Why Do I Feel Bicep Curls in My Forearms? 6 Things You Should Know

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There’s nothing more annoying than feeling your forearms when curling.

Basically, your forearms are ready to give up, while your biceps haven’t been trained anywhere near full intensity yet.

Here’s why this happens and how to fix it.

The main reasons you feel bicep curls in your forearms is either because you’re gripping the weights too tight or you’re overly flexing the wrists. Both of these things will stimulate the forearms much more during bicep curls. So, you will generally find that the forearms fatigue or “feel” the movement first.

You’re Gripping the Barbell/Dumbbells Too Tight

Firstly, I will say that when doing bicep curls there will always be some forearm activation.

In fact, you’ll typically never see someone who has a decent set of biceps, who doesn’t have muscular forearms as well.

So, it’s perfectly natural to “feel” bicep curls in your forearms.

A Man Performing Bicep Curls

With that being said, if your forearms fatigue much quicker than your biceps, then there are some actions you can take.

For me, the number one issue is typically gripping the bar too tight.

Whether you’re using a barbell, dumbbells, or an EZ-bar, many of us seem to grip the bar as tight as possible.

In fact, this can even be true when you perform pull ups and chin ups.

The “tight grip” will always activate and stimulate the forearms to a far greater degree.

So, try to keep your fingers loose and this will take a lot of pressure away from the forearms.

You’re Overly Flexing Your Wrists

Much the same as gripping the bar too tight, flexing your wrists (either way) will stimulate the forearms.

In fact, the wrists seem to come into play during bicep curls far more than we actually want them to.

I accept with an exercise such as dumbbell bicep curls that we are aiming for supination of the wrist.

Basically, you are looking to rotate the forearm during the movement so at the top you are in a palm facing upwards position.

However, there is also a tendency to flex the wrist inwards at the top of the movement.

I believe many people think that this additional wrist flexion is “better” for the biceps.

Not true.

In fact, I think that a lot of us tend to supinate the wrists on dumbbell curls far too late.

You perform the curl, and then at the very top of the move, almost as an afterthought, you supinate the wrists.

However, this “twist” of the wrists should start as soon as you begin to bring the weight up.

Furthermore, if you supinate the wrists too late, this is usually when additional wrist flexion occurs.

It’s almost as though you’re trying to get all the bicep activation in once the dumbbell has come to a stop at the top of the curl.

Unfortunately, all that is happening here is additional forearm stimulation.

You’re Working Your Biceps After Back

When you perform your bicep curls will have a huge impact on whether you feel them in the forearms or not.

I guess it does very much depend on your training split, but the forearms may already have had a pretty good going-over prior to you doing curls.

This is especially true if you have a push, pull, legs split, or if you perform bicep exercises on “back day”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I see absolutely nothing wrong with working biceps in this way, if you are following a particular training split.

However, you need to be aware that both the forearms and biceps have already had a fair amount of training already.

Hence, by the time you get to your curls your arms, especially your forearms, are already going to be fairly fatigued.

A typical pull day may involve:

  • Pull Ups
  • Deadlifts
  • Rows

And this is before you move onto direct bicep work.

I know for a fact that if I follow a training protocol like this my forearms are going to be pretty pumped before I get my bicep work.

So, I think it’s important to keep in mind what training you have specifically done beforehand.

You’re Using Too Much Weight

Let’s face facts, bicep curls are probably one of the most butchered exercises going.

There’s something fascinating about having a huge set of bulging biceps.

You give the impression of strength, power, athleticism, and raw sexual magnetism.

So, you can visit any gym, anywhere in the world, and you will see countless people performing curls.

All in the hope of pumping up their arms and producing an impressive set of guns.

And this unfortunately leads to many people using as much weight as possible, typically too much.

A Man Performing Heavy Dumbbell Bicep Curls

The biceps are one of the smallest muscles in the body that we specifically train, and yet they seem to garner far more attention than the bigger muscles.

My advice is to lose the ego, reduce the weights that you’re using, and then watch your biceps grow.

When you use too much weight on curls you’ll generally find that you end up using momentum and body English to get the weight up.

In fact, there’s probably very little actual bicep contraction happening here.

I can guarantee that you’re probably working your forearms much more than your biceps if the weight is too heavy.

You’re Allowing Your Shoulders to Take Over

Something that occurs quite often, especially with alternating dumbbell curls, is that the shoulders takes over.

