Zottman curls biceps and forearms

How to do the Zottman curl for bigger and stronger biceps

The Zottman curl gives you a twist on standard biceps exercises so you can tap into new muscle growth

If the Zottman curl is a regular feature in your arms workouts, you can consider yourself a biceps training connoisseur. It’s an exercise you hardly ever see anyone do (a bit like the barbell reverse curl). But it is one that can help you tap into your true biceps and forearm muscle growth potential. The trick is to understand what it does and when to use it for maximum effect. Here’s everything you need to know about Zottman curls to build bigger, stronger and more defined arms.

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What is a Zottman curl?

It’s a biceps curl variation where you perform the lifting movement in the same way that you would do a standard curl. When you get to the top of the rep you rotate your wrists 180 degrees and reverse curl it back to the start. The second part of the lift shifts the emphasis on to your forearm muscles.


Who invented the Zottman curl?

The Zottman curl was invented by nineteenth century strongman George Zottman from Philadelphia in the US. He was one of the world’s strongest men and he had, you guessed it, incredibly impressive forearms. 


Should I do Zottman curls?

The first reason for adding a Zottman curl to your workouts is to mix up your arms exercises. Only ever doing dumbbell biceps curls or barbell curls isn’t the smart way to add size and strength. That’s because regular curls only activate some of the biceps muscles and they don’t do much to develop your forearms. Exercises such as the Zottman curl will give your arms routine a better all-round training effect.

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What’s so good about a Zottman curl?

One of the great things about Zottman curls is that they takes advantage of your strength capacity in different types of contraction. For example, you’re stronger in eccentric (lowering) contractions than you are in concentric (lifting) ones. That means you can basically lower a heavier weight than you can lift. At the same time, you’re also weaker when you perform a reverse curl (palms facing down) movement than you are in a conventional curl. 


How does that work in an actual rep? 

A Zottman curl involves two crucial movement and position combinations. You perform the weaker concentric contraction with the stronger palms-up wrist position on the way up. Then you use the stronger eccentric contraction with the weaker palms-down wrist position on the way down. That basically gives you the best of both worlds. It also maximises how hard your muscles work, and how many muscles you hit, throughout each rep. 


How to do Zottman curls

• Stand tall while holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms straight and your palms facing forwards.
• Bend at the elbows to curl the weights up to shoulder height, making sure your upper arm stays still with your elbows tight against your sides.
• At the top of the rep, rotate your wrists 180 degrees so your palms face forwards.
• Lower the dumbbells until your arms are straight.
• At the bottom of the rep, rotate your wrists 180 degrees until your palms are facing forwards.
• Do the next rep and repeat that movement sequence for the duration of the set. 

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Are Zottman curls a beginner friendly exercise?

There’s no reason for beginners to avoid doing Zottman curls. They may, however, be of more benefit to more advanced lifters. When you’re a beginner, you can get a lot of mileage out of the basic exercises, such as a biceps curl. Once you’ve been doing them for a while and you have perfected the movement, it’s time to expand your exercise repertoire, by adding moves such as Zottman curls. 


How often should I do Zottman curls?

They might not appear in every training programme, and there’s no hard and fast rule on how often you should do them. It’s just a good idea to have them in your training toolkit. If you’re using them, doing them once a week should suffice. 


How many sets and reps should I do?

Like other arms moves, it makes sense to select a relative high number of reps. Anything between 8-12 is the sweet spot, although you could do sets of 15, 20 or even 25 reps. Between 2 to 4 sets should get the job done. 


When in my workout should I do Zottman curls?

If you’re doing a dedicated arms session, you can either do them in the middle or at the end of a workout. For sessions that involve a big muscle group, such as your chest or back and your arms, do them towards the end of the session. 

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