Not Feeling Bicep Contractions During Curls? Here’s Why (and How to Fix It!)

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The main reasons you can’t feel bicep contraction are:

  1. Using too much weight.
  2. Using momentum.
  3. Not going through the full range of motion.
  4. Not focusing on the mind-muscle connection.
  5. Supinating your wrists too late and not squeezing your biceps at the top of the movement.

You’re Using Too Much Weight

The number one reason you can’t feel any contraction in the biceps is because the weight you’re using is more than you can handle.

Look, I know that the biceps are one of the main “show” muscles.

They are probably even one of most trained (or overtrained) body parts.

Plus, we all want to curl a pair of 80lb dumbbells effortlessly like the hulk in the corner of the gym.

However, it may be time to put your ego into check.

For me, the second I reduced the weight that I was curling my biceps literally blew up.

I am a stickler for performing exercises with correct form.

That being said, I have been guilty of trying to lift too much weight, or more weight than I could while maintaining perfect form.

But, with age comes wisdom (I hope) and I now never worry about the weight that I’m lifting.

If I’m doing an exercise with great form, I know the results will come.

So, I would suggest that you reduce the weight and go from there.

In fact, if the weight is too heavy, not only won’t you feel your biceps contract, but it’s likely that you’ll feel the movement in other muscle groups.

It’s fairly common to feel bicep curls in your forearms when you’re using too much weight.

Now I’m certainly not saying that you should curl with “light weights”.

But, more so that you should curl with an “appropriate” weight that allows you to execute the movement properly.

So, it makes no difference if you’re using a barbell, dumbbells, EZ-bar, cables, or a preacher curl machine.

Forget who’s watching, drop the weight by up to 20% if you have to, and aim for more reps.

You and your biceps will thank me for it.

You’re Using Momentum (Stand With Your Back Against a Wall)

This is something that I read about many years ago.

A tip from the great Arnold Schwarzenegger no less.

And let’s face facts, if it’s good enough for Arnie, it’s good enough for all of us.

Arnie would advise new trainees to always perform bicep curls with their back against a wall.

This would help to fully isolate the bicep, plus it negates any use of body English to get the weight up.

Dorian Yates: "Train your biceps with intensity. Push yourself to your limits, but always maintain proper form."

Going back to reducing the weight, you’ll find that as soon as you put your back against a wall you will automatically have to go lighter.

This goes to show that you’re already using even the slightest amount of momentum, probably that you’re not even aware of, when doing curls.

Arnie also said that when performing curls it should be the arms, and only the arms, that do all the work.

As soon as you stand with you back against a wall, trust me, it’s ALL arm.

Finally, Arnie stated that when you curl the arm should come directly up to the shoulder and back down again.

By straying, even an inch, inside or outside that line, you will be taking the tension away from the biceps.

And unfortunately, you won’t feel as much bicep contraction, and therefore you won’t produce the desired results.

You’re Not Using a Full Range of Motion (Try Seated Incline Bicep Curls)

Jay Cutler: "Don't neglect the full range of motion in your bicep curls. Squeeze the muscle at the top and fully extend your arm at the bottom for maximum effect."

There’s one exercise that completely changed my outlook on bicep training.

I give you the “Seated Incline Bicep Curl”.

I have never felt as much of a burn, or as much of a contraction, in my biceps than when I use this exercise.

You can do the seated incline bicep curl by lifting dumbbells simultaneously with both arms, or as a unilateral movement.

I prefer to use both arms at the same time.

I’m not entirely sure why, but I have a tendency to lean ever so slightly to one side when doing this as a unilateral movement.

Perform the exercise at a slow and precise speed.

Ensure that your arms are completely straight at the bottom of the movement, and really stretch the biceps.

I will typically either do 4 sets of 10 reps or 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

And trust me when I say that my biceps are whacked at the end of this.

For me, this is one of the very best, yet most under-utilized, bicep exercises.

Supinate Your Wrists Earlier

I often notice a big mistake when people perform standing or seated bicep curls.

You start off with the dumbbells hanging down by your sides.

Your hands and wrists are facing inward towards your lower body.

Then you curl the weight up towards your shoulder.

And finally as you get to the top of movement you twist your wrists so that they are supinated.

This is far too late to be doing this, and it does little to activate the biceps.

Lee Haney: "Bicep training is all about feeling the squeeze. Don't just go through the motions, focus on contracting the muscle throughout the entire movement."

Basically, this is the same as performing a hammer curl, and then simply twisting your wrists at the top for effect.

Don’t get me wrong, the hammer curl is a fantastic bicep exercise.

However, it typically targets the outer head of the biceps.

You tend to work the brachialis and the brachioradialis.

Nevertheless, if you want to feel peak bicep contraction during “ordinary” bicep curls then you should be supinating the wrists a lot earlier.

In fact, your wrists should start twisting as soon as you begin to bring the weight upwards.

The Mind-Muscle Connection (Squeeze the Biceps at the Top)

I’m a great believer in the mind-muscle connection, irrespective of what muscle you’re training.

This will typically involve contracting a muscle prior to lifting, keep the muscle tensed throughout, and then really squeezing at the top of the movement.

I know it probably sounds weird to tell you to contract the muscle when you’re not actually feeling bicep contraction.

However, this can make a huge amount of difference.

Milosz Sarnecki: "Don't just lift the weight, feel it working your biceps. Visualize the muscle contracting as you perform the exercise."

When it comes to bicep curls I’ll usually warm-up by performing a high-rep set of band curls.

I find that the biceps are already slightly pre-exhausted by doing this.

Then I’ll move onto some dumbbell or barbell curls.

I’ll close my eyes (yes, this really helps), contract my biceps, and then perform a curl.

At the top of the movement I’ll perform a squeeze before slowly lowering the weight back down.

The simple technique of contracting my biceps prior to lifting and then squeezing at the top has had a profound effect on my bicep work.

You’ll generally find that you’ll have to reduce the weights you use once more, and you probably won’t get as many reps done.

However, you will really feel your biceps working hard throughout the movement.

And in reality, this is what you want.

Final Thoughts

So, if you can’t feel bicep contraction, especially when doing curls, hopefully you have a better idea of what to do now.

As I’ve mentioned, the main issue here is that most of us typically try to curl too much weight.

This will take the tension away from the biceps, as we tend to use some form of momentum to get the weight up.

I would definitely suggest trying incline seated bicep curls.

I am yet to find a bicep exercise that gives me such an incredible burn.

Plus, don’t forget to supinate your wrists earlier during the movement, and above all focus on the mind-muscle connection and really squeeze your biceps at the top of the movement.

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