Author, fitness model, and trainer Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.
More than ten years ago, before I became a trainer, one of my gym buddies turned me onto a new biceps exercise as he was prepping for a physique competition in the over 50 division. But I didn’t quite get the move, the spider curl, which is performed on an incline bench—I thought I would burn more energy if I curled while standing. Plus, I thought he was being a little lazy about working out.
Little did I know, my buddy also had a lower back issue, so he was a cautious about nearly every exercise in the gym. On days where he wanted to rest his back a bit, he used the bench to relieve some of the pressure and get off his feet. The spider curl isn’t actually lazy; it’s all a matter of positioning. The move can be highly effective and add variety to your workouts when executed with proper form.
Now that I’m getting older, I do the same thing, too. I like to take pressure off my lower back, legs, and feet when my lower body has taken a beating from other parts of my workout program.
To set up, adjust your bench to a 45-degree angle relative to the floor. Sit on the bench, with your chest on the pad. Your toes should be on the floor comfortably while you’re squeezing your glutes as tight as possible. The most important part of the setup is to not slump your back and shoulders. That’s the big mistake I made when I started doing the spider curl in the past. You want to lift your chest slightly off the bench and squeeze your shoulder blades together, which locks your shoulders, midback ,and upper back into the right position.
To execute the movement, start with a light weights. With your arm hanging comfortably straight down to the floor, the dumbbell should be slightly facing forward, which puts your shoulder in the safest position and avoids any rotator cuff problems. From that point, simply curl the dumbbell up from the elbow. As you raise the dumbbell, twist your palm upward as much as possible so it faces the ceiling (supination of the forearm). Hold your position at the top of the curl and squeeze your biceps for a moment. Then release slowly back to the down position. That’s one rep.
The key to the execution of the spider curl is to always keep your upper arm perpendicular to the floor. The elbow should not move forward or backward, nor should the shoulder shift position. If you’re making those compensations to lift the dumbbell, immediately drop to a lower weight that you can control. The only movement should be flexing at the elbow. This is the real benefit of the exercise as a muscle builder—your position on the bench prevents you from using any other muscles to assist in lifting the weight.
For the man over 40, the beauty of the spider curl is that it’s a great isolation move for the biceps with less stress. This exercise can be tougher than you think, so I would recommend 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps on arm days to get started.
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