Anyone that has tried to gain muscle mass in the upper arm knows how difficult this feat can be. The thought can even be scary for most people, given the plethora of other exercises for training biceps around. However, most people often forget an underrated intense biceps exercise known as drag curl.
This workout is often done with barbells, but some people like to take up the more challenging dumbbell version. This exercise, though slightly tricky for beginners, is highly effective for bicep size gains.
It also has several other benefits, including, but not limited to, preparation for other lifting workouts, increased arm size and strength, and improved appearance.
The biceps, formally known as the biceps brachii, is made up of two heads, a long head, and a short head, which are connected to the elbow joint. These heads work in unison to extend and relax the forearm by enabling elbow flexion. So, a bicep-focused exercise like this one primarily works these two muscle heads. (1)
Secondary Muscles Worked
Simultaneously, by doing drag curls, one is also targeting other muscles in the biceps and those in the forearm. They also work the abdominal and back muscles and the front. They help maintain the body’s balance while carrying out this exercise.
How To Do The Barbell Drag Curl?
What You Will Need
- A barbell
- Hold the barbell with an underhand grip, also called a supinated grip. This means holding the bar such that your fingers are curled facing upwards.
- Stand with your back straightened and your legs shoulder-width apart.
- Look straight ahead and maintain your mind-muscle connection (2).
- Extend your arms holding the barbell, ensuring that it touches your thighs.
- Lift the barbell, moving your elbows backward and upward such that the barbell moves with a "dragging" motion.
- When you have lifted it to the maximum possible height, squeeze your biceps tightly.
- Relax your arms and slowly lower the barbell to its original position.
- Repeat for as many reps as you like.
- If you are doing this exercise for the first time, try to use lighter weights. This will prevent adding too much load on your back or even pulling muscles.
- Keep your back straight, as not doing so can cause lower back problems.
- Ensure proper technique and perfect posture during this exercise, or consult with a trainer to prevent injuries.
- Do not jerk the barbell up because this can lead to you straining, cramping, or even pulling your upper-arm muscles. (3)
- Do not use your body’s momentum to pull the weights up, as this defeats the purpose of the exercise, which is to work your bicep heads.
Common Errors During Drag Curls
Most people make the common mistake of bringing their elbows forward and up instead of backward. This variation is called the basic standing curl and defeats the purpose of opting for this workout.
Furthermore, most gym-goers tend to rush the curl, lifting and lowering the barbell with speed. Not only is this dangerous to do, risking shoulder pain and muscle strain in various parts of your body, but it also ruins the exercise. This is because the most beneficial step is when the barbell is at the peak contraction position of the biceps.
Doing drag curls quickly does not allow sufficient time for this step, making you lose out on gains.
Benefits Of Drag Curls
Building Muscle Mass
Adding drag curls to your workout regimen is an efficient way of growing muscle mass. This excellent resistance exercise (4) works muscles all the way from your biceps to your core, allowing for both strength and bigger biceps.
Regularly doing this exercise with perfect form can also help you improve at other bicep-focused exercises such as heavy weight lifting.
Enhanced Muscle Definition
Gym-goers are often found showing off the fruits of their labor in the form of visibly enhanced muscles.
Drag curls can help with muscle definition and major gains in the upper arm. It helps tone the arms and upper body, improving their appearance and making them look visibly strong.
Prevention Of Injuries
Drag curls help prepare your arms for heavier and harder lifting exercises. If you wish to lift heavier weights in the future, drag curls are an excellent exercise to start with. Training with them will help prevent injuries such as arm and shoulder fractures, muscle imbalances, and back sprains.
Drag Curl Variations And Alternatives
If you wish to switch the common drag curl up with something either easier or more challenging, depending on your regimen, try one of the drag curl variations:
Dumbbell Drag Curl
This curl variation is slightly harder than the barbell variation. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with an underhand grip as you would for a barbell drag curl. Start to perform the drag, moving your elbows up and back, and squeezing your biceps at the top.
Ensure that you keep the dumbbells parallel to each other throughout the exercise. You can also do this exercise for each arm separately.
Switch your weight on one side of the body, giving that knee a slight bend. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in hand on that side with a supinated grip and keep your elbow on the bent leg, right above the knee.
Extend your hand straight and lift the weight. Be sure not to lift your elbow off your leg. Squeeze your bicep tightly when the weight is at its highest, and slowly extend your arm back to its starting position.
Repeat for a desired number of reps and then train the other arm for the same number.
Reverse-Grip Dumbbell Curls
Hold two dumbbells, one in each hand, with an overhand grip. Keep your elbows fixed next to your body as you lift the weights and bring them down.
This resistance exercise will work not only your biceps but also your forearm muscles, adding to the overall strength of your arm.
However, use lighter weights for this workout than you would for a standard drag curl because the forearm muscles are weaker than the upper arm, especially if they are untrained.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I Do Drag Curls?
Generally, drag curls are highly beneficial for anyone looking for major upper arm gains. Another way to know whether drag curls are right for you is if your deltoids trouble you during heavy lifting exercises such as standard bicep curl.
Deltoids are the main muscles that connect your shoulders to the body. The deltoid is the most prominent muscle that allows you to move your arm and lift weights (5). Drag curls take most of the stress off the deltoids, giving them rest while also working the biceps.
How Much Can I Lift During Drag Curl?
The answer to this question varies from person to person as each body has different requirements and stamina. A good rule of thumb for drag curls is to start with less weight to get an idea of the exercise.
If you sail through your reps without trouble, add a heavier weight. Ideally, any weight-lifting exercise should challenge you, but you should not have to take breaks before your rep ends.
If you feel like taking a break, the weight is too heavy, and you should reduce it. Since the range of motion is limited in this exercise, it must be remembered that the maximum weight that can be lifted in it is much less than what you can lift in regular bicep curls.
Can Beginners Do Drag Curls?
Drag curl is a versatile exercise that gym-goers can take up at any level of expertise. As with any lifting exercise, the weights are the only difference between beginner and advanced drag curls.
If you have doubts about adding drag curls to your regimen, start training each arm's biceps using light dumbbells and work your way up. It is also necessary to follow safety protocols when starting any resistance exercise. (6)
How Can I Reap Maximum Benefits From Drag Curls?
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Given the hearty benefits of drag curls, it is a surprise that they are not one of the popular exercises amongst gym-goers as they should be.
Nonetheless, when done with proper form, this exercise is a valuable addition to any regimen for arms training and will produce unbelievable results for upper arm strength, size, and muscle.