Weight lifters wanting to switch up their workouts and utilize an alternating grip may wonder about the reverse curl muscles worked, and how the pros and cons weigh when stacked against a traditional bicep curl.7
While there is an age-old argument between whether or not the standard curl vs reverse curl is better, this article will discuss the good, the bad, and the physiology behind both curl methods, as well as discuss the key differences between using a barbell vs dumbbells on reverse curls.
Reverse Curls & the Muscles Worked
For some, the bicep is the hardest muscle to grow. Reverse curls are a great exercise to use to build the arms, because it works a number of important muscles in the arm and forearm.
Take a look at the list below for a detailed explanation of which muscles are targeted during this curl variation, and why targeting them is essential for building bigger biceps.
The muscles worked includes the following:
- Muscles of the Upper Arm – Biceps Brachii, Brachialis.
- Muscles of the Forearms – Brachioradialis, Pronator Muscles, Forearm Flexors
Let’s take a look at each of the muscles targeted, and why they are important.
Biceps Brachii (Elbow Flexor Muscle)
This muscle is more often called the biceps or bis for short. This is the typical muscle that people think of when discussing arm day routines and curling exercises. The biceps brachii, or more simply known as the biceps muscle, is the two headed muscle that is primarily responsible for elbow flexion.
It also assists with the palm up, supination movement and shoulder flexion. Biceps brachii are typically targeted with curling and reverse curling exercises with barbell and dumbbell weights.
Brachialis (Elbow Flexor Muscle)
This muscle is a little bit lesser known than the biceps. However, it’s just as important! The brachialis is located slightly below or posterior to the biceps brachii. And much like the biceps brachii, the brachialis is responsible for elbow flexion.
Therefore any exercise that engages in muscle flexion is going to target this muscle. This includes, but is not limited to, curls, reverse curls, and even push ups.
Brachioradialis (Forearm Elbow Flexor Muscle)
The brachioradialis is located on the radial or thumb side of the forearm. Much like the biceps, it is also responsible for elbow flexion regardless of position. So in addition to flexion, the brachioradialis is key for stability.1
Therefore, curling and reverse curling variations are exercises that will target this muscle. In addition to elbow flexion, the brachioradialis assist with facing the palms upwards called supination, and facing the palms downward called pronation.
During reverse curls, whether it be with a barbell or dumbbells, pronation and elbow flexion is assisted by this muscle.
Pronator Teres (Palm Down Muscle)
This essential muscle is located in the superficial portion of the forearm and, as it states in the name, is responsible for the pronation or palm down movement of the wrist. Because this muscle is engaged during pronation, it can only be targeted through the use of a palm down, reverse curl grip.
The ability to target this muscle is one of the many benefits of using a reverse curl.
Pronator Quadratus (Palm Down Muscle)
This small muscle is located in the forearm. Much like the above, this forearm muscle also assists in the pronation wrist to engage in a palms to the floor movement.
To target this forearm muscle, lifters should use a reverse curl grip with a barbell, dumbbells, or any other applicable reverse curl variation.
Flexor Digitorum Profundus (Finger Flexors)
This is another essential muscle for completing reverse curls. The flexor digitorum profundus is a large muscle that is located deep in the forearm. It’s responsible for the flexion of the fingers and both the distal interphalangeal (DIP) and proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joints.
More simply put, this muscle causes flexion at both knuckles on the finger. It’s engaged during reverse curls and contributes greatly to grip strength.
Flexor Digitorum Superficialis (Finger Flexors)
The flexor digitorum superficialis is responsible for the flexion of the fingers at just the proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joints, or otherwise known as the closest row of knuckles on the fingers. This superficial forearm muscle is engaged during curls due to the cylindrical grasp a weight lifter will use during an exercise.
Much like the muscle above, this muscle is key for improving grip strength and can be targeted using reverse curl grips.
