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June 04, 2022
Is there anything better than a biceps gym session that gives your arms that oh-so-desirable muscle pump? Well-developed front arm muscles can make a tank top or t-shirt look infinitely better, so we understand why it's such a priority for gym-goers. If biceps growth is your goal, you need to make sure you have an isolation exercise in your routine that will make your front upper arm muscles work extra hard. This leads us to the spider curl, a biceps-fatiguing, muscle-building exercise that will cause your biceps to contract with extra force for that oh-so-satisfying biceps burn. In this article, we’ll explain:
Get your favorite tank top ready. We promise your arms will look better than ever after performing the spider curl in your next arm workout.
An isolation exercise that targets your biceps brachii muscles (anterior upper arm muscle - simply "biceps" for short), the spider curl’s sole purpose is to strengthen your upper arm muscles. Use an incline bench for this exercise, grab two lighter-weight dumbbells, and prepare to feel some serious bicep fatigue.
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that spider curls are extremely effective for isolating your bicep muscle, enabling you to use a full range of motion (way more than a standard bicep curl) throughout the exercise. This is important because research shows that elbow flexion exercises, which is what the spider curl is, lead to more muscle growth than those with partial range of motion1.
The positioning of this move also forces your biceps to remain activated the entire time. Plus, with variations ranging from dumbbells to barbells to reverse grips and single-arm, there is no shortage of options to fit into your upper body routine.
Grab your dumbbells, locate a bench, and prepare to isolate your biceps. For this exercise, you can either use a spider curl bench or an adjustable weight bench.
How to do spider curls:
To effectively isolate the biceps, set your bench to (or close to) a 45-degree incline.
The best exercises are versatile ones, which is one of the many reasons why we love the spider curl. Whether trying to lift heavy and solely target the biceps, or you need an exercise that pays more attention to the brachialis and brachioradialis, one of these variations will meet your needs and leave your arms burning.
Using an EZ bar or performing the barbell curl has three advantages. One, if you have any issues with your wrist, the EZ bar should be your go-to. The EZ bar is easier on your wrist joints than dumbbells. Two, these options allow you to lift with a heavier weight than is possible with dumbbells. You may not be able to isolate the biceps quite as much when using a bar, but the heavier weights will ensure your biceps are fatigued regardless. Three, research shows that the EZ bar may activate the biceps and brachioradialis more than the dumbbell curl3.
For this exercise, use the same form as the dumbbell spider curls. The only difference is that you will grab a bar using an underhand grip, with your hands shoulder-width apart.
You can use dumbbells or a barbell for this one, but remember the rule: Lighter weights for dumbbells and heavier weights for the barbell. This is especially true when using an overhand grip. The advantage to the move is it focuses on two of your arm muscles that don’t get a ton of attention in most lifter routines: the brachialis and brachioradialis. Both muscles fully activate with an overhand grip, making this a great movement to develop them. These two muscles may not be as glamorous as the biceps, but they have the ability to make your whole arm look bigger. It also ensures you don’t have any muscle imbalances, which is huge for injury prevention.
This variation also incorporates the long head of the biceps to a higher degree due to the hand positioning.
Use the same form as the standard spider curl, but switch your hand grip to palms facing down. It's an excellent burn-out exercise for the end of your upper-body day.
If you love hammer curls, then the neutral grip spider curl may be the variation for you. We’ve spoken about a few different spider curl variations that either focus on the biceps or isolate the brachialis and brachioradialis. But the neutral grip variation forces all three muscles to work simultaneously, so you can get a little extra bang with this exercise.
Of course, there is always a trade-off, and with this exercise, the biceps doesn't work quite as hard as the underhand variation. However, between this move hitting all three muscles and your grip position enabling you to lift heavier weights, it’s a pretty fair trade. Use the same form except for your grip. For that, hold your dumbbells with your palms facing each other.
We love unilateral movements as they make you stronger and help you identify any muscle imbalances. A major red flag is being able to perform eight repetitions on one side and only four on the other. But you can’t fix what you don’t know exists, making unilateral exercises crucial for evenly developed muscles. You can also strategically target the biceps long head more by using this exercise if trying to give that muscle head more attention.
Assume the standard spider curl position, holding one dumbbell in your right hand. If targeting the biceps long head, curl the dumbbell up more toward the body’s midline or your opposite shoulder. Bring the dumbbell toward your same-side shoulder to focus on your short head.
Same as the neutral grip dumbbell spider curl, using two hands on one dumbbell will work the biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis. And because you're lifting with one weight with both hands, you get to lift heavier, which is great for building bigger biceps.
