Bicep Curls don’t have a huge impact on sports performance.
This should not come as Earth-shattering news to you.
However, they do serve some purpose, and many athletes like performing them for their cosmetic benefit (no one wants to be known as the guy on his team with toothpicks for arms).
But how can we make this age-old exercise translate to the field, court or rink more effectively?
There are plenty of options—a TRX Bicep Curl, for example, will do more for performance than a Machine Bicep Curl—and I’ve tried almost all of them. But I’ve recently started to include a new variation in my routine I’d like to share with you. It’s a challenging exercise that builds several skills that directly relate to enhanced athletic performance. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that I stole it from one of the most athletic humans on Earth—reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook.
The Single-Leg Dumbbell Curl-To-Press is the athlete’s Bicep Curl. While a Dumbbell Bicep Curl remains a crucial component of the exercise, performing the movement from a unilateral position (meaning on one leg) makes it translate to sport much more efficiently.
Athletic movements, from jumping to sprinting, are almost always performed off of one leg. By performing the Single-Leg Dumbbell Curl-to-Press on one leg, you’re immediately adding full-body stability and balance into the equation when it simply wasn’t there before. So that’s an immediate advantage the movement has over a traditional Bicep Curl in terms of sports performance. But the benefits don’t stop there.
When attempting this move, you’ll notice that performing the Curl-to-Press motion without losing your balance is exceedingly difficult unless you have your core and glutes activated. Training your core to efficiently transfer energy is another crucial component of sports performance, so that’s another plus in this exercise’s favor. Instead of just standing in place and mindlessly hammering away curl after curl, you’re going to have to focus on your body control, brace your core, and really hone in on staying strong throughout every portion of the exercise. Sure, you’re still building up your biceps—but you’re doing so much more than that.
Furthermore, the actual movement itself translates to sport much more efficiently than a standard Bicep Curl. In your sport, when are you standing stationary on two feet and pulling a load towards you by flexing at the elbow with both hands in a supinated position? I’d venture to say “never.” But let’s think a little broader here. Think of a basketball player driving to the hole and exploding off one leg while fighting the ball up through contact for an and-one, or a wide receiver fighting his hands up through a defensive back to win a jump ball. Are either of those so different from the movement utilized in the Single-Leg Dumbbell Curl-to-Press? Not really.
I could go on and on about this exercise, but to really feel the benefits, you’ve got to experience it yourself. If you think you’re going to be able to curl the same amount of weight on one foot that you can on two feet, you’re likely in for a humbling experience. And humbling is good—those are the training experiences that lead us to realize how much unfulfilled potential we still possess. When I first tried the exercise—which originally appeared in this 2014 STACK piece on Westbrook’s training—I used 40-pound dumbbells and lost my balance almost immediately. Considering I often perform Hammer Curls with 40 or 45-pound dumbbells, I quickly realized this movement was a totally different beast. I settled in with 20-pound dumbbells and have gradually been working my up from there.
How to Perform the Single-Leg DB Curl-to-Press
Stand on your left leg with your right leg bent and your right thigh roughly parallel to the ground.
Hold dumbbells at your sides with your palms facing in.
Curl the dumbbells to your chest, then press them overhead.
With control, lower the dumbbells and un-curl them to return to the starting position.
Sets/Reps: 3×8 each leg