Are Bicep Curls Beneficial For BJJ?

The bicep curl, the ultimate bro exercise. But, is it useful for Jiu-Jitsu? Is it worth doing bicep curls when your primary focus is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and not standing on the Olympia stage being jacked and tanned? In this article, I go over the bicep curl and its usefulness in BJJ!

Bicep curls benefit Jiu-Jitsu by increasing grip, squeezing, and pulling strength in the arms. They can help to alleviate elbow pain, strengthen the wrist, and reduce the risk of bicep tears by strengthening the tendons in the arm.

What Are The Benefits Of The Bicep Curl?

The benefits of the bicep curl are increasing the bicep, forearm, and grip strength while conditioning the arm tendons and strengthening the wrist joint. Performing a standing curl recruits the muscles in your core to stabilize and brace your body during the curl.

Increasing bicep strength and conditioning will improve all pulling movements. Pulling movements use the bicep in their movements, along with requiring grip strength.

Incorporating curls into your workout will also help you improve your rows, pullups, deadlifts (because of working the grip), and gripping and pulling on your opponent!

What Is The Best Curl For BJJ?

The best curl for Jiu-Jitsu is a thumbless, reverse curl. This type of curl targets grip strength, while working the bicep and conditioning arm tendons. The lighter weight required for this exercise promotes stricter form resulting in fewer injuries and better muscle isolation.

The thumbless, reverse curl is a standard curl with pronated grips and not using your thumbs in the grip to hold the dumbbells.

Starting position of the thumbless, reverse curl
Finished position of the thumbless, reverse curl

Reverse curls help strengthens the bicep, forearm, and grip. The grip puts a higher load on the wrist which is why a lighter weight is used compared to a standard curl. Additionally, this type of curl can help alleviate elbow pain!

Using a thumbless grip makes it more difficult to hold onto the weight as it removed a place for the weights to rest on in your hand. This means the only way the weight isn’t falling is from you gripping onto it with your fingers.

The thumbless grip is used in many aspects of Jiu-Jitsu from the gable grip, monkey grip, kimura grip, most times you grab the Gi, it’s everywhere.

Should you only do one type of curl while training for Jiu-Jitsu? No, just because the reverse curl works well doesn’t mean it’s the only curl you should train.

Incorporating different variations of the curl into your routine will yield the best results. For example one month concentrate on thumbless, reverse curls, the next month try doing the standard curl.

List Of Bicep Curl Exercises

Dumbbell Bicep Exercises

  • (Thumbless) Reverse Curl
  • Zottman Curl
  • Hammer Curl
  • Bicep Curl
  • Outside, Wide Curl
  • Cable Curl

Barbell Bicep Exercises

  • Bicep Curl
  • Wide Grip Bicep Curl
  • Reverse Curl
  • Preacher Curl
  • Concentration Curl

Barbell Vs Dumbbell Curls

Dumbbell curls force each arm to work independently while the barbell curl utilizes both arms simultaneously, which means more weight may be used. The use of dumbbells allows for more wrist variations while the barbell curl either uses a straight bar or an EZ bar which offers additional wrist positions.

Dumbbells offer more curl exercise varieties as they allow wrist and arm rotations. For instance, you cannot perform hammer curls or wide curls on a barbell. Furthermore, dumbbells isolate each arm independently which is beneficial for voiding muscular imbalances.

Wide curl starting position.
Wide curl top position.

Barbell curls allow both arms to work in unison which can lead to using more weight on the bar when compared to using dumbbells. This is because if one arm is weaker than the other, the stronger arm will help take the load.

Having one arm take the load isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it can be used to overload the weaker arm causing it to get stronger. While the strong arm will get stronger by lifting more weight when compared to using the dumbbell counterpart.

The major downfall of dumbbells is giving the lifter the increased ability to swing the dumbbells to lift more weight. While the major downfall of barbell curls is the stress it puts on the wrist joint.

To overcome these issues an arm blaster (curl brace) can be used during dumbbell curls and an EZ bar can be used while doing barbell curls!

You can also use a sandbag instead of a traditional barbell.
Sandbags offer a variety of grips allow for reduced on the wrist when compared to a straight barbell.

Should You Only Do Dumbbell Curls Or Barbell Curls?

The dumbbell curl allows for more grip variations, less stress on the wrist joint, and arm isolation. Using a barbell for a prolonged amount of time can lead to muscular imbalances quicker than the dumbbell alternative.

As far as what is better?

Neither is better than the other and for the ideal workout, both exercises should be utilized. Generally, I would want to warm-up using light dumbbells, do a heavy barbell curl variation for increasing bicep strength, and finish the workout with dumbbells curls to focus on each arm independently using alternative grips.

