Training the Curl for Increased Performance and Injury PreventionFriday, September 14th, 2012
Bicep Curls for Increased Performance and Injury Prevention
The first part of the title of this post might sound like the biggest oxymoron ever stated.
After all, what in the world can Curls possibly do for your performance?
I am about to line all that up for you right now.
You see, for the last few weeks I have been working on a project that will come out soon about arm training, and during all of the preparation, I have been trying out new things with my arm training, new lifts, new variations, and new modifications, etc…
Because I have been “studying” arms so much, I have been putting in more time training the arms, and also as a result, they have gotten stronger, and I have also seen excellent results in other parts of my training, especially my Pull-up work.
What Have I Been Doing
Now, I am not down there hitting arms for 2 hours straight, multiple times a week, but it is safe to say I am doing arm training at least once a week every single week for the past month and a half, AND on some occasions I have hit them twice in the same week.
Also, I am not just down in the gym banging away on Bicep work. The Triceps makes up far more of the upper arm than the Biceps, so a lot of my arm work has been Triceps based, but I am also getting my fair share of Bicep work in.
In addition to all of this experimentation and manipulating my arm training, there has been one additional training factor that seems to have been very beneficial, and that is, surprisingly enough, testing myself in the 1 Rep Max Dumbbell Curl.
I first started doing this when Josh Dale introduced the Rob Vigeant Dumbbell Curl Challenge, which was to lift 100-lbs in strict fashion on the dumbbell curl. I thought this would be fun, so I tried it out and to my surprise I was able to get a 75-lb Curl. It is hard to believe that it was almost a year ago when this challenge came out.
When my long-time friend Kyle trained with me earlier this summer, we tried out the Max Dumbbell Curl just for fun, and I was happy to see that I had retained much of my strength, even after several months where I did not try a max curl.
Two weeks ago, I tested myself again for a max lift, this time using a dumbbell with extra weight stuck to it with a magnet. During that workout, I was able to get 84-lbs left handed.
This week, I was able to move my mark up even further, hitting 85.5-lbs.
Other Improvements I Have Seen
Again, the 1RM Dumbbell Curl is not some kind of major focus in my training. There just happens to be a fun challenge list going on right now, and it has served well as a tester for my current Bicep strength.
However, the most important thing about this is not the amount of weight I am putting up in the Bicep Curl – oooh, woopty-doo, right?
The biggest benefit I have seen, and this is where the “Performance” aspect comes in that is reference in the title, has been my Pull-up Performance.
Now, we all know, or at least we should, that the Pull-up is one of the best exercises for building the upper back. It is a great bench mark of strength for athletes, students (scholastic fitness tests) and even the Military incorporates Pull-ups into their testing and training protocols. The Pull-up is or should be a major part of your training.
I have stated before that I do all kinds of versions of the Pull-up, and most recently I have fallen in love with training on the Rogue Dog Bone <= See some of my recent training here. This thing is just a sick piece of training gear. When I started out, I could barely get 2 reps with this thing, but I have been seeing great increases here.
Also, my regular Pull-ups are kicking ass as well (I do my conventional pull-ups on Perfect Pullup Handles).
I have been training my conventional Pull-ups with somewhat of a Ladder approach, especially when Kyle is here. He and I will start with one Pull-up apiece and follow one another, each time increasing our rep-count by one repetition, up to 5, and then back down. It looks like this:
Jedd – 1, Kyle – 1
Jedd – 2, Kyle – 2
Jedd – 3, Kyle – 3
Jedd – 4, Kyle – 4
Jedd – 5, Kyle – 5
Jedd – 5, Kyle – 5
Jedd – 4, Kyle – 4
Jedd – 3, Kyle – 3
Jedd – 2, Kyle – 2
Jedd – 1, Kyle – 1
Pretty basic, but also pretty demanding, given the fact that we only rest the amount of time that it takes for us to step away from the Pull-up Bar, and wait for the other guy to finish his reps.