Flexor Pollicis Longus (Thumb Flexor)
Finally, the last of the reverse curl muscles worked is the flexor pollicis longus. This is another deep forearm muscle that is engaged during a reverse curl due to the flexion of the thumb to form a cylindrical grasp.
This muscle also contributes to grip strength and is engaged when a lifter utilizes a barbell or dumbbells.
Flexor pollicis longus or thumb injury can be very common for lifters, ranging from tendon irritation called tendonitis to tendon rupture. Research suggests that tendon irritation can be a precursor to rupture.2 Lifters should be mindful of their body and form in order to aid in the prevention of injury.
What Muscles Do Underhand Curls Work vs What Do Reverse Curls Work?
Underhand curls and reverse curls are vastly different when it comes to the way they are performed. They will even feel very different when engaging in the two exercises themselves. That being said, there is some overlap between the standard, underhand curl and the reverse curl muscles worked.
Let’s compare the two.
An underhand curl is considered to be the standard method for curling exercises. This is performed with a supinated grip, which simply means a palm up position. Standard curls then go through the full range of motion starting at 180 degrees of elbow extension, to end range elbow flexion, and back to full range elbow extension.
When it comes to the muscles worked for an underhand curl, the upper arm bicep muscles will be used. This is the muscles of the upper arm and a muscle in the forearm, and is similar to the reverse curl muscles worked.
In addition to this, the supinator, or palm up muscle of the forearm, will also be firing because of the palm up curl positioning. Finally, muscles of the forearm that involve flexing the fingers will also be firing due the cylindrical grip used on an underhand barbell and dumbbell.
However these muscles will not be working as hard due to when they are in a pronated position.
Reverse curls, like to the underhand curls, will target the muscles of the upper arm and the muscles of the forearm. Most importantly, this exercise will hit the bis! Additionally, the pronator or palm down muscles of the forearm will be engaged for the palm to floor position.
This is because reverse curls use a palm down position known as a pronated grip.
An additional benefit to using a reverse curl grip is a more significant load being placed on the finger flexing muscles in the forearm. In turn, this higher load will significantly improve strength outcomes and muscular hypertrophy or muscular growth.
Many workout routines out there will target biceps through the standard, underhanded or supinated grasp pattern. However, lifters who are engaging in routines such as the 6 week powerlifting program can adjust their workouts to add a little more variation.
Using a pronated grasp on reverse curls will help build the biceps as well as other important muscles in the arm. There are also a number of reverse curl benefits that make the exercise adjustment ideal to use.
Benefits of Reverse Curls (Reverse Curls Benefits)
There are a number of benefits when it comes to using reverse curls as opposed to the typical, palm up curl grip. First and foremost, they are very engaging for the biceps and are a great way to build muscle.
This is especially true for some of the minor muscles that were discussed above, which are not always worked during the typical bicep curl.
Additionally, reverse curls can assist with grip strength due to the pronated, or palms down, grasp being used. Grip strength typically diminishes with age, and is even used in the rehabbing world as an outcome indicator for poor health.3
So maximizing grip strength while young and building up the muscles required for gripping can aid in the long term maintenance of a person’s grip.
What’s the Difference Between Reverse Curls, Backwards Curls and Overhand Bicep Curls?
Trainers and lifting programs may use different terms such as the reverse curl, backwards curl, and overhand bicep curl, leading to confusion for weight lifters trying when it comes to which form is correct. So what is the difference between these three types of curls?
It’s simple really. The reverse curl, backwards curl, and overhand bicep curl all actually mean the same thing. It’s a standard bicep curl, but with the hand in the pronated or palms down position.
When a lifter hears any of these varying exercise names, they should know to hold onto their dumbbell, barbell, or curl bar with their hands overtop the weight and their palms facing the floor.
The rest of the exercise is easy. Simply start from the palm down, elbow extension and flex the elbow so that the wrists are moving towards the shoulders.
How To Perform a Reverse Curl With Proper Form
Proper form is not only key to a good workout. It’s vital for the prevention of both long and short term injury. Surgery is the last thing a weight lifter wants, so make sure to review the proper form of an exercise prior to trying it for the first time.
