Reverse Curls Shift your arm gains into overdrive I was very impressed by recent pictures of Ronnie Coleman’s arms. An old school of thought holds that having slightly underdeveloped forearms makes your biceps appear larger.
I think the current Mr. Olympia proves that theory wrong. The forearms should be worked hard. That will make them not only impressive but also very strong, which comes in handy when training your back, biceps, triceps and even chest. Weak forearms, though, can prove a major weak link in most upper-body exercises.
The reverse curl is a good exercise not only for the biceps and forearms but also for the lesser known muscles such as the brachialis and the brachioradialis. The brachioradialis is a very important yet neglected muscle. Even though it won’t add a single inch when you measure your arms—it’s not long enough to be taken into account by the tape—it adds width to your upper arms. It’s also the major muscle that ties the biceps to the forearms.
The illustration shows you what a well-developed brachioradialis should look like. Even in a relaxed position, when your arms are hanging by your side, a hypertrophied brachioradialis will fill the hole many bodybuilders have between their biceps and forearms. Look at the brachioradialis muscles sported by Dexter Jackson and Kevin Levrone.
They’re one of the reasons their arms look so good, so wide, so mature. Of course, both champions are blessed with pretty long brachioradialis muscles —unfortunately, not the case for everyone. But if you want to make your upper arms more impressive in a short space of time, those are the muscles to start working on. As for the brachialis, I’ve discussed it at length in this space, so I’ll mention it only briefly. It’s located just below the biceps. The bigger your brachialis is, the more it will push your biceps up.
The brachialis is supposed to be about the same size as the biceps, but that’s rarely the case. By putting extra effort into working it, you can quickly add inches and impressive detail to your upper arm. Like the brachioradialis, the brachialis provides extra strength during your biceps and back workouts. Injury is another concern.
Forearms are easily injured. Even a slight pain can prevent you from training your upper body at maximum intensity. So as with the shoulders, the elbows or the knees, be very careful with your forearms. There are several reasons it’s easy to injure your forearms.
That muscle group rarely rests; you use your forearms during all upper-body exercises. They’re even taxed when you’re working legs. You have to carry the plates and hold the heavy squat bar, after all. Another reason is the muscle imbalances you may create.
When most people train biceps, triceps and lats, they stimulate the muscles located at the back of the forearms, neglecting those at the front. I’ve also previously discussed the valgus problem. Look at a mirror with your palms facing it.
You’ll realize that your arms aren’t straight at all. Now gently curl your arms up while keeping your upper arms firmly against your body. You’ll see that your arms don’t rotate in a straight path but both up and outward. That’s the natural path for people having a pronounced valgus. So over the years something has to give—your joints at the shoulder, elbow and/or wrist level. Your forearm tendons and muscles are also not likely to appreciate the unnatural constraints you impose on them when using a straight bar.
An EZ-curl bar can help you to an extent, but often not enough. Dumbbells or single-arm cable curls are usually much safer. If your arms are relatively straight, a straight bar is fine. It’s the simplest variation. The main problem here is that your range of motion is limited, especially for working the brachioradialis.If a straight bar doesn’t feel right, try an EZ-curl bar, which will be much gentler on your wrists. If you have a pronounced valgus, try dumbbells. It’s more difficult to balance dumbbells with a reverse grip, but that can be an advantage. You can rotate your wrist to increase the forearm’s muscular involvement.
The idea is to start with a hammer grip (thumbs to the front). As you lift the dumbbell, rotate your wrist so that your thumbs turn in and you have a reverse grip in the contracted position. Last but not least, with dumbbells you work one arm at a time.
Unilateral work increases your ability to handle heavier poundages and to concentrate better on the working muscles. My favorite version is with a cable—the gentlest variation for the elbow and wrist. Use a single handle attached to a low pulley.
That lets you rotate your wrist properly. Also try rotating your forearm out at the top so it’s angled slightly away from your torso and raise your elbow for a greater range of motion. That’s a unique advantage of the continuous tension of the pulley, as opposed to the very random tension of the free weights.
by Michael Gundill