Who needs curls?
No matter how much older and wiser you’ve grown, or how wholeheartedly you profess to embrace the virtues of “functional fitness,” or how many years have elapsed since the days when you’d get fired up for a gym visit by watching grainy Kazaa clips of Pumping Iron and flexing in front of a bathroom mirror, deep down, you still really, really love doing biceps curls. It’s okay. This is a very safe space for the remaining vestiges of your latent juvenile vanity. (Wait, you did do that, right? No, me neither. I was talking about a friend. A friend, not me. Forget it. Let’s move on.)
Although everyone has a favorite biceps lift that remains particularly close to their heart, the most popular ones, according to my rough survey of the average weight room floor, are almost always some variety of curl. However, it turns out that many of these beloved movements might be giant wastes of time, because what you really should be doing here are chin-ups. A 2014 study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise examined at the muscle activation caused by eight of the most common biceps exercises. The winner was the concentration curl, which outpaced its closest competitor—the cable curl—by roughly 20 percent. But right behind that was the lowly, workmanlike chin-up, taking home the bronze and in the process beating out a host of time-honored weight room classics, including the barbell curl, the incline curl, the preacher curls, and the EZ bar curl of both the wide- and narrow-grip varieties.
Now, if the only thing that mattered in your adult fitness regimen were biceps activation, you might consider spending the rest of your arms days sitting on a frayed bench, hunched over awkwardly like an especially sweaty version of The Thinker and cranking out biceps curls until you have trouble gripping the steering wheel on the way home. But as you are doubtless aware, the chin-up also involves a bunch of other muscle groups that you’re probably interested in working, too, including the lats, traps, and chest. (Yes, really. The chest!) This makes the chin-up a more efficient option than its freeweight-based brethren, which is good, because the less time you have to spend inside a cramped, crowded, no-A/C-having weight room, the better.
The single best part about the chin-up, though, is that performing it doesn’t require you to procure access to a complete set of dumbbells, barbells, and Olympic plates. All you need is a horizontal bar of some kind, and if gyms aren’t for you, chances are good that there’s one at a public park within jogging distance. For the outdoorsmen and/or craftsman home enthusiasts, a sturdy tree or an exposed cross-bean will do just fine in a pinch, too. If you’re so inclined, you can even mount a bar on a doorframe in the privacy of your own home. (I implore you, though: Test it very thoroughly before putting your security deposit on the line like that. Let’s be smart here, people)
Here’s Your SURFSET Upper Body Workout
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