The first time Kyle and I did this, which was in May, I believe, I needed serious spots from him to finish out many of my sets once I hit the 3-rep mark, and up until I got back to the 2-rep mark in the Ladder.
Kyle missed about 2 solid months of training due to a job change, but when he did return, I had only trained this ladder a couple of times on my own, but the day we did this together again, I only needed spots on my last rep during my 4-rep sets and my last two reps during my 5-rep sets.
I’d estimate that within 3 weeks I will be able to finish this ladder all by myself without any spots. This is a huge improvement and I think the increased arm work has played just as big of a role in this improvement as my recent concerted efforts toward improving my Pull-up abilities.
I will branch off a bit here and say this. If all the arm work has helped my Pull-ups so much, what could also be the effects if I focused a bit more on Log Cleans or Stones (I honestly haven’t been doing those as much as I want). It is possible I could see improvements in other Biceps-involved lifts as well. It’s also possible that you could too! Something to think about for sure.
If You Are Not Training Arms Seriously…
I know there are a handful of people out there who either do not train their Biceps or do so half-assed. I know this because I have heard it said many times, especially by Strongman competitors and those who perform a great deal of Rowing movements. The reasoning, so they say, is that since they are constantly lifting Stones, Logs, and doing all the Rows, that they are getting enough Bicep work in already.
After these last few weeks of increased arm training and seeing the results it has brought, I encourage you to re-think your approach to arm training, especially if you have been skipping Bicep Training or if when you do it you only hit a few token sets just to “get some work in.”
Another Reason Why Direct Bicep Work is Important
If bigger numbers and more reps in Pulling movements is not enough to make you consider adding arm training back into your routine, I have two more things that I feel must be discussed about the benefits of specific arm training.
First off, even though Rows, Log Cleans, and other similar lifts work the Biceps through elbow flexion, you still are not getting the same intensity as if you are truly aiming for growth and strength increases in the Biceps.
Secondly, with Rowing movements and Log Clean, the forearm does not supinate, which is another movement pattern that the Biceps are responsible for.
My fear is not that if you neglect Biceps training that you will hold back your performance on Pull-ups, Rows, Log Cleans, or any other movement where the Biceps are involved (although to a degree, that will happen). Rather, I’m more interested in keeping all of you safe and injury free.
It Happened Right Before My Eyes
In August, I watched a Bicep tear take place right before my eyes during a Grip Contest, of all things. Competitor, John Wojciechowski, tore his Biceps Tendon performing a normally straight-arm-style event called the Adjustable Thick Bar Lift. I actually thought he ripped the seat of his pants, and it was so loud the camera even picked up the noise.
In no way am I saying the reason John got hurt due to lack of training the Biceps. I don’t know much about John’s past training except that he has put up some very nice general strength training videos as well as impressive gripper and bolt bending videos.
I am only saying that lack of training parts of the body, like the Biceps, can lead to weaknesses and imbalances. Weknesses and Imbalances can lead to injuries, and after watching Wojo tear his Bicep tendon, that was enough for me. I don’t ever want to see it again or learn that one of you had it happen either.
So, major take-aways from this post:
1. The Biceps assist in many other training movements, not just Curls. Pull-ups, Rows, Logs, Stones are all examples.
2. Having Strong and well-conditioned Biceps can lead to improved performance in other lifts which are very beneficial toward over-all strength and performance, especially Pull-ups, which I have seen in my own training.
3. Make sure to train the Biceps intensely. No need to go overboard, but don’t neglect them either. Although some of you may be turned of by “Show Muscles” or “Beach Muscles” remember to strengthen all links in the chain.
4. It’s not always about Strength. Sometimes Injury Prevention is even more important. My friend, Wojo, is going to experience some down time due to his injury. Down time SUCKS.
Keep these things in mind as you train. All the best with your training and stay injury free.