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How to do chain curls for your biceps

Are your biceps tough enough to handle chain curls?
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 9th August 2021
Fitness model doing bicep curls with chains

Understanding the science behind the biceps can help you to build more muscle and gain strength faster. But you needn’t be an intellectual powerhouse to realize that heavy barbell curls are most challenging at the mid-point of the exercise. After that, the movement becomes easier, and so your biceps need to resist less tension. This is suboptimal for gaining muscle.

Yet, by adding chains to your bicep curls, you can make the exercise harder in direct proportion to how high you curl the bar. This massively intensifies the contraction and makes your biceps work harder during the final part of the rep, which is where they’d usually get to rest.

Chain curl exercise details

  • Main Muscles: Biceps brachii
  • Secondary Muscles: Brachioradialis, brachialis, forearm flexors
  • Exercise Type: Strength
  • Exercise Mechanics: Isolation
  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Equipment Needed: Barbell, chains

How to do chain curls for your biceps

  1. Connect a chain to either side of a barbell.
  2. Grab the barbell with an underhand grip, and then hold the bar in front of your thighs.
  3. Curl the bar toward your chest by flexing your biceps.
  4. As your forearms press up against your biceps, allow your shoulders to come forward slightly to intensify the contraction.
  5. Squeeze your biceps forcefully and then lower the bar in a controlled manner until your elbows are extended.
  6. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.

Chain curls pros and cons

Fitness model doing a chain bicep curl

Chain biceps curls just feel badass. There’s something primal about lifting heavy iron that cables and bands, no matter how helpful they are for stimulating hypertrophy, simply will never be able to replicate.

Pro: Improved resistance curve

Regular curls are most demanding at the mid-point of the lifting motion, which is to say when your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Adding chains to your curls makes each rep more effective because now your biceps have to work overtime to complete each rep.

This is because the higher that you lift the bar, the more chain links you lift off the floor, and so the resistance that your biceps are forced to handle naturally increases.

Con: Inconvenient

A set of chains can easily weigh 50lbs. So they’re not exactly convenient to bring in your gym bag. Some hardcore gyms might already have chains, but the average health club certainly doesn’t and might even get a bit upset if you’re dedicated enough to lug your chains into their facility. So either find a new gym that has chains or save them for your home workouts. Or, to get a similar effect, use resistance bands instead.

Pro: They feel badass

Smashing out sets of machine exercises will undoubtedly build plenty of muscle mass. Yet, training on machines just doesn’t feel as masculine or hardcore as lifting free weights. When you’re doing a chain bicep curl, you can hear the chains clanking and see the heavy iron moving under the force of your bulging biceps. Don’t underestimate how motivating working out with chains can be.

Con: Might be too heavy for you

As mentioned, a sturdy set of chains can easily weigh 50lbs. Add in a barbell, and you’ve 95lbs of resistance already. So unless you’re really strong, then you won’t be able to add much weight in the form of plates onto the barbell. Heck, 95lbs might be too heavy for some people, which is why chain curls are classified as an advanced exercise.

If you’re not strong enough to do regular chain curls, then you could always do eccentric bicep curls and negative curls with chains instead to get your muscles used to handling the increased resistance.

Variation: Independent chain curls

Man doing bicep curls with chains

If you want to ensure that each of your biceps is getting a similar amount of work, then you can also do chain biceps curls in the same way that you’d lift dumbbells, which is to say independently.

By attaching some handles to your chains, you’ll intensify the peak contraction by making your biceps work significantly harder at the top part of the rep.

Independent chain curls are also a great stepping stone to the barbell version because they’re slightly easier to perform.

You could also do buddy bicep curls if you want a fun and intense way to blast your biceps with a training partner.

In conclusion: Are chains curls worth doing?

Chains curls are absolutely worth doing if you want to make your biceps curl more challenging at the top part of the rep. You’ll recruit more muscle fibers when your biceps have to contract harder to lift the weights, especially when they’re not accustomed to it.

Of course, if you’re a novice lifter, then chain curls probably aren’t for you unless you can get your hands on some lighter chains. This is simply because a good pair of chains can weigh in excess of 40 or 50lbs, which, when you add the barbell on top, is too much resistance for most beginners with average genetics for strength development.

James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
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