Incline Curls: The Ultimate Guide!


If you want to build bigger, stronger biceps then you have to using incline curls. They are the best exercise for isolating the long head of the biceps and building up your biceps peak. They are easily one of the greatest bicep exercises of all time!

Introduction

  • Part 1: The Best Incline Curl Variations!
  • Part 2: Build Muscle Mass With Incline Curls!
  • Part 3: Build Strength With Incline Curls!

In this comprehensive guide I’m going to teach you how to use incline curls to build bigger, stronger biceps in record time. 

Incline curls are performed on an adjustable incline bench. You lay down on your back just like you would for an incline dumbbell press for your chest. The thing that makes incline curls different from any other biceps exercise is your elbows are actually behind your back as you curl the weight up!

Here is a perfect demonstration of incline curls:

Incline curls have many advantages over other types of curls. They are easily the best exercise for isolating the long head of the biceps. They are also an incredibly versatile exercise!

You can easily change your grip or the angle of your incline bench to overload the biceps in a slightly different way. Many of the world’s greatest coaches and athletes such as Charles Poliquin and Dorian Yates were huge fans of incline curls. They are unbeatable for overall biceps development!

Let’s take a look at another video of incline curls:

If you want to build bigger, stronger biceps as fast as possible then you have to use perfect form on this exercise. Here are some simple tips on how to perform this exercise with perfect form:

  • Tip #1: Keep your elbows behind you during the entire exercise!
  • Tip #2: Keep your head and shoulders pressed back against the bench!
  • Tip #3: Train with a full range of motion!

The first thing that you have to do during incline curls is keep your elbows behind you throughout the whole exercise! You want to think about pushing your elbows “down and back” while you are curling the weight.

This might be hard at first. After all, incline curls place a huge stretch on the biceps. Don’t worry, it gets easier over time to keep your elbows back.

It’s also important to keep your head AND shoulders on the bench the entire time. The athlete in the video does this perfectly. Keeping your head and shoulders down really helps you isolate your biceps so you make faster progress.

Finally you want to make sure you are training through a full range of motion. You want to straighten your arms out in the bottom position and curl as high as you can in the top position. Using a full range of motion on incline curls is a great way to recruit more muscle fibers in the biceps.

Charles Poliquin has a cool trick to make sure his athletes use a full range of motion: he tells them to contract their triceps in the bottom position as if they were doing a triceps pushdown! Here is Charles teaching one of his athletes on how to do this:

By now you should be an expert on how to perform incline curls with perfect technique. That’s great, because in the rest of this article I’m going to teach you how to design your own incline curl bicep workouts!

In Part 1 of this article I’m going to teach you the different types of incline curls that you can perform in the gym. Trust me, there are a lot! Then in parts 2 and 3 I’m going to teach you some of the best incline curl workouts for building bigger, stronger biceps.

Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this cutting edge information! 

Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program.

Now let’s get down to business…

Part 1: The Best Incline Curl Variations!

Incline curls are one of the most versatile biceps exercises. There are a huge number of incline curl variations that you can use to overload your biceps. In fact there are at least 24 different variations of incline curls that you can use in your own training programs. Don’t worry, I’m going to keep things as simple as possible for you.

There are three main ways to mix things up on incline curls:

  • Change the grip
  • Change the incline bench angle
  • Change the type of resistance

Let’s take a closer look at each of these methods.

Variation #1: How To Change The Grip On Incline Curls

The easiest way to mix things up on incline curls is to change the angle of the incline bench. This is as easy as increasing or decreasing the angle of the bench just like you would for an incline dumbbell press. 

Here are some training videos for different variations of incline curls:

Each of these different angles has their own advantages and disadvantages. As you already know incline curls are great for training the long head of the biceps. The long head is hit even harder as the angle of the bench decreases. For example the 30 degree incline dumbbell curl tends to work the long head of the biceps harder than the 75 degree incline dumbbell curl.

That doesn’t mean the 75 degree angle is worthless! All of these angles recruit different motor units within the biceps’ motor unit pool.

This is just a fancy way of saying that each of these variations target a slightly different part of the biceps muscle. It’s a good idea to mix things up over time even if the 30 degree incline curl targets the long head the best.

