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Smith machine curl throw: Explosive lifting for bigger biceps?

By Lee Thomas
Last Updated on 8th July 2020

Are your biceps toned, yet still lacking that critical mass to look big?

If so, then the Smith machine curl throw might be the solution that you're looking for.

I had the exact same problem for years. My biceps had a good shape to them, and they were reasonably vascular. However, they simply lacked the sheer size that a muscle needs in order to look impressive.

muscular man looking at his biceps

Eventually, I stumbled across the Smith machine curl throw after watching Jim Stoppani demonstrate the exercise in one of his videos. His rationale for the biceps needing to be trained explosively in order to grow larger made perfect sense. After all, muscles are designed to be used explosively by nature. Why do you think sprinters are more muscular than distance runners?

Anyway, I gave the Smith machine curl throw an honest try for 8 weeks by performing 6 sets split over two weekly sessions. Although my arms didn't grow in those particular two months, what I discovered was positively eye-opening...

When I removed curl throws from my program and started prioritising my usual bodybuilding bicep exercises again, all the weights much felt lighter. It's hard to describe. But it felt like someone had gone around the gym and tampered with the barbells and dumbbells to reduce the weight.

But that wasn't the case at all. And I know that because I train at home. My biceps had simply become more explosive, and I was about to use this newfound explosiveness to my advantage...

"The reason this works so well is because doing explosive reps like this targets the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Those are the muscle fibers that grow the biggest, the strongest, and the fastest."
Dr. Jim Stopanni

Smith machine curl throw exercise details

  • Main muscles: Biceps
  • Supporting muscles: Forearms
  • Exercise type: Isolation
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Equipment needed: Smith machine
  • Recommended gear: Chalk, elbow sleeves, hand grip trainer
  • Exercise purpose: Improve bicep power and explosiveness

How to do a Smith machine bicep curl throw

  1. Set the Smith bar to mid-thigh level and load it with a light weight.
  2. Grab the bar with an underhand shoulder-width grip.
  3. Ensure that your thumbs are underneath the bar—not wrapped around it.
  4. Throw the weight up forcefully as high as you can.
  5. Catch the bar in the top position (where your biceps are contracted) and then lower the weight back down.
  6. Repeat for 2-3 sets of 3-8 reps.

Smith machine curl throw mistakes

Catching in the stretched position

man performing barbell curls in front of a gym rack

Catching the bar in the stretched position—with extended elbows—is the biggest Smith machine curl throw mistake.

Think about it for a second. When you catch the bar with straight arms, you're missing out on the eccentric part of the rep. This is the portion of the rep that actually makes your muscles grow the most, so you definitely don't want to skip it.

Also, when you catch the bar with outstretched elbows, you're giving the bar more time to build up speed. As a result, the bar will naturally hit your hands with more force and cause excessive strain to your joints.

Plus, you might drop the barbell.

Instead, catch the bar in the contracted position. This way, you get to reap the rewards of the eccentric, and you keep your joints safe.

Ego lifting

bodybuilder doing heavy dumbbell curls

A lot of meatheads don't get this, but training for power and explosiveness isn't the same as training for strength.

Strength is about moving a weight by whatever means possible. Whether that weight moves quickly like a lightning bolt or as slow as a tortoise is irrelevant.

With power, on the other hand, you're aiming to reduce the amount of time that it takes to apply a given force. In layman's term, this means that you're trying to lift as explosively as possible [1].

So, by ego lifting, you essentially rob your body of the ability to generate power. This is a great shame if you want to build bigger biceps—let me explain why.

Faster bar speed = more power, more power = greater strength, greater strength = more tension on your muscles, more tension = bigger muscles.

Now that's the kind of physics that I care about!

Ditching the safety stoppers

weight lifting bar on the rack in a fitness centre

Even though you're naturally going to be lifting with light weights on the Smith machine curl throw, and even though the consequence of actually dropping the bar is minimal, why not set the safety stoppers anyway?

It's a good habit to get into. And it certainly doesn't do you any harm.

Wrapping your thumbs around the bar

ripped fitness model doing bicep curls

Imagine trying to throw the Smith machine bar in the air while it was glued to your hands. Not going to happen, is it?

Well, it's exactly the same when your wrap your thumbs around the bar—you're preventing yourself from actually throwing the barbell.

Instead, keep your thumbs underneath the bar at all times. That way, the bar will actually move, and you'll also be using the power from your biceps—and not from your endurance-orientated forearms.

Recommended training gear for Smith machine curl throws

1. Weightlifting chalk

weightlifting chalk

Lifting explosively with sweaty palms is like trying to set a new 100m world record while running on ice—it's impossible.

Therefore, I make it a point to always use my weightlifting chalk whenever I'm performing the Smith machine curl throw.

grebarley gym gloves

Since using it, I've never dropped the Smith machine bar, and my power output has become all-around more explosive [2].

I tried lifting gloves at first, and they worked ok, but chalk is much more cost-effective in the long run. Plus, what kind of lifter doesn't love the feeling of chalking up their hands?

