Hi. I have a confession to make.
It’s sort of a controversial one. Many would even consider it highly embarrassing. I’m not really sure what the best way is to say it, so I guess I’ll just come right out with it…
I do curls in the squat rack.
And not just a few times, either. I’ve done it literally hundreds of times. Hell, I’d say that 95% of the times that I’ve done barbell biceps curls in my life, I’ve done them in the squat rack.
You know what else? I think it’s great, and you should do it too.
Confused? Let’s start from the beginning…
Squats = The GREATEST Thing In The World!!!!!
You see, the squat rack is regarded as the most sacred of all places inside of every gym in the world. It’s the place where many “big boy” exercises are regularly performed by the lifters who have the balls to do them.
Chief among those exercises however is the one this holy rack is built for and named after… the almighty squat. [cue the trumpets!]
In case you didn’t know, the squat is widely regarded as one of, if not THE king of all weight training exercises. Regardless of your goal, it’s the exercise some feel everyone MUST be doing if they intend to gain as much strength and muscle mass as possible.
So while exercises like the deadlift and bench press get a lot of attention among serious trainees, squats are considered as effective, important, required, manly and hardcore as it gets in many people’s minds.
And if you want to know how wide spread this opinion is, just stop by your favorite weight training forum and attempt to even insinuate that you don’t do squats or don’t want to do squats or don’t enjoy squatting. After about 100 people take turns calling you every possible synonym for “clueless little pussy” you can think of, you’ll understand what I mean.
Basically, squats are thought of by many as the be all and end all of weight training. Period. End of discussion. If you ever disagree or doubt this fact, then may God have mercy on your soul.
On the other hand…
Biceps Curls = The WORST Thing In The World!!!!!
Now imagine if you will the complete opposite of everything I just described. Got it? Good. That’s how biceps curls are usually viewed by these very same people.
Basically, if squats are the most hardcore and manly exercise in the world that is unparalleled in its ability to produce strength and muscle, then biceps curls are its pathetic little bitch.
Squats are this huge compound exercise that involves putting hundreds of pounds of weight on a bar across your upper back and using more muscle groups than you even knew you had to move it through its intended range of motion (ass to ground or it doesn’t count, bro!).
And biceps curls? Ha. That’s little, dainty, girly, isolation, arm-toning nonsense. Squats are for people who want to get big and powerful and know what they’re doing. Curls are for people who don’t know anything about anything and just want to look pretty.
Many people will even go as far as to say that curls are just a big waste of time in the first place. Some will even go a big step further and claim squats will make your biceps bigger than curling ever will.
So, in summary… squats are awesome and curls are for pussies. With me so far? Cool.
Now that you understand how these 2 exercises are typically perceived in the weight training world, and you also understand that squats can usually only be done within a rack while biceps curls can be done anywhere you can fit a barbell, you end up with one final scenario…
Curling In The Squat Rack = The Motherf*cking Apocalypse!!!!!
It’s simultaneously one of the absolute worst things you could ever do inside of a gym and the biggest running inside joke among every serious trainee and their circle of equally serious forum buddies and hardcore gym pals.
People are told to avoid it like the act itself will give you 100 years of bad luck and they speak of it mostly via internet memes. It is considered training blasphemy and viewed as something you only laugh at or complain about when you see it happen.
It is curling in the squat rack.
What, you think I’m exaggerating? HA! The proof is out there. Just open up another tab in your browser and search for something like “curling in the squat rack.” The hate you find will be stronger than you can even imagine.
I Still Do My Curls In The Squat Rack Anyway
It’s true. I always do. Well, at least I always did. As I mentioned recently, straight bar curls have slowly begun to bother the hell out of my wrists and elbows, so I’ve now dropped them permanently in favor of various dumbbell curls and the EZ-curl bar.
But nearly all of the straight bar curling I’ve done since 1999 has taken place in the squat rack. I can think of a few reasons why…
- It’s more of a curl rack anyway.
If you train in a typical public gym like I do, the squat rack is literally more of a curl rack already. Meaning, the majority of its usage is from people doing curls (or sometimes shrugs and upright rows), not squats. So when I curl in the squat rack, I’m not preventing people from squatting. I’m mostly just preventing other people from curling.