If you are new to incline curls then you may want to start off with 75 or 60 degree version of this exercise. These ones place less of a stretch on your shoulders and biceps. This can be a good thing if you are not very flexible! After 2-4 weeks on these easier incline curl variations you can progress to the more challenging 30 or 45 degree versions.

Variation #2: How To Change The Incline Bench Angle On Incline Curls

As you can see it’s easy to change the angle of the incline bench for incline curls. However, you can also vary your grip for even more variety! There are four main grips that you should know about: the supinated grip, the supinating grip, the hammer grip and the offset grip. 

Here are some training videos for each of these grips:

Supinated grip curls are really simple: you just curl the weight with an underhand or palms-facing-up grip. The supinated grip hits the biceps really hard and is a favourite of most bodybuilders.

Supinating grip curls are a little more complicated. You start the movement with a neutral or hammer grip and end the movement with a supinated or underhand grip.

The supinating grip is also great for training the biceps. The biceps are the muscle that supinates your forearm or rotates it outwards. When you use a supinating grip your biceps have to work extra hard!

The hammer grip is also pretty simple: you just grip the dumbbell as if it were a hammer. The hammer grip works some of the other arm muscles really hard including the brachioradialis and the brachialis. It is also a decent choice for training the biceps.

Finally there is the offset grip. This one is a little more complicated. You are going to use a supinated or underhand grip and press your little finger up against the inside of the dumbbell.

The offset grip makes your biceps work harder than normal because they have to prevent the dumbbell from rotating too much in your hand.

You should use all 4 of these grips in your training because they overload your biceps in slightly different ways. Rotating through different grips also helps to prevent you from getting bored with your training!

So far we have covered 4 different angles and 4 different grips for incline curls. That means you have (4 x 4) = 16 different incline curl variations that you can use. But wait – there’s more! I also want to teach you some great incline curl variations that you can perform without traditional dumbbells.

Variation #3: How To Change The Type Of Resistance On Incline Curls

Dumbbells are great for building bigger, stronger biceps. Of course there are some other tools that you use on incline curls to overload your bicep. Here are 2 tools you should know about:

  • Cables
  • Hanging kettlebells

If you have never tried incline cable curls then you are missing out! They are an AWESOME way to overload the long head of your biceps! You are still going to lay down on an adjustable incline bench. The big difference is you will be curling 2 handles attached to cables rather than dumbbells. For example:

This exercise feels completely different than incline dumbbell curls. It’s hard to explain but it feels like a completely different exercise. This is probably because incline cable curls overload a completely different part of the strength curve than incline dumbbell curls.

You don’t get that much of a stretch on the biceps in the bottom position. However, you do get a huge biceps contraction at the top!

As usual you can use a 30, 45, 60 or 75 degree incline bench to perform this exercise. The lower angles will work the long head a little harder but they are all fantastic for training the biceps. 

The other tool you can use on incline curls is hanging kettlebells. For example:

I first learned about this exercise form Wolfgang Unsoeld, one of Germany’s greatest strength coaches. These hanging kettlebells may look like regular dumbbells but they feel completely different on your biceps.

First of all the weight swings back and forth as you curl. Your biceps have to work much harder than normal to lift this kind of unstable object.

The other difference is that the center of mass of the kettlebell is actually below your hand as you curl. This is different from dumbbell curls where the center of mass of the dumbbell is above your hand while you curl. This gives the exercise a completely different feel. You really have to try this exercise yourself before you pass judgement on it.

Most of you reading this will not have access to hanging kettlebells. That’s OK – you will still get awesome results without them. However, if you do have access to hanging kettlebells then you should absolutely use them in your training. They are one of the best tools you can use to overload your biceps! 

OK, let’s review: there are 16 different variations of incline dumbbell curls. You can also perform incline cable curls or incline hanging kettlebell curls with 4 different bench angles. That means there are (16 + 4 + 4) = 24 different variations of incline curls that you can perform in the gym! How cool is that!?

You will probably get your best results if you use one incline curl variation for 2-4 weeks at a time before switching things up. You can read more about how often to change your exercises in my article on neurotransmitter based program design.

