The bicep curl is one of the most practiced of all exercises in the gym and is one that is often promoted in many fitness magazines and articles. It’s also often stated that perfect technique should be easily achieved and never deviated from. Many experts have mulled over the technique for the ‘perfect bicep curl’, but what I would like to get into today is a more functional approach to the exercise.
Within most text book definitions of the bicep curl that I have come across, the one thing they seem to have in common is isolation of the bicep. It also would appear from most of the advice out there on how to work the bicep, that the muscle only crosses one joint (the elbow) and to work the bicep “correctly” the shoulder joint must be held in a fixed position, i.e. do not swing the arms from the shoulder. However, the bicep actually originates from the top of the scapula, within the shoulder joint, so why should we fix a joint that the bicep actually has a great effect on? In the following videos I’m going to look at how a simple bicep curl can be transformed into an exercise specific for sprinters whilst still retaining a large element of the ‘traditional’ bicep curl.
Video 1: A ‘Traditional’ Bicep Curl and a Modified ‘Functional’ Bicep Curl
The first two parts of the first video (below) show a typical example of how to perform “correct” technique on a bicep curl. Notice the pelvis remains still, the shoulders do not swing and the dumbbells are moved in a deliberate and controlled fashion.
Next, I crank up the weight and intensity. More than double the force is now needed to pull each dumbbell through a bicep curl, so there is no way the bicep alone can manage this weight and it calls in help from the rest of the body. The result looks like poor technique but it is in fact the body just becoming very efficient:
- Notice the way the knees drop in and the feet flatten to the floor;
- The back remains relatively straight and even extends a little to allow the major muscle groups to help out;
- This is where the gluteus and abdominals jump in and help propel the dumbbells upward;
- Finally, notice the extra rotation of the dumbbells, allowing the bicep to extend in more than 1 plane.
When all this comes together the body becomes a very efficient lifting machine and the bicep an integral part of that.
Video 2: A ‘Traditional’ Bicep Curl and a Modified ‘Functional’ Bicep Curl
In the next video I tweak the bicep curl even further to make it more specific to sprinting (although this is as easily applicable to running of any form and in any sport):
The first part the video shows the athlete remain static during the exercise but we drop one of the dumbbells to make the exercise unilateral rather than bilateral (as in Video 1), and we change the foot position to a staggered stance. These modifications make the exercise more specific to running, as when you run/sprint you only load one side at a time (obviously). Notice how bicep curl still remains integral to the exercise whilst at the same time incorporating / drawing on movements from the foot, the ankle, the hip, the back and the shoulder.
In the second part of the video I begin to add some motion to the exercise by dragging a sled. This brings the exercise even closer to sprinting (i.e. makes it even more of a ‘functional’ exercise for sprinting) as it requires the athlete to use the bicep to move a weight forward (rather than upward) in the same way sprinters must move forward along the track instead of up into the sky.
As you can see from these videos you don’t have to be constrained by the “text book” technique of any exercise but with a little imagination and understanding of how the human body works you can take any exercise and transform it into a whole matrix of similar but functionally different exercises that can transform your performance in sport whilst still working all the muscles you want to in the gym. Just because it’s your day for training upper body doesn’t mean that you need to neglect the lower body or the core, especially as they can have a very big role to play in how efficiently you can train/move your body. You never move in isolation in real life so why should you train the body to do so in the gym?