- There’s nowhere else to do them.
Again, I don’t know what it’s like in your gym, but in mine, it’s pretty hard to find an empty bar and an empty spot to use it in. There’s equipment and people everywhere. By the time I find some magically accessible location (hallway? lobby? bathroom stall?), I could have already finished and been on my way home. And back to #1… when it comes to actually doing squats, the squat rack is probably the emptiest area in my gym. Perfect place for some curls if you ask me.
- There isn’t always an extra bar.
Plus, there just aren’t many spare barbells in my gym. There tends to be one for every rack and bench, so even if I take a bar from a rack and use it somewhere else, the rack becomes free for someone to do squats, but they just won’t have a bar to do them with. Might as well just use the bar in the rack where it belongs.
- It’s more comfortable.
If I had to choose between picking up the bar from thigh height in a rack or deadlifting it off the floor to start and (and end) each set, I’d much rather the former. Everyone would. Especially after you just finished doing other harder/more important upper body stuff a few minutes earlier. The less unnecessary work I have to do at this point, the better.
- I’m done in a second.
I rarely do more than 2 or 3 sets of curls. How long does that take? 5 minutes? I’m in and out before most anti-curling-hardcore-squatters tighten their belts, chalk up the bar, take off their shoes, drink a gallon of milk or whatever the F is it they do upon stepping into the holy cage of testosterone.
So when you take all of that into account, why the hell shouldn’t I curl in the squat rack? Other than that the idea of it may make me appear less cool to some clueless insecure 16 year olds on some forum who do quarter reps with 135lbs?
You have no good answer, do you? I didn’t think so.
But There Is Definitely Some Squat Rack Etiquette
Now, despite everything I just said, I still definitely feel squatters have the right-of-way to the rack over a curler, or a shrugger, or an upright rower, or whatever else. No doubt about that at all.
The reason why is pretty simple and I actually mentioned it earlier. For most people, squats can ONLY be done in the rack. Curls (and nearly every other exercise) can always be done somewhere else. It may be a big pain in the ass to do so, but when it’s “pain in the ass” vs “impossible to do” the winner is quite clear…
That’s why during the many times when I’m in the middle of curling in the squat rack and another lifter asks me how many more sets I have, I ALWAYS ask what they’re going to be doing and if they want to work in (even if I have just 1 more to go).
If I had to guess, here’s how I’d break down the answers I’ve heard over the years:
- 50% of the time the answer is curls (and 50% of those times, they work in).
- 25% of the time it’s shrugs or upright rows.
- 10% of the time it’s overhead press or bent over rows.
- 5% of the time it’s deadlifts.
- 5% of the time it’s squats.
- 5% of the time my iPod is too loud and I didn’t hear their answer but still nodded like I did.
And those rare occasions when someone actually responds with squats? I always offer to pick up my stuff and give up the rack (and bar) so they can squat and I can finish curling somewhere else.
Hardly anyone has ever taken me up on this offer (most realize I’ll be done in about 3 minutes), but I do it anyway for the good of humanity and because it’s just proper gym etiquette.
And if there’s ever anyone already in the rack doing squats, I usually don’t even attempt to find out how many more they have. I’ll leave them alone the same way I wish everyone else would leave me alone when I’m doing heavy important shit.
Plus in both cases, it’s amusing to watch a surprisingly high percentage of these people proceed to squat in a way that makes my curls look infinitely more manly and hardcore.
Honestly, I don’t know where most squatters get the balls to laugh at the curlers. Spend enough time in a typical gym and you’ll see enough pathetic attempts at squatting to realize it should often be the other way around.
Yeah, I’ll say it. Stop doing your half rep squats in my curl rack, bro.
Squats vs Curls: Some Clarifications
And because I know some people will misunderstand everything I just said and instead come away with something like “this guy thinks you should do curls instead of squats” or “this guy thinks squats don’t work” or something equally stupid, I just want to add some clarifications.
I like squats.
