6 Common Biceps Training Mistakes To Avoid

Over the years, biceps training has become a convoluted topic, with many opinions on curl technique, optimal loading, sets, reps, and frequency. Athlean-X founder Jeff Cavaliere recently added to the debate on Jun. 12, 2024, when he shared his list of six common biceps exercise mistakes. 

Cavaliere, known for his training solutions and shredded physique, explained what makes an effective biceps curl, from optimal rep tempo to biomechanics and variations. The physiotherapist also explored four techniques he believes everyone should use for better arm gains.

[Related: The Best Mass Gainer Supplements for Growth]

Mistake 1: Lifting Too Fast

The first biceps training mistake is lifting at high speeds with poor biceps control. While faster rep tempos can benefit muscle growth (1), many less experienced gym goers lack the mind-muscle connection to engage their biceps thoroughly. 

Slow every repetition down.

Cavaliere suggests four seconds for the concentric and four seconds for the eccentric. This will recruit more biceps activity and help prevent input from the front delts and forearms. Pumping the brakes can also help prevent injury and ensure symmetrical performance.

Mistake 2: Curling With Straight Wrists 

The second mistake is keeping the wrists from bending backward. Cavaliere assures that the wrists are strong in an extended position, and it’s biomechanically a more efficient way to train. 

You focus too much on maintaining this stable wrist.

The wrists are stable during push-upssled training, or even pushing a car for the strongmen out there. Biceps curls are no different. Cavaliere discussed the “waiter’s curl,” which mimics carrying food trays with the hand and forearm at a 90-degree angle. He recommends this technique for generating stronger contractile forces during curls.

Mistake 3: Not Enough Biceps Variety

Cavaliere disagrees with the common notion that a curl is a curl.

All curls are not the same.

Cavaliere whipped out his muscle markers to illustrate where the two biceps heads attach to his arm. Since the long or outer head ties into the shoulder joint, it should be stretched by curling with the arms behind the body (e.g., via exercises like the incline dumbbell curl and drag curl).

To bias the shorter inner head, curl with the arms in front (e.g., preacher curl). Both types of variations should be incorporated into your training regimen.

Mistake 4: Falling In Love With the Stretch 

It’s one thing to heed training advice; it’s another to become fixated on exercise trends that focus on one technique. In this case, incline curls or other eccentric-focused biceps exercises shouldn’t be worshiped.

While stretching a muscle under load — sometimes employed via long-length partial reps — may be more conducive to hypertrophy than contracting said muscle in some cases, research generally agrees they’re equally important. (2)(3)

Cavaliere chooses heavy barbell curls over incline curls.

A good cheat curl with a slow eccentric will build muscle 10 times out of 10 more than any stretch-focused exercise.

[Related: The Nine Best Wrist Curl Variations to Supercharge Your Grip]

Mistake 5: Only Curling With Bars

Many beginners who only perform barbell curls may not recognize when one side is doing more heavy lifting. A stronger side doesn’t take much to compensate for what the other lacks, which can cause uneven muscle development and imbalances. 

Only curling bars can increase core demands for stability. Cavaliere recommends alternating barbell curls since they require less core strength while lifting one side at a time. The relief of stability requisites may allow for the use of heavier dumbbells. 

Mistake 6: Not Overloading Supination 

Cavaliere is a big proponent of squeezing the biceps as hard as possible with full elbow flexion and forearm supination during arm curls. The biceps are strongest when twisting the lower arm, which maximizes biceps contractions. 

Instead of gripping the dumbbell in the center of the handle, grab it with the thumb and index finger pressed against one bell. This will create a seesaw effect for a more challenging supination. Bands and cables can be excellent tools for enhancing biceps flex.

Bonus Biceps Training Tips

Cavaliere capped his advice with a few biceps training techniques. “We get a lot of the stimulus for growth [via] the exercises we do,” he explains. Try out the methods below during your next biceps workout:

Sliced Reps

Essentially chopping each repetition into smaller pieces.

How To Do It

Grab a pair of dumbbells you can normally curl for 15 reps, and do the exercise standing: 

Curl both dumbbells. 

Lower the dumbbells one-ninth of the way down, then curl them. 

Lower two-ninths and curl them. 

Lower three-ninths and curl.

Repeat until nine reps total.

The range of motion should increase for each mini-rep.

The last rep should be a full biceps curl. 

Start at the top and break the next set into eight pieces. After that, do seven sliced reps, then six, five, and continue until one standard biceps curl. 

Slow Reps

Reiterating the first common mistake, Cavaliere recommends incorporating at least one slow set per biceps exercise. Spend four seconds on the curl and four seconds on the eccentric.

Purgatory Reps

Purgatory reps alternate dumbbell curls with isometric holds.

How To Do It

Curl both dumbbells, then lower them until the arms are at 90 degrees. 

Lower one dumbbell down until the arm is straight. Curl it to the top and lower it halfway again. 

Repeat steps 1 and 2 for the other side. 

Continue alternating sides until you’ve reached the desired number of repetitions.

Mechanical Drop Sets 

The purpose of mechanical drop sets is to train your muscles beyond fatigue. This is achieved by mixing up exercise angles and techniques to squeeze out additional reps.

Some research suggests reaching muscular failure during resistance exercise promotes better muscle and strength gains. In 2023, a scientific review found drop sets to be a more time-efficient strategy for maximizing muscle growth. In other words, you’ll get comparable benefits in less time. (4)(5)

Cavaliere prefers a set of strict barbell curls with his back pinned against a wall to prevent momentum. He uses a little “body English” to cheat his form and squeeze out more reps without decreasing the weight.

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Schuenke, M. D., Herman, J. R., Gliders, R. M., Hagerman, F. C., Hikida, R. S., Rana, S. R., Ragg, K. E., & Staron, R. S. (2012). Early-phase muscular adaptations in response to slow-speed versus traditional resistance-training regimens. European journal of applied physiology112(10), 3585–3595. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-012-2339-3

Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D. I., Vigotsky, A. D., Franchi, M. V., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Hypertrophic Effects of Concentric vs. Eccentric Muscle Actions: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of strength and conditioning research31(9), 2599–2608. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000001983

Franchi MV, Reeves ND, Narici MV. Skeletal Muscle Remodeling in Response to Eccentric vs. Concentric Loading: Morphological, Molecular, and Metabolic Adaptations. Front Physiol. 2017 Jul 4;8:447. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00447. PMID: 28725197; PMCID: PMC5495834.

Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Van Every DW, Plotkin DL. Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports (Basel). 2021 Feb 22;9(2):32. doi: 10.3390/sports9020032. PMID: 33671664; PMCID: PMC7927075.

Sødal LK, Kristiansen E, Larsen S, van den Tillaar R. Effects of Drop Sets on Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Sports Med Open. 2023 Jul 31;9(1):66. doi: 10.1186/s40798-023-00620-5. PMID: 37523092; PMCID: PMC10390395.

Featured Image: @athleanx on Instagram

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