Two Hands Strict Standing Barbell Curl by Dennis B. Weis "The Yukon Hercules"
This exercise in particular is a favorite among many of the previous top physique champions, such as Bill Pearl, Boyer Coe, Lee Haney, and the youngest Mr. America ever, Casey Viator. These and many other champions in the amateur and pro ranks learned early on in their careers that this exercise was one of the awesome secrets to developing spell-binding size and muscularity in the biceps.
Many non-bodybuilders have a tendency to judge bodybuilders' total bodies by the size of the upper arm and in particular the biceps. Quite possibly, the best single test of true biceps strength or power is the Two Hands Strict Standing Barbell Curl. One of the best demonstrations of pure biceps strength ever seen in the iron game was that of former world Olympic and all-around strength champion, the late Douglas Ivan Hepburn. Back in 1954-56, at a bodyweight of 260-305 lbs. with upper arms measuring 20 ¼", he performed a Two Hands Strict Barbell Curl with a straight bar, 260 lbs. for one slow rep; 5 reps with 235 lbs. and 135 lbs. for an amazing 35 reps.
Rating right up there to Hepburn in biceps strength was Val Vasilef, a winner of over 80 physique, power, and weightlifting awards, including the
1964 AAU Mr. America. Back in the 1960s at 5'11" and a bodyweight of 218 lbs. he did a single rep in the slow Two Hands Strict Standing Barbell Curl with 220 lbs. He was also able to perform and single rep in the one-arm table top or "bench curl" with a 150 ½-lb. dumbbell as well. I spoke with Val some time ago and he said he was pushing for 175 lbs. in this particular curl and he may have well done so by now.
Potential in the two hands strict standing barbell curl will vary from an average of 72% of your best strict two hands press overhead to as much as 85%. Proper exercise performance in this exercise and two other biceps blasters (Seated Incline Bench Dumbbell Curls and the Standing One Arm Dumbbell Concentration Curl) that I will be speaking about, will unlock yet another secret to rapid biceps growth. It is just too simplistic and brief to advise a bodybuilder to do a barbell curl by holding the barbell in the hands, with the palms facing away from the body, bend the elbows and raise the weight up in a curling motion to the top of the chest. Lower the arms back down and repeat. You cannot expect to "work for the feel of the muscle and discover the muscular pathways" when all you have is incomplete and superfluous "stock" technique instruction like that just given. Little things like a twist of the wrist, pulling down the shoulder, raising the weight either a little forward or backward, or holding the barbell momentarily at the peak contraction of the movement can make all the difference between building just mediocre biceps or literally huge ones.
As you probably have noticed, I have chosen the exercise title heading to read "Two Hands Strict Standing Barbell Curl." As the third word in the title indicates, this exercise is to be performed strict. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to do this exercise strict because the regular two hand standing barbell curl is probably the second most abused exercise next to the supine bench press. Many bodybuilders seem to do exaggerated body movements by vigorously accelerating or moving the upper torso (shoulders and back) for and aft and thrusting the hips forward in an abrupt jerking action while swinging (not curling) the weight up in an attempt to gain some mechanical advantage in order to bypass the sticking point or resting inertia. This rather quick and snappy way of curling decreases maximum tension in the muscle because the weight is not being lifted against gravity but rather by momentum. When the movement is performed in the manner described it is called "Cheat" Curls and should not be confused with the advanced training principle known as "Controlled Cheating." It is beyond the scope and space of this article to discuss the differences between the two types of cheating.
Begin the starting point of the two hands strict standing barbell curl by first loading up a standard barbell bar with the exact assortment of disc weights you will be using, be it for the specific warm-up, or actual "hard work" sets. Many bodybuilders prefer to use an E-Z Curl bar because it gives more comfort by providing dramatic relief to the wrists and elbows torque. It lessens forearm pain in the ulna, but in doing so this particular piece of training equipment takes some of the biceps action away from the supinated (hands facing palms up). I suggest using a straight bar if biceps growth is the primary consideration rather than rehabilitation from an injury.
While standing in front of the barbell with a shoulder-width or slightly wider foot placement, bend your knees slightly while bending forward at the hips joint and grasp the barbell with a supinated (palms facing away from your body) shoulder-width hand spaced grip. Now come up to an erect vertical and stabilized position. The heels remain in contact with the floor and the knees are just very slightly unlocked throughout each and every set. The arms are fully extended in a vertical position as are the wrists, with the bar touching or resting against the upper thighs. The chin is parallel to the floor.