First, I’m not a hater of the squat at all. I’ll quote myself from a previous article:
I love squats and am fully aware of how effective they are, how often recommended they are, and how they are single-handedly responsible for building some of the biggest, strongest, most impressive looking legs in the world.
The benefits of this exercise are not lost on me at all. Having said that though, the notion that EVERYONE MUST DO SQUATS regardless of their goals, body type, training preferences, etc. is just bullshit. Unless you’re a competitive powerlifter or something similar… there is no one who truly NEEDS to squat.
Sure, most will certainly benefit from doing so anyway, but it’s not a requirement at all for building muscle or getting strong. It’s just one of many useful tools in that pursuit.
And while I agree that squats are often a fantastic exercise that most people should be doing, and I am well aware of the entertainment value of being all HaRDCoRe and “squats and milk FTW!” and so on, the reality is there are some people who just aren’t built for them.
These people may even benefit from [gasp!] replacing squats with [gasp!] leg presses. I, for example, have found over the years that I am one of those people. I personally tend to prefer and benefit from a combination of leg presses, split squats, lunges and deadlift variations.
But that’s just me. And, while there are many others out there just like me, I still continue to recommend squats by default and include them in damn near every single workout program I design.
I like curls, too.
Now on the other hand, I don’t love curls or anything. Nah, screw that. I do love curls. We all do. Some just prefer to pretend they don’t because they think it makes them look cooler. This then helps them fit in better with the countless others who do the exact same thing. Awww, how cute.
In reality of course, no matter how big and powerful we want to get or how much we strive to squat or how badass we want to be perceived as being, we all want pretty looking arms. Especially us guys.
Get a magic genie to offer every guy a choice between instantly having bigger arms or bigger legs, and 99% of them will choose bigger arms (the other 1% is scared their friends might hear). And you know what can help with getting bigger arms? Doing some F-ing curls!
Definitely not lots of curls, as that would just be overkill and a good sign that you’re focusing too much on minor things. But some curls will probably help.
And yes, I referred to curls as “minor things.” They are. If you want bigger/prettier arms, it’s not going to be curls that play the largest role in you getting them. It’s going to be benching and rowing and pressing and pull-uping and getting stronger on the big upper body lifts. That’s what builds big/strong arms more than anything else.
Well, that and eating properly to support growth.
But do you know what seems to produce the best results for most people? Putting 90% of your focus on the most important stuff (getting stronger on the bigger compound lifts, eating properly to support growth, etc.), AND THEN putting that other 10% of your focus on the much-less-important-but-still-useful stuff… like curls.
So as long as you’re getting everything else right first, who gives a shit if you throw a couple of sets of biceps and triceps in at the end of an upper body day? It will likely only improve your goal of having awesome looking arms, even if you’d rather pretend you don’t have that goal.
And sure, some dude on a forum might call you a pussy if you admit to it. But who cares? Your arms will probably be bigger than his.
And even more so, who gives a shit where you decide to spend those 10 minutes PER WEEK doing some of those curls? In most gyms, the squat rack just so happens to be the most available and ideal place for you to do them. So, why not do them there?
Honestly, even I wasn’t sure that I actually had any real points here (ranting is fun!), but now I think I do.
- First, this has nothing whatsoever to do with squats vs curls, legs vs arms, getting strong vs looking good naked or any other completely pointless argument. Not even a little. This is more about people and their silly dogmatic mindsets about insignificant bullshit. This is just one tiny example of MANY in the diet and training world.
- Second, squats are usually quite useful. Few people actually require them, but many people will definitely benefit from them. There are however some people who will do better focusing less on squats and more on other lower body quad dominant movements (leg press, single leg stuff, etc.). I happen to be one of those people.
- Third, biceps curls are usually useful, too. Few people actually require them, but many people will definitely benefit from them. However, at most, they should only be a small secondary part of your routine.
- Fourth, focus mostly on the important stuff (getting stronger on the big compound lifts and eating to support it). When you’ve gotten all of that right, feel free to do some curls if it fits in with your goals, preferences and overall program.
- And last but not least, as long as you employ some basic gym etiquette, I see nothing bad at all about doing your curls in the squat rack. In fact, I highly recommend it.
You mad, bro?