Bicep Curls Hurting Your Neck? Here’s Why & How to Fix This

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Last updated on February 19th, 2024 at 04:53 pm

As strange as it sounds, feeling biceps curls in your neck is actually a common occurrence.

Plus, it can actually be quite painful.

This typically comes down to issues with form, so here’s why this happens and what you can do about it.

The main reasons why bicep curls hurt your neck are due to poor posture and poor form. These include, slouching forward, looking down, using too much weight, or allowing your elbows to flare. Furthermore, not warming up correctly will have an impact. Fix these issues and it’s far less likely that you will strain or injure your neck muscles.

You’re Slouching Forward During Bicep Curls

One of the main cues for a vast array of exercises is to retract the scapula.

To put this into layman’s terms, you should be pulling your shoulder blades back and down.

As I say, retracting your shoulder blades is a cue for many exercises, most notably the bench press and pull ups.

However, it is equally important that you also do this when performing bicep curls.

Basically, by pulling the shoulder blades back you allow the shoulders to be stabilised by your traps.

This not only provides a stable base from which to curl, but it can also protect your overall shoulder health.

With that being said, it’s fairly common to see people performing bicep curls with their shoulders slouched forward.

In truth, this is nothing more than poor posture, and something that is reaching almost epidemic proportions in the modern day and age.

Muscle Imbalances or Muscle Weaknesses
Previous Injury History
Sitting for Too Many Hours per Day
Modern Technology - Staring at screens
Poor Choice of Footwear
Excess Weight

Plus, if you’re slouching forward, especially while your arms are loaded with weight, then you’re literally asking for trouble.

Performing bicep curls this way can typically lead to neck pain, headaches, and even shoulder impingement.

So, always ensure that your shoulders are pulled back and your chest is high when performing bicep curls.

Are You Looking Down?

This actually ties in quite well with slouching forward at shoulders.

Basically, if your shoulders are rolled forward then your neck automatically angles forward slightly.

So, in effect, your gaze is actually below eye level, i.e. you’re looking down slightly.

However, this is often made worse by watching the weight as you curl it upwards.

In fact, without realising it you are extending the neck down and then rocking it up and backwards with every single rep.

Your neck is actually assisting your biceps in order to curl the weight.

So, you’re literally “training your neck” to some extent, and as I say, you probably won’t even realise you’re doing it.

This movement places a great deal of stress on the neck, and the spinal column in general.

So, it is actually fairly common to experience a neck strain from doing this.

Plus, if ever you’ve strained your lower back when performing bicep curls, it’s typically because of this constant neck motion.

So, you’ll want to keep your neck relaxed and in a neutral position when performing curls, and this is best achieved by simply looking straight ahead.

You’re Using Too Much Weight

One of the main issues when it comes to aches and pains in the gym is trying to use too much weight.

Come on, admit it, we’ve all been there, myself included.

Unfortunately, we’re all prone to occasionally “ego-lifting”, and loading a bar with more weight than we should.

In truth, when you lift too much weight with bicep curls you’re actually getting very little actual bicep work in.

Personally, I’ve always found that my biceps react better to high reps and increased volume.

Now, don’t get me wrong, you can definitely train the biceps for strength with lower reps and lower volume.

But, as I say, I like to literally flood the biceps with blood by performing high reps.

The main issue with using too much weight with bicep curls is that you’ll generally stop using the biceps and initially focus on momentum.

World Record Dumbbell Bicep Curls - Ben Prillaman curled 959.86kg (2,109.88lbs) in one minute. Robert Natoli curled 16,123.84kg (35,547lbs) in one hour.

However, quite often you’ll try to fix your form mid-set, but this usually involves straining and bringing other muscles into play.

This is actually made worse as you come to the end of your set and fatigue starts to kick in.

Once more, in order to squeeze out those last few reps you’re using every ounce of energy, and this can frequently lead to a strained neck.

So, I would recommend that you focus on using less weight, but adhering to perfect form.

Plus, always leave something in the tank, so don’t try to strain out that final rep if you’re really struggling.

Are You Allowing Your Elbows to Flare?

Something else you should be wary of during bicep curls is your arm position.

Essentially, you should have your elbows literally stuck to your sides, almost jamming them against your rib cage.

However, quite often you’ll see people curling with their elbows flared out to the sides.

A Muscular Man Doing Dumbbell Bicep Curls and the Text, "Don't Allow Your Elbows to Flare During Bicep Curls"

In truth, allowing your elbows to flare out will take a lot of the load off the biceps.

In fact, you’re more likely to be using your shoulders and your forearms to get the weight up during bicep curls.

And unfortunately, once you start using the shoulders more for bicep curls, you’ll also be activating the neck muscles to a far greater extent.

I will say that allowing the elbows to flare out during bicep curls is usually an indication that you’re using too much weight.

So, not only are you using poor form, you’re also bringing other muscles into play, while really trying to strain the weight up.

