The waiter curl is an biceps exercise that has developed quite a polarizing reputation. To some, it’s an incredibly effective biceps builder that belongs in every solid arm routine.

To others, it’s an awkward, inefficient movement that pales in comparison to classic curl variations.

So what’s the real deal with this exercise named after the motion of serving trays and platters? The waiter curl involves holding a dumbbell or kettlebell with two hands (like you’re holding a plate of food), then curling the weight up by bending the elbow.

You can see me perform my preferred variation in this video.

Proponents claim it crushes the biceps in a way other curls can’t match. The neutral grip with the palm facing inward is said to emphasize the long head of the biceps more. Having the arm outstretched also increases the resistance curve compared to curls where the arm stays tucked.

However, critics argue that the waiter position is both uncomfortable and compromises overall biceps engagement due to the inward shoulder rotation required. The movement can also place undue stress on the wrist and elbow joints.

So is the waiter curl truly an elite biceps mass-builder? Or is it just an overly complicated version of a standard curl that provides minimal extra benefit? In this guide, we’ll take an objective look at the exercise’s mechanics, muscle targeting, strength-building capabilities, and pragmatic application. By the end, you’ll be equipped to decide for yourself if the waiter curl deserves a coveted spot in your arm routines.

Oh look, a neat little table of contents.

Nailing the Proper Waiter Curl Form

Whether you’re using a dumbbell or kettlebell, proper form on the waiter curl is essential for maximizing biceps engagement while minimizing injury risk. Let’s break down the step-by-step instructions:

Starting Position

  1. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, core braced.
  2. Hold the weight (dumbbell or kettlebell) in one hand with a neutral grip – palm facing your body.
  3. Extend that arm out to the side until it’s parallel to the floor, keeping the shoulder packed.
  4. Your other hand can help support and keep the working arm straight to isolate the biceps.

Movement Execution

  1. Initiate the movement by turning your palm up towards the ceiling while keeping the upper arm stationary.
  2. Exhale and curl the weight up towards your shoulder by driving your forearm up and keeping the elbow tucked.
  3. Go until your hand is close to your shoulder at the top of the rep – give a squeeze to maximize the biceps contraction.
  4. Inhale and slowly lower the weight back to the start position by unfurling the curl in a controlled manner.

Breathing and Bracing

  • Exhale during the curl up, inhale as you lower down
  • Keep your core tight and brace your abdominals
  • Avoid arching your lower back or leaning excessively

This movement can be done seated or standing, depending on personal preference. Using a kettlebell allows you to keep a neutral wrist position, which can be easier on the joints.

Common Mistakes

  • Letting the upper arm swing or drop instead of staying fixed
  • Using too much momentum or body english to curl the weight
  • Not going through a full range of motion
  • Holding your breath or improper breathing pattern

Muscles Targeted by the Waiter Curl

The waiter curl is considered a biceps isolation exercise, with a particular emphasis on the long head of the biceps brachii due to the neutral grip arm position. However, several other muscle groups are also engaged to a degree.

Image credit – Wikipedia

Primary Mover:

Biceps Brachii – Both the long and short heads of the biceps are the prime movers responsible for producing elbow flexion to curl the weight up.

Secondary Movers:

Brachialis – This muscle originating from the humerus and inserting into the forearm aids in elbow flexion and works synergistically with the biceps.

Brachioradialis – Located in the forearm, this muscle assists in the flexing of the elbow joint.

Forearm Flexors – Muscles like the flexor digitorum help contribute to grip strength and forearm flexion during the curl.

While the biceps are undoubtedly the main target, this variation does work some additional movers compared to a traditional, strict biceps curl where the arms stay tucked close to the body. The extended arm position and neutral grip of the waiter curl increases emphasis on the long biceps head and brachialis muscles.

So in summary, you’ll get a slightly more comprehensive biceps and elbow flexor workout with some extra forearm engagement compared to curls with the usual supinated (underhand) grip and upper arm positioning. The neutral grip angle also allows the biceps to work through a unique range of motion.