Part 2: Build Muscle Mass With Incline Curls!

Now we’re getting to the good stuff! It’s great if you know how to perform incline curls with proper technique. It’s also great if you know about all the different incline curl variations you can perform in the gym. However, none of this matters if you don’t know how to design a training routine with incline curls!

If you are a bodybuilder then these routines are for you. I’m going to give you three of the most effective muscle-building incline curl routines ever invented. These routines are great for training the long head of your biceps and for helping you to build up your biceps “peak.” 

Hypertrophy Workout #1: Charles Poliquin’s Incline Curl Tri-Set Routine

Let’s kick things off with a tri-set routine invented by the strength coach Charles Poliquin. Tri-sets are a training method where you perform 3 exercises in a row for the same body part with only 10 seconds rest in between exercises. For example:

  • Perform exercise #1, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise #2, rest 10 seconds
  • Perform exercise #3, rest 2-3 minutes, repeat!

This tri-set routine features three different exercises to train all of the curling muscles including the biceps, the brachialis and the brachioradialis. You are going to perform 45 degree incline curls to target the long head of your biceps followed by 2 other types of curls to hit the other muscles. Check it out:

Charles Poliquin’s Incline Curl Tri-Set Routine

  • A1: 45 degree incline DB curl (offset grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: Standing ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

You can click right here for a perfect video demonstration of this routine.

One of the reasons that I like this routine is that it works all of the muscles that bend your elbow. The incline curls are obviously great for targeting the long head of the biceps.

The reverse ez-bar curls are great for training the brachialis and the brachioradialis muscles. Most people neglect these muscles when they train their arms so reverse curls are especially important to keep in your program.

Finally the preacher ez-bar curl is great for hitting the short head of your biceps. When you perform all three of these exercises in a row as part of a tri-set you create a ton of muscle damage and get an unbelievable pump.

I recommend you perform anywhere from 3-5 of these tri-sets in your workout. If you are having a so-so day then stick with 3 total tri-sets. On the other hand if you feel like Thor when he realized he was still worthy then go ahead and perform 5 total tri-sets. Of course you can always perform some triceps work at the start or end of this routine for a more complete arm hypertrophy workout.  

Hypertrophy Workout #2: Origin-Insertion Supersets Featuring Incline Curls

Another great training method that you can use to build bigger arms is called origin-insertion supersets. Supersets are a lot like tri-sets. The big difference is that you will perform 2 exercises back-to-back for your biceps rather than three exercises.

To perform an origin-insertion superset you are going to superset two exercises that overload the part of your biceps close to your shoulder AND the part of your biceps close to your elbow.

For this routine you are going to superset chin ups with incline dumbbell curls. This creates an enormous amount of micro-trauma in your biceps and is great for stimulating some fast growth. Here is the full routine. Check it out:

Origin-Insertion Supersets Featuring Incline Curls

  • A1: Narrow supinated grip chin ups, 3-5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 30 degree incline DB curls, 3-5 x 10-12, 3/0/2/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2.

This may not seem like enough sets if you are used to performing extremely high-volume workouts for your arms. Trust me, this workout is harder than it looks! Supersetting chin ups and incline curls together is very taxing on your arms. After just the first 1-2 supersets you should feel like you can barely bend your arms!

I recommend you perform 3-5 total supersets for this routine. If you are having a great day then go ahead and perform all 5 supersets.

Workout #3: A Powerful Tri-Set For The Long Head Of Your Biceps

For this last routine I am going to teach you one of my favourite routines for overloading the long head of the biceps. There are two main ways to make the long head of your biceps work harder during curling exercises:

  • Place your elbows behind your body
  • Move your hands closer together

You are already familiar with the first strategy. After all, every type of incline curl places your elbow behind your body! The long head of the biceps also works harder whenever you grip a barbell or an ez-curl bar with a narrow grip. This routine uses both of these strategies to overload the long head of your biceps!

