While standard bicep curls are the foundation of many arm workouts, there’ll likely come a point where you need to challenge the working muscles in different (and potentially more effective) ways.
This is where exercises such as zottman curls and reverse curls come in.
Although both are based on a standard bicep curl, they’re quite challenging additions to your training program.
In this article, we compare zottman curls and reverse curls to see if one is better than the other, or if there is room for both on your journey to bigger and stronger arms.
What’s The Difference Between Zottman Curls And Reverse Curls?
When it comes to the look and movement of the two exercises, reverse curls involve a straight up and down movement whereas zottman curls incorporate rotation into the movement.
Reverse curls put a lot of focus on your forearm muscles (although your biceps clearly get worked too).
Zottman curls bring your forearms and your biceps into the exercise in pretty much equal measure due to the change in grip through the movement.
Your grip remains pronated (palms-down) during reverse curls but it will change from supinated (palms-up) to pronated (palms-down) during zottman curls.
Which Is Better For Building Biceps?
Both zottman curls and reverse curls are based on standard bicep curls where your biceps are the primary muscle being worked.
This is why they’re both good additions to any bicep-building program.
Zottman curls have a slight advantage when it comes to building biceps though, as the upward phase of the movement uses a supinated grip which is much better for targeting your biceps.
As reverse curls use a pronated grip throughout, your biceps activate a little less.
Which Is Better For Building Forearms?
Zottman curls and reverse curls are great for building forearms.
It’s hard to say whether one is better than the other, as there are a few things to consider.
Firstly, reverse curls keep your forearms under stress throughout the entire exercise due to the pronated grip used.
That being said, the lowering phase of zottman curls heavily targets your forearms.
During this part of the movement, your forearms are overloaded to a greater extent than they are during reverse curls.
This makes things difficult when it comes to choosing which is better for forearms.
Reverse curls keep your forearms under stress at all times, but zottman curls overload them to a greater extent.
Zottman curls can be a tough exercise to do simply because of the complexity of the movement involved.
The rotational aspect from supinated to a pronated grip is not a simple move. And a lot of muscle groups and joints are working at various points throughout the movement.
Reverse curls are a pretty basic exercise (in terms of movement) that most people will find fairly easy to perform.
The movement comes from flexion of the elbow, so unless you have elbow or wrist issues, reverse curls have a low difficulty level.
Zottman curls have a greater level of difficulty than reverse curls.
With the rotational movement and the increase in muscle groups being worked, zottman curls are quite a challenging exercise.
Ease of Access
You only need a set of dumbbells to perform zottman curls so they have great accessibility.
Dumbbells are basic gym equipment that can be found in any fitness environment, so you shouldn’t have too many issues adding zottman curls to your training plan.
Reverse curls are usually performed with a barbell or dumbbells.
As both of these are very common in gym environments, reverse curls are a super accessible exercise.
Both zottman curls and reverse curls have great ease of access.
These two exercises only require very basic and very common gym equipment, so finding what you need should be easy.
When it comes to variability, zottman curls don’t perform too well.
There are very few variations of the exercise due to their complex movement.
You could do zottman curls sitting down on an incline bench instead of standing.
Or you could do them one arm at a time rather than both arms simultaneously.
Other than these small changes though, zottman curls offer very low levels of variability.
Reverse curls can be done with dumbbells, a barbell, an EZ bar, or even on a cable station.
They offer relatively good levels of variability as you can use multiple pieces of equipment to perform the exercise equally as effectively as their standard version.
Reverse curls offer greater variability than zottman curls.
As you can make use of various pieces of gym equipment to perform reverse curls, you can adapt them in various ways to suit your preferences and the equipment available to you.
Zottman curls can only be performed with dumbbells, so other than changing your body position, you have very little room for adaptation.
Zottman Curls vs Reverse Curls: Which Is Better?
Both zottman curls and reverse curls are great additions to arm-building programs.
Deciding which is the better exercise will likely come down to what you are trying to achieve in the gym.
If you want an arm exercise that primarily focuses on forearm activation while still helping to build your biceps, has a low level of difficulty and has several variability options, reverse curls would be considered the better option.
However, if you are looking for a more challenging arm exercise that works your biceps and forearms in equal measure and has great ease of access, zottman curls could be a better option for you.
Ultimately, your personal preferences will probably play a big part in the exercise you choose to add to your training program.
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.