To start off, proper form requires a proper stance. Feet should be about hip or shoulder length apart in order to provide a good base of support. Having good feet placement is going to increase a person’s stability, making them more balanced during their exercise. That way, they can better focus on the exercise itself.
Some lifters might have a preference for doing seated reverse curls. A seated position is alright to use too, especially if a person’s posture is upright and they are in the ergonomic 90-90-90 sitting position in which the ankles, knees, and hips are all angled at 90 degrees.
Using a seated position is a great option for those wanting to isolate the arm movements of this exercise, or have trouble maintaining their balance.
For a reverse curl grip, the hands are going to be facing with palms down while gripping the barbell, curl bar, or dumbbells. This is what’s referred to as pronation of the arms. Fingers should be fully flexed when wrapped around the curl bar and about shoulder length apart. Wrists should remain in neutral when holding the bar.
Finally, let’s get into the movement. Starting in full elbow extension, or more simply put with the elbows completely straight, a person will begin to flex or bend their elbows through their full range of motion.
This will bring the weight closer to shoulders when done correctly. Next, the lifter will begin to complete elbow extension to end range, which brings the weight back to the starting position.
Remember to use slow, controlled, and purposeful movements. This not only helps with maintaining the proper form. It will also improve muscle hypertrophy or muscle growth, and aid in the prevention of injury.
Furthermore, lifters might find the use of wrist wraps to be very beneficial when doing reverse curl exercises. Wrist wraps will help to stabilize the wrist and maintain the most ergonomic pronated grasp on a weight. Lifters who want to ensure the best form possible should look into purchasing a pair.
Check out the YouTube video below for more information about how to do a reverse curl properly.
Reverse Curl Variations for Massive Biceps
There are a seemingly endless amount of reverse curl variations out there. Readers who are targeting biceps growth are invited to integrate any of the alternatives listed below to spice up their workout for more muscular hypertrophy.
Keep in mind that when it comes to building massive biceps, or overall muscle strength in general, then it’s best to utilize a high load with less reps. Studies show that while both high and low load workouts can aid in muscular hypertrophy, high load was the best technique for maximizing muscular strength.4
Weight lifters who are wanting to build the most muscle should keep this strategy in mind.
And of course, readers who are looking to build strength and harden muscles must also keep track of the amount of protein they are eating a day. Having adequate protein is required for muscle cell repair and rebuilding.
There are protein shakes good for weight loss and muscle building; lifters are encouraged to use a high in protein diet plans and protein shakes to help reach their fitness goals.
Reverse Grip Barbell Curl
This reverse curl variation uses a straight, 45 lb barbell plus whatever plates are required. This is ideal for lifters wanting to maximize the amount of weight used for the exercise and assists greatly with muscle hypertrophy.
Simply use the correct form detailed above with the barbell bar during the exercise. Using a reverse grip on a barbell is an easy variation to add to any beginner hypertrophy program.
Reverse Grip Bicep Curl With Dumbbells
Dumbbells are a great variation for reverse grip curls. First, it allows a little bit of liberation to be used with wrist placement. While palms are pronated during reverse curls, dumbbells can allow for the wrists to be slightly roasted for a more neutral pronated grip.
This improves the overall ergonomics of the exercise and is ideal for lifters who have range of motion limitations or pain at the wrists.
Preacher Reverse Curl
Reverse preacher curls are similar to the typical reverse curls. The movement of the exercise remains the same, with the grip on the bar being that palms down, pronated hand position.
However, preacher and reverse preacher curls are done from a seated position with an inclined preacher curl bench. This allows for the active muscles to be better isolated during a workout.
EZ Bar Reverse Curl
The EZ bar, unlike the straight bar or barbell, offers a multitude of angles during an exercise that places the arms in a more ergonomic position. As a result, less stress is placed on the joints to prevent pain and injury from an exercise.
