Although technically a compound exercise, Drag Curls really isolate the biceps muscle by limiting the amount of help the front deltoid muscle can provide to lift the weight.
Drag Curls are also called Body Drag Curls because you will almost be dragging the barbell up the body. You don’t want to make actual contact with the body as this would add additional resistance to the barbell.
To do Drag Curls you will keep the barbell in line with the body during the curl by pushing the elbows back as far as possible while you raise the barbell up.
Drag Curls vs Regular Curls
The difference between standard barbell curls and Drag Curls is the direction the bar moves.
Rather than the barbell moving in an arc as with a regular curl, the barbell will move straight up and down during Drag Curls.
During a standard barbell curl the barbell moves in an arc motion. It’s closest to the body at the top and bottom of the rep but farthest away from the body at mid-range.
Because gravity always pulls the free weight straight down, the amount of tension (or torque created) in the biceps muscle will be determined by the horizontal distance between the weight (force) and the pivot point (elbow joint).
This causes the tension on the biceps muscle to be greatest only in the mid-range of a rep when the barbell is furthest away from the body, straight out in front of the elbow joint (pivot point).
The tension in the biceps muscle at the bottom and top of the range of motion will be low because the elbow joint is almost right above or below the weight.
Now, since the biceps muscle actually attaches across the shoulder joint, one minor function of the biceps muscle is to help pull the arm/elbow out in front and to the side of the body to get a full muscle contraction.
You can’t get a full biceps muscle contraction unless the arm/elbow extends to shoulder height and above actually.
This is why exercises like Spider Curls and overhead curls work really for well getting a peak biceps muscle contraction.
BUT, the front deltoid muscle is also needed to raise the arm out in front of the body as would happen in a front lateral raise.
This means if you allow the elbow to move forward at the end of a standard free weight barbell curl to get a better biceps muscle contraction, the front deltoid muscle will be supporting most of the weight at the top of the rep since the elbow joint will now be directly underneath the barbell.
During Drag Curls the barbell will move straight up and down in front of the body instead of in an arc out in front of the body.
This means the tension in the biceps muscle during Drag Curls will increase during the rep and be greatest at the top rather than at mid-range as with standard curls.
Since the elbows are not out in front of the body, this DOES prevent you from getting a full biceps muscle contraction.
HOWEVER the big benefit to Drag Curls is that most people actually feel a stronger contraction over regular curls since the tension is now greatest at the top of the curl rather than mid-range.
How to Do Drag Curls (Body Drag Curls)
- Since you will be isolating the biceps, you will probably need to use less weight than during a regular curl.
- Grab the barbell with an underhand palms up (supinated) grip with the hands about shoulder width apart.
- Use a narrower grip (hands closer together than the elbows are) to stress more of the long head of the biceps muscle on the outside of the arm (which gives the biceps muscle its peak).
- Hold the barbell against the upper thighs and stick the chest out by pulling the shoulders back.
- Curl the barbell up by keeping it close to the body during the whole rep.
- The elbows must move behind the body rather than staying at your sides.
- At the top of the rep the elbows will be as far back as possible with the forearms almost parallel with the floor. If you have big arms already, it might be difficult to get this full range of motion so just curl as high as possible.
Although I haven’t found where Vince taught it, some people will continue the rep and raise the bar to their neck by allowing the elbows to come forward (as with a standard curl). BUT this can transfer a lot of the weight back to the front deltoid muscle and off the biceps muscle which is what we’re trying to avoid.
Different Ways to Do Drag Curls
Drag Curls with a barbell are just one way they can be done.
- You can also do Drag Curls on a Smith Machine or with cables.
- Reverse Drag Curls can be used instead with an overhand palms facing downwards grip (pronated) if you want to work more on forearm strength and size. Vince recommends keeping the thumbs on top of the barbell next to the fingers to really stress the forearm muscles.
- Dumbbell Drag Curls are also another option which allow you to get the elbows even further behind the body.