Visit any gym and you’ll see both men and women spending a ridiculous amount of time isolating one of the smallest muscles in the human body - the biceps.
The biceps curl is a terribly inefficient exercise but it is so ingrained in our culture that almost everyone does it. Even though it requires very little coordination and really only works one tiny muscle, we’ve invented several variations of basically the same thing (e.g., sitting biceps curl, standing biceps curl, concentration curl, preacher curl, hammer curl). Even some group fitness classes and bootcamps include biceps curl variations. But I doubt you could find any person in a real boot camp or military training program that is subjected to this meagerly productive movement.
So why is the biceps curl so popular? In the 70s, people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mike Katz popularized the sport of bodybuilding and proved they could get massive and toned through isolation exercises. Bodybuilders have continued these techniques to this day, but combine steroid use with 3+ hours a day and 6 or 7 days a week in the gym. Isolation exercises, like the biceps curl, will indeed get you stronger and/or toned, but only one muscle at a time. If you do that with each muscle, you’ll be spending a large chunk of your waking hours working out. If you have things you want to do outside of exercise, its much more efficient (and fun!) to do compound exercises that work several muscle groups, burn much more fat and get you out of the gym quickly.
Here are some exercises that will work your biceps along with other muscles and help you develop your coordination and balance. These exercises will improve your functional fitness as well. Compare the muscles worked here to the biceps curl at the bottom of the list.
Pull-up or chin-up (probably the best upper body movement you can do)
Muscles Worked: biceps, forearms, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, pectorals, triceps. And if you can’t do one, make it easier using a band or by completing negative pull-ups
Muscles Worked: biceps, forearms, deltoids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids
Muscles Worked: biceps, forearms, deltoids, triceps, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, pectorals, abdominals, obliques, hip flexors
For added difficulty, efficiency and fat burn, try a Man Maker
Rowing machine (erg)
Muscles Worked: biceps, forearms, deltoids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, abdominals, obliques, hip flexors, erector spinae, calves, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, several stabilizer muscles
Sumo deadlift high-pull
Muscles Worked: biceps, forearms, deltoids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, pectorals, triceps, abdominals, obliques, hip flexors, erector spinae, calves, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, several stabilizer muscles
Last, and definitely least is the bicep curl
Muscles Worked: Biceps, forearms
We’ll leave you with this ridiculous music video of 70s era bodybuilders (including Arnold!) from the movie, Pumping Iron. Buy the DVD, but don’t take notes on what to do at the gym.