muscles of the biceps are instantly affected by the dumbbell curl, thereby cutting down the fat in the upper arms.
  • Full-arm movement: The full movement from the elbow allows it to work on the lower half of the arm, affecting the forearm muscles as well. Straight arms allow you a full motion, which means the movement is effective even during the negative movement, i.e. while lowering the arm back down.
  • Overall strength: Essentially, standing and reverse dumbbell curls are more severe and advanced, and add strength to the arms. Strengthening the arms helps during other workouts as well, especially while performing the preacher curl, bench press, shoulder press or even during deadlifts.
  • More repetitions: The relatively easy movement of this exercise directly impacts the bicep without losing more energy, thereby allowing you to perform more repetitions.
  • Impacts the core: Performing the standing, reverse or alternate variation of the dumbbell curl engaged the core muscles as well, strengthening the abdominals in the process.

This exercise is a variation of bicep curl movements and can be performed with any level of experience. However, to ensure correct form and posture, perform this exercise in front of a gym trainer or a professional. Warming up is important at the beginning of any workout, as it not only frees up the muscles for the exercise, but also enhances the results.

Muscle worked

  • Biceps

Experience level

  • Beginner

Equipment required

  • A pair of dumbbells

Sets & reps

  • First set: 15 reps
  • Second set: 12 reps
  • Third set: 10 reps

Once you're used to the movements, you can increase the weights on each set incrementally.

How to do it

  • Stand straight with your feet about shoulder width apart with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing away from you.
  • Bend the elbows and lift the dumbbells up towards you.
  • After reaching shoulder level, curl your wrists inwards for a final 'squeeze' at the top of the movement.
  • Return slowly to the starting position by lowering the arms.
  • Keep your arms, elbows and shoulders stable throughout the movement. This is one rep.

Tip: To get the maximum outcome, keep the movement slow and stable. If you find your back bending excessively, you can sit down on a bench with a backrest to perform the exercise, and those with less strength in their arms can opt to lift the dumbbells alternatively. The reverse dumbbell curl, performed with the palms facing you, can also be effective in providing more definition to the forearms.

The most important thing to keep in mind is not to lift heavier than your capability, as it affects your posture and form, leading to workout injuries. Lifting the right weight helps in better progression and results. Heavier weights can make your movement unstable and put additional strain on your elbows. Lighter weights can motivate beginners to not only master the movement, but also gradually build strength in their arms.

It must also be stressed that the negative movement of any exercise, i.e. while bringing down the weight, is just as important as lifting it and impacts the respective muscle just as much.

Also read: Exercise myths: 10 common misconceptions about working out

Bicep curl movements essentially follow a similar rule of lifting up the weight, but varying grips and a difference in technique make for several different versions which can be performed in the gym, either alongside or on different days of the week:

  • Zottman curl
  • Barbell curl (with the small barbell)
  • Superman curl (performed on the cable cross machine)
  • Concentration curl
  • Hammer curl

Also read: Incline dumbbell curl

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Along with the bench press, squats and the pulldown exercises for the back, the dumbbell curl is one of the core gym exercises that one can't do without during a weight training session. An easy movement, this isolated exercise allows you to build strength in your arms to be able to perform other movements, isolated or compound, with more ease.

Also read: How to begin your fitness journey


  1. Liliam F. Oliveira et al. Effect of the shoulder position on the biceps brachii emg in different dumbbell curls Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. J Sports Sci Med 2009 Mar; 8(1): 24–29. PMID: 24150552
  2. Marcolin G. et al. Differences in electromyographic activity of biceps brachii and brachioradialis while performing three variants of curl PeerJ. 2018; 6: e5165. PMID: 30013836
  3. Zhen G and Menon C. Does force myography recorded at the wrist correlate to resistance load levels during bicep curls? Journal of Biomechanics. 2019 Jan; 83:310-314.
  4. Kostek MT. and Knortz K. The Bicep Curl and the Reverse Bicep Curl National Strength Coaches Association Journal. 1980 Dec; 2(6):55.
  5. Miller, A. An Upper Extremity Biomechanical Model: Application to the Bicep Curl. Masters Theses. 2007 Apr; 686.
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