Biceps Curls That Won't Cause Tendonitis

If you usually do barbell curls, try dumbbell curls.
Image Credit: Inti St Clair/Tetra images/GettyImages

Bicep curls are a popular exercise for building your guns. However, this exercise isn't without risks. Tendonitis is a painful condition that can occur in any joint, but it is most common in your shoulders, elbows, wrists and heels. It is the inflammation and irritation of a tendon — a fibrous structure that attaches muscle to bone. Biceps curls may be a risk factor for developing tendonitis in your elbow. However, no specific type of biceps curl is the main culprit for causing tendonitis.


Elbow Pain With Biceps Curls

A severe or sudden injury can cause tendonitis, but it is more commonly the result of repetitive motion. Excessive exercise, such as performing a high volume of biceps curls, or not allowing for enough recovery between biceps workouts is a risk factor for elbow tendonitis. Repetitive motions result in strain and overuse of a joint, which can result in inflammation of the tendon. Improper technique and the use of weights that are too heavy can also increase your risk.


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Vary Your Technique

The repetitive motion of constantly curling your elbow against resistance can eventually irritate and inflame your tendon. Always performing one specific type of biceps curls may make you more likely to experience tendonitis, such as those that lock you into one path of motion. Use different equipment and perform different variations of the biceps curl to avoid repeating the same path of motion.


In addition to bending your elbow, your biceps muscle supinates your forearm, bringing it into a palm-up position. Performing biceps curls with your forearm neutral — thumb-up position — or pronated, with your palm down can reduce tension on your biceps during these exercises.

Try Some Dumbbells

A barbell biceps curl locks your arms into one movement path, but dumbbells allow you to change your grip and range of motion during the biceps-curl exercise. This may reduce your risk of tendonitis, because you are not repeating the same movement in the same path of motion. You can also try resistance bands or a cable machine to vary the movement.


Read more: The Best Home Exercises for the Chest & Biceps

Guidelines and Treatment

Do not overtrain your biceps with excessive sets and repetitions. Back exercises also work your biceps muscles, so focus on compound back exercises, such as rows, pulldowns and pull-ups. Finish your workout with two to three sets of biceps curls, fatiguing the muscle in eight to 12 repetitions. If you do experience pain in your elbow, consult a physician.


The initial treatment for tendonitis is rest from aggravating activities. Ice can also be applied for up to 20 minutes at a time when pain is occurring. If biceps curls continue to be painful, consult a physical therapist for more treatment interventions and a personal trainer to assess your workout routine.

Read more: Biceps Lat Pulldown Exercises

Avoid Biceps Tear

The biceps tendon at the elbow is at risk of tearing. Continuing to exercise with elbow pain from biceps curls can lead to tears in the tendon — which could eventually lead to a full rupture. Once the tendon is fully torn, only surgery can correct the injury.



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