How to Zottman Curl – Benefits, Technique and Muscles Worked

This extensive guide will teach you everything you need to know about the Zottman Curl.

What is the Zottman Curl?

The Zottman Curl is a unique dumbbell exercise that combines a standard Bicep Curl, a rotation of the wrists at the top of the movement and then a Reverse Curl on the way back to the starting position.

It provides intense contraction for the biceps and a higher overload for the forearms, a great combination within a single movement.

This allows you to use a much heavier weight than you would normally Reverse Curl. You are then able to stress the forearms even more with a heavy and slow eccentric (the negative part of the lift). Leading to better gains.

Muscles Worked by the Zottman Curl

The Zottman Curl primarily targets the biceps branchii and the brachioradis.

Biceps Branchii – Composed of two heads, the biceps work during both pushing and pulling movements.

Brachioradis – One of the most visible and important muscles in the forearms, its functions are forearm pronation, supination and flexion.

The secondary muscle groups that the exercise works are as follows:

Brachialis – This muscle is located beneath the biceps branchii.

Abs and Core – The core and abs must work hard to balance and control the movement. This leads to increased muscle and strength for the body.

Back Muscles – The muscle groups of the back are also recruited in order to stabilise the dumbbell through the full range of motion.

Forearms, wrists and Grip – Many smaller muscles in the lower arms and hands will be tested and strengthen by the exercise.

Wrists and clapping hands in gym
Build your wrist strength ©Victor Freitas

Benefits of the Zottman Curl

There are numerous benefits to this effective dumbbell exercise.

More Muscular Arms

As you might imagine, the Bicep Curl is an excellent to grow muscle mass for the biceps. The biceps are optimally targeted during the concentric portion of the lift.

Stronger Arms

Increased bicep hypertrophy is not the only benefit of the Bicep Curl. They will also strengthen your upper arms and improve performance for other pulling exercises such as the Lat Pulldown or Bent Over Row.

The eccentric part of the Zottman Curl will significantly improve your forearm, wrist and grip strength.

When you add all these strength gains together, it is clear why the exercise is so effective for enhancing performance.

Increased Stimuli for the Forearms

The Zottman Curl makes the forearms a significant player in its range of motion.

Many other arms exercises (Bicep Curl, Incline Curl etc) simply do not stress the forearms as much because they primarily target the biceps.

The Z Curl prioritises the forearms during the eccentric phase, therefore increasing the stimuli and optimising full arm strength and muscle gains in general.

Better Looking Arms

The movement improves the entire arm. It is not designed to simply try and bulk up the biceps.

It will create bigger, more defined forearms as well as biceps. This leads to better looking (and more functional) arms.

Break through Plateaus

Zottman curl with athletes in gym
Keep your training on track ©Victor Freitas

All athletes reach plateaus from time to time.

Adding new and alternative exercises into your training plan is an excellent way to break through the sticking points.

They provide new stimuli and add the fun back into training.

Why is it Called the Zottman Curl?

The movement was invented by the 19th century strongman George Zottman.

“George Zottman was a strongman born in 1867 in Philadelphia who set numerous records, some of which still haven’t been broken, like the dumbbell press.

George was able to clean and press 175-pound dumbbells while sitting on a chair, which is something no one else managed to achieve since then.

He was The Strongest Man in the United States during the 1890’s, which isn’t a wonder considering his vast shoulder width of 24 inches.

This type of physique was quite rare back then, especially when you combine it with 19 inches biceps and amazingly thick forearms – 15 inches!”

How to Do the Zottman Curl

Use the following instructions to complete the exercise correctly.

  • Stand with a dumbbell in each hand
  • Adopt a supine grip (palms facing upwards)
  • Inhale and brace your core, glutes and grip
  • Contract the biceps hard to start curling the dumbbells upwards. Keep your elbows pinned in the same position
  • At the top of the curl, in the fully contracted position, tense your biceps as strongly as you can and pause for two seconds
  • Now rotate the wrists and forearms until the hands are in the pronated position, with palms facing downwards
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Once again, keep your elbows fixed in the same position in space
  • Once at the bottom, exhale and rotate the dumbbells into the supine position again
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Training Tips for the Zottman Curl

Move slowly and make sure that you are in full control of the weight at all times.

Don’t swing the weight and use momentum to complete the reps. This will minimise your gains.

