Alternating Incline Dumbbell Curls – Biceps Exercise Guide

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Muscles Targeted: Alternating incline dumbbell curls are an effective exercise designed to accelerate strength and to effectively build muscle in your biceps. This exercise is an isolation type of movement, therefore it maximizes the effort of the biceps to pull the load with minimum, if any, help from the other parts of the upper body. This exercise is centered mainly on the biceps and to a lesser degree, the forearms. It utilizes dumbbells that are lifted in an alternating fashion (only one arm at a time).

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Exercise Instructions: Sit on an incline bench and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms hanging down at your sides and your palms facing in toward your body. Slowly curl the dumbbell in one hand up to shoulder level, while rotating (i.e., supinating) your wrist so that your thumb ends up pointing away from your body at the top of the movement. Squeeze your bicep at the top of the movement for a one-count and then slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position and repeat with the other arm.

Why This Exercise is Important: Dumbbell curls offer advantages to its users that are not possible with other methods such as the barbell. Some advantages include:

  • Equal weight is placed on each arm. It prevents the stronger arm from compensating for the weaker one when using a barbell.
  • Less stress is placed on the wrists. This is because the initial position when lifting the weight has the palms naturally facing the thighs of the trainee.
  • Additional movements that build strength in the wrists. Since a supinated grip is used, the turning movement while lifting the weight allows for wrist development without straining them.
  • It enables the trainee to correctly judge which of his/her arms is weaker and can therefore spend more effort in developing the weaker side.

Things To Avoid: With the advantages that this exercise offers, it is however important to remember to always be safe when training in the gym and only focus on building up the body rather than breaking it down (training correctly versus overtraining). Things to avoid when doing this exercise include:

  • Using excessive weight. One of the strengths of this exercise is that it forces the biceps to pull the weight in isolation. If the weight is too heavy, there is a risk of losing form and “cheating”. It is important for trainees to pace themselves and move up gradually to heavier weights once the muscles are well-developed.
  • Making jerky movements during training. The arms are extended over the ground and the elbow is in a vulnerable position. Fast and jerky movements can tear a tendon in the elbow especially if the weight is too heavy. This can happen when the muscles in the elbows and biceps are underdeveloped.
  • Lifting the back off the bench. The incline bench should be at about 45 degrees to the ground and the trainee’s back should be firmly planted on the bench. This is for the purpose of isolating the arms and also to prevent the back from arching which may lead to a back injury.
  • Lifting the feet off the ground. The feet should be firmly planted on the ground to offer stability to the body. Lifting the feet not only makes the exercise less effective but makes the trainee unstable which may lead to a fall or a loss of proper technique as the trainee tries to regain balance.

Reps and Sets: A complete repetition is made when both the arms are curled up then slowly down after a short pause, while only moving the forearm (not the elbow), in a supinating motion. Just like any other exercise, reps per set should average 10-12 per set. An average of 3-4 sets is completed on each training day when the exercise is performed. The weight should be adjusted to effectively apply enough stimulation to the biceps muscle group.

Other Exercises To Use: Workouts are always best performed when combining multiple exercise combinations. Exercises that go with alternating incline dumbbell curls include EZ barbell curls, hammer curls and cable curls. It is also important to do bodyweight training movements such as chin ups to enhance stability and strength. View our extensive database of exercise guides for a comprehensive list of exercises that target the biceps.

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