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I work out at home and do not have adequately weighted dumbells or barbell for arm curls for my biceps, however, I do have a pullup bar and do them every other day 5 sets of 6 reps all the way down (arms fully extended), fingers forward.

Is this a sufficient alternative to arm curls for my biceps or would arm curls accomplish something that the pullups do not?

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    Doing chinups is as effective as doing bicep curls, so in that regard it's a perfect alternative for bicep curls. The only issue is that it's a lot harder to do progressive overload because you can only doing so much in changing the intensity. (i.e. making it easier with elastic bands or harder with added weight)
    – MJB
    Jun 9, 2022 at 8:44

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Note that I have 15 years of weight lifting experience; that is, over the course of the last 15 years, I've lifted weights the entire time without any significant pauses more than 2 weeks, and my answer here is based off of my own experience as well as any references.

In short, NO, pull-ups cannot replace biceps curls, but at least if you perform chin-ups you can get the motion to be a bit more similar to curls.

First off, the pull-up is an exercise that is traditionally used to target the back, and while the biceps may work, they are in more supportive role, rather than a primary role. However, you can also somewhat control this by emphasizing certain parts of the movement. Nevertheless, I would not say that pullups in any way are the best exercise for building the biceps muscle.

That being said, you stated you you are using a "fingers forward" grip. This is technically a pronated grip. If you flip your hands around so that your fingers are pointing towards you, you assume a supinated grip, and would be performing chin ups. This article explains the difference in more detail with illustrations as well, but it will generally allow you to work the biceps harder than a pullup.

Again, both of these exercises are still considered mainly back exercises, but it's possible for you to emphasize and isolate the biceps more when performing the chinup movement. For example, if you were to focus on strictly the arms, truncate the motion by not going down as deep, it will work the biceps much more. I actually do this in the gym today, and I experience a nice "burn" in my biceps when I do it.

I would state with certainty that performing only pullups in place of curls would result in less biceps muscle gains vs. performing either only curls or curls and pullups.

I cannot state definitively how performing only curls vs. only biceps-focused chinups would affect your biceps muscle gains or losses, as there has never been a time when I did only those exercises in isolation.

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  • i think it's harder with finger forward. i do it exactly like the guy on this page
    – amphibient
    Jun 8, 2022 at 18:35
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    @amphibient there's a strong argument that the reason why it is harder with a pronated (fingers forward) grip is that this orientation prevents the biceps from helping, so the lats have to do more work to compensate for that. So if you want to work the biceps, this is not the grip to use. Jun 9, 2022 at 4:43
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Bret Contreras did some very interesting work on this subject for T-Nation where he measured muscle activation using EMG and documented mean and peak activation of muscles for a bunch of different exercises. These were the results of studies on biceps:

Mean: Weighted Wide Parallel-Grip Pull-up, Weighted Chin-up, Barbell Curl

Peak: Weighted Chin-up, Weighted Wide Parallel-Grip Pull-up, EZ-Bar Curl

(AFAIK this has not published as a peer-reviewed article, so perhaps you shouldn't take this as the word of God.)

Which is better between higher mean and higher peak activation is a bit out there and likely depends on what you're after (more explanation in another article in the same series), but I'd say the results suggest that chin-ups and curls are about equally good at hitting biceps.

Is this a sufficient alternative to arm curls for my biceps or would arm curls accomplish something that the pullups do not?

Doing pull-ups (especially the chin-up variation) is a great way to work biceps (as always, you may want to focus on working the right muscles if size is your goal). In addition to this you will also hit your lats and (as it turns out) your abs. You get a lot in return for the time you invest, and for most people's definition of "sufficient", I'd say this is sufficient...

... but that doesn't mean curls don't have their advantages. First, since they don't hit a bunch of other muscles, you can really squeeze every single bit of strength out of your biceps without being limited by other muscles. This is further facilitated by the fact that it's not a body-weight exercise, so you can work with lower weights.

If I was doing home exercises, I wouldn't fret about my biceps (I would, however, fret about my legs, because body-weight leg exercises tend to be boring, painful, ineffective, or all of the above). Still, it's pretty easy to construct a good-enough make-shift dumbbell - put an appropriate amount of heavy stuff in a sturdy bag, and start curling.

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  • i agree. I've heard chinups are perfect because its one of the few functional hypertrophy moves for biceps, if you want to build functional athletic muscle. Doing curls is great for bodybuilding, but hardly every will curling a bar or dumbbells transfer well to real life. Just like leg extensions are great for leg muscles but youll get much farther outside the gym doing squats
    – user32213
    Jun 13, 2022 at 4:54

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