I’m a personal trainer and this is the compound move I make all my clients do to get strong, toned arms

Introducing the Zottman curl—a powerhouse move for serious arm gains

Woman doing bicep curl in a gym with dumbbell
(Image credit: Getty Images)

I'm a personal trainer and one of the most common questions I get asked by my clients is how do I improve my upper-body strength? I usually recommend this simple compound move: the Zottman curl. It's a hybrid of a traditional bicep curl and a reverse curl that can level up your arms workout.

It targets both heads of the biceps, as well as the forearms (brachioradialis) and the core. It is also phenomenal for improving grip strength—a useful indicator of overall health..

You need a pair of dumbbells to do it. I like this cheap adjustable spinlock set on Amazon, which costs less than $60 and lets you change the load to suit your fitness level.

How to do the Zottman Curl

  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand, keeping arms close to your side.
  • With palms facing up (supinated grip), curl the weights up like you would in a standard bicep curl.
  • When you get to the top of the lift, rotate your arms so that your palms are facing away from you (pronated grip).
  • Then slowly and with control lower the weights back down to start position.

Form tips

  • Pin elbows close to your sides to avoid using momentum to swing the weights up.
  • Lower slowly with control following a 3:1 tempo (lowering for the count of three and lifting for the count of one) and fully extend your elbows at the bottom.
  • Some clients say their wrists hurt when the palms are pronated. If this is you, flip the wrists at the top to a neutral position (palms facing each other) and lower down as a hammer curl instead.

Why I like this move

Compound exercises engage several muscles at the same time, making them a time-efficient way to work out. They differ from isolation exercises, such as the traditional bicep curl, which works a single muscle group—the biceps. Compound moves mimic real-life movements, so they help prepare and strengthen your body for everyday actions.

This movement combines a supine and prone grip, maximizing the amount of muscles activated. Generally, a supinated (palms up) grip will emphasize the biceps-brachii, the large two-headed muscle in the front of the upper arm. While supinated curls are great, we don’t tend to do pronated curls (palms down) as often. But this type of grip specifically targets the brachioradialis (forearms) and brachialis, located deep in the upper arm behind the biceps brachii, responsible for elbow flexion.

By targeting these muscles you will improve grip strength, elbow stability and overall arm strength.

Maddy Biddulph

Maddy Biddulph is a freelance journalist specializing in fitness, health and wellbeing content. With 26 years in consumer media, she has worked as a writer and editor for some of the bestselling newspapers, magazines and websites in the US and UK. 

She is also a qualified L3 personal trainer and weight loss advisor, and helps women over 40 navigate menopause by improving their physical and mental strength. At Maddy Biddulph Personal Training, she runs one-to-one and small group training for menopausal women who want to get fit to ease symptoms and feel like themselves again.