How Many Dumbbell Curls Should I Do For Solid Strength Gains?

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Although it is important to strengthen all of the muscles in your arms, everyone loves to have ripped biceps.

As such, dumbbell biceps curls are among the most popular strength training exercises no matter what your fitness level or fitness goal is.

But, you may ask: how many dumbbell curls should I do to build muscle? How many dumbbell curls should I do to increase strength?

In this guide, we will discuss how to do dumbbell curls and how to determine the number of reps, sets, and weights you should use for dumbbell curls based on your fitness goals to ultimately answer the question, how many dumbbell curls should I do in my workouts?

Let’s dive in! 

A person doing bicep curls.

How To Do Dumbbell Curls

Before we look at how many dumbbell biceps curls reps and sets you should do based on your fitness level and goals, let’s cover how to perform dumbbell biceps curls.

There are lots of variations of biceps curls with dumbbells, but the basic standing dumbbell curl exercise involves holding a dumbbell in each hand and bringing the weight up to your shoulder by bending your elbow and then slowly lowering the weight back down.

Here are the steps for how to perform dumbbell curls:

  1. Stand upright with good posture. Keep your chest up, shoulders down, core muscles and glutes tight, and feet hip-width apart with your toes pointing forward.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing forward (supinated grip) and your arms straight down by your sides. Depending on the weight that you are using for dumbbell biceps curls, the dumbbell might be slightly in front of your lateral thigh (outer portion) or just outside of your hip.
  3. Keeping your entire lower body and trunk as stationary as possible by isometrically contracting your glutes, quads, abs, and upper back muscles, curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders by bending your elbows. In other words, don’t rock your hips or arch or sway your back to use momentum and help hoist the dumbbells. You want to be using just your biceps to bend your elbows and curl the weights up.
  4. When your elbows are flexed as much as possible and the dumbbells are up at your shoulders, pause briefly, flexing your biceps muscles.
  5. Slowly lower the weight back down, resisting the pull of gravity so that you are capitalizing on the eccentric portion (lengthening) of the exercise.

Try to keep your upper arms and elbows glued closely towards the sides of your ribs and as stationary as possible to isolate the workload onto your biceps muscles.

What Is the Best Way to Do Dumbbell Curls?

In addition to standing biceps dumbbell curls, there are a number of ways that you can vary the dumbbell curl exercise for biceps workouts.

Incorporating different types of dumbbell curls for biceps workouts in your strength training program will allow you to take advantage of the nuanced differences in the muscle fibers activated by various types of biceps curls with dumbbells.

Here are some of the variations of biceps dumbbell curls exercises that you might try incorporating into your biceps and arm workouts with dumbbells: 

Seated Dumbbell Curls

When you do dumbbell biceps curls standing up, it’s easy to unintentionally use momentum or pop your hips forward as you curl to help hoist the weight.

Seated curls make it much harder to “cheat,” and force you to isolate the biceps.

Incline Biceps Curls

When you perform biceps dumbbell curls seated on an incline bench, your arms are able to extend behind your torso to maximize the range of motion of the exercise.

This movement pattern better matches the natural orientation of the muscle fibers in the long head of the biceps muscles.

Plus, you are seated, which offers the advantages just discussed.

Here is how to do incline dumbbell curls:

  1. Set a weight bench to an incline of about 60° and then lay back on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Extend your arms fully so that they are hanging down by your side. 
  3. Keep your shoulders pressed into the bench as you slowly curl the weights up to shoulder height and then back down. Make sure to keep your elbows pinned back.

Dumbbell Biceps Concentration Curls

Concentration curls are a great variation of the standard dumbbell curl since sitting down and using this particular curl grip truly isolates your biceps muscle on one arm at a time. 

Plus, this is a unilateral biceps exercise so you can focus on training your weaker arm to help correct any muscle imbalances in your arms.

This type of unilateral focus can be accomplished by doing more unilateral dumbbell curls with your weaker arm and fewer on the stronger side.

Training in this way can help you eventually increase your load with bilateral exercises because the “lagging“ muscle (weaker side) will now be able to carry a fair half of the load.

When doing concentration curls with dumbbells, you should be “concentrating“ on maintaining tension in your biceps during the entire range of motion of the movement. 

Stay present and focused and do not allow gravity to do any of the work on the way down.

Here is how to perform this biceps dumbbell curls exercise: 

  1. Sit on a weight bench with your feet at least three feet apart so that your arm can comfortably hang down between your two legs.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in just one hand.
  3. Rest your elbow of the working arm on the inside of the thigh on that leg.
  4. Slowly curl the dumbbell up “concentrating” (as the name suggests) on contracting your biceps as you do so. At the very top position of the movement, squeeze and flex your biceps muscle as much as possible before slowly returning to the starting position.

Dumbbell Biceps Hammer Curls

Dumbbell hammer curls change the grip position to target different muscle fibers in your biceps.1Brown, J. M., Solomon, C., & Paton, M. (1993). Further evidence of functional differentiation within biceps brachii. Electromyography and Clinical Neurophysiology33(5), 301–309. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8404567/

Instead of your palms being in a supinated grip facing away from your body in the starting position, your palms face towards one another throughout the entire curl movement.

This neutral wrist position tends to be more comfortable and natural for most lifters, allowing you to lift more weight to maximize your strength gains without straining the wrist flexors and extensors.

This variation of the dumbbell curl exercise also targets the biceps brachialis, which is a smaller muscle on the outer portion of your biceps, as well as the brachioradialis, which is the primary muscle in your forearms.

Here is how to do this biceps curls with dumbbells:

  1. Stand upright with good posture holding dumbbells down at your sides with your palms facing in 
  2. Contract your biceps to curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders, maintaining this neutral wrist position.
  3. Slowly lower the weights back down with control.
A person doing bicep curls.

How Many Dumbbell Curls Should I Do To See Good Results?

It is important to know how many dumbbell curls to do based on your fitness goal.

When structuring a strength training workout, the number of reps of an exercise that you do, be it dumbbell curls or any other movement, is only one part of the programming of the exercise into the workout.

The other components of training volume to consider are the number of sets and the weight that you are lifting, also known as the load.

Your primary training goal ultimately affects how many dumbbell curls you should do, and should be considered in the context of how much weight you should lift.

When considering fitness goals, there are three primary strength training goals generally discussed when programming exercises:

  • Increasing strength
  • Increasing mass (building muscle, also known as hypertrophy training)
  • Increasing muscular endurance
A person doing bicep curls.

How many reps of an exercise you should do is largely dependent on these fitness goals, as each dictates a different generalized approach to programming your workouts.

The following table provides recommendations for how many reps to do and how much weight to lift for different strength training goals based on the average guidelines from the American Council on Exercise (ACE)2How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/5867/how-many-reps-should-you-be-doing/and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.3Sands, W., Wurth, J., & Hewit, J. (2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) BASICS OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING MANUAL. https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf

Training GoalSetsRepsRest PeriodIntensity
General Fitness1-3 12-15 30 to 90 secondsVaries on exercise and ability level
Muscular Endurance3-4 >15 Up to 30 seconds<67% of 1RM
Hypertrophy (building muscle mass)3-6 8-12 30 to 90 seconds67% to 85% of 1RM
Muscle strength4-6 3-62 to 5 minutes>85% of 1RM
Power3-51-52 to 5 minutes85%–100% of 1RM 

To learn more about the number of reps and sets you should do in your workouts to build muscle, check out our guide to hypertrophy reps and sets here.

A person doing bicep curls.


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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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