Build big and defined arms with the spider curl
Want awesome arms? Cranking out dozens of dumbbell curls just won’t cut it. To develop the bigger, stronger and more defined biceps you want you must train smarter. And the best way to start doing that is to add spider curls to your arms-day training arsenal, says New Body Plan editor Joe Warner
The spider curl is the best biceps move you’ve never heard of. There. I’ve said it.
Ask most men to name their favourite arms exercise and it’s unlikely the spider curl makes the top 20, let alone their top 10 best biceps lifts. And that’s a real shame. Especially if you want big and impressive guns that put the fabric of your t-shirt sleeves to the test.
But the spider curl is a bit special. Why? It offers biceps-building benefits it’s hard to replicate with almost any other exercise.
Here’s all you need to know about this little-known biceps lift. And how you can add it to your big muscle workout plan to win the arms race once and for all!
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What is the spider curl?
The spider curl is a biceps-focused exercise performed lying chest first on an incline bench. Your upper chest rests against the top of the bench. And you hold the weight in both hands with straight arms that hang down either side of the bench. From there you curl the weight up then lower it back it down.
It’s also called the prone curl or prone incline bicep curl. It’s a little bit similar to the EZ-bar preacher curl, except your shoulders are positioned directly above your elbows, rather than behind them. And, as you’re about to find out, it’s this body position that makes spider curls so good at building bigger biceps.
What muscles does the spider curl work?
The spider curl works the biceps, and specifically targets one part of the muscle group. The biceps is a two-headed muscle. Spider curls hit the part of it called the short head. That’s thanks to the increased range of motion for each rep because of your body position relative to the weight. And because there’s no “rest” at the top of each rep as happens with all other biceps exercises. Spider curls also work the muscles of your forearms.
These advantages mean that if you get better and stronger at doing this move you’ll see a crossover benefit when doing almost every other biceps curl movement. So if you were still in any doubt, don’t be! Spider curls are a fantastic exercise choice for building the defined, impressive and athletic arms you want.
How do I do the spider curl?
• Lie chest first on an incline bench with the your upper chest on the top of the padded bench and your head and neck in a neutral position.
• Hold a dumbbell in each hand – or a barbell in both hands – with a shoulder-width underhand grip, with your arms hanging straight down either side of the bench.
• Engage your biceps then curl the weight up in a smooth and controlled arc as high as you can.
• Pause in this top position and squeeze your biceps hard for at least one second.
• Slowly lower the weight back down under complete control until your arms are again filly straight and flex your triceps hard for at least one second.
• That’s one rep. Do three sets of eight to 12 reps, resting for 60 to 90 seconds between sets.
Why are spider curls good for building bigger biceps?
It’s all about the position of your body in relation to the weight. In every other biceps exercise there comes a point in every rep in which your biceps are able to “switch off”.
Why? Because they’re no longer required to manage the weight. This occurs when you curl the weight up and your forearms become vertical. At this point you can hold a weight, even a heavy one, quite comfortably for a decent chunk of time. It’s because your biceps aren’t fully in charge of holding the weight there, so they don’t get tired.
In a spider curl, because of your body position, this point of biceps deactivation never occurs. Your forearms never get to the angle that allows your biceps to relax and switch off. This means they have to work constantly to lift and lower the weight. And this results in greater time under tension, increased workload, more blood being pumped into the muscle, greater muscle cell damage, and other factors. And this will ultimately build bigger and stronger muscles.
What makes spider curls better than other biceps exercises?
With many dumbbell curl exercises it’s very easy to “cheat” your reps. And if you cheat then you’re not working your muscles in the right way to make them grow.
Cheating can happen, even if you don’t mean for it to, by swinging the weights up and down. That uses momentum to power the move, not your muscles. Or you may flare your elbows out to the sides to help with the reps by bringing other muscles into play.
It’s not uncommon for some people to feel their lower back or bum “work” during curls! Why? Because these muscles are muscling in on the act, especially if the weight is too heavy, to take some of the burden away from your biceps.
And, as outlined above, you’re probably losing tension on your biceps every time your forearms go past vertical. And these problems can all combine to mean your set of “normal” curls are actually very ineffective at working your biceps.
The spider curl eliminates these issues because it’s impossible to cheat your reps. The only way to do each rep is to be in complete and full control of both the lifting and lowering phase. And it’s this greater workload that could be the breakthrough you need to build bigger biceps.
When should I do spider curls?
The spider curl is such an important move it should regularly feature in any training plan for bigger and stronger muscles. You can do them as part of any arms workout. Or add them at the end of any back and biceps session.
It’s vital the biceps and forearms are fully warmed up before doing spider curls. So it makes most sense to do them towards the latter stages of your workout when your muscles are fully firing but not yet fatigued.
What equipment do I need to do spider curls?
You need a bench that can be adjusted to an incline. You also need a weight to use to curl up and down.
Are dumbbells or barbells best for doing spider curls?
You can use any time of weight for spider curls. Dumbbells and fixed-weight barbells are the most common option. But you can also use a bar attached to a cable machine. Or you can use kettlebells. Or weight plates. Basically anything that you can curl can be used for doing spider curls! If you’re new to the move it’s best to start with a light pair of dumbbells.
What weight should I use for spider curls?
Spider curls are not an exercise that requires a very heavy weight. Indeed, because of the unique ways the move works your muscles, as detailed above, it’s far better to use a lighter weight.
Doing so means you can then focus on moving through a full range of motion and maximising muscle involvement. You can do this by squeezing your biceps hard at the top of each rep (when your elbows are fully bent). And then flexing your triceps hard at the bottom of each rep (when your arms are fully straight).
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