Popularized by Physical Therapist and strength coach Jeff Cavaliere, C.S.C.S. (the founder of Athlean-X), waiter curls are a fantastic way to grow and develop your biceps. The movement involves a close grip with the wrists bent back, which helps to isolate and activate the outer, long head of the bicep better than a lot of other bicep exercises. This can help combat underdeveloped outer biceps, as well as creating a more prominent “peak” in the biceps.
If you’re on the hunt for a more effective bicep workout, or are particularly interested in developing strength and definition in the longer, outer part of the bicep, then waiter curls could very well be the answer.
In this waiter curl exercise guide, we outline everything you need to know, including how to perform them safely, benefits, muscles worked and tips for making the most out of them.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in…
How to do Dumbbell Waiter Curls
- Rest the flat side of a single dumbbell on both your hands. You’ll probably find dumbbells that use plates are easier to do this with. It is important to rest the dumbbell plate on your hands, instead of “holding” the dumbbell. Holding the dumbbells will require grip and consequently activate the forearms. The purpose of the exercise is to try and isolate the biceps, so by resting the dumbbell on your hands, you are focusing exclusively on contracting the biceps to lift the dumbbell.
- Your wrists will stay bent back (so your palms face upwards) during the whole movement to provide a flat surface for the dumbbell to rest on, but also to open up the bicep heads more during the movement.
- Start the movement with arms slightly bent, with the dumbbell resting on your hands. Contract your biceps to lift the dumbbell upwards by bending at the elbows. Hold for a moment, before slowly lowering the dumbbell back down.
- The dumbbell should not rotate as your palms should remain facing upwards.
Coach’s Tip – Like any sort of bicep curl, form is everything… so keep your back straight and squeeze your shoulder blades together to adopt good posture during the movement.
Waiter Curl Benefits
One of the reasons we like the waiter curl so much is that it is actually a very versatile exercise. By selecting quite a heavy dumbbell, you can really focus on developing explosive power and strength in the biceps by isolating them during the movement. Alternatively, you can opt for a lighter dumbbell and use the exercise to create definition in the arms.
If you’re looking for bicep isolation movements, it’s hard to argue against the value of waiter curls. Due to the subtle change in grip and keeping your palms facing upwards, it helps to open up the biceps and put more emphasis on the contraction of the bicep muscles during the exercise.
If you want to truly isolate the biceps and only have access to dumbbells, this is a great exercise to try.
Due to the ability to really isolate the bicep at the top of the movement, waiter curls are a popular way to create more of a “peak” to the biceps. It allows you to add size and definition to the biceps more efficiently than with a lot of other traditional bicep exercises and curls.
The close grip of the waiter curl also helps activate the outer head, which might have been neglected if you tend to just do the same bicep exercises each workout.
Perfect for Home Workouts
When you’re in the gym, you’re more likely to have access to equipment like a preacher curl machine, that really allows you to isolate the biceps effectively… but most of us don’t have such equipment at home.
This means finding exercises that can create the results we want, without requiring expensive equipment is a huge bonus for home workouts.
Waiter curls provide this opportunity to isolate the biceps really effectively without needing anything but a single dumbbell.
Waiter Curl Muscles Worked
Waiter curls primarily target the biceps (biceps brachii). They will also activate the forearms.
The core muscles and shoulders will also be engaged to a lesser degree, providing stability during the movement.
Waiter Curls Vs Hammer Curls
Although waiter curls and hammer curls are both primarily variations of the bicep curl, they do serve quite different purposes.
Waiter curls are better at isolating the biceps, whereas hammer curls are better at strengthening your grip, forearms and biceps.
Effective workouts will include a variety of exercises, so it’s good to include both waiter and hammer curls into your workouts and mix and match over time to keep the biceps working hard.
Waiter Curls with a Barbell Plate
It would usually be recommended to do waiter curls with a dumbbell, however, similar results could be gained from resting a barbell plate on your hands.
As the name suggests, the aim and focus of the movement is really to rest a weight on your hands like a waiter does when bringing food to a table in a restaurant.
You’ll likely find a barbell plate harder to hold due to the size.
A plate does give you more space to try and find a comfortable position though, but it’s harder to keep your palms facing up during the whole movement compared to a dumbbell.
Waiter Curl Alternatives
Some people do complain of discomfort or pain in their wrists when they perform waiter curls. If this is the case, it’s better to switch up to a different bicep exercise to avoid making things worse.
Luckily, there are a whole host of other exercises that help to grow and develop the biceps so you should be able to find one that suits you better.
Spiderman curls basically involve doing a bicep curl on an incline bench (facing the bench). The incline helps isolate the biceps more and removes any possibility of using momentum (or rocking) to help lift the weight.
This is great at focusing more exclusively on the contraction of the biceps to lift the weight.
Spiderman curls can be done using a barbell or dumbbells, and you could adopt different grips to change up how you are targeting the biceps.
Preacher curls are another great way to isolate the biceps. They are usually performed on a preacher curl machine, or a bench. By resting your arms on the bench, you’re removing the ability to leverage momentum to help lift the weight, so it helps to ensure the movement is focused on the contraction of the biceps.
Incline Dumbbell Curl
The incline dumbbell curl is a great alternative to the waiter curl for those looking to target the outer head of the bicep. The movement involves performing a dumbbell curl on an incline bench, creating an increased range of motion and keeps the outer part of the bicep engaged for longer.
Similarly, an incline hammer curl would also be a consideration.
Waiter curls are a great exercise to isolate the bicep. The requirement of the wrists to bend backwards to keep your palms facing up may feel unusual or provide discomfort, so the movement may not be for everyone. Nevertheless, if you’re looking at ways to train your arms, waiter curls are certainly worth giving a go and seeing if you find them effective.
If you do give them a try, like any new strength training exercise, start light and only increase the weight once you feel comfortable with the movement.