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The Ultimate Guide to Spider Curls: Benefits, How to Do, Variations

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Biceps are a small muscle group and their function is really straightforward. If you want to build bigger biceps, there is no secret here. You don’t need anything fancy to get a solid biceps workout. 

Biceps are already getting a decent amount of stimulation just from your compound back exercises alone. So, this is not an area of your training that you need to obsess over. You don’t need 10 different unique revolutionary variations to build big arms and a high percentage of the biceps.

A muscular guy doing spider curls at the gym
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However, compound back training on its own won’t be enough to build the biggest arms. There are certain biceps exercises and specific form curls that are more effective than others and that you can use to get the very most bang for your buck. Spider curls are genuinely one of the best options for your biceps training. 

In this article, we’re going to cover what spider curls are, how to do spider curls for biceps to get more strength and size. Also, we’re going to give you three of the best spider curl variations that you can try out during your next biceps workout.

What Is the Spider Curl?

There is just one factor out of many for gauging the effectiveness of your exercises: whether you are really going to feel your biceps lighting up on these exercises. Spider curls focus on the shortened position and give you a strong contraction at the top of each rep. This is not a biceps exercise you’ll see being performed very often. 

It was a popular lift back in the golden bodybuilding era. A lot of bodybuilders used to do this exercise a lot. And apparently, it wasn’t uncommon for gyms to actually have a dedicated spider curl bench. You’re almost certainly not going to find that piece of equipment at your gym nowadays. So, what you can do instead is just use a regular incline bench. 

Keep in mind that any basic curling exercise you perform is going to train your entire biceps muscle as a whole. However, the forward position of the shoulders will put a bit more emphasis on the short head which is the inner portion.

Having your body pinned down is going to prevent you from using excessive momentum. You’re definitely going to need to use lighter weight in comparison to a regular standing curl.

You can do the spider curl using an EZ curl bar, a regular straight bar, or dumbbells.

A man performing spider curls at the gym
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Spider Curl Muscles Worked

While the spider curl appears to be a pretty straightforward exercise on the surface, there’s actually quite a bit more complexity and muscular involvement than many people realize.

With this movement, you’re going to be performing mainly elbow flexion. Basically, it’s just bending your elbow which contrary to popular belief is handled mainly by the brachialis muscle. It’s a very powerful muscle that sits underneath the biceps. And even though you can’t see it superficially when you flex your arms, building this muscle will push the biceps brachii up. It will increase their appearance of size as well.

Since the biceps brachii do cross the elbow joint, they will be doing a lot of work here as well. And these two prime movers will get assistance from the brachioradialis muscle on the back of the forearm.

You’re also performing wrist supination. Twisting your palm up will be handled mainly by the biceps and also the supinator muscle of the forearm. Supination is really important for targeting the biceps because that more powerful underlying brachialis muscle can’t contribute to supination. The biceps will have to handle the brunt of the load.

Finally, throughout the spider curl, there will be an isometric wrist flexion contraction. The muscles of the anterior forearm prevent the wrist from bending backwards maintaining that neutral wrist position throughout the spider curl.

Benefits of the Spider Curl

So, a spyder curl is just a curl variation where you are leaned forward on an incline bench. This exercise has a few attractive properties.

1. Isolating Biceps

This exercise is a great option to isolate the biceps. It’s almost impossible to cheat because the shoulders are out of motion. Also, it takes the lower back out of the exercise. So, you have to use only the biceps. This is going to be more of an isolation-type movement, than a standard standing curl. 

The short head of the bicep is usually overlooked. Using the spider curls helps you target this muscle. 

2. A Full Range of Motion

The main benefit of performing spider curls is a full range of motion. Having your biceps stretched causes more metabolic stress. This leads to greater size growth.

3. Constant Tension

Spider curls help you build bigger muscles and optimize muscle growth because they provide you with increased time under tension.

A man doing spider curls with an EZ bar
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4. Strength Curve

This exercise actually changes the strength curve. The strength curve is just where in the range of motion it is most difficult.

For example, on a bench press, it is difficult in the middle part of the range of motion. The top is quite easy, the bottom is also quite easy, and you have a sticking point in the middle part of the range of motion. 

And a spider curl is the same. The top is very easy; you can just hold the weight there. The bottom is very easy; you can just let it hang down. But the middle is very difficult in this movement. Because you are leaning forward, the top is actually the most difficult. 

