Cheat Curls for HUGE Biceps
We have all been the high school kid in the gym. Back in the corner, smashing REALLY heavy curls, swinging our torso back and forth, putting momentum into the lift while grunting and sweating away. Trying to impress every other person in the gym, the cheat curls were a massive ego booster, a way to feel good about our small arms and about the low weight we would otherwise use for curls. But did they have any carryover to our actual arm growth? How can they potentially help us grow?
High School Cheat Curls
Training in my garage growing up was a ton of joy. I could get away with anything and no one would try to control my technique, my frequency or even load on the bar. This was very conducive for learning and it was very conducive for doing REALLY STUPID SHIT. Had I had an on-site coach helping me squat and clean more effectively, perhaps I would have improved my athletic career.
But one side of individual training that enabled me to blossom with at-home training was how I blasted my arms. A few of my favorite movements were cheat hammer curls, cheat reverse curls and miracle gro’s. I never knew or understood why these movements gave me a massive pump but as I grew throughout high school, my forearms and upper arms were larger than most high schooler’s legs!
One of my proudest moments in high school was showing off for my high school strength class. I was strong in the classic lifts like the snatch and bench press but I was even better in cheat curls. One day, a girl asked, “Dane, how much can you curl?”
It was my time to shine. The moment I had been waiting for throughout my entire existence had finally arrived! I warmed up my flexors and went up and grabbed the 70’s. With a hammer grip, I smashed out 10 reps on each arm, cheat curling more than all my classmates could dumbbell bench. Nothing ever came about with the girl but my ego certainly blew up! What were the benefits of those old school cheat curls?
Understanding Biomechanics: Eccentrics
What is happening during the entire movement of a cheat curl? We know there is some concentric force being applied while the curling action is being executed, there is a minimal isometric contraction at the top of the movement because the load is generally too heavy at this position. So where do the gains and stimulation really come into play?
The eccentric portion of the lift. Based on research, it’s simple to understand that during an eccentric contraction (when our muscles are lengthened) that the muscle is undergoing a greater amount of damage than during the concentric movement. It has also been shown that utilizing an eccentric movement can lead to a greater increase in cross-sectional area of the muscle than if we did not incorporate eccentrics.
The primary biomechanic position? Eccentrics also enables the lifter to use nearly 130% of a greater load than they are capable of using during the concentric portion. This means that cheat curls are actually a good means of stimulating muscle adaptation because the load is much greater than would otherwise be used on a lighter concentric based curl.
The bottom line: cheat curls lead to greater stimulation and muscular damage because of the control during the eccentric portion of the lift.
Physiology: Forearm Flexors
From a muscular standpoint, it is easy to see that flexor carpi radialis and the brachioradialis crossover from the forearm and tie in with the bicep. This means that our forearm flexors will contribute to bicep flexion. But what does that mean in regard to cheat curls?
During elbow flexion, the flexor carpi and brachioradialis will be hit HARD through the eccentric portion of the movement. This will lead to greater grip strength and in an ideal situation, this greater grip strength will lead to greater mass on the forearms and greater flexion strength. Greater strength = greater maximal size!
Neural Drive: Potentiation
During the countless years of hammering out cheat curls, a few other observations have been noted. Not only is there more stimulation metabolically during the eccentric portion, our forearm flexors get smashed as well AND we notice a very strong response from neural drive. Because we are using a greater load, our nervous system is heightened and leads to greater recruitment of high threshold motor units. When these motor units are stimulated, our Type 2X fibers are stimulated to grow in our biceps.
Type 2X fibers are hard to come-by in our biceps because they are predominantly slower twitch. By stimulating these faster twitch fibers, we can open up greater size through various mechanisms.
Program for Monster Flexors
Let’s get the biceps SMACKED with some cheat curls. Use this QUAD set to stimulate massive growth, two times a week.
1A) Cheat Hammer Curls 5 x 7/7 at a weight you must use a torso swing to achieve success
1B) Seated Slow Eccentric Hammer Curls (perfect movement) 5 x 12/12
1C) Standing Barbell Cheat Curl 5 x 6
1D) EZ Curl Preacher Curl 5 x 12 perfect movement
This will blow up the forearms AND the biceps and lead to incredible growth throughout the entire arm.
Cheat curls aren’t the devil afterall, in fact they can contribute to monster gains in various aspects of the arms. By stimulating the nervous system eccentrically, we can recruit more high threshold motor units, leading to greater recruitment of fast twitch fibers and greater muscular damage. This damage leads to hypertrophic gains and a greater potential to handle higher metabolic stress.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.