Reverse curls are an overlooked but highly effective exercise for simultaneously developing the biceps and brachioradialis (a forearm muscle).
Read on to learn what makes them unique, how to perform them correctly, what variations to consider, and what mistakes to avoid.
Table of Contents
What Are Reverse Curls?
Reverse curls are a bicep curl variation where the objective is to use a pronated grip (palms facing down) from start to finish.
Doing so places the biceps at a moderate mechanical disadvantage and places greater emphasis on the brachioradialis. This muscle makes up the top portion of the forearm and is involved in elbow flexion.
Adding the movement to your bicep training can help you develop your forearms better, resulting in a more muscular appearance, even when you wear a larger shirt that covers your upper arms.
Primary Muscles Worked 💪
- Lateral (or outside) Forearms – technically called the brachioradialis muscles
Secondary Muscles Worked 💪
How to Perform Reverse Curls (Step-By-Step)
Things to keep in mind:
- Palms must face down from start to finish
- Stand tall with your shoulders back
- Keep your abs tense and squeeze your glutes
- Train through a full range of motion
- Avoid swinging your body back and forth
- Use 10-30 percent less weight than you do for traditional curls
How to (with dumbbells):
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand tall with the weights in front of your body and your palms facing your thighs.
- Retract your shoulder blades, take a deep breath, and engage your abs. Squeeze your glutes for additional stability.
- Curl both dumbbells in one fluid motion until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows. Keep your elbows at your side; don’t let them travel forward as you bend your arms.
- Pause briefly at the top, squeezing your biceps. You should also feel your forearms engaging.
- Slowly extend your arms and exhale.
The Benefits of Reverse Curls
The most notable benefit of reverse curls is that they strengthen the forearms and biceps simultaneously, leading to better overall arm growth. With reverse curls, you lateral forearms (front/outside forearms) are doing a majority of the lifting work.
Another benefit is that a pronated grip engages the forearms more effectively and could strengthen your grip. Some of the forearm muscles, including the flexor digitorum profundis and flexor pollicis longus, activate better during a reverse-grip curl, and both are important for grip strength. (1, 2)
In other words, performing reverse curls could improve your grip strength, allowing you to hold onto more weight while training and handle everyday tasks more easily.
Tweaks and Variations of the Reverse Curl
1. Straight Bar Reverse Curl
Using a barbell for reverse curls is an effective way to overload your arms with more weight and simultaneously train both sides of your body.
2. EZ-Bar Reverse Curl
An EZ bar is a curved bar that typically weighs less than a traditional barbell (around 15 to 20 lbs in contrast to the traditional 45 lbs of an Olympic bar) and is designed for assistance exercises like bicep curls and tricep extensions.
The unique design relieves elbow and wrist pressure that can sometimes result when using a straight bar.
3. Straight Bar Cable Reverse Curl
Like a free-weight reverse curl, a straight bar attachment on a cable machine allows for greater overload.
Additionally, performing the exercise on a cable machine provides constant tension, which could improve muscle activation.
4. Single-Arm Cable Reverse Curl
Like the previous variation of the reverse curl, this is a fantastic movement to more effectively target your biceps and forearms.
The best option is to attach a handle to a low cable pulley and use a pronated grip.
5. Pause Reverse Curl
Adding a pause at the top of each rep (regardless of the specific reverse curl variation) is another fantastic way to increase muscle activation and promote better form.
Rather than flexing your arms and extending them immediately, pause at the top position for a second or two.
Safety Tips and Final Considerations
Always begin with a warm-up, even a light one, for a few minutes. Do some light cardio to raise your core body temperature.
Good options include incline treadmill walking, jogging in place, and cycling on a stationary bike. This will ensure your muscles are warmed and ready, which is key to avoiding injury
From there, do dynamic stretching: arm swings, elbow rotations, wrist twists, etc. Doing so further prepares the joints involved in reverse curls and promotes blood flow to your arm muscles.
Then, do a few light bicep curls to warm up the muscles before jumping into your first working set. The bicep can be easily injured without proper warm-up, especially as you reach middle age.
Additionally, start with a lighter weight––for example, 20 percent less than you use on traditional curls. Doing so will help you get used to the reverse curl and allow you to do repetitions with proper form and through a full range of motion.
A variation of this exercise is the reverse cable curl, which by using a cable offers more variation.
Here are some more biceps exercises:
- Top Bicep Exercises
- Cable Hammer Curls
- Short Head Bicep Exercises
- Long Head Bicep Exercises
- Hammer Curls
- Flexor digitorum profundus. Physiopedia. (n.d.).
Anatomy, shoulder and upper limb, hand flexor pollicis longus muscle. (n.d.).