So, what you can actually do is go to failure and then you can do partial reps. You go to failure with full reps. And then eventually you’re not going to be able to go all the way up. And then you do two-thirds reps, half reps, one-third reps, until you do small wraps and your biceps are just absolutely destroyed.

And you can do these partials with normal curls but they are not going to be nearly as effective. Also, they can be a little bit unsafe, especially if you’re cheating or if you’re unstable. 

5. It Is Safe to Do

With this type of movement, the lower back is in a stable and supported position. And you can just focus on curling the weight up. However, you usually cannot use as much weight on a spider curl compared to a normal curl.

6. Suitable for Any Goal

Firstly, you can do it at the end of the workout. This is more of a high-rep finisher to just burn out the bicep muscle and fatigue them to where they will grow. 

Alternatively, you can put them at the beginning of the workout as more of an activation movement. Because you cannot cheat; you are forced to use the biceps. 

In fact, you can feel the biceps contracting perhaps more strongly with a spider curl than with a standard curl. Because if you perform a standard curl, there’s no real tension at the top, it’s hard to get a good contraction. But with spider curls, due to the strength curve, it is most difficult at the top and you can get a nice contraction.

A man doing spider curls with a specific machine
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Who Should Do the Spider Curl

Bicep muscle groups sometimes can plateau in growth. If you are not finding a lot of progress in bicep development, you should definitely add spider curls to your workout plan.

How to Incorporate Spider Curls Into your Routine

Combining exercises is usually the best way to work around slight pitfalls in each individual movement. Don’t be scared to periodically vary your routine while using the basic barbell, EZ bar, or dumbbell spider curls. 

This can be your main biceps motion at the end of your workout. You can do this after a barbell curl as a little supplement exercise or you can use this as a main barbell exercise and then do a dumbbell exercise afterwards. 

Volume

There’s a lot of good research that shows that higher rep arm work is very effective for size and strength gains. For example, you could do three sets of around 8-20 reps to really focus on the contraction. Because this is not a heavy swinging exercise. 

The key thing with biceps is you want to have the proper volume throughout the week. If you’re going to incorporate spider curls into your routine, perform 10-12 sets of biceps throughout the week. You might do 6 sets on Monday and 6 sets on Friday. You can definitely allot at least 3 of those 12 sets to something like spider curls to increase your arm size and your bicep gains.

Weight

Generally speaking, you want to load the bar with light to moderate load in a relatively higher rep zone around 8-20 reps. By the way, one study found that focusing on squeezing the biceps resulted in significantly more hypertrophy, than just focusing on moving the weight. 

How to Do Spider Curls

Proper Grip

You want to grab the bar with a comfortable grip which for most people will be at just about shoulder width.

Because the long head of the biceps is a stronger shoulder abductor than the short head, taking a wider grip may target the biceps peak slightly more. However, it might not actually be worth the reduced range of motion you get from going wider.

We don’t recommend the very close grip as it reduces the range of motion as well. According to one source, it reduces biceps EMG amplitude by 13% relative to a shoulder-width grip. 

Make sure you are actively trying to bring your palm up. This is most important with a narrow grip. With a wider grip, this isn’t really going to be possible. You should experiment with both. They hit the two heads of the biceps slightly differently.

Overhand Reverse Grip

You can also use an overhand reverse grip which is going to work a little bit more forearm and a little bit more brachialis which is that muscle between the biceps and the triceps. An overhand or hammer grip is going to be a much better way to work that muscle. This grip isn’t better or worse than an underhand grip; they’re just completely different. They’re working different parts of the upper arm and you can and should do both.

Spider Curl Variations

The main advantage of the barbell spider curl is that you can more easily apply progressive overload with minimal load increases week to week adding just 2.5 pounds to each side as needed. Whereas with dumbbells you may have to make bigger jumps of 5 pounds per side which could compromise form or delay load progression. 

While the barbell does allow for a slightly more supinated wrist position, than the EZ bar, we don’t think this difference is practically important. But if the EZ bar feels better for you or more comfortable on your wrists, then you should just go with that.

Let’s take a closer look at these spider curl variations.

EZ Bar Spider Curl

The easiest way to do spider curl is to get an incline bench which you can find at a gym. You want to set your incline bench at roughly a 45-degree angle. You want it high enough because you’re going to be resting your chest on it and you want your arms to dangle straight down.

You’re going to get your chest nice and high on the bench. Your arms are going to be in a supinated position. Grab your weight a little more on the narrow side around shoulder width.