For this routine you are going to perform another type of tri-set. The first two exercises in this tri-set are different types of incline curls. The third exercise is a standing ez-bar curl with a narrow grip. If you want to build a bigger biceps peak then this routine is just what you’re looking for! Check it out:

A Powerful Tri-Set For The Long Head Of Your Biceps

  • A1: 30 degree incline dumbbell curl (supinating grip), 3-5 x 8-10, 2/0/2/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 60 degree incline dumbbell curl (supinating grip), 3-5 x 10-12, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Standing ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3-5 x 12-15, 4/0/2/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

One of the things that makes this routine so effective is the rep ranges change from one exercise to the next.

Research shows that the biceps tend to be more of a slow-twitch muscle fiber and respond best to slightly higher rep ranges. You don’t have to go super-high with your reps but performing at least some of your sets in the 8-15 rep range is definitely a good idea.

Give this routine a try for a few workouts and I am sure Arnold Schwarzenegger will be jealous of your biceps peaks!

Part 3: Build Strength With Incline Curls!

If you are a powerlifter, strongman competitor or just love getting stronger in the gym then this section is for you! I am going to teach you 3 of the most effective incline curl routines for building stronger biceps.

Incline curls are an especially important exercise when it comes to building stronger biceps. Most people don’t perform any incline curls in their training so their long head is weak relative to their short head.

Don’t worry, I’m going to give you a simple test you can perform in the gym to see if your long head is as strong as it should be.

In an ideal world your strength on incline curls should be exactly equal to your strength on preacher curls. In other words if you can perform preacher dumbbell curls for 8 reps then you should be able to perform 45 degree incline dumbbell curls for 8 reps. Here are some videos for these 2 exercises:

Again if you have healthy bicep muscles then you should be equally strong on these 2 exercises. If you are weaker on incline curls than preacher curls then you need to start focusing on incline curls in your training!

Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. Here are 3 of the best incline curl routines you can perform for stronger biceps.

Strength Workout #1: A Powerful Incline Curl Cluster Sets Routine!

Cluster sets are one of the oldest and most effective training methods for building strength. The first studies performed on cluster sets came out in 2008 but Olympic athletes were using cluster sets as far back as the 1950s!

There are many different types of cluster set routines but they all have one thing in common: you take short rest periods in between each rep of your sets. To keep things simple I’m going to teach you the classic 5 x 5 cluster set routine.

You are going to perform 5 sets of 5 reps with a weight you can only lift 3 times. In order to do this you are going to rest for 20 seconds after each rep. For example:

  • Perform your 1st rep, put the weight down, rest 20 seconds
  • Perform your 2nd rep, put the weight down, rest 20 seconds
  • Perform your 3rd rep, put the weight down, rest 20 seconds
  • Perform your 4th rep, put the weight down, rest 20 seconds
  • Perform your 5th rep, put the weight down, rest 2-5 minutes, repeat!

Cluster sets are one of my favourite set and rep schemes to use with incline curls. You just drop the dumbbells after each rep and pick them up again after your 20-second rest break. These 20-second rest breaks are great because they let your muscles partially recover during the set and allow you to recruit the high-threshold motor units.

Here is a sample cluster sets incline curl routine you may want to try. In my experience this type of routine works best when you train your biceps and triceps together so I have made this a complete arm workout. Check it out:

A Powerful Incline Curl Cluster Sets Routine!

  • A1: 60 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 5 x 5**, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • A2: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 5 x 5**, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Spider ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B2: Standing overhead rope cable extensions, 3 x 6-8, 2/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

One of the hardest parts about this routine is picking the right weights to use. This is even more difficult when you are performing cluster sets with dumbbells because it’s hard to make small jumps in weights.

I recommend you pick a weight that you know you can perform all 5 sets with for your first workout. If the weight was too easy then you can always bump it up the next time you perform this workout.

I think you will be surprised at how fast your incline curls improve with this type of routine. There is a reason many of the world’s best strength coaches use cluster sets with their athletes: it works!

Workout #2: A Killer Incline Curl Rest-Pause Workout!

Most people think of rest-pause sets as a tool for building muscle. Yes, they are great for packing on slabs of muscle onto your frame. However they are also one of the best training methods for getting stronger!