This is even more noticeable if once more you’re trying to curl too much weight.

You may even have noticed this yourself without actually fully realising it.

When you perform alternating dumbbell bicep curls have you ever noticed that the shoulder of the working arm drops?

Then as you raise the weight the shoulder comes back up again.

It’s almost as though you’re leaning to one side, dropping the shoulder, and then performing a shrug with the shoulder.

Okay, that’s a little exaggerated, but hopefully you get what I mean.

However, once the shoulder starts to take over during curls, the forearms will automatically become more engaged.

I have actually stopped using alternating bicep dumbbell curls altogether now.

I much prefer to curl both dumbbells up at the same time.

Plus, I’ll ensure that my shoulders are pinned back and my chest is pushed out in a military-style pose.

Then I simply curl the dumbbells up together, while really concentrating on using my biceps to raise and lower the weights.

You’ll probably find that you’ll have to reduce your curl weight if you’ve got into the bad habit of allowing the shoulders to take over.

This is also why I like to curl with my back against a wall.

I’ll ensure that my back and rear shoulders remained pinned to the wall throughout the movement.

Your Forearms Are Weak

Pure and simple, your forearms could be a weak spot.

Okay, I’ve spoken of people who typically have bulging biceps will usually also have an impressive set of forearms to match.

However, let’s face the facts, many of us tend to focus on bicep work far more than actual forearm training.

In fact, all these people with extremely impressive arms will no doubt perform a lot of other pulling exercises.

So, if you are doing lots of curls and not much else in terms of “pulling” you could find that your forearms are lagging behind.

And this is probably why you feel bicep curls in your forearms.

In fact, weak forearms are often the reason for elbow pain from bicep curls.

I don’t believe you have to do any direct forearm work, although it definitely won’t hurt.

For me, I like to stick to a recipe of regular deadlifts, farmer’s walks, and I love doing pull ups with the rope extension.

My forearms get a great workout with all these exercises and it definitely helps with forearm strength and muscularity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do My Forearms Cramp After Bicep Day?

I guess forearm cramping is slightly different from forearm fatigue or forearm pain.

However, I know that many of you experience forearm cramps after you’ve finished training your biceps.

Now, I know cramp is typically associated with dehydration, and while there may be a case for this, it can also be something else.

That being said, please ensure that you remain well hydrated throughout the day, not only is this great for your training, but also for your overall health.

Nevertheless, generally speaking, cramp, whether in your forearms or anywhere else, can often be attributed to there being insufficient energy in the muscle.

Basically, the body’s primary source of energy is adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Adenosine Triphosphate Molecular Model

An intense workout can deplete the body’s levels of ATP, which causes fatigue, a lack of energy, and in some cases, cramping.

Just as a side note, this is actually how creatine supplementation works, as it helps to maintain ATP in the muscles during sudden bursts of physical activity.

Furthermore, when a muscle is cramping it typically restricts blood flow, which in turn can suppress energy production.

Therefore, if you do experience forearm cramps after your bicep workout it’s likely that you went on slightly too long and were “running on empty”.

The solution would either be to cut your workout short or to ensure that your pre-workout meal is enough to see you through your entire workout.

How Do You Isolate Biceps Without Working Forearms?

I guess as we’re talking about forearm pain it makes sense to look for a way to isolate your biceps when training them.

And realistically if you’re training solely for hypertrophy then isolating the target muscles is the name of the game.

That being said, with just about every single bicep exercise you’re going to stimulate your forearms in some way.

Simply having to grip a barbell, dumbbell cable attachment, or any other piece of equipment, will automatically activate your forearms.

But, of course, you can perform certain exercises to isolate the biceps much better.

My 3 favourite bicep exercises for isolation are preacher curls, concentration curls, and seated incline dumbbell curls.

Now, one thing to take into consideration is that you will still overly stimulate your forearms if you make the same form mistakes that I have already spoken about.

And this mainly comes down to overly flexing your wrists, gripping the barbell or dumbbells too tight, or performing the movement with too much weight.

So, even if you perform the three isolation exercises I’ve mentioned, you may still feel your forearms fatiguing or hurting if you don’t adhere to good form.

For me, I have experienced feeling my forearms most when performing preacher curls.

I’m not sure if this is because I tend to use a straight barbell, but it typically happens as I approach the end of my set and fatigue is starting to set in.

So, just be wary.

