Biceps curls are the classic bodybuilding exercise used to add mass to the biceps. Furthermore, they’re used as assistance exercises by weight lifters and other strength athletes. If you spend any amount of time training for bodybuilding or athletics, odds are you’ll do some biceps curls.
The problem is that biceps curls done incorrectly can damage your elbow joint.
This happens at the bottom of the movement, when the arm is extended, and it usually takes a long, long time to heal once the pain becomes noticeable. What’s more, once you get elbow damage, you will continue to injure yourself further if you try to ‘train through the pain’ or ignore what’s happening in hopes that it will all just go away.
Three types of elbow injury caused by biceps curls
All elbow pain isn’t indicative of the same problem. There are three injuries related to curls that might cause elbow problems.
- One is ligament damage. The ligaments are tough, fibrous bands of connective tissue that hold your elbow joints together, and limit you to a proper range of motion.
- The second elbow injury is tendon damage or inflammation to the biceps tendon (and, less commonly, to tendons associated with muscles in the forearms).
- Finally, you might experience actual elbow joint damage. But this usually only occurs when you refuse to let an injury heal. It’s more a symptom of stubbornness than it is of improper curling technique.
How to do biceps curls so you avoid elbow problems
The first sort of elbow problem — caused by ligament damage — is usually the result of hyperextension of the elbow joint during biceps curls. The weight of the barbell or dumbbell forces your joint past it’s proper range of motion when your arm is straight, causing the ligaments to stretch (or worse).
This is a common injury when people use a preacher bench without an ez-curl bar. The preacher bench makes it easy to get a full range of motion during high-intensity curls, but it also puts your elbow into a dangerous position. If you’re not experienced with the preacher curl, you are in danger of hurting your elbow. The ez curl bar keeps your elbows oriented properly, reducing (but not eliminating) the danger.
The second type of elbow pain — tendon damage — is usually a result of overtraining. But it also happens when you “cheat” during a curl. The extra weight can cause a repetitive-stress injury to the elbow tendon as you lower the weight. Again, using an ez-curl bar keeps the elbows “locked into a groove” and helps prevent this sort of injury. Young guys who are obsessed with the appearance of their biceps in a tight t-shirt often fall prey to this sort of overuse injury. Performing endless sets of high-rep biceps curls will pump up your upper arms, but it won’t build true strength and size. It’s better to stick to a sensible number of sets and make sure to keep your reps below 12.
Finally, damage to the elbow joint is caused when ligament damage is present. People who continue to work out despite having stretched-out ligaments are going to damage the joints. This is something you shouldn’t ever do. If you are so obsessed with working out that you push through elbow pain, you need the services of an exercise psychologist. Be sensible and allow it to rest and heal.
Most curl-related elbow pain can be traced back to bad form during heavy biceps curls. A good curl bar can work wonders to help you get rid of the form problems that cause this pain, and to reduce the chance that it will happen again.