Just make sure to go with the liquid type if you train in a commercial gym because I know that most gym staff aren't exactly fond of rebellious hand-chalkers like us.

2. Elbow sleeves

I'd been using elbows sleeves long before I started doing curl throws because of their ability to decrease muscle swelling and inflammation. This recovery enhancement enables me to get back in the gym sooner because my damaged muscle tissue receives more blood flow.

a pair of black iron bull elbow sleeves

However, thanks to the rugged support and flexibility, my Iron Bull Strength Elbow Sleeves are also the perfect tool for curl throws.

You see, besides protecting my joints from the impact of the bar (always a plus), the sleeves help me to generate more curling power because they naturally produce a modest amount of elastic tension every time I bend my elbows. As a result, I'm able to grow my biceps faster because I can overload them with heavier weights!

And I don't have to suffer any of the consequences such as elbow pain and swelling, because the sleeves provide ample protection.

man working out with his urban lifter elbow sleeves

Obviously, I know that not everyone can afford the best quality elbows sleeves (I couldn't for ages) so I thought it was only fair that I tested a more affordable option. So I went ahead and ordered the Urban Lifters Elbow Sleeves, and I'm very impressed with the support.

In fact, I'd say that the support is even sturdier than what I get from my Iron Bull Sleeves. However, due to their 7mm neoprene construction, they're also a tad more restrictive. But the difference is barely noticeable once you actually get into your sets.

3. Hand grip trainer

fit beast hand strengthener

If you've been following me for a while, then you'll know that it's no secret that I've recently been nerding out over grip graining.

I started with the basic FitBeast Hand Grip trainer and noticed some impressive results (for me at least) in both forearm strength and size.

However, when I switched over to the Captains of Crush Hand Grippers, my grip strength went off the charts.

man doing preacher curls with fat gripz

I'd already put half an inch on my forearms by training with Fat Gripz.

But my grip was still embarrassingly weak. So I started training with the CoC grippers twice a week for 8 weeks to see what kind of grip gains I could conjure up.

captins of crush gripper in its packaging

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I went from not being able to close the CoC Sport (their 2nd lightest out of eleven grippers) to closing the CoC No. 1 for ten solid reps.

Obviously, my forearms gained some nice size. But, more notably, the weights started to feel lighter because my grip was no longer the limiting factor. I honestly never knew how much my grip strength (or lack of it) was holding me back until I improved it.

I guess it's true what they—you're only as strong as your weakest link!

Smith machine curl throw muscles worked

Biceps

man flexing his arms for a woman in the gym

You wouldn't believe it the way most people do their curls, but the biceps are a predominantly fast-twitch muscle group. As such, they respond excellently to Smith machine curl throws. Especially if you're not used to training explosively.

Forearms

bodybuilder holding a protein shake

The forearms are fairly active during the Smith machine curl throw. However, it's mainly just to hold the weight. They don't contribute much to the actual curl throw because they're an endurance-based, slow-twitch muscle group.

Smith machine curl throw benefits

Explosive power

image of a young boxer

It's an obvious example but just look at sprinters.

They're some of the most explosive people on the planet, and they're some of the most muscular, too.

And let me tell you, sprinters certainly aren't following the "slow and controlled" bodybuilding prescription. No, no, no. They're lifting the weights with good form, yes, but they're also lifting them as explosively as possible—because they realise that's how you're meant to train muscles [3].

Bigger biceps in less time

bodybuilder doing cable curls

Without enough training volume (reps x sets), explosive lifting alone won't get you bigger biceps. However, it will prime your muscles for more explosiveness by getting the fast-twitch muscles used to firing.

As a result, when you start prioritising your regular training again (you should always do curl throws first in a workout), you'll naturally grow your arms faster because you're recruiting more fast-twitch muscles fibres, which are the fibres that grow the biggest [4].

Smith machine curl throw alternatives

Medicine ball curl throw

two woman with medicine balls training in gym

Now, I train at home, so this exercise is impractical for me (I only have one medicine ball). However, if your gym has a good selection of medicine balls, then the medicine ball curl throw is an excellent way to develop your bicep power with minimal equipment. It works exactly the same way as the Smith machine curl throw, except the ball is slightly easier to catch because well...it's round.

Smith machine bicep curl

Performing Smith machine bicep curls is a great way to liven up your arm training because let's be honest—even bicep curls can get boring after a while. But not only does the Smith machine variation add much-needed variety to your workout—it also ingrains in you the proper form, because it's really hard to cheat the weight up when the bar can't move forwards or backwards.

Smith machine drag curl

If the Smith machine curl throw is all about power, then the Smith-machine drag curl is all about the pump. And boy, does this exercise inflate your arms!

After just two sets of drag curls, you'd think I'd performed a full 90-minute arm workout based on my bicep vascularity. It's one of my all-time favourite exercises for increasing the prominence of my bicep peak.

Lee Thomas
Ey Up! I'm Lee, a Leeds-based strength and conditioning coach who's been helping serious trainees achieve their physical potential for the past 20 years. In my time, I've been a competitive physique athlete and a national powerlifter. I hope you enjoy my exercise guides.
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