Barbell Reverse Curl

When we think about a strong athletic physique; few body parts grab our attention like shredded arms.

Whether you are wearing a singlet or sleeves, strong, muscular arms make a lasting first impression. 

No exercise builds incredible arms like the barbell reverse curl, a forearm-targeting, bicep-building exercise that will enhance your physique.

Today, we will discuss everything you need to know about the barbell reverse curl. Covering how to perform the exercise, primary and secondary target muscles, and more.

How To Do

  1. Begin by setting your barbell up on a barbell rack. 
  2. Standing in front of the rack, grasp the barbell using an overhand grip, hip-width apart.
  3. Lift the barbell off the rack and take one step back.
  4. Position your feet shoulder-width apart, and allow the barbell to rest on the front of your thighs; palms face down. 
  5. Start by curling the barbell, until your elbow is flexed at a 135° angle, or until knuckles face the ceiling.
  6. Once you reach this position, gradually lower the barbell back down until the barbell meets your thighs.

Tips From Expert

  • Keep your elbows tucked to stop the shoulders from flexing and contributing to the movement, allowing greater isolation of the biceps and forearm flexors. 
  • Before each repetition, tense your abdominal muscles. Doing so will improve rigidity and reduce unwanted torso movement; improving your lifting capacity. 
  • Exhale as you lift the barbell and inhale as you lower. Correct breathing ensures we get enough oxygen and helps us maintain a rigid core. 

Optimal Sets and Reps

The ideal number of sets and repetitions can be changed to match your goals. Below are load recommendations for strength, endurance, and hypertrophy training.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 5 5
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–12
Endurance Training 3–4 15+
Power Training 3–5 3–5

How to Put in Your Workout Split

The barbell reverse curl is an excellent arm isolation exercise that can be added to most training programs. Targeting the brachioradialis, forearm flexors, and biceps, it can be used to build lean muscle and increase grip strength.

  • Full Body — Targeting many upper and lower arm muscles, the barbell reverse curl is the perfect arm exercise for your full-body workout. It is a smaller movement, so consider placing it at the end of your session. This will conserve your arm strength for bigger compound lifts.
  • Upper/Lower — Splitting your workouts means you have more time to target your arms. Adding the barbell reverse curl is an excellent fit as it targets many upper-body muscles. It can be combined with hammer curls or dumbbell biceps curls to promote muscle growth.
  • Bro Split — The barbell reverse curl is made to be programmed into the bro split. Whether you are doing a 4-day or 5-day split, it can easily be plugged into your arm day workouts. 

Primary Muscle Groups

Wrist Extensors

Muscles that make up the back portion of your lower arm, between your elbow and wrist.

Brachioradialis

Muscle located between outside portion of your forearm from the elbow to the wrist.

Brachioradialis

The brachioradialis is located on the upper outer side of the forearm. It originates from the lateral humerus and inserts into the lower outer side of the forearm. Its main function is to flex the elbow.

Evidence suggests the barbell reverse curl is excellent for activating the brachioradialis, with only the EZ bar variation showing greater activation.   

During the barbell reverse curl, the brachioradialis contracts to flex the elbow, then gradually releases to perform the lowering phase.  

Wrist Extensors

During the barbell reverse curl the wrist extensors contract to keep the forearm and hand in line. They originate from the outer elbow and are inserted into the lower forearm and hand. 

When we grasp the barbell using an overhand grip, these muscles contract to keep our wrists rigid. This allows us to focus on curling the barbell without unwanted movement.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Biceps Long Head

Most outside part of your bicep.The front of your upper arm.

Biceps Short Head

Most inside portion of the biceps. Located at the front of your upper arm closest to your chest.

Brachialis

Muscle which starts at the middle of your upper arm and connects just below the elbow.

Biceps Short Head

The biceps short head is located on the anterior side of the upper arm. It originates from the front of the scapula and attaches to the forearm; playing a major role in the reverse curl.

As we begin the reverse curl, the short head flexes the elbow, showing greater efficiency at 90° of elbow flexion. 

However, because it is a supinator of the forearm, it never reaches full contraction. Since the forearm is pronated during the movement, it decreases activation, making it a secondary muscle in the reverse curl. 

Biceps Long Head

The biceps long head is an elbow flexor and supinator. Originating from the scapula and inserted into the forearm, it contributes to the curling motion. 

The biceps long head is active throughout the movement. However, due to the forearm's pronated position, the biceps long head does not fully contract.  

Brachialis

The brachialis is located on the anterior side of the upper arm beneath the biceps. A powerful elbow flexor, often overshadowed by the biceps, this muscle provides mass to our upper arm. 

Originating from the lower part of the upper arm and inserted into the forearm, its sole action is elbow flexion.

This muscle provides significant movement in the lifting and lowering phases of the reverse curl. 

Wrist And Hand Flexors

The wrist and hand flexors are located on the inner forearm. This group of muscles originates from the lower part of the humerus and forearm and inserts into wrists and fingers. 

