Q: I’ve always liked the feel of barbell curls over dumbbells. More control maybe? Are they really that inefficient? Should I go to dumbbells for better gains?
A: I’m all for using exercises you like—if they’re not too inefficient or dangerous. There’s nothing worse than hating your workout—although saying “You too” after the gym counter girl says “Have a great workout” is close.
Seriously, use barbell curls. I use slightly inefficient versions of some of the ideal exercises, especially when I was training with bare-bones equipment—a 50-pound PowerBlock dumbbell set, an adjustable bench, and a doorway chinning bar, as chronicled in the Old Man, Young Muscle workout.
For example, I used a one-arm lat pull on my doorway chining bar as my ideal lat exercise because I didn’t have any way of doing cable lat pull-ins.
And even now that I do have cables, I use both arms at the same time on pull-ins. As with you and barbell curls, I just feel them better in the target muscle.
How much more growth will you stimulate with the one-arm version as opposed to the way I’m doing them? Perhaps some, but not enough to warrant me doing them one arm and not liking the feel and adding time to my workouts.
Of course, for some exercises you have no choice but to do them with only one arm, like low-incline one-arm laterals. If you’ve read OMYM, you know why standing two-arm laterals are not in the ideal-exercise category—and it has nothing to do with the fact that you use both arms at once.
A dog-shit resistance curve is the big player there.
I would suggest rotating in dumbbell curls every so often if you can—either both arms at once or alternating. Or even separate-handle cable curls.
Putting up with a tiny bit of disdain can help launch some change to gain.
Your Efficient Mass-Building Handbook: For more mass-building tips like the above plus complete workouts that include the ideal exercise for each muscle and the best stretch and contracted add-on moves, get your copy of Old Man, Young Muscle.
Till next time, train hard—and smart—for BIG results.
Former Editor in Chief, Iron Man Magazine
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