Curls and Context, or Moar Picturez

Bicep curls have their place. I acknowledge that. If you’re a top-level bodybuilder, you are probably doing curls somewhere in your routine, and I wish you well. I’m guessing you know how to do enough other stuff accurately and thoroughly that curls are not a time-sucker in your routine but a well-situated compliment to it. I used to do curls. About a year and a half ago, I’d do easy-bar curls and worked my way up to doing 60 lb with strict, controlled, none-of-that-momentum-to-get-the-bar-up-bullshit form, which isn’t too bad for a chick. I was also doing them after I’d used my biceps quite a bit for a lot of back work, if I remember this split correctly.

This brings me to a point I’d like to make about curls: they’re kind of pretty far down the list of Stuff You Should Be Doing in the weight room. If you’re just starting out with lifting and your trainer is emphasizing curls, be wary. Bodyweight (or weighted) chin-ups and pull-ups will challenge your biceps at the same time as multiple portions of your back. You can’t avoid using your biceps in these movements, although you can attempt to limit their involvement/emphasize the use of your lats as you pull yourself from a dead hang up to your chin. So do those instead of curls. Do them well. Do them for multiple sets. Do other stuff for your back, because a strong back takes time and effort to build, and spending that time doing crappy curls or even good ones (I rarely see these in the weight room in which I train) is, in my opinion, vastly inefficient use of gym time.

Of course, that’s my opinion, and I’m now training for powerlifting, so I’m getting further away from physique-perfection-based pursuits in training than ever. That said, I thought I’d illustrate something here:

Oh look, I’m being a narcissistic asshole again and posting a picture of myself. Pose bro, pose. I know you’re rolling your eyes right now.

Admittedly, my biceps aren’t crazy HUGE, but they’re there, and they’re proportionate to the rest of my muscular development thus far. I don’t remember the last time I did a curl. I recently did 14 pull-ups for my first set of said exercise, then continued with two more sets afterward in the double digits. I did a lot of other back stuff during that workout. I did no arm-specific movements. I’m pretty happy with my physique/arms as I develop strength. It just appears to this weirdo powerlifter chick that those who are doing bicep curls ad nauseam are mostly wasting their time–I’m going to be way more impressed with seriously high (correctly performed) squat/deadlift numbers than I am with, uh, biceps. Lifts that are of a more compound nature–squat and deadlift for sure, but even a standing barbell row or, as just mentioned pull-ups–ask a lot of your body. You’re not just working your quads and glutes with a squat. Your traps come into play when you’re deadlifting. Smaller accessory lifts targeting one specific muscle or a few very specific muscles are great, but if you’re skimping on the big stuff because it’s difficult (squatting still scares me on some level, even though I pretend it doesn’t. I admit it. I will write about this more in the future), your testes or ovaries need some growing.

This is what I’m learning as I shift from more of a physique-based approach to weight lifting to one that is only concerned with strength. It’s an aspect of powerlifting that makes sense to me–in order to build muscle, you have to DO. I like focusing on the DOING, not the physical result. I like the DOING to be the reward, the point, of weightlifting. For me, this is a more logical, direct mentality, and one that seems, in a way, more honest. Maybe it’s not. There’s something to be said for the care and cultivation of muscles–it’s a science. But you have to physically move around in order to grow those calves, biceps, lats, whatever, and loving the movement is going to get you through the days you really don’t feel like training. Staring at your biceps isn’t making them move; if their shape and size is your main motivator, good luck to you. Mine are a side effect.

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