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Nilsson Curls

It’s common bodybuilding knowledge that compound exercises are better for building mass than isolation exercises; yet the staple exercises of most biceps routines are isolation moves like barbell and dumbbells curls. The fact is those are not optimal for biceps growth, but Nilsson curls solve the problem in a big way.

The Nilsson curl is a compound biceps exercise that will build mass as nothing else can. It’s a chinup movement that uses an adjusted setup to transform it into a strict biceps exercise, putting the majority of your bodyweight resistance directly on your biceps.

To perform it, you’ll need a power rack. There are two ways to set it up.

First, if you have rails that slide out, set one rail through the highest set of holes and the other rail below it on the same side about a foot down (it’ll look like rungs of a ladder).

If you don’t have a rail setup, use two Olympic bars, one in the racking pins, set as high as possible and the other set on the safety rails about a foot or so below.

Grip the top bar and press your forearms so they’re braced against the bottom bar, just above the elbows. The bracing is the key to the exercise, as it locks your forearms into a vertical position.

When you do a normal chinup, your forearms are able to move freely, making the shoulder joint the focus of the exercise. The lats are the primary movers, and the biceps are secondary.

When you lock your forearms into a vertical position like this, the focus of the movement changes from the shoulder joint to the elbow joint—and we all know what the primary elbow flexor is, right? The biceps.

So the lats become the secondary movers, and the biceps become the primary movers.

Grip the bar hard and pull yourself up, using what is essentially a bodyweight curling movement. Instead of trying to pull your body directly up, as with a chinup, come out and around in an arc. That will put maximum tension on your biceps.

Come all the way up as high as you can and squeeze. Your biceps will be screaming on the very first rep. Lower slowly and under control—because your forearms are braced, you do not want to crash into the bottom.

Repeat for as many reps as you can get with good form.

This exercise does require a fair bit of starting strength. You should be able to perform at least 10 regular chinups before attempting it. If you’re stronger and you need a little more resistance, you can also hold a dumbbell between your feet to add to your bodyweight.

In addition to allowing you to use substantially more resistance than a barbell curl, this exercise is a closed-chain movement—one in which the hand or foot is fixed and the body moves around it; e.g., pushups and squats.

Closed-chain movements are generally considered more functional and tend to activate more muscle fibers—and that means more muscle growth. This exercise is guaranteed to get you some strange looks in the gym, but your biceps are guaranteed new growth stimulation—which will soon have you turning heads in a good way.

—Nick Nillson


Editor’s note: To get a copy of Nick’s Muscle Explosion—28 Days to Maximum Mass, visit his Web site,


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