Written by Jamie Wykes Hobday
Performing exercises from different angle points has been a renowned way of changing up your training program, preventing boredom and targeting different areas of a particular muscle. Within the bicep muscle there are two heads to be targeted; the short head and the long head. Below are the particular ways in which you can target each section individually;
Bicep Long Head: When the arms are by the side of the torso and elbows do not move forward. Examples include barbell curls and dumbbell hammer curls.
Bicep Short Head: When the arms are in front of the body. Exercises such as preacher curls, concentration curls and spider curls can be utilised for this.
The spider curl is one of the most effective exercises for those looking to efficiently trigger and stimulate the working bicep muscle during a workout. Here are some further benefits to the spider curl which you may not know of:
Increased RoM: Due to the unusual positioning of the barbell spider curl, the exercise allows a larger range of motion from start to finish, in comparison to the preacher curl for example. A larger range of motion allows higher efficiency of movement, injury prevention and greater likelihood of strength and size gain.
Time Under Tension: Spider curls have proven extremely favourable and advantageous over other bicep exercises due to the amount of tension that can be applied throughout. Applying an emphasised eccentric will only enhance this tension. Muscular tension leads to muscle stress, this stress will lead to muscular adaptation; whatever the goal may be.
Muscle Symmetry: Whilst there tends to be so much emphasis on developing the bicep peak through long head movements, applying short head movements such as the spider curl will add a more symmetrical look to the arm. The two heads of the bicep are essentially joined and become one muscle, if one is not trained equally in comparison to the other; there will be a muscular imbalance both aesthetically and from a performance perspective.
Fortunately, the spider curl is fairly practical in the sense that it can be performed in almost any gym; all that is required is a bench, a barbell or set of dumbbells and the correct form and technique. Below is the correct way to perform the spider curl followed by some common mistakes.
#1 To begin this exercise; position the bench in an incline degree. Similar to if you were performing an incline bench press movement. Also, place the barbell that you are going to use just in front of the bench.
#2 Place yourself on top of the bench with your stomach and front torso pressing against. As you grip the barbell in front, ensure that both feet are firmly positioned against the floor allowing your body full stabilisation and a firm base.
#3 Just like any other regular bicep curling motion, you should be gripping the barbell in a supinated position (Palms facing upwards).
#1 As you exhale your breath (breathe out), lift the barbell upwards as much as possible. Once you have got to the furthest possible contraction, squeeze the working bicep muscle and hold for a brief period.
#2 Similarly to other bicep movements; try to not allow your elbows to flare outwards during the movement.
#1 Once this has been achieved; slowly release the barbell down towards the ground back where you started from.
#2 Briefly pause before repeating the movement for the designated number of repetitions.
Lack of Contractions: Often, due to excessive momentum and too much weight being applied; the contraction of the spider curl can be neglected. Whilst it is important to progressively overload the weight throughout your training, it is far more essential to be able to create sufficient stimulus on the muscle too. In order to achieve this, perhaps lower the weight and focus on a correct tempo (Slow eccentric and powerful concentric) with a brief pause and ‘squeeze’ at the top of the contraction.
Range of Motion: Due to the fact that your body is not technically in the way during a spider curl, you are allowed a full range of motion as it has to be fully lowered; almost to the ground. This should be capitalised on and taken advantage of. Neglecting a full range of motion like this will literally give only half of the benefits it would otherwise as well as less of a contraction, less finer stimulation and ultimately less of an efficient movement! To prevent this, always mentally cue yourself to fully lower and stretch it down before curling back upwards. A handy alternative to this is to always have a training partner with you to positively critique your form throughout.
Variation: In order to prevent your body becoming complacent with your arm training; it is important to add variety to your program. With arm training it is very standardised to do the usual curl, pushdown, curl and pushdown. But when did you change the equipment you’re using? The Angle you are training from? The amount of sets/reps/tempo/rest time being applied? The spider curl alternatively can be varied in the sense you can perform it using a barbell, EZ bar, cable curl or uni laterally using dumbbells.
Feet Positioning: Because of the unorthodox positioning of the spider curl, we can fall off balance and lose stability if our feet are not firmly based on the floor. To prevent this occurring and leaving you red faced in the gym; before lowering yourself onto the bench completely; firmly place your feet (toes in particular) into the ground and ensure they are comfortable enough to not slip during the exercise.
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Alice Pearson is a UKVRN Registered Associate Nutritionist and UK Anti‐Doping accredited advisor, having obtained a Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition and a Master’s of Science in Sport Nutrition. She has a specialist interest in the use of sports supplements for improving health, fitness, and sport performance.
Alice has experience working with both amateur and elite athletes, including providing nutritional support to Tranmere Rovers FC and Newcastle Falcons Rugby Club. Her nutritional guidance is always supported by evidence‐based research, which she keeps up to date through continuing professional development and independent learning.
In her spare time, Alice loves travelling, hitting the gym, and getting stuck into a good book. Find out more about Alice's story here.