Ask Alfonso: Are Biceps Curls Worthless

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Ask Alfonso: Are Biceps Curls Worthless?

Hi Alfonso. After years of being away from the gym, I finally started to workout again this week. I’m a single dad and my kids are old enough to be brought to the gym childcare. I’ve been reading a lot online and came across several articles written by lads that say biceps curls are a waste of time.

They proposed that the biceps get more than enough work while training pulling exercises like pull/chin ups and rows. This can’t be correct…can it? I like arm day!

– Johnson

Hey Johnson. Congrats on getting back in the gym. That’s good to hear. Now, about biceps…

First, I’m beyond thankful that you wrote biceps with an ‘s’ and not bicep! You wouldn’t believe how many people write or say bicep curl instead of biceps curl! Which is hilarious and sad since the muscle had two heads, thus getting the name BICEPS.

I digress. The short answer is no! Of course biceps curls are not useless. It’s become common place for trainers and some coaches to say that this classic and iconic exercise is a waste of time.

You can thank CrossFit’s “we don’t do any movements that aren’t functional” line of bs for part of this shift in the industry. The theory that some fall back on is that if the movement isn’t organic in nature, then you shouldn’t exercise in that manner.

First, lets point out the obvious – burpees ARE NOT functional. You’d never see that movement happen organically by anybody in any environment. The closest you’d get is a jiu jitsu sprawl, used to guard against a shoot. Last I looked, Airdynes or other fan bikes don’t occur naturally in the environment. These are just two examples of hyprociscy within the functional training ideology. You see movemenst that aren’t even close to functional or organic in nature being programmed into WOD’s everyday.

To try and prove their point, some will point to gymnasts, their lack of traditional weight training and their awesome biceps development as their proof that curls aren’t needed to build great arms.

That argument is clearly flawed. First, few if any regular Joe’s or Jill’s will exercise the biceps with compound movements like ring rows or pullups with the frequency and volume of professional gymnasts. We’re talking hour upon hours of training, day after day for years to achieve that level of muscularity and strength.

Second, and less obvious is the fact that most people are in the gym trying to change the way they look; bigger chest and glutes, flatter abs, bigger arms etc. Not many people are working out to improve their bodies functionality. That’s just the truth. We live in a vanity driven society. Sure, everyone wants to feel better and healthier, but what they really want is to LOOK better. And for some, that means bigger biceps.

Isolated movements for biceps are awesome for muscular development and for shaping the arm. With two heads to the muscle plus a brachii along the outside part of the arm, you can build up parts of your arm using different exercises.

For example, underhanded traditional curls may hit the short (inner) head a bit more. Neutral handed dumbbell curls may work the long head more and overhanded reverse curls may target the long head and the brachii. Both heads are always working, but depending on hand position and angles used, you can certainly target different areas of your muscle.

Another problem with the rows / pullups for biceps theory is if you’re a person with a genetically large back. Not everybody wants a huge V taper. For instance, I have a large back…it’s genetic and I can build it easily. I workout back only once every 10 days or so with pulling exercises. Sometimes I’ll wait even longer. But I’ll hit biceps two to three times in that same time period.

So to say biceps curls are worthless is silly. Some of the greatest physiques, I fact most if not all, have been built using various forms of biceps curls in their workouts on a regular basis for many years.

If you’re happy with how you’re biceps look and their size, then by all means don’t train them very hard. But if you’re like most, you probably wouldn’t hate if they were a bit bigger. Am I right? Most importantly, is not to forget your triceps! Most people neglect the triceps and end up with an unbalanced arm. Your triceps make up three quarters of your arms girth and need appropriate work – but that’s another post.

Happy Biceps Curling!