Last updated on February 7th, 2023 at 10:10 am
You must have noticed yourself how much harder incline bicep curls are than “normal” bicep curls.
In fact, so much so, that you have to reduce the weight considerably on inclines.
But, why is this the case?
Are you doing something wrong?
Or is it just a fact of life that curling on an incline is always going to be much more difficult?
- You have a greater range of motion, therefore a longer distance to travel. Plus, your arms are fully extended at the bottom, which provides an additional stretch to the bicep.
- Incline curls target the larger long head of the bicep more, which means that you get better isolation of the bicep.
- Being seated on an incline bench, not only means that you have to contend with gravity, but also that you can completely eliminate momentum during curls.
Incline Curls Have a Greater Range of Motion
The most obvious reason that incline curls feel so much harder is due to the greater range of motion.
Firstly, you’ll set yourself up on an incline bench.
To be honest, there’s no single perfect angle to perform incline curls.
Granted, everywhere you turn it’ll be recommended that you curl on a bench with a 45 degree angle.
But personally, I feel you should choose the angle that best suits you and your body.
However, be wary, the more the acute the angle the harder the exercise becomes.
That being said, it’s perfectly fine to use a 30, 60, or 75 degree angle.
These are all still considered an incline bicep curl.
Regardless of the angle you choose, your incline bicep curls will still have to go through a greater range of motion than standard bicep curls.
Basically, the dumbbells have a further distance to travel.
Plus, you’ll feel a far greater stretch in the bicep at the bottom of the movement.
This itself causes fatigue in the biceps that you may not be used to.
The stretch during the eccentric phase is also what can lead to greater muscle gains.
Furthermore, you’ll also notice that your elbows end up behind the line of your torso.
This, once more, increases the range of motion.
Incline Curls Offer Better Isolation of the Bicep
The first time you ever performed incline bicep curls I’m sure you were surprised by how much you’ve felt them in your biceps.
In fact, I’m sure you’ve performed “normal” curls on many occasions and perhaps not even felt a thing.
It’s this real “feel” from incline curls that makes them seem harder.
That being said, you will definitely isolate the bicep better with incline curls.
When you perform normal curls you’ll hit both the short head and long head of the biceps fairly evenly.
However, when it comes to incline curls you’ll be focused much more on the long head.
This happens to be the larger of the two bicep heads, is located on the outer arm, and is responsible for producing the coveted bicep peak.
You should also find that when you raise the weights you can produce slightly more force when contracting at the top of the movement.
This is obviously what helps to produce the bicep peak.
In fact, many people tend to hold the peak contraction for 1-2 seconds before lowering the dumbbells into a full stretch at the bottom.
So, as you can see, there’s a lot going on here when compared to normal bicep curls.
And this once more should explain why the incline variety feels so much more difficult.
Incline Curls Eliminate Momentum
Whether you wish to admit it or not, many of us use momentum when performing bicep curls.
Okay, perhaps not with every rep, but as a bicep workout gets more intense it definitely occurs.
Perhaps you’re straining to get that final rep of your set in.
Maybe, you’re on your final set, but your biceps already feel wiped out.
Regardless, you have probably at one time or another had to swing the weight up.
Now, using momentum, or “cheating” if you will, is far more likely to occur when you’re standing up.
You require more core stabilization and balance when performing standing bicep curls.
However, this also means that you can move your back freely, and even use a little “bounce” through your knees to get the weight up.
Even if you perform bicep curls sitting down there is still the opportunity to use momentum.
Admittedly, this is significantly reduced when your back is supported, say by leaning against a bench.
That being said, when you perform incline bicep curls you almost completely negate momentum.
The fact that you’re leaning back brings gravity slightly into play.
Then you have back anchored to the incline bench.
So, there’s no way to use your knees to bounce the weight up.
Plus, if you ensure that your back stays stuck tight to the bench there’s no way to use momentum.
The only thing you have to keep an eye on is that you don’t swing the weights with your arm.
Lift in a controlled manner and stop for a count of one at the top.
Lower in a controlled manner, and once again, stop for a count of one at the bottom.
Hopefully, you’re now starting to understand why incline curls are so much harder than the regular variety.
When to Be Wary Of Incline Curls
Now, I mentioned earlier that the choice of incline angle when performing curls should be your decision.
Personally, I like to use a 60-degree angle.
I’ve also said that the more acute the angle, the greater the stretch you get in the bicep.
However, something else to be wary of is the further back you’re leaning, the more stress you place on the shoulders.
This is also why I’m not a great fan of the “standard” 45-degree angle that most people say you should use.
In fact, bicep tendonitis is often felt at the front of the top of the shoulder.
So, this should in itself show you the connection between bicep curls and potential shoulder issues.
Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with placing additional stress on the shoulder.
However, this will very much depend on your current and previous shoulder health.
You have to remember that the shoulder is the most mobile joint in the human body, but this also means it can be more susceptible to injury.
So, always be careful when performing incline curls and find the incline angle that is best suited to you and your body.
So, as you can see, incline bicep curls will always be much harder than regular curls.
This simply comes down to:
- A greater range of motion.
- Better isolation of the biceps, especially the long head.
- Incline curls eliminate momentum.
You’ll also find that incline curls place greater stress on the shoulders, which is something you should be wary of if you’re suffered previous shoulder issues.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.