How to Perform the Dumbbell Arm Curl

Build your bicep muscles with this fundamental weight training exercise

The dumbbell curl is a basic isolation exercise. An isolation exercise is one that involves a single joint or muscle group. You can do it with dumbbells, a barbell or machines at the gym.

The dumbbell arm curl flexes and extends the elbow joint, targeting the biceps and the brachialis muscles of the upper arm. The steps below explain how to safely perform the dumbbell arm curl with proper form.

See more dumbbell exercises.

The Dumbbell Arm Curl: Starting Position

Young Man Lifting Weights
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  1. Stand (you may also sit—see in the points of note below), holding a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing inward. This is referred to as a hammer grip.
  2. Position the feet firmly, slightly less than shoulder width apart.
  3. Brace the abdominal muscles and inhale ready for the movement.

The Dumbbell Arm Curl: The Exercise Description

Dumbbell Arm Curl
(c) Paul Rogers
  1. Bend the elbow of one arm, rotating the arm so that the palm faces upward while raising the dumbbell to the shoulder.
  2. When the dumbbell reaches the horizontal with forearm pointing upward, thumbs on the outside, pause.
  3. Lower the dumbbell to the starting position.
  4. Raise the other arm with the same motion. Alternate arms in a smooth progression.

This exercise works the biceps and brachialis of the upper arm and the front deltoid (shoulder muscle) to a lesser extent.

The Dumbbell Arm Curl: Points to Note

arm curls
Seated arm curls. Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain/PorquoisPas
  • Select a weight to suit your program and your strength and fitness level. You should be able to complete the number of program sets without losing form.
  • Don't sway back and forward as you lift and return. This utilizes momentum to aid the lift and is called "cheating" (truly, it is). A little bit of cheating is okay, but try to keep good form with the body upright and a lift that is controlled, consistent and not too fast.

There are several variations for this exercise:

  • This exercise can be performed while sitting on a chair or bench.  
  • The dumbbell curl may also be performed with both arms lifting simultaneously instead of alternating between them.
  • A barbell may be substituted for dumbbells.

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