When performed correctly, biceps curls do not target the shoulder muscles to a large degree. However, strengthening your biceps through curls and other exercises does improve shoulder stability and rotator cuff health. If you do not practice proper form with your biceps curls, your shoulders and chest will perform more work. However, this is not ideal. It’s best to target the biceps as much as possible during curls. Then, use other exercises to build stronger shoulders.
What Muscles Do Bicep Curls Use?
As the name “biceps curls” implies, this exercise primarily works the two heads of the biceps muscle. The two heads of the biceps (the long head and short head) are both worked during curling movements, although certain variations may work one head more than the other. If you’re doing curls, you’re isolating these biceps muscles.
- Biceps curls are primarily an isolation exercise for the two heads of the biceps muscle.
- Standing curls work abs as a secondary muscle, since tightening your abs is part of good form.
- Muscles in your shoulders and back work to a small degree to maintain an upright posture and retracted shoulders during curls.
Curls do work some other muscle groups as secondary muscles and stabilizers. Performing standing curls with good form requires you to tighten your core, so it provides a small workout for your abs. Curling the weight upward does recruit the muscles in the front of your shoulder, but not to a large degree.
How Do Bicep Curls Benefit Your Shoulders?
Bicep curls benefit your shoulders by stabilizing the rotator cuff, which prevents shoulder injuries. The reason curls benefit your shoulders is mostly because the biceps muscles attach to your skeleton at the shoulder. The long head of your bicep attaches to the top of your shoulder socket. Meanwhile, the short head of the biceps attaches to the shoulder blade. By strengthening the muscles and tendons of the biceps, your shoulder joint becomes more stable and less likely to suffer injury.
- Your biceps muscles attach to the shoulder socket and shoulder blade.
- By strengthening your biceps, your shoulder socket becomes more injury-resistant.
- Curls also help to build some muscle in the front of your shoulders.
As a further benefit of curls, the anterior deltoid (the muscle on the front of your shoulders) works during curls. You’ll get more benefits for this muscle by performing shoulder-focused exercises such as overhead press, but curls do provide some strength increases to your shoulder muscle, as well as the tendons in the shoulder joint.
How to Do Biceps Curls for Shoulder Health
In order to make sure you are building strong biceps—and thus strengthening your shoulder socket—it’s important to use proper form. For pain-free bicep curls that build arm muscle and improve shoulder health, follow these steps:
- Do your biceps curls in a standing position, with your back against a wall or other tall support.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Hold the weight (dumbbells or barbell) with your arms extended downward and palms facing out.
- Pull your shoulder blades down and back. Your shoulder blades and rear end should be touching the wall behind you. They should not break contact with the wall at any point during the curl.
- Keep your elbows pressed to your side. Do not allow them to flare outward or swing forward.
- In a controlled motion, curl the weight upward by bending your arms at the elbow. Pay close attention to prevent your shoulder from rolling forward.
- Do not allow your arm to come across your body. Your arms should be moving up and down, never side-to-side.
- Curl the weight to the top position with your elbow fully bent.
- Slowly lower the weight until your arms are extended in starting position. This downward movement should take 3 full seconds.
- Repeat for your desired reps and sets.
By paying close attention to your posture during curls, you’ll target your biceps in the most effective manner possible. Doing curls with your back against the wall is a great way to learn proper form. You’ll build stronger arms and stronger rotator cuffs as a result.
Why Does Your Shoulder Hurt When Doing Bicep Curls?
Typically, shoulder pain during biceps curls is caused by lifting heavier weights than you are currently ready for. Heavy curls cause lifters to roll their shoulders forward to recruit muscles in their shoulder and chest. This allows you to lift heavy weights, but it takes the focus of the exercise away from your biceps and increases your injury risk. If your shoulders are in pain during curls, reduce the weight and focus on doing curls with strict form. This will keep you pain-free.
- Shoulder pain can be caused by lifting too much weight during curls, resulting in bad form and shoulder strain.
- A previous shoulder injury can be aggravated by curls, since the biceps attaches to the shoulders.
- Reduce the weight of your curls and practice strict curling form to protect yourself from injury.
An existing shoulder injury may also cause shoulder pain during curls. This is because the biceps do attach to bones in the shoulder. Performing curls while still recovering from an injury can cause pain to flare up. So, if you have recently injured your shoulder or are experiencing pain during curls, reduce the weight you are lifting until curls are pain-free.
Do Bicep Curls Work Your Shoulders?
Biceps curls are not considered a shoulder exercise, but they do have several benefits for your shoulders and rotator cuff. Here are the facts about how curls impact your shoulders:
- Biceps curls primarily target the two muscles in the biceps.
- Because the biceps muscles attach to the shoulder socket and shoulder blade, strengthening your biceps provides shoulder stability.
- Biceps curls help strengthen tendons in your rotator cuff.
- Pain during biceps curls is typically caused by lifting a weight that is too heavy, which causes your curling form to break down.
- Do curls with your back against a wall to help maintain proper form and eliminate habits that can cause shoulder pain.
Although biceps curls are often considered an exercise for “meatheads,” they do have real benefits for shoulder health and stability. With proper form, biceps curls help to eliminate and prevent shoulder pain.