Zottman Curl Sets and Reps

You can program the exercise in different ways in order to achieve alternative results.

For Muscle

Aim for 3 – 4 sets of 8 – 12 reps. Rest periods should be 30 – 45 seconds but no longer.

The final few reps in every set should be close to absolute failure.

For Strength

Build up to heavier weights gradually over time.

Then go for 4 – 5 sets of 3 – 6 reps. Move slowly and rest as needed between sets.

For Muscular Endurance

Here you want to use lighter weights. 2 – 3 sets of 20 – 30 reps.  

Man doing muscle ups on bar
Strong arms ©Victor Freitas

The Zottman Curl as a Warm Up

You can also use the exercise as a warm up.

The movement is an effective way to warm up your arms, elbows and wrists before you begin the main lifting.

It will bring blood flow to your limbs and extremities.

The Zottman Curl as a Finisher Exercise

Alternatively, the movement is a great finisher exercise as well. Load up the weight and do a 5-minute AMRAP.

For another option, try working them into a drop set and keep going until your arms reach complete failure.

Dumbbell Zottman Curl Mistakes

Make sure you aren’t slowing down your progress and making any of these mistakes.

Lifting with Momentum

Swinging the dumbbells is a sure-fire sign that the weights are too heavy for the strength of that lifter.

Using power to shift the load minimises the stress on the biceps, forearms and wrists and lessens the effectiveness of the exercise in general.

If you can’t perform the exercise slowly with full control at all times then lower the weight.

Rounding The Back

The back needs to be straight and strong at all times. It should never be bent and rounded.

This rounded position will increase the likelihood of spinal injury.

Going Too Fast

The exercise will yield the best results when it is performed slowly. Think about the tempo of your movements.

The more time under tension, the better the effects will be for muscular hypertrophy.

Zottman Curl Variations

Try adding these variations into your training.

Resistance Band Zottman Curl

You can also perform the exercise with a resistance band.

Step on the band with your feet shoulder width apart and complete the full range of motion with the same technique as above.

Reverse Zottman Curl

This variation will target the forearms more than the conventional variation.

Start with the same set up but begin with the dumbbells facing downwards and use a pronated grip.

At the top of the movement, rotate to a supine grip and curl downwards with your palms facing upwards.

Zottman Curl Alternatives

Use this selection of other bicep exercises to enhance your muscle mass and strength.

Alternating Tension Curls

  • Start with your feet shoulder width apart
  • Grip both dumbbells with palms facing upwards and extend both arms straight out in front of you. Hold them still
  • Now lower the right arm and curl it back up to the starting position whilst the left arm remains tensed, straight out ahead of you
  • Alternate between both arms and don’t lower both arms completely until your set is complete

This alternative is an excellent way to maximise time under tension.

Standing Dumbbell Curl

This is a classic exercise, famed for its effective ability to grow and strengthen the biceps.

Grip the dumbbells as tightly as possible to optimise your strength and control.

Don’t forget to control and organise your breathing as well.

Dumbbell Reverse Curl

This movement is the same as above, however it is performed with a pronated grip (palms facing the floor) rather than a supinated grip (palms facing upwards).

It targets the forearms and biceps, as well as strengthening grip and wrist strength.

FAQS

Scroll down to find more answers to your questions.

What does the Zottman Curl Work?

The exercise works the:

  • Biceps brachii
  • Brachialis
  • Brachioradialis
  • Brachialis muscles
  • Wrists
  • Core and Abs
  • Back Muscles

Why is the Zottman Curl Good?

The movement is excellent because the concentric and eccentric portions of every rep target the arms in different ways. In short:

  • The concentric works the biceps
  • The eccentric works the forearms

The rotation and movement as a whole is good because it also develops the wrists, grip, core, abs and back.

Should I do Zottman Curls?

Yes, Zottman Curls are an effective exercise for all athletes, regardless of ability, age or training history. Simply adjust the weight as required.

They can be used for muscle, strength, endurance, warm ups and as a finisher. This makes them an incredibly versatile exercise.

Are Zottman Curls Better than Bicep Curls?

They offer a Bicep Curl plus an alternative eccentric, which targets and works the forearms more.

Bicep Curls isolate the biceps and place the emphasis on them during both the concentric and eccentric parts of the lift.

Both are excellent arm building exercises.

Learn More

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