There are three immediate advantages I want to discuss with you regarding the shoulder-width hand spacing before proceeding to the actual movement performance. The inside of the upper arms and elbows (locked above the hip bones) are tight against and in line with the side of the rib cage.
The first advantage of this is that it tends to maximize the resistance of gravity by putting the shoulders, arms, and hands in a straight line of pull. This is another little secret of the contest winning amateur and pro bodybuilders for building more total biceps surface and mass.
The second advantage of having the elbows in close and tight to the body is that the short head of the biceps is maximally contracted, and when developed to its fullest potential can actually add to biceps peak.
Thirdly, muscles are uniquely structured with nerves all throughout so that when the message is sent from the brain to the muscle, the whole muscle contracts. In particular nerves that control the biceps activate both long and short heads. Using too wide a hand spacing can stress elbow joints.
Begin the curling action by deeply inhaling a breath of air into your lungs (expelling the air slowly as the barbell begins to pass the horizontal or 90º angle position to the body during the positive contraction phase of the movement) while lifting and thrusting your chest forward. Open your hands slightly if you must to take tension off forearms. Tighten your grip on the bar, actually trying to crush the bar (this is yet another little known secret for squeezing out a couple of extra reps at the end of a set). Tighten thumbs on the bar. Flex your wrists upward, so that your hands (palms up) precede them (the wrists). Now strongly flex at the elbow joint while tensing the biceps muscles, moving the barbell in a semi-circular motion or wide arc forward and upward to the chin (keeping the bar close to your body), rather than to the top of the collarbone or neck.
This will help to keep intra-muscular tension on the biceps muscles and not allow gravity to dictate the movement (where it could fall into collarbone or neck region and shut off the continuous tension effect). Forcefully contract and squeeze the biceps (biceps and forearms touching) at the completion of the upward curling movement and hold for a count of "one."
With regard to elbow position and its corresponding movement, there are a couple of alternatives to go with. You can keep the elbows vertical (upper arm kept aligned with the body) or slightly to the rear so that they remain behind the bar throughout the entire positive and negative phase of the movement. This is exactly the way the "iron guru," the late Vince Gironda advises the elbows to be positioned (especially in his famous body drag curl). Vince felt that when the elbows are vertical and as motionless as possible throughout the movement it tends to keep the deltoids out of the action and allows for more of an isolated effect on the belly of the biceps.
You can really add to the isolation effect by dropping your shoulders down and pulled back as well. Vince went on to say that when the elbows come forward it decreases the maximum resistance because the weight is not lifted against gravity.
Joe Bucci, a Mr. World title holder and with an upper arm that has measured as much as 21", on the other hand, raises or pushes his elbows up to a parallel position to the floor near the completion (135º-150º angle to the body) of the upward curling movement to produce the greatest tension curve and contraction by upping the percentage of effective resistance.
Bucci also finds that an additional advantage to pushing the elbows up is that it helps in creating peak and separation between the biceps and deltoids especially when he squeezes and contracts the biceps for 3-4 seconds at the top of the movement on those last couple of reps in a set.
Now that you have curled the barbell in an arc to your chin, lower the barbell (in a semi-circle, pushing the bar out and downward with elbows) in exactly the reverse manner described to an arms' length, elbows locked and motionless position (0º = zero degree flexion). It is at this zero degree of flexion that allows the champion bodybuilder to take maximum advantage of contraction and circulation of the biceps by pre-stretching (this sudden relaxation and contraction kicks in a larger number of muscle fibers than normal and this can't help but enhance additional biceps growth stimulation). This full range of motion stimulus offers a number of immediate benefits. These include: Maximum muscle contraction; Optimal rate of blood flow for a super pump; and the Ability of increased flexibility while adding additional muscle size.
Be sure to pre-stretch one-half second between each and every rep!
To add an element of ultra strictness to the Two Hands Strict Standing Barbell Curl exercise, lean back against a wall or upright post with your body and head firmly against it and your legs at an outward angle from the hips to the floor. This will keep your upper torso from moving fore and aft.