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Alternating dumbbell curl tutorial (seated and standing)

Learn how to do the seated and standing dumbbell alternating curl with the optimal form.
Written By  Liam Brown
Last Updated on 13th June 2021
A man performing standing alternating dumbbell curls for his biceps

The human biceps are one of the most visible body parts—and it's always the muscle that people ask you to flex when they realize that you lift. As such, bodybuilding enthusiasts are always looking for new exercises to improve the appearance of their upper arms.

Performing the alternating dumbbell curl on a regular basis will get you those bicep gains because it enables you to lift heavier weights than you can on normal dumbbell curls. Plus, the mere fact that you're training with dumbbells means that you'll also build symmetrical biceps seeing as you have to lift each weight independently.

Related Exercise: Alternating preacher curls

Alternating dumbbell curl exercise details

  • Also Known As: Alt DB curls
  • Main Muscles: Biceps brachii
  • Secondary Muscles: Brachialis, brachioradialis, forearm flexors
  • Exercise Type: Strength
  • Exercise Mechanics: Isolation
  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Equipment Needed: Dumbbells

How to do alternating dumbbell curls

  1. Hold two dumbbells by your sides with a neutral grip.
  2. Rotate one of the dumbbells so that your hand is now in a supinated position.
  3. Then immediately curl that weight toward your shoulder.
  4. Keep lifting until your forearm and bicep make firm contact.
  5. Hold the contraction for a second and then lower the weight under control until your elbow is fully locked out.
  6. Repeat the motion with your other arm and do 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps per side.

Dumbbell alternate curl advantages

Exercises like the alt DB curl and the alternating hammer curl are popular among bodybuilders because they enable them to lift more weight than regular two-handed curls. Alt bicep curls also enhance your mind-muscle connection because you only need to focus on working one arm at a time.

Increased strength

Strongman doing a bicep curl

Standing alternating dumbbell curls enable you to lift heavier weights than regular bicep curls. This is because your biceps get a short rest after performing each rep and so naturally also have more time to recover. As such, they're fresher by the time the next rep rolls around, which means that they can handle bigger poundages.

The mere fact that you're training one arm at a time increases your strength as well. When your brain only has to focus on moving one limb, it can channel all of its force into lifting the weight that the working arm is holding.

Conversely, when you curl both arms together, you're slightly weaker even though the technique is identical because your central nervous system now has to split its strength over two limbs rather than just one.

Improved mind-muscle connection

Man performing alternating dumbbell curls

In a like manner to the point above, the standing alternate dumbbell curl is an effective exercise for improving your mind-muscle connection because you only need to focus on training one bicep at a time.

This means that you can focus intensely on each arm to generate the best possible muscle pump.

Similarly, you'll naturally recruit more muscle fibers by doing alt dumbbell curls because each rep will produce greater bicep stimulation now that you have a heightened mind-muscle connection.

Just make sure to lower the dumbbell that you're currently lifting all the way down before beginning the next rep with your other arm. This way, you'll get a full range of motion and thus achieve a good bicep stretch as well as an intense peak contraction.

Better bicep symmetry

A pair of symmetrical biceps muscles

What good are gargantuan arms if they're not symmetrical?

The reason why movements like standing alternate dumbbell curls and alternating cable curls are so effective is that they ensure that both of your biceps receive roughly equal amounts of muscle stimulation.

This can help to correct any current (and prevent future) muscular imbalances, which in turn will help you to develop a more proportional and well-balanced physique.

Variation: Seated alternating dumbbell curl

A man performing a seated alternating dumbbell curl for his biceps

The seated alternating dumbbell curl is virtually identical to the standing dumbbell alt curl; the only difference is that you're doing the former exercise while sitting down.

The benefit of doing seated alternate dumbbell curls is that they remove most of the core stability requirement from the exercise. As a result, you can focus purely on the working muscle because your torso is supported by the backrest of the bench.

While this makes it less convenient than the alternate standing dumbbell curl due to needing a seat, the extra effort or financial expenditure of sourcing a weight bench (if you don't go to a gym) is worth the extra bicep stimulation if you're seeking to maximize your muscle growth.

You can also do incline alternating dumbbell curls on a weight bench to shift more of the emphasis onto the long (outer) head of your biceps.

Conclusion: Should you do the alt dumbbell curl for your biceps?

The standing alternating dumbbell curl is a brilliant bicep builder because it forces you to lift one weight at a time. This enhances your mind-muscle connection and helps to make sure that both of your arms getting worked equally well.

You can also perform seated alternating dumbbell curls if you want to maximally isolate your biceps. Although you'll need a bench for this variation, your biceps will receive more tension because you won't need to exert as much force to stabilize your core.

References

  1. M&F Editors. (2013, February 8). The Mind-Muscle Connection. Muscle & Fitness. https://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/workout-tips/mind-muscle-connection/
  2. Colucci, C. (2019, August 18). Symmetry Training for Size and Strength. T NATION. https://www.t-nation.com/training/symmetry-training-for-size-and-strength/
Liam Brown
Liam Brown has been coaching clients as a personal trainer for more than 12 years. Raised by his athlete mother and physiotherapist father, he understands the critical importance of learning the proper technique for both avoiding injury and building muscle.
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