Stick with the same spider curl form, grabbing the dumbbell with each hand with your fingers overlapping under the dumbbell.
Preacher curls are another spin-off of a traditional biceps curl and shares several similarities with the spider curl. They both are isolation exercises that target the biceps short head, allow for a greater range of motion than traditional biceps curls, and require lighter weights. We can’t forget their most important similarity: They'll both get you the biceps of your dreams.
While a spider curl has your stomach down on an incline bench, a preacher curl has you sit at a preacher curl bench with the backs of your arms resting on the arm pad. The difference in form between the two moves results in a big difference in how the biceps work. In the spider curl, the biceps do most of the work in a full contraction.
In the preacher curl, the most biceps work is done in the eccentric portion of the exercise with the arms extended and the biceps stretched. And due to the support the arm pad offers, the preacher curl will enable you to lift heavier than the spider curl. Both exercises allow for more joint movement than standard bicep curls; however, when comparing the two, the spider curl offers a larger range of motion than the preacher curl.
There is no right or wrong move here - only differences in how the biceps is activated.
No one wants to do the same exercises twice a week for months on end. Variety is a great way to ensure your muscles are worked evenly while preventing you from getting bored with your current gym routine.
Whether you need to add some variation or are at the gym on a busy day with no incline bench in sight, these moves target the biceps similar to the spider curl (elbow up - emphasis: short head of the bicep), making them all great substitutes.
The preacher curl offers many of the same benefits as the spider curl, but it emphasizes the eccentric portion of the exercise. Similar to the spider curl, the preacher curl also works the short head of the biceps, meaning you could even alternate between the two movements (perform spider curls one week, preacher curls the next) for variety and different contraction emphasis.
To do this exercise, sit at a preacher bench, resting the bottoms of your arms on the arm pad. Holding your dumbbells with your palms facing upward, keep your upper arms straight as you bend your elbows and bring your dumbbells toward your shoulders.
We aren't shy about our love for unilateral movements, and the standing one-arm dumbbell curl is no exception. This exercise also targets the biceps short head as the arm is in front of you. Elbow flexion is crucial to this exercise, so you can also expect the brachialis and brachioradialis to be activated.
Set up for this exercise by standing behind an incline bench, placing your hand with the dumbbell on the bench with your palm up. With your feet in a wide stance for support, press your chest to the top of the incline bench. Keeping the top of your arm still, curl the dumbbell upward and really squeeze your biceps.
Any exercise with a hammer grip like this one targets the biceps long head. In addition, thanks to the semi-supinated grip, you’re working the brachialis and brachioradialis. Plus, machines always offer more stability than dumbbells, meaning you can go heavier with this one. Sitting at the machine, grab the handles with the palms facing inward and your arms extended to start; curl up.
Another great move for targeting the long head, brachialis, and brachioradialis, your goal is to keep your body super still. The more still your body, the more work your biceps have to do. Place a bench under a high cable pulley, positioning your face under the straight bar. Grabbing the bar with an underhand grip, start with your arms extended. Curl the bar toward your forehead, holding the contraction for a few seconds before moving the bar back to start.
Also referred to as the TRX biceps curl, suspension cables are the star of this exercise, adding an element of instability to your biceps repertoire. This form requires you to position your elbows above your shoulders, meaning that the long head and the brachialis are doing most of the work.
Many gyms have a TRX section with cables ready for you to use, but if not, attach your cables to a secure place that is above your head so you can hold them at head level. Grab the cable handles, walking your feet toward the anchor point. Lean back with some tension on the cables. Your elbows will start in a bent position higher than your shoulders, with your palms facing you. Keep your body leaned back and straight, and slowly lower your body toward the floor as you straighten your arms. Bend your elbows to bring yourself up toward the starting position.
Other good bicep exercises for your arm training:
Keep a few things in mind during your biceps workout. First, since you’re using slightly lighter weights, adjust your repetitions accordingly. With these exercises, aim for between 12 and 20 reps, focusing on that mind-muscle connection as you contract strongly for every repetition.
And while on the subject of mind-muscle connection, make sure you’re not making them with any of your other muscles while performing spider curls. If you are, you’re taking work out of the biceps.
Keeping those upper arms perfectly still while focusing on your biceps contracting will ensure no other major muscle groups (looking at you, back and shoulders!) will take over, detracting from the biceps work you’re trying to put in. Use good form, go slow, concentrate on that contraction, and you’re on the right path to beautiful biceps.
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