Rest-pause sets are a high-intensity training method where you train to failure three times in a row on an exercise with short rest periods in between each set. For example:

  • Train to failure in the 7-10 rep range, rest 20-30 seconds
  • Train to failure a second time with the same weight, rest 20-30 seconds
  • Train to failure a third time with the same weight, done!

Don’t worry too much about the number of reps that you get on your second and third set. The important part is that you are pushing yourself all the way to failure with perfect form on each attempt.

Rest-pause sets work unbelievably well for building strength because they help you recruit the high-threshold motor units. One of the advantages of rest-pause sets over other training methods is that you can build strength without having to perform super low reps.

Here is a rest-pause workout focusing on incline curls that you can use to build stronger biceps. Check it out:

A Killer Incline Curl Rest-Pause Workout

  • A1: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 1 x 7-10**, 2/0/X/0, rest as needed
  • B1: Standing ez-bar cable curl (wide / pronated grip), 1 x 7-10**, 2/0X/0, rest as needed
  • C1: 60 degree incline cable curl, 1 x 10-13**, 2/0/X/1, rest as needed

**Performed as a DC-style rest-pause set. Train to failure in the listed rep range, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a second time with the same weight, rest 20-30 seconds, train to failure a third time with the same weight, done!

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise B1, exercise B3.

For this routine you are performing 1 all-out rest-pause set per exercise. You can perform as many warm-up sets as you need to get ready for your 1 rest-pause set. Just don’t wear yourself out too much on your warm up sets!

When you get to your 1 working set you have to go “balls to the wall” and push yourself as hard as you can. Remember, with rest-pause sets you only get 1 working set per exercise. If you don’t give that 1 set everything you have then you just aren’t going to get stronger.

This type of routine isn’t for everyone. However, for a select few of you it will give you some of the best incline curl strength gains of your life!

Workout #3: Advanced German Volume Training With Incline Curls!

And now for something completely different! In my experience Advanced German Volume Training is one of the best training methods the average lifter can use for building strength.It is very similar to the original 10 sets of 10 German Volume Training as popularized by Charles Poliquin. The big difference is you are going to use much lower rep ranges.

Here is what your sets and reps should look like over the course of 6 workouts:

  • Workout #1: 10 sets of 5 reps
  • Workout #2: 10 sets of 4 reps
  • Workout #3: 10 sets of 3 reps
  • Workout #4: 10 sets of 5 reps
  • Workout #5: 10 sets of 4 reps
  • Workout #6: 10 sets of 3 reps

As you can see the rep ranges change over the course of the 6 workouts. For the first 10 sets of 5 workout you should use a weight you can lift about 10 times. The first few sets will be very easy but your last few sets will be very, very challenging.

You can take some large weight jumps from workout to workout as the rep ranges go down. This is one of the things that makes Advanced German Volume Training so exciting!

Here is a sample incline curl workout you may want to try. Check it out:

Advanced German Volume Training With Incline Curls!

  • A1: 30 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 10 x 3-5, 5/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • A2: V-bar dips (upright torso), 10 x 3-5, 3/2/X/0, 120 seconds rest
  • B1: Seated zottman curls, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
  • B2: Decline ez-bar extensions (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest

Here are the exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise B1, exercise B2.

In my experience the Advanced German Volume Training program works awesome for people who want to get stronger without training with ultra-heavy weights.

Not everyone can handle sets of singles and doubles in their training without burning out. That’s OK. With programs like this one you can still increase your strength on incline curls without burning yourself out.

Conclusion

Incline curls are one of the most effective and versatile bicep exercises in the world. Incline curls are definitely the best exercise for training the long head of the biceps and increasing the size of your biceps peak. They are also an incredibly versatile exercise.

As I proved in this article there are at least 24 different types of incline curls that you can use in your training programs!

Just make sure you are using perfect technique on this exercise. I recommend you focus on keeping your elbows behind you throughout the exercise, keeping your head and shoulders pressed against the bench and using a full range of motion. If you remember these three tips then you are well on your way to building bigger, stronger biceps!

“Fall in love with the process and the results will come.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen

I am the creator and owner of Revolutionary Program Design. I help advanced athletes take their training to the next level and achieve results they never imagined possible.

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