When performing the barbell reverse curl, these muscles grasp the bar and maintain contraction for the duration of the movement.   

Equipment

Barbell

Barbell

You can use this for a range of arm exercises. Ensure the seat is at the right height. A good alternative would be the incline bench.

Alternatives

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the different equipment.

Who Should Do?

General Population

The barbell reverse curl is great for beginners and the general population. The average gym goer will often gravitate toward barbell and dumbbell bicep curls. However, these exercises don’t target the forearms like the reverse curl. 

Adding the reverse curl is a great way to add variety to your beginner arm workout. It also allows you to increase the arm training volume which has been shown to enhance muscle hypertrophy.  

Bodybuilders

If you’re beginning your bodybuilding journey, try the barbell reverse curl. Used by many competitive bodybuilders, this curl variation is excellent for developing killer forearms. 

Targeting the brachioradialis, wrist extensors, and brachialis, the barbell reverse curl builds significant size and definition. With just a little weight and focused contractions, it increases mass and develops symmetry.

If you currently perform an arm workout with dumbbells, consider adding the barbell reverse curl for enhanced growth.   

People Returning From Injury

Believe it or not, the barbell reverse curl is great for returning from injury, including muscle tears, and joint injuries. The reverse curl can easily be performed with a lightweight to restore movement.

Evidence suggests including resistance training exercises in a tailored rehab program can ensure full recovery, and prevent re-injury. 

It has been shown that early mobilization and loading can promote collagen reorganization and tissue healing. 

The reverse curl with a light load can increase strength, reduce pain, and improve function through gradual loading. 

If you are nursing an injury, seek advice from a professional before adding the reverse curl to your program. 

Who Should Not Do?

Individuals With Acute Wrist Injuries

Avoid the barbell reverse curl If you have just sustained a wrist injury. As mentioned, adding exercise can be beneficial to reintroduce movement. However, doing so too soon may cause further damage.

If you have just injured your wrist, make an appointment with a physical therapist. They will assess your injury and will provide a suitable rehab program to ensure you safely return to training.

People With Acute Elbow Injuries

The barbell reverse curl should be avoided if you have an acute elbow injury. The elbow is the major active joint during our reverse curl, and adding stress may lead to greater injury.

As mentioned, seek the advice of a professional for guidance. They will recommend exercises to improve your recovery and help you return to training.  

People With Chronic Tendonitis

If you suffer from chronic elbow tendonitis, you should avoid doing the barbell reverse curl. Tendonitis or tendinopathy is the inflammation of a tendon due to overuse. 

Characterized by pain, weakness, swelling, and stiffness, forearm tendon inflammation can make it difficult to grasp and hold items. 

The barbell reverse curl can be beneficial for restoring movement and returning from injury. 

However, if you suffer from tendinitis we recommend consulting a professional for advice.

They can prescribe gentle movements to help you gradually heal your tendon and restore pain-free movement. 

Benefits Of The Barbell Reverse Curl

Builds Muscle 

One of the most obvious benefits of the barbell reverse curl is its ability to build lean muscle. 

Progressively overloading the muscles by incrementally increasing weight, sets, or reps will promote muscle hypertrophy.

To increase mass, perform 3–4 sets of 8–12 repetitions at 60%-80% of your one repetition maximum.  

Develops Physique

The barbell reverse curl is an incredible physique-developing exercise. Targeting the wrist extensor, brachialis, brachioradialis, and biceps has a major impact on the appearance of our arms.

While many of these muscles are smaller, they are more exposed when wearing t-shirts, shirts, or summer dresses. 

Adding size and definition to the arms will help you make noticeable changes to your physique. The barbell reverse curl will give you a stronger, athletic look, making it a great exercise addition to arm workouts for women and men.

Strengthens Grip

If you want to increase your grip strength, then you need to add the barbell reverse curl to your training.

The barbell reverse curl requires a firm grip to hold the barbell in the pronated position. Grasping the barbell overloads the wrist flexors and extensors, increasing our grip strength. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do barbell reverse curls build forearms?

Yes, barbell reverse curls build the forearms. Targeting the brachioradialis, wrist extensors, forearm flexors, and hand flexors creates overload and increases muscle mass.

Do barbell reverse curls still work the biceps?

The barbell reverse curl works the biceps. They assist throughout the movement. However, the brachialis, which sits beneath the biceps, brachioradialis, and forearm extensors, provides the majority of the movement.

Why does the barbell reverse curl hurt my wrist?

The barbell reverse curl may hurt your wrist if you have damaged joints or soft tissue in your wrist. The junction of the forearm, wrist, and hand bones contains a lot of connective tissue. If there is any damage, they can cause pain.

Why are barbell reverse curls harder?

The barbell reverse curl is harder because it targets the forearms, with less bicep involvement. During the lift the forearm is pronated; meaning the biceps aren’t supinated and fully contracted. The pronated position also requires greater grip strength to hold the barbell.

Resources

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