By Dr. Joel Seedman, PhD

This article is exclusive to AHP.  It represents the uncut, fully extended version of a more abbreviated article originally featured on STACK (09/28/16)

Kettlebell curls provide exclusive hypertrophy benefits and unique bicep stimulation that are difficult to replicate with other training tools including standard free-weights (barbells and dumbbells).  Here are two unique bicep kettlebell curls that are sure to give you newfound arm growth.

Bicep Crusher #1: Standing Kettlebell Bicep Curl

Standing bicep curls are a potent mass-builder simply because standing mechanics represents the strongest position for allowing maximal overload and ultimately heightened levels of growth. However, standing kettlebell curls may represent an even more effective variation than traditional barbells and dumbbells.

Due to the nature of the kettlebells, there is significantly more constant tension throughout the movement including the top contracted position.  As a result of you’ll have greater muscle fiber innervation and motor unit recruitment.  Besides the bell hanging below the writs which creates a constant pulling sensation on the biceps, it’s almost impossible to alleviate tension at the top of the movement by cheating and curling the weights too high. 

In fact over-curling at the top of a bicep curl is a surefire way to take stress off the biceps and overtax the anterior deltoids.  With this variation, the kettlebells pressing against the forearms will inhibit this common cheating technique as it feels very unnatural and uncomfortable to bring your hands beyond chest height.  In addition, any swinging or excessive use of momentum will also result in the kettlebells banging against the forearms creating a very unpleasant experience.  In essence the kettlebells force you to use proper curling technique as typical cheating methods become limited if not completely nullified. 

Although execution is similar to other bicep curl variations, one notable difference is hand positioning.  For all kettlebell curls, it’s best to have the handles resting in the mid-upper palms of your hand rather than the lower palms and finger as this locks the kettlebells in and keeps them from rotating and slipping.   Finally, you’ll want to resist having your arms fully straighten at the bottom of the movement as this will release tension from the biceps as well as cause the handles to slip out of your palms.  

Several sets of 6-8 reps at the beginning of your bicep workout will recruit all available muscle fibers for maximal growth.  In addition, focus on performing powerful but smooth motions on the concentric lifting phase and slow movement (2-4 seconds) on the eccentric lowering phase.  Also concentrate on using only your biceps to perform the movement without letting other muscles such as the front deltoids getting involved.

BICEP CRUSHER #2: Kneeling Alternate Kettlebell Curls from Contracted Position

If you’re looking for one of the most challenging yet growth-inducing bicep movements you’ll ever perform, the kneeling kettlebell curls performed in an alternate fashion from the contracted position is just what the doctor ordered.  This is due to the incredibly strict form and reduced momentum required to maintain balance combined with heightened levels of continuous tension on the biceps. Although it sounds a bit complicated its actually quite simple.  While kneeling on a bench, curl both of the kettlebells to the top contracted position (approximately mid chest height), lower one arm, perform a bicep curl, then repeat with the opposite arm. 

The key is holding the non-moving arm in the top contracted position throughout while alternating from side to side each repetition.  Performing this same protocol with dumbbells is not nearly as effective as the top of the dumbbell curl typically involves little tension thereby providing a semi-rest period during the isometric phase.  However, because of the kettlebells’ unique loading features, the top position is actually quite taxing on the biceps provide constant tension with little if any relief throughout the movement.   In addition, the kneeling position ensures the lifter does not twist or contort their body as a means of intentionally providing tension relief to the arms, as any squirming, shifting, or cheating, will result in loosing your balance and dumping the load.

Because of the significant time-under-tension (TUT) effect and extended time between repetitions, 2-3 sets of 5-7 reps per arm will more than suffice for this grueling bicep movement.  Once you’ve mastered this movement and have sufficient core stability, try performing it eyes closed.  This will further challenge your proprioception and ensure that all of the movements are performed with controlled mechanics.  Just be prepared for an incredible burn but enormous growth in your biceps.