It’s only a matter of time before you hurt your neck muscles too.

Are You Warming Up Correctly?

The final thing to consider is your warm-up prior to performing bicep curls.

I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of people will do a few light sets of bicep curls as a precursor to their main workout.

Yes, I agree that practicing the movement with lighter weights is a good way to warm-up, but it definitely shouldn’t be the only thing you do.

I’ve mentioned that holding a load in your hands will activate the shoulders, traps, and upper back.

So, it makes a great deal of sense to warm-up these muscles too prior to performing bicep curls.

In truth, I personally like to do a full-body warm up, including my core and lower body, prior to performing any workout.

For me, it just makes sense to have my entire body warm, my heart rate elevated, and I’m ready for whatever the weight room is going to throw at me.

Plus, this mean there’s less chance of hurting or straining a secondary muscle group during any exercise.

Neck-Friendly Bicep Curl Variations

You’re now aware of the main reasons that bicep curls may be causing you neck pain.

However, this deals with “standard” bicep curls, whether seated or standing.

That being said, there are certain variations, which can still lead to significant biceps growth, but are far easier on the neck.

Of course, I’d advise that you fix the form issues I’ve spoken about above, but in the meantime you can use any or all of the following variations to relieve the tension on your neck.

Hammer Curls

Arnold Schwarzenegger: "For sculpting and defining the entire arm, hammer curls are your best friend. They hit the biceps from every angle, and don't forget the brachialis, which adds that extra thickness under the bicep peak."

Hammer curls are a fantastic variation on the classic bicep curl, offering several benefits for building strong, defined arms. 

They target different muscle fibers compared to traditional curls, leading to well-rounded bicep development and potentially reducing strain on your wrists and forearms.

Here’s what you need to know about hammer curls:

Neutral-Style Grip

The key difference with hammer curls lies in the grip. 

Instead of holding the dumbbells with palms facing forward, you’ll use a neutral grip, with palms facing each other. 

This engages the brachialis muscle alongside the biceps, leading to a different kind of bicep pump.

Form

As with any exercise, proper form is crucial for maximizing effectiveness and minimizing injury risk. Here’s how to nail hammer curls:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and core engaged.
  • Hold dumbbells with neutral grips at your sides, elbows slightly bent.
  • Curl the weights upward, keeping your elbows close to your body.
  • Focus on squeezing your biceps and brachialis at the top of the movement.
  • Slowly lower the weights back down to the starting position, maintaining controlled movement.
  • Repeat for the desired number of sets and reps.

Hammer Curl Variations

Hammer curls can be further customized to fit your needs and preferences. Here are some popular variations:

Seated Hammer Curls: Sit on a bench with your back straight and perform the curls as described above. This can be easier on your back and core compared to standing.

Hammer Curls with Bands: Use resistance bands instead of dumbbells for a different feeling and variable resistance throughout the movement.

Single-arm Hammer Curls: Challenge yourself and improve coordination by performing hammer curls with one arm at a time.

Benefits Beyond Biceps

Hammer curls offer more than just bicep gains. They can also:

  • Strengthen your forearms and wrists.
  • Improve grip strength.
  • Enhance your overall arm definition.
  • Reduce the risk of bicep tendonitis compared to traditional curls.

Resistance Band Bicep Curls

Jamie Eason Kadar: "Don't underestimate the humble band! Resistance band bicep curls are not just for beginners. They offer constant tension throughout the movement, forcing your biceps to work harder and grow bigger, even with lighter weights."

Resistance band bicep curls offer a dynamic and customizable alternative to traditional dumbbell curls, allowing you to sculpt strong, defined biceps while adding variety to your workout routine. 

Benefits of Resistance Bands

Resistance bands provide variable resistance throughout the movement, unlike dumbbells with their fixed weight. This means:

Greater muscle activation: As you stretch the band, it offers increasing resistance, maximizing muscle engagement during both the contraction and expansion phases.

Reduced risk of injury: The gentle and progressive resistance of bands is easier on your joints, making them a good choice for beginners or those recovering from injuries.

Scalable difficulty: Choose a band with resistance that suits your current fitness level and adjust it as you get stronger, ensuring continuous progress.

Popular Variations

Standard Bicep Curls: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, anchor the band under your feet or hold it with your hands. Perform curls as you would with dumbbells, keeping your elbows close to your body and focusing on squeezing your biceps at the top.

Seated Bicep Curls: Sit on a bench with your back straight, anchor the band under your feet or hold it with your hands. Perform curls like the standing variation, but this can be easier on your core and lower back.

Concentration Bicep Curls: Sit or stand with one arm resting on your thigh and the other arm holding the band anchored under your foot. Curl the band towards your shoulder, focusing on the targeted bicep muscle. Repeat for both arms.

Hammer Curls with Bands: Use the same grip as traditional hammer curls with palms facing each other. This engages additional forearm muscles alongside your biceps.