Preacher Curls

Concentration Curls

Seated Incline Dumbbell Curls

Should I Workout With Forearm Pain?

Whether you should workout with forearm pain will depend on the severity of the pain.

Obviously, if you are in extreme pain and can hardly move your arms, then avoid training altogether.

In this scenario it is best to focus on the RICE method of rehabilitation, i.e. rest, ice, compression, elevation.

That being said, you can certainly work through mild forearm splints and even forearm tendonitis.

However, it’s important to pay attention to your pain and to stop if it becomes too much.

But, manual therapy, such as RICE, in conjunction with eccentric strength training (the negative part of the lift, e.g. lowering) can help to treat forearm tendonitis.

Just make sure that you are using lighter weights, as this is specifically “treatment” as opposed to “training”.

Nevertheless, you will still activate and stimulate the muscles with this “treatment”.

I would also suggest that if you continue training that you reduce the weights that you use for ALL upper body training, especially pull-based exercises.

Furthermore, it makes sense to avoid heavy deadlifts if you are suffering from forearm pain.

Finally, you should also incorporate a forearm stretching routine as part of your strengthening and rehabilitation.

Are Reverse Curls Good For Biceps?

I’ve previously compared reverse curls and hammer curls for training the forearms.

However, I didn’t specifically speak about bicep activation from reverse curls.

Firstly, you will typically always work your biceps better with curl variations if your wrists are in a supinated position.

A Man's Fist Showing a Supinated Grip

Therefore, when your arms are by your side your palms are facing away from you, and if you curl your arms up your palms will be facing the ceiling.

When it comes to reverse curls your palms are facing the opposite direction, i.e. towards you and down facing the floor.

A Man's Fist Showing a Pronated Grip

In fact, you can even test this theory of bicep activation for yourself.

Firstly, hold an “imaginary bar” in your hand with a supinated “grip” and curl your hands towards your shoulders.

You will feel the bicep start to tense up.

Now, do the same with a pronated grip, curl your hands up, and you’ll notice that the biceps aren’t flexed and remain soft.

So realistically, it doesn’t make much sense to use reverse curls specifically for biceps training.

That being said, reverse curls mainly work the brachialis muscle, which is located directly underneath the biceps brachii.

Therefore, the better developed the brachialis is, the more likely your biceps will be “pushed” up, thus giving the appearance of a bigger and fuller bicep muscle.

So, there is some benefit to the biceps when using reverse curls.

Furthermore, reverse curls will improve both forearm and grip strength.

Essentially, stronger grip and forearms means your forearms are less likely to fatigue when you train biceps.

Plus, there’s the added benefit of growing the brachialis, which will give your biceps a fuller appearance.

So, it certainly makes sense to include reverse curls as part of your overall arm training.

Should I Train Forearms Separately?

I’ve already mentioned that I personally don’t train forearms separately, and I definitely don’t believe forearms should have their own training day.

But, then again, we don’t all train for the same reasons.

Sure, if forearm strength is required in your line of work or favoured sports activity, it may make sense to include a fair amount of forearm training.

Furthermore, if you’re a physique athlete, symmetry is the name of the game, therefore, once again, it may make sense to train your forearms.

However, for the general training population, those looking to get fit, get into better shape, build muscle, or become stronger, there isn’t such a need.

That being said, if your forearms are limiting your performance (such as feeling forearm pain or fatigue every time you train biceps) it makes sense to specifically train your forearms.

In this case I still wouldn’t give forearms their own training day, but rather add a few exercises onto the end of upper body workouts.

As I say, there are various exercises that most of us perform on a regular basis that will stimulate, strengthen, and grow the forearms.

But, as with most things when it comes to training, if you have a lagging body part it makes sense to concentrate on bringing that body part in line with the rest of your muscles.

Key Learning Points

  • Your forearms will be further activated during bicep curls if you grip the bar too tight or flex your wrists.
  • If you’re training your biceps at the end of a “back day” or “pull day” they will already be fairly fatigued. This is when your forearms may take over in order to support your biceps.
  • Performing curls with too much will take the stress of the biceps, as it’s likely that you’re using other body parts or momentum to lift the weight.
  • Ensure your shoulders don’t take over when curling. This is most noticeable if you drop your shoulder, lean over to one side, or shrug your shoulder as you raise the weight.
  • Weak forearms will mean you’re more likely to feel curls in your forearms rather than your biceps.

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