Example WorkoutSetsReps
Warm-up: Light Bicep Curls to get the blood flowing.315-20
EZ Bar Curls: Work up to a heavy set of 5.510/8/8/5/5
Reverse Curls: These are to be done slowly and methodically.312

Workouts Incorporating The Curl

I’ve put together a few workouts incorporating the curl for you to try! Always perform a warmup before working out to reduce the risk of injury and prime your muscles.

I haven’t included what weight to use as everybody is at a different level of fitness. However, if you really don’t know where to start, start with a weight that allows you to maintain strict form.

It’s okay if you start to light as you can increase it for the next set, or the next training session. It’s also okay to stop mid-set to lower the weight!

Take notes on how the workout felt, was it too easy? Up the weight next time. Was it too hard? Maybe it’s better to lower the weight or maybe stay at the same weight next week.

You’ll notice abs on almost all the workouts listed, I incorporate abs into all of my workouts to help condition my core, keep the heart rate up, and take an active rest period.

If this isn’t for you just add a minute to the rest time, but I suggest giving it a shot, knee-on-belly won’t be a place of agony!

Back/Bicep Workout

This workout is performed as a three-round circuit. It focuses on increasing pulling power and strengthening the grip for Jiu-Jitsu.

Pullup10 reps or 30 seconds of work
Bent Row20
Thumbless, Reverse Curl10
Lying Leg Raises with Hip Raise25 reps or 30 seconds of work
Rest1 minute

Arm Workout

The arm workout is a three-round circuit that increases the weight used in each round. For example, if you used 15lbs (~7kg) for Zottman curls in round 1, try upping the weight to 20lbs in the second and 25lbs in the third.

Your form should be strict! If you notice your form breaking down lower the weight, even if it’s mid-set. It’s ok if you have to use the same weight you used in the previous set.

This workout targets the arms using dynamic exercises that recruit many different muscles within the arms.

Starting with the Zottman curls, they are chosen to isolate the bicep while incorporating extra grip work and rotational arm strength.

Arnold presses are a type of shoulder press that puts extra load on the front deltoids in the rest position. Following the Arnold press, we need to round out the shoulder and work the rear deltoids to prevent muscular imbalances from pulling the shoulders forward.

Skull crushers are a great triceps isolation exercise. Many times these are done with a medium to heavyweight; however, I recommend using a lighter weight so you can perform these slow and controlled without putting unnecessary stress on your elbows.

You’ll notice that your core is engaged during these to help stabilize your body too! It’s not required to increase the weight after each set with these.

Finally, oblique crushes. Why are these in an arm workout? Because working your core is important and many times we forget about the obliques. Instead of having a 2-4 minute rest after each round, I use the oblique crush as an active rest time to keep the heart rate up and get work in.

ExerciseRound 1Round 2Round 3
Zottman Curl15 reps12 reps10 reps
Arnold Press12 reps10 reps8 reps
Rear Delt Fly15 reps12 reps10 reps
Skull Crushers10 reps10 reps10 reps
Oblique Crunch15 reps per side or 30 seconds of work per sideSame as previousSame as previous
Rest1-2 minutes

Chest And Bicep Workout

The chest and bicep workout is aimed at being able to get more work on both your biceps and chest. This workout is designed to either be completed as one exercise on to the next or superset the pushups with the bicep workout below it.

This workout is short and sweet, but ensure that every movement is done slow and controlled. If you have access to a bench press you can swap the pushups out for bench press. And if the workout is too short, swap the pushups for bench press and do pushups and reverse curls as additional exercises.

Bicep Curl312/10/8
Hammer Curl38

The Brocep Workout

This workout is for those that don’t care about working multiple parts of their body in one workout. The focus is biceps and that’s what’s going to be done! This workout is designed to hit the bicep in multiple ways to target the muscle.

Curl312/10/8 (first set/second set/third set)
Wide Hammer Curl46
Preacher or Cable Curl210
Thumbless, Reverse Curl310


Bicep curls are a great exercise to add to your routine if you have the time to do so. The benefits of increasing grip strength and endurance, strengthening the wrist, and conditioning the arm tendons is enough alone.

The bicep curl will help improve all pulling movements as they recruit the bicep muscles when performing them. This is useful in BJJ as there are many times you are pulling your opponent off-balance and leverage them.

If you only have time for one bicep exercise the best one for BJJ is the thumbless, reverse curl using dumbbells at a slow, methodical pace. This exercise focuses on grip strength and endurance, wrist support, and bicep conditioning.