Your arms are extended straight down; they’re resting. You’re going to curl up and down just like you do a normal barbell curl. 

A key point of the spider curls: you just want to be in this position where your arms are hanging down.

https://www.youtube.com/shorts/RHwOUNVam94

Barbell Spider Curl

Unlike with the bench press, you want to purposefully take a more loose grip with your hands and fingers. It will increase biceps involvement by minimizing activation of the elbow flexors of the forearm. 

As you begin the curl, think about putting the majority of the pressure on your pinky and ring fingers rather than your pointer and middle fingers. It will force the wrist into a more supinated position further shifting tension onto the biceps.

Generally, as you reach the top end of the curl, you want to maintain a neutral wrist position, not allowing the wrists to curl in at any point throughout the range of motion. 

In fact, as an advanced technique, you can slightly extend the wrists at the top which will help take the forearm muscles out of the movement even more. Just be careful when doing this. And if you feel any wrist pain, don’t do it.

We don’t recommend pausing at the top of the curl, because there will be minimal tension there. You do want to think about squeezing your biceps to move the weight including at the top of each rep.

Dumbbell Spider Curl

The dumbbell spider curl is an excellent adjunct exercise since it has the advantage of hitting each arm individually which can correct for asymmetries. 

Unlike the barbell, you can start with a neutral wrist position and then supinate throughout the concentric. To maximize this, you want to curl with your pinky finger in the center of the dumbbell. This is going to force your biceps to fire harder when performing supination.

So, with a comfortable roughly shoulder-width supinated or underhand grip, lay across a regular incline bench set to a 45-degree angle. Grab a pair of dumbbells and bring your elbows forward. Don’t shrug up, keep your shoulders down. This is going to ensure that you keep as much tension on those biceps as possible.

Common Mistakes

1. You Bring Your Elbows Back

It will cause shoulder flexion and target the front delt and the long head of the biceps.

As a quick aside, when it comes to targeting the long head, we recommend performing exercises where the upper arm is held behind the body and the long head will be placed under greater stretch.

So, if your goal is to maximize the peak, in addition to the spider curl, you may want to also include an incline dumbbell curl or a cable curl where the arm is held back behind the torso.

2. Too Heavy Weight

The most common mistake is that you go too heavy. Loading the biceps too heavy will just result in form breakdown as other muscles come in and help lift the weight up. Instead, you want to focus on improving your mind-muscle connection with the biceps and squeezing the biceps as you curl.

3. Lack of Active Supination

Another common mistake is a lack of active supination. Many people will correctly curl with an underhand grip but then forget to actively supinate by driving their pinky and ring fingers into the bar. This can result in a curl where the forearms perform much more work than the biceps.

Make sure you use a fairly narrow grip and focus on the pinkies. One of the functions of the bicep is actually to turn the palm up. So, if you’re curling with your pinky, you can fully activate and contract your biceps. If you’re not pulling with your pinky, you are probably missing out on a little bit of activation.

Spider Curl Alternatives

1. Cheat Curl

Shoulder flexion up to 10-15 degrees is actually a good thing to get the standing barbell curl started. However, as the hips, knees, and ankles start to get involved, it starts to become a totally different exercise called cheat curls. 

Cheat curls are a great exercise, especially if you’re controlling the eccentric. But they can set you up on a bit of a slippery slope and you may not be actually applying progressive overload. 

In fact, you may be applying progressive cheating where you just progressively get more and more assistance from the other muscles down the chain while tension on the biceps actually goes down or at best stays the same.

You can use a barbell which is an easy piece of equipment a lot of people have. Using an EZ bar is great as well and maybe even a little easier for your wrists and your forearms than a straight barbell which keeps you in constant supination.

2. Cable Curl

An extended cable curl is going to take the opposite approach to the spider curl. This exercise emphasizes the stretched position with a bit more focus on the long head which is the area responsible for the biceps peak.  

Facing away from the machine, stand in between a dual cable. Then take a couple of steps forward so that you can feel the cables pulling back on your arms and stretching your biceps at the bottom. 

From there, just curl the handles up like normal coming up as far as you can without letting your elbows drift excessively forward. A bit of movement at the elbows is totally fine. It’s not a death sentence that’s going to instantly shift all the tension away from your biceps and onto your front delts like some people make it seem.

