The incline dumbbell curl is to weightlifting what the smize is to modeling (s/o to Tyra): essential. A classic.

It’s pretty much the same as your basic dumbbell curl, but you do it seated. So you’ll need a bench to pull off one of these babies.

When executed like a pro, this move works your large biceps brachii muscles (those long ones on the outside of your upper arm).

Here’s what to do.

Share on Pinterest
Getty Images

To execute this curl exercise correctly, you’ll need a set of dumbbells and a workout bench.

Pick a set of weights that’s challenging but totally doable for your skill set. The last thing you want is to drop one on your toes! (Trust: You make that mistake once, you’ll *never* do it again.)

Adjust your bench to a 45- to 60-degree incline. Then:

  1. Sit with your back flat against the bench, your abs tight, and the weights by your sides (one in each hand).
  2. With your palms facing up, curl the dumbbells until they reach your shoulders. Keep squeezing your biceps at the top of the movement for a full contraction. When they’re flexed, you’ll be able to feel the motion in your biceps brachii specifically.
  3. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Key word here is slowly. If you release the weights too quickly, you could strain or injure your muscles.
  4. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.

Mix things up with these variations of the exercise.

Flexor incline dumbbell curl

If you want an upper and lower arm workout at once, the flexor incline dumbbell curl might be just the thing. This variation targets your forearms as well as your biceps.

This move is also great for boosting grip strength — something all weightlifters could stand to improve. In a 2019 study, researchers found a link between hand grip strength and overall performance in weightlifters, powerlifters, and gymnasts.

Keep your bench inclined to 45 to 60 degrees for this one. Then, let’s hit it:

  1. Sit with your back flat against the bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand by your sides. Flex those abs.
  2. Curl both dumbbells until your biceps fully contract. When your dumbbells are *just* about in front of your shoulders, pause for a sec.
  3. Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position. Take care to keep your elbows still.
  4. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.

Alternate incline dumbbell curl

The alternate incline dumbbell curl works the same muscles as the regular incline dumbbell curl, but it makes it a little easier to focus on form.

Whether you’re just starting out or simply want to perfect your technique, doing it one arm at a time helps isolate the muscles, keep your elbows fixed, and really make the whole movement *chef’s kiss* legit.

With your bench still inclined at 45 to 60, here’s what to do:

  1. With your back flat on the bench, grab a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing forward (or, you can start with your palms turned inward if that’s more comfortable). Squeeze those abs like you mean it.
  2. Curl the dumbbell in your right hand until it’s right in front of your shoulder. Pause for a sec, and then move the weight back down slowly.
  3. As soon as your right arm is back to the starting position, curl your left arm up toward your left shoulder.
  4. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.

Incline curl on an exercise ball

Trying a dumbbell curl on an exercise ball will really work those abs and test your balance. To play it safe, start with a dumbbell weight that’s very easy for you to manage. Here’s what to do:

  1. Position your bod so your lower back is against the ball and you’re at a slight incline. Holding the dumbbells, drop your elbows so they’re right against the sides of the ball. This should help you stabilize.
  2. Curl both dumbbells until they’re in front of your shoulders. You’ll def need a lot of core strength to pull this one off! Take care to keep your neck straight.
  3. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  4. Do 3 sets of 15 reps, or as many as you can safely manage.

If you’ve ever clicked around YouTube lifting videos or hit up a CrossFit class, you know there are lots of dumbbell curl exercises out there.

Here’s how the incline curl compares with a couple other popular ones.

Incline dumbbell curls vs. classic dumbbell curls

Classic dumbbell curls are performed while standing. So, let’s see how they stand up to the incline:

  • Extended range of motion. Compared with the classic curl, incline dumbbell curls will extend your range of motion. Since you’re at an incline, your arms have farther to travel, so you’ll get a little extra stretch and muscle work in.
  • More work for your biceps. The incline dumbbell curl is an even harder workout for your biceps than the classic. It especially works the biceps brachii, the longest muscle in your upper arm. While the standing move works this muscle as well, the incline really helps target the whole muscle.

Incline dumbbell curls vs. “preacher curls”

You’ll need a preacher bench to pull off a preacher curl. It works similar muscles to the incline curl, but there are some distinctions. So, should you do the preacher religiously? Let’s see:

  • More work for your biceps. The incline dumbbell curl works your biceps brachii more than the preacher does. Since your arms move directly in front of you when you do the preacher, it mainly works your inner biceps.
  • Extended range of motion. Like the classic dumbbell curl, the incline curl allows for a larger range of motion than the preacher. If you want to really work your whole arm, the incline curl is still better — no fancy equipment required.

Form is everything, period. Thankfully, fitness expert Nicole Steen of Nicole Steen Fitness gave us a few tips for pulling off the incline dumbbell curl like a pro:

  • Pull your abs to your spine. “Before you begin, pull your abs to your spine,” Steen says. “This will keep you balanced and help prevent any back pain or strain.”
  • Keep working those abs.Keep your core engaged throughout the workout. If your abs aren’t sore, you’re not doing it right!”
  • Isolate your biceps. If you’re not totally 💯 on form, take it step by step. “The best way to do this is to do one arm at a time,” Steen says, “so you can really focus on form as you curl the weight.”
  • Take some deep breaths. “Breathe in on the curl, and exhale on the extension,” Steen says. “This will help you take it slow, isolate those biceps, and make the most out of every curl.”

Remember, your workout’s no good if you end up injured. Steen admits that long ago, when she rushed her curl workout, she wound up pulling her biceps. #NotFun. So, take it from her and always take 👏 your 👏 time 👏 when you’re doing curls.

And when it comes to perfect form, don’t underestimate the power of the mind-muscle connection. A small 2015 study found that participants who focused their minds on specific muscles when doing resistance training significantly increased activation in those muscles.

Incline dumbbell curls are ideal for those who want to build up their biceps. Compared with the classic curl, the inclined position offers the added benefits of extending your range of motion and creating a larger stretch of your biceps.

If you want to try it, get a bench and some approachable weights — and, of course, play it safe.