Key Benefits of the Waiter Curl

While the waiter curl may look like an overly complicated arm exercise, it actually provides some unique benefits over traditional curl variations:

Exceptional Biceps Isolation

With your arm extended out to the side and the upper arm kept stationary, the waiter curl eliminates any involvement from other movers like the back or shoulders. This laser focuses all the tension directly onto the biceps with minimal cheating possible.

Long Head Emphasis

The neutral grip position with the palms facing in really hammers the long head of the biceps brachii. This is the larger head that creates that outer biceps peak. Many believe extra long head overload leads to thicker, more impressive arm development.

Increased Resistance Curve

Holding the weight extended and curling across your body increases the resistance curve compared to standard curls where the arm stays tucked. This amplifies the tension throughout the entire rep range for increased overload.

Attacks the Biceps From a New Angle

Most curl variations have your palms facing up or down. The waiter curl’s inward-facing grip works the biceps through a different plane of motion for enhanced overall development. Adding new grips and angles can kickstart new muscle growth.

Breaks Through Plateaus

If you’ve been stuck on the same curl routine, the waiter curl engages the biceps in a novel way. This new stimulus can be exactly what your arms need to get growing again after hitting a rut. Variety and muscle confusion are clutch for making gains.

So in many ways, the waiter curl provides both excellent biceps isolation and built-in intensity arcs that other curl options can’t match. When programmed intelligently, these benefits could translate to new arm growth for bodybuilders and strength athletes.

Waiter Curl Variations to Try

While the standard dumbbell or kettlebell waiter curl is an effective exercise on its own, exploring different variations can be a great way to keep challenging the biceps in new ways. Here are some options to consider. One day I’ll get videos of these for y’all. If there’s one that doesn’t make sense, hit the contact form to shoot me an email and I’ll explain and/or film for you.

One-Arm vs Alternating Arms

The waiter curl can be performed working one arm at a time, or alternating between arms for each rep. One-arm allows you to better isolate and focus on squeezing each biceps contraction. Alternating incorporates more core stability and rotation.

Seated vs Standing

Doing waiter curls seated can help brace the core and take stability concerns out of the equation. Standing variations require more overall body tension and control to maintain the proper rigid arm position.

Cambered Bar or EZ Bar

Using a cambered (angled) or EZ bar allows you to have both hands working simultaneously with the neutral grip. This increases the overall load you can use compared to dumbbells. The angled grips may also reduce wrist strain.

Resistance Bands/Cables

Anchoring a resistance band or setting up a cable waiter curl creates constant tension throughout the entire rep range. This can be a good plateau-buster and enable unique strength curves.

Hammer Waiter Curls

Instead of a neutral palm-in grip, try holding the weight in a hammer grip (palms facing each other). This shifts more emphasis onto the brachialis and brachioradialis for a complementary arm stimulus. A kettlebell also provides a similar effect.

So those are just some of the many possibilities for keeping your biceps training fresh using the waiter curl mechanics. Get creative with grips, stances, and loading methods to continuously challenge your arms.

How to Program Waiter Curls for Maximum Results

Like any exercise, intelligently programming the waiter curl into your training routine is key for progressing and achieving your muscle-building or strength goals. Let’s cover some programming considerations:

For hypertrophy (muscle growth), the ideal rep range is 8-12 reps per set. This promotes metabolic stress and muscular fatigue for stimulating biceps size increases. For this exercise, you can also go for maximum pump and blood flow and go in the 12-20 range. Since it’s a hypertrophy-centered exercise, I don’t think it makes sense to go below 8 reps.

Waiter curls are an accessory movement.  Slot them in towards the end of your routine after other biceps exercises to rack up additional volume and time under tension.

As with any hypertrophy exercise, make sure you work on your mind-muscle connection to create tension on the biceps. And if you want to build your biceps, remember that the compound movements are still king, so don’t neglect your pull-ups

About the Author

David William Rosales is a writer and strength coach. He’s the head trainer and editor at Roman Fitness Systems. In addition to helping run RFS, he’s also the head editor for
prohockeystrength.com., the official website of the Strength and Conditioning Association of Professional Hockey. You can also check out his Instagram, he’s pretty easy on the eyes.

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