How To Increase Bicep Barbell Curls? How To Perform 21’s

How many times have I seen young trainers load up..

How To Increase Bicep Barbell Curls? How To Perform 21’s

How many times have I seen young trainers load up the bar and almost bend in half trying to get the weight up.

Well, I can honestly say that I’ve been a victim of this kind of training in my early days. I vividly remember hearing how Arnold used to curl 250 pounds and really cheat to get that weight up.

Well, I wanted to be just like Arnold and I tried using that type of technique and kept at it for about 3 months – Until I hurt myself.

I put way too much pressure on my connective joints and really sent my shoulders and back for a ride.

Anyways, I’ve come to realize that you really have to know what you’re doing when it comes to cheat curls.

However, I’ve also come to realize that you really don’t need to cheat at all when it comes to barbell curls to get the maximum effect.

So lets look at how to do this exercise correctly:

Exercise Insructions

  1. The standing barbell curl is the cornerstone of many bicep building routines. Grasp a barbell or Olympic bar at around shoulder width apart using an underhand grip (palms facing up).
  2. Stand straight up, feet together (you may be more comfortable putting one foot back for stability), back straight, and with your arms fully extended.
  3. The bar should not be touching your body.
  4. Keeping your eyes facing forwards, elbows tucked in at your sides, and your body completely still, slowly curl the bar up.
  5. Squeeze your biceps hard at the top of the movement, and then slowly lower it back to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for desired reps.


​Barbell Curl Tips:

The single biggest mistake lifters make on this exercise is swinging the body back to assist in moving the weight up. This is cheating! Your body should remain fixed and only your biceps should be used to move the weight.

Another mistake is not keeping the elbows fixed and in at the sides. You should not let your elbows come forward when moving the weight up.

And finally, you need to control the weight throughout the set. This means not letting it drop quickly!

Barbell Curl

With the traditional barbell curl, you stand straight up and keep your elbows at your sides with a barbell in your hand.

You than proceed to curl the weight up until it reaches your upper chest area and than you lower the weight back to the starting position.

Now, if you want to build biceps, barbell curls can help. There’s no question about it but there is a way to perform the barbell curl that can improve your results.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with tons of ways to do the barbell curl.

Want to know something, I’ve come to realize that if you can do these two things, you will get more out of the barbell curl.

As you can see, this is the traditional way to do the barbell curl.

Now, I think it was the late, great Vince Gironda who came up with this type of curl but he called them “body drags”.

Basically, you “drag” the barbell up and across the front of your body when doing a barbell curl. Instead of curling directly up with the barbell, you bring your elbows back and start the curl in that position.

Now, the thing you’re doing here is taking the pressure off the front shoulder which happens with traditional barbell curls, and placing that stress on the biceps.

This cuts down on cheating, which you can’t do with body drags and adding much more stress to the biceps.


Now, after some experimenting, I don’t do strict body drags but I do bring my elbows back but not enough for the barbell to be touching my body.

It’s just enough for the barbell to come back by an inch or so.

To really get the most from this type of movement, here’s what you need to do. You need to lean your upper body forward by about an inch.

That is, bend slightly forward by about 10%.

By doing this, you transfer all the stress to the biceps and keep it off your front shoulders. Also try and use a slightly wider than shoulder grip.

Now, you may have to lighten the load a bit but it’s well worth it because you will be transferring all the stress to your biceps while reducing shoulder involvement – Very important.

I’m 100% positive that if you can get into the habit of doing your barbell curls in this fashion, you’ll start to feel a difference immediately.

Increase Bicep Barbell Curls Workout

To really allow your biceps to reach their full potential you may need to start adding 21’s to your biceps’ routine.

The number “21” refers to the number of total reps you do in one set. However, this particular “21” is divided into three 7-rep segments that ultimately target the entire bicep.

1st 7 Reps: For the first seven reps, go from the bottom of the movement up to the halfway point (with your arms at a 90 degree angle and hands at elbow level).

2nd 7 Reps: Go from the halfway point up to the top of the bicep curl (hands up near shoulder level).

3rd 7 Reps: Start at the bottom of the movement and complete a full range of movement all the way up.

How To Perform 21s 

  • Stand upright and grab a barbell with an underhand grip.
  • Place your hands shoulders-width apart and allow your arms to hang toward the floor.
  • Tuck your elbows tight to the sides of your body.
  • Curl upward until you make a 90-degree angle at your elbow.
  • Relax your arms back to full extension and repeat six more curls reaching the 90-degree angle at your elbow.
  • Now, from the 90-degree at your elbow position, curl the weight up until the barbell is one to two inches away from your shoulder.
  • Lower the weight back to the 90-degree elbow position and repeat six more times.
  • Now, allow your arms to return to full extension.
  • This time, curl your arms from full extension all the way to full extension. Keep curling until the bar is about one to two inches away from your shoulder.
  • Repeat six more curls through this full range of motion to complete a total of 21 curls.

Daniel Messer, RNutr, CPT

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