Reverse Curls – How This Underused, Underrated Exercise Can Unleash Your Arm Size
What is the one arm exercise you’ll very rarely see anyone in the gym do? The Reverse Curl, of course! There are two main reasons it’s such a neglected exercise:
If you’re doing it correctly, you can’t use nearly as much weight as you could with a regular-grip barbell curl. Many lifters are going to opt for the exercise that allows them to use heavier weight with the thought that it’ll be more effective for building up the arms.
The Reverse Curl works a muscle in the arms that is not particularly visible: the brachialis (located on the lower aspect of the upper arm, just below the bicep muscle). Not being visible often translates into not being important in the eyes of many trainers.
But for the lifter in search of bigger arms, the Reverse Curl is a KEY exercise. Want to know what a well-developed brachialis muscle does? It push the peak of the bicep muscle up higher, making for a more dramatic flex and an overall bigger arm!
So if Reverse Curls aren’t a part of your arm-training routine, it’s time to take another look at this neglected exercise. And, of course, I’ve got tips to help you make it even MORE effective!
Look for the link at the end of the article for pictures of this exercise and the tips in action.
How To Do Reverse Curls:
For this exercise, you can use either a straight barbell (e.g. an Olympic bar) or an EZ Curl bar. Start with about HALF of the weight you would use for a regular barbell curl for 8 reps – you may increase it later but it’s important to use a lighter weight to start with to make sure you’re using proper form. This exercise can easily turn into a “clean” movement with a lot of momentum if you use too much weight.
Take a shoulder-width grip on the bar. Instead of gripping with your hands underneath the bar like a regular curl, grip on TOP of the bar (this is known as a pronated grip). If you’re using an EZ bar, grip it on the downward-sloping parts of the bar just outside of the central straight section.
Keeping your elbows close to your sides, knees slightly bent, and hands gripped tightly onto the bar, curl it up as you would with a regular curl. Because you are gripping the top of the bar, the supinated grip will utilize the brachialis muscle to move the weight. You’ll feel strong tension in your forearms as well, especially as you come to the top of the curl.
Hold for a second at the top, then lower slowly. You should feel the area under your lower biceps swelling up with blood.
Tips and Tricks for the Reverse Curl:
For an extremely intense “grip drop set,” do this technique. Instead of taking the time to reduce the weight on your drop sets, you can accomplish the same increased tension by changing your grip on the bar.
Start with a very close grip (your hands placed about 3 to 4 inches apart). Do as many reps as you can with this grip width. The closer grip puts a more intense contraction on the brachialis. The reason we don’t use it for regular sets is that it will reduce the amount of weight you can use for the exercise.
When you’ve done as many reps as possible with the very close grip, set the bar down and move your hands out to a shoulder-width grip. Do as many reps as you can with that grip. When you’ve done as many reps as you can with that width, set the bar down and move your hands out wider. I like to use index finger on the smooth guide circle on the Olympic bar.
This grip is similar to what you’d use for a barbell hang clean and the movement itself on this last set can incorporate some momentum in order to keep the bar going. This will completely burn out your brachialis muscles.
When you come to the top of the Reverse Curl, let your wrists flex back and raise your elbows until they are pointing directly forward. This will look like the arm position for the front squat. This will provide a more full contraction of the brachialis muscles.
This will look like a 4 part movement. First, the normal reverse curl, then the elbows raise up and the hands flop back, then you lower the elbows, then you lower the bar to the bottom position.
When you’re doing the Reverse Curl with the EZ bar, don’t grip the bar with your thumbs against the top of the slope of the bar. Grip the bar at the BOTTOM of the slope. When you grip at the top, you will be bracing your thumb against the center section of the bar, decreasing the work the forearm and gripping muscles must do – this work is among the major benefits of the exercise. By gripping at the bottom of the slope, you get no bracing effect and you get more tension on the target muscles.
As you do the Reverse Curl, focus on bringing your elbows together. This will increase the contraction of the brachialis at the top of the movement. Imagine you are rotating your arms inward as you are curling the bar up.
The Reverse Grip Barbell Curl is not a glamorous exercise and it won’t turn heads while you’re doing it. What WILL turn heads are the results you get when you work hard at it!
By Nick Nilsson
Author of “Metabolic Surge”