You don’t need to lift like a perfect robot but you also don’t want to be loading up a ton of weight and just heaving the cables around using a bunch of momentum. This is more of an isolated lift where you want to emphasize control.

3. Single Arm Cable Curl

Aside from doing this two arms at a time, if you don’t have access to a dual cable stand or you just prefer doing it one arm at a time, then use any regular cable machine. You can just train each side independently.

The single-arm variation was popularized by Menno Henselmans and it’s usually called a Bayesian curl. But regardless of which one you do, the main benefit is that nice stretch you’re getting in the bottom position. Even as you curl the weight up, the biceps are going to be under full tension all the way to the top.

4. Incline Dumbbell Curl

If you don’t have access to cables and you want a free-weight curling movement to emphasize that stretched position, then a regular incline dumbbell curl is a good option as well. Cables will train your biceps through a slightly larger active range. But the difference is definitely not going to be a break factor.

5. Preacher Curl

You could totally do curls on a preacher bench as well. If you have a gym or home gym that has a preacher bench, use it. 

The preacher curl is a great bicep exercise that offers some different benefits. It focuses on bicep stretch whereas the spider curl focuses on maximizing contraction. 

You are going to lay your chest down on the slope of the preacher and just do it. Keep your dumbbells in the neutral position. And you come right on up, curl, and come right on down. If you use a wide grip, you emphasize the short head (inner biceps). A close grip targets the long head (outer biceps). 

For this movement, you want to have your entire arm on the arm pad so that you can just isolate your biceps and not bring other muscles into the exercise such as your back. 

Adjust the seat level so that the top part of the cushion is right under your armpit. Make sure the whole back of your arm is supported by the pad. 

Do not have your elbows pointed outwards. Make sure you perform a full range of motion.

Common mistakes:

  • The seat is too low and the arms are too high;
  • The seat is too high and the back of your arms is not supported. This puts a lot of stress on your elbow joints. 

6. Standing Barbell Curl

A barbell curl is a highly effective way to train your biceps. You don’t need any special equipment or elaborate setup to perform them. And they’ve got a pretty balanced resistance profile that will stimulate your entire biceps muscle effectively.

If you’re lifting with proper form, you are training close to or all the way to muscular failure, and you’re progressively overloading in an intelligent way, you could probably build your biceps pretty close to their genetic potential just with this one movement when combined with your compound back training.

Good old-fashioned barbell curls are a time-tested proven biceps builder that just works plain and simple. You can use a regular straight bar or an EZ curl bar if it’s more comfortable for you. Or instead of doing barbell curls, you could also use dumbbells and just do a basic standing dumbbell curl.

How to Perform A Standing Barbell Curl

You want to make sure that before initiating the curl, your elbows are tucked in comfortably close to your sides. Just before initiating the curl, you want to slightly flex the shoulder or, in other words, bring your arms forward by about 10 degrees and at the same time try tilting your scapula posteriorly. Since the short head of the biceps attaches to the front end of the scapula, tilting them posteriorly will pull tension into the biceps.

As you curl, there shouldn’t be much movement at the knees, hips, or lower back. Everything should be pretty much motionless and locked into position.

Our Tips

Think about curling the barbell out in front of you in an arc, not straight up. There is much more tension on the biceps by curling the bar out rather than just pulling it straight up.

On the eccentric, you want to lower the bar out in an arc while maintaining a loose grip and forcefully contracting your biceps. The eccentric is just as or more important than the concentric when it comes to muscle growth. So, it’s not just a time to relax and let the weight fall. 

Reset every rep at the bottom because it allows you to regain your position and get a deep breath in. It helps maintain upper body tightness and stability on the next rep which allows better control of the weight and move more load overall.

An arm blaster can actually be helpful as it helps to keep the shoulders back and enforces a better lifting posture. However, you don’t want to use it as a crutch. You should learn proper form without the aid of supplemental lifting gear first.

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What Is Spider Curl: FAQs

Are spider curls better than regular curls?

If you look at the traditional bicep curl from the side, you can see some degree of shoulder flexion is happening. The biceps, in particular the long head, that forms the biceps peak assists the front delt with shoulder flexion; because the biceps also crosses the shoulder joint and can help bring the arm up like in a front raise.
With spider curls, you’re performing just elbow flexion, not shoulder flexion.

What is the difference between incline curls and spider curls?

They both build biceps. However, while the incline curl targets the bicep muscles in a stretched position, the spider curl works them in a flexed position.

About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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