As you go about your business in the weight room, have you ever glanced over at a personal trainer during one of their client sessions and idly asked yourself something like, Dang, I wonder if they ever happen to notice what I'm doing over here? Good news! While your gym's fitness professionals obviously can't leave their charges to deliver you some kind of stern pro bono talking-to, they do see you, and they have a lot of feelings to share about...the myriad things you're doing wrong. (Perhaps this is, in retrospect, one of those questions to which you didn't want to know the answer.)
Fortunately, a few trainers have generously agreed to share with us the most common and most aggravating habits they see gymgoers developing –and a little free advice on how to fix them. This is, in effect, money in your pocket. Today: biceps curls.
Keep the sway away
When doing a standing biceps curl, be sure to keep your shoulders pulled back over your torso. I often see people leaning forward and swaying in order to generate momentum that helps them to lift the weight. This is especially true when, as is often the case with biceps exercises, they are trying to lift too much, too fast. Don't stick with just one grip, either. The straight-bar curl is tough to beat, but cycling between that, dumbbell curls, and EZ bar curls (using both inside and outside grips) helps to keep the guns guessing.
Let those things breathe
Whether performing barbell or dumbbell curls, you need to first set your back so that your shoulder blades are pulled down toward your butt and your chest is slightly raised. Let the biceps "breathe" by moving your hands slightly in front of your torso, so that your elbows are just in front of your shoulders. Once you have this stretch on the biceps, take a peek at where the biceps attaches to the shoulder to make sure that that connection point isn't "hidden" by the dreaded forward hunch. Curl the barbell up and away from your body while keeping your shoulder blades, hips, and elbows immobile. End the repetition a few inches from your shoulders to maintain tension on the muscle, and squeeze for a few seconds at the top.
Take a seat (or a knee)
If you find yourself persistently cheating by swinging the weight toward your chest, try doing your next set of curls with your back against the wall – bracing yourself against an immobile surface like this will help you to notice if your body has learned to try and generate momentum. Focus on keeping your elbows pressed against your sides, instead of flaring out at the start of a repetition. You can also try taking your legs and hips out of the equation altogether by performing curls while seated, or even kneeling on the ground.
It’s very common for people to unknowingly perform a three-quarter curl, where they curl the weight all the way to the top, but only allow it to travel three-quarters of the way back down. Robbing your biceps of this full range of motion significantly limits your ability to develop functional strength. Make sure you get that full stretch at the bottom of each repetition!