Make Things Harder

Increase intensity: Use a thicker band or loop it multiple times around your hands or feet for more resistance.

Supersets and dropsets: Combine band curls with other bicep exercises or alternate between thicker and thinner bands for an intensified workout.

Partial reps: Focus on the peak contraction at the top of the curl and slowly lower the band halfway before repeating. This can be great for building strength at the specific point of maximum tension.

Incline Dumbbell Curls

Incline dumbbell curls add a fresh twist to the classic bicep curl, engaging your muscles in a new way, which can increase te potential for growth.:

Advantages of Incline Bicep Curls

Performing bicep curls on an incline bench offers several advantages:

Increased range of motion: The incline position stretches your biceps further at the bottom of the movement, leading to a deeper contraction and potentially greater muscle growth.

Focus on the long head: The incline angle emphasizes the long head of your biceps, the muscle behind your upper arm that contributes to peak definition.

Reduced stress on lower back: By leaning back against the bench, you take some pressure off your lower back compared to standing curls.

Perfecting Your Form

Achieving optimal results with incline dumbbell curls requires precise form:

Adjust the incline: Choose an angle that feels comfortable and allows you to maintain control throughout the movement. Most people find a 45-degree incline effective.

Grip: Use a neutral grip (palms facing each other) for greater brachialis activation and reduced wrist strain. Alternatively, a supinated grip (palms facing forward) is also acceptable, but focus on keeping your wrists straight and avoid excessive forward rolling.

Curl with control: Don’t swing the dumbbells or use momentum. Start with the weights at your sides, elbows slightly bent. Curl upward, squeezing your biceps at the top. Slowly lower the dumbbells back down with control, maintaining tension throughout the movement.

Core engagement: Keep your core engaged to stabilize your torso and prevent excessive swaying.

Variations

Single-arm incline curls: Challenge your coordination and strengthen each bicep individually by performing the exercise with one arm at a time.

Hammer curls on incline: Combine the benefits of incline curls with the brachialis activation of hammer curls by using a neutral grip throughout the movement.

Pulse curls at the top: Hold the dumbbells at the peak of the contraction for a few seconds before slowly lowering them. This can intensify the burn and further challenge your biceps.

Negative Bicep Curls

Mike Mentzer: "Forget pump, embrace burn. Negative bicep curls force your biceps to fight against the weight under control, leading to deeper fiber recruitment and explosive strength gains."

Negative bicep curls, often dubbed “downward spirals,” might sound unassuming, but they pack a hidden punch for building sculpted, powerful biceps. 

Here’s everything you need to know about this unique exercise:

The Power of Negatives

Unlike traditional curls that focus on the contraction phase, negative curls emphasize the lowering movement. This shift unlocks several benefits:

Targeted muscle engagement: Negatives force deeper activation of your bicep fibers, especially the long head for peak definition.

Increased time under tension: You spend more time with the muscle under tension during the lowering phase, maximizing growth potential.

Reduced momentum reliance: You can’t cheat with momentum when lowering slowly, ensuring true muscle engagement.

Potential injury prevention: The controlled descent puts less stress on your joints compared to explosive lifts.

Form

Mastering negative curls requires precise technique:

Start at the top: Begin with the dumbbells at the peak of a normal bicep curl, with elbows bent and weights close to your shoulders.

Slow and controlled: Focus on lowering the weights with controlled, deliberate movement. Aim for 3-5 seconds per downward phase.

Don’t let go: Maintain tension throughout the entire descent. Imagine actively fighting the weight on its way down, not just letting it fall.

Mind your posture: Keep your core engaged, back straight, and shoulders down to avoid excessive strain.

Variations

Bodyweight Negatives: Ditch the weights and challenge yourself with your own bodyweight. This option is suitable for beginners or those recovering from injuries. Plus, there various bodyweight biceps exercises for you to try.

Assisted Negatives: Use a partner or spotter to help you raise the weights to the starting position, then focus on the slow downward movement yourself.

Partial Negatives: Start with the dumbbells slightly higher than the peak of a full curl and lower them with control for a shorter range of motion. This can be another beginner-friendly option.

Key Learning Points

  • Poor posture will typically lead to you feeling bicep curls in your neck, especially if you allow your shoulders to slouch forwards.
  • Always retract your shoulder blades prior to curls, exactly as you would with bench press or pull ups.
  • Never look down at the weights or follow them with your eyes. Keep your gaze firmly ahead.
  • If you’re using more weight than you can handle it’s likely you’ll use other muscles to curl the weight up.
  • So, I hope you understand that there could be quite a few reasons why bicep curls hurt your neck.
  • Just because the biceps are a small muscle doesn’t mean you shouldn’t warm up first. In fact, I would suggest a full-body warm up prior to any form of exercise.

It’s not just your neck that can be an issue when training arms. Here’s what you need to know about feeling bicep curls in the middle of your back.

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