The EZ bar reverse curl will allow the wrists to remain pronated. However, the wrist angle will be slightly neutral and more comfortable.
Cable Reverse Curls
Cable reverse curls are great because they can come with a variety of attachments. There’s straight bars, angled bars, and handle straps that can be interchanged during reverse curls based on a person’s grip preference.
Straps and angled bars may allow for a more ergonomic position to be used. Some lifters are bigger fans of free weights and bars in comparison to cables. However, research has demonstrated that cables are just as successful at producing muscular hypertrophy as isolated curls using a bar.5
As discussed, there are many reasons for using a pronated, reverse grip with barbells and dumbbells to target the bicep centric muscle group.
Now that lifters know about the reverse curl muscles worked and benefits of reverse curls, they can easily integrate the exercise variations into their workout routine to maximize muscle growth and strength.
Frequently Asked Questions About Reverse Curl Muscles Worked
Do Reverse Curls Work Biceps?
Yes, reverse curls are a great exercise to use when wanting to target the biceps. They are similar to the underhand curl in regards to being an essential bicep targeting workout, with the addition of working the pronator teres and pronator quadratus, due to the palms down positioning.
Are Reverse Curls Good for Building Large Biceps?
Yes, reverse curls are a great way to build large biceps! Weight lifters wanting to maximize their muscle hypertrophy should use high weight and less reps during their exercises to make sure their muscles are being appropriately worked for strength.
Getting enough protein is required for muscle building, so lifters should also utilize protein shakes diet plans to ensure their protein macros are being hit.
How To Feel the Reverse Curl Muscles Worked?
The mind-body connection is a medical phenomenon; studies have shown this connection to improve mental and physical health outcomes, such as improving immune system responses through self talk.
Using this neuronal conditioning technique can help the brain to really focus on the muscle that is being contracted, as well as motivate the body to complete a heavier load during an exercise.
When completing a reverse curl, lifters should use this connection to feel the biceps and surrounding muscles contract to know that the muscle is being properly engaged.
1Boland, M. R., Spigelman, T., & Uhl, T. L. (2008). The function of brachioradialis. The Journal of hand surgery, 33(10), 1853–1859. <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhsa.2008.07.019>
2Tada, K., Ikeda, K., Shigemoto, K., Suganuma, S., & Tsuchiya, H. (2011). Prevention of flexor pollicis longus tendon rupture after volar plate fixation of distal radius fractures. Hand surgery : an international journal devoted to hand and upper limb surgery and related research : journal of the Asia-Pacific Federation of Societies for Surgery of the Hand, 16(3), 271–275. <https://doi.org/10.1142/S0218810411005539>
3Bohannon R. W. (2019). Grip Strength: An Indispensable Biomarker For Older Adults. Clinical interventions in aging, 14, 1681–1691. <https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S194543>
4Schoenfeld, B. J., Peterson, M. D., Ogborn, D., Contreras, B., & Sonmez, G. T. (2015). Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 29(10), 2954–2963. <https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958>
5Nunes, J. P., Jacinto, J. L., Ribeiro, A. S., Mayhew, J. L., Nakamura, M., Capel, D. M. G., Santos, L. R., Santos, L., Cyrino, E. S., & Aguiar, A. F. (2020). Placing Greater Torque at Shorter or Longer Muscle Lengths? Effects of Cable vs. Barbell Preacher Curl Training on Muscular Strength and Hypertrophy in Young Adults. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(16), 5859. <https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17165859>
6Hank Grebe. “Labeled Anatomy Chart of Neck and Shoulder Muscles on White Background.” Canva. Accessed 13 April 2023. <https://www.canva.com/photos/MADZASGJL7w-labeled-anatomy-chart-of-neck-and-shoulder-muscles-on-white-background/>
7Dumbbell Bicep Curls – Photos by Canva. (n.d.). Canva. Retrieved April 19, 2023, from <https://www.canva.com/photos/MAEFECu0yfY-dumbbell-bicep-curls/>