Two popular options to build strong biceps and forearms are Zottman Curls and Reverse Curls. Both exercises target the brachioradialis muscle, which runs from the upper arm to the forearm, the forearm extensors and, although to a lesser degree, the biceps.
Zottman Curls involve curling the weight with a supinated (palms up) grip, then rotating the wrists at the top of the curl so that the palms are facing downward. The dumbbells are then lowered with a reverse grip. Reverse Curls, on the other hand, involve using a pronated (palms down) grip throughout the exercise.
While both exercises work similar muscles, they have different benefits and drawbacks.
In this article, I will compare and contrast Zottman Curls and Reverse Curls. First, I’ll discuss how to properly execute both exercises including benefits and coaching tips. Then, I’ll compare the two exercises directly to help you determine which may be best for your training goals and preferences.
- Biceps (Biceps Brachii, Brachialis, Brachioradialis)
- Forearms (Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus & Brevis, Extensor Digitorum, Extensor Digiti Minimi, Extensor Carpi Ulnaris)
- Stand tall, feet shoulder-width apart, a dumbbell in each hand.
- Curl both dumbbells up to shoulder height with palms up.
- Now, rotate the forearms so that palms face down and slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
- Rotate the forearms again, back to palms up, and curl up again.
- Continue this pattern until all reps are completed.
Zottman Curls are an excellent curl variation that heavily incorporates the forearms. Curling the concentric portion with palms up allows for more weight to be able to be used to then overly stress the forearms on the eccentric.
Focus on the eccentric portion of the lift. The tempo of Zottman Curls should include at least a 3-second eccentric (on the way down).
Benefits of Zottman Curls
Zottman Curls are an excellent bicep curl variation that targets not just the biceps but challenges the forearm extensors as well.
The forearm extensors are an important, but often overlooked set of muscles. So, any exercise that targets and strengthens the extensors plays an important role in any strength program.
Can’t do Zottman Curls? Here are 8 Zottman Curl alternatives that will work your biceps and forearms.
Barbell Reverse Curls
- Weight Plates
- Stand tall, back straight, head up, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the barbell with both hands, palms down (pronated grip).
- Start with the bar at arm’s length against the upper thighs.
- Curl the bar up towards the shoulders until the forearms touch the biceps.
- Keep upper elbows close to the side.
- Lower the bar back to starting position using the same path.
- Continue until all reps are completed.
You’ll most likely need to use less weight for Barbell Reverse Curls than you would normally use for barbell curls. The wrist extensors will be the limiting factor here that will dictate how much weight you’re able to use.
By far the most common mistake with any curl exercise, but perhaps even more so with barbell curls is swinging and rocking in an attempt to lift more weight. If you need to swing the bar, use momentum or generally contort your body to move the weight, it’s too heavy. Lower the weight and use proper form.
Reverse barbell curls, like regular Barbell Curls, will help strengthen and grow the biceps.
However, the main benefit of using a pronated grip (overhand) for barbell curls is the challenge it places on the forearms. Reverse Barbell Curls put an enormous emphasis on the forearm extensors and are one of the best exercises for adding muscle mass to the forearms and improving grip strength.
Zottman Curls vs Reverse Curls: Which is Better?
Now, let’s take a side-by-side look at the two exercises and discuss if one is better than the other for some common lifting goals.
Better For Developing Forearm Strength: Toss Up
This one is too close to call. Zottman Curls and Barbell Reverse Curls are both great exercises for building forearm strength (and size). Both exercises also come with their own advantages.
Zottman Curls will allow the lifter to lift relatively heavier weight. This is due to the use of a supinated grip on the concentric portion of the movement (the curl up). This then places more stress on the extensors to be able to hold the dumbbells on the eccentric portion of the curl.
On the other hand, Barbell Reverse Curls will be more limited in the amount of weight that is able to be curled because of the use of a pronated grip throughout the movement. However, this also means that the extensors are being placed under a longer duration of stress – both on the concentric and eccentric portions of the lift.
Ultimately, the exercise you use may come down to what equipment – dumbbell or barbell – you have available to you. If both are an option, then my suggestion would be to incorporate both into your workouts.
Better For Beginners: Toss Up
I believe both exercises are safe and easy to learn IF a beginner starts with light weight and focuses on learning proper technique first. It can be quite shocking just how weak your forearm extensors are, and just how little weight you can hold correctly with a pronated grip.
Start very light and make sure your form is correct before trying to add weight. Once your technique is sound, then (and only then) you can begin to gradually add weight as you get stronger.
I just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Zottman Curls or Reverse Curls. But, the truth is, assuming you have the necessary equipment there is no reason you shouldn’t be doing both exercises.
Both are excellent options for targeting both the biceps and forearms. Also, by utilizing both exercises in your training plan, you can add variety and keep your workouts from getting stale.
So, instead of trying to choose between Zottman Curls and Reverse Curls, find a way to incorporate them both in your strength training.