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Are you making these 4 Smith machine drag curl mistakes?

By Lee Thomas
Last Updated on 8th November 2020

Bicep training is a game of isolation. I never really saw much growth from doing heavy barbell curls. And it wasn't until I put my ego to the side and started training muscles—not movements—that my arms began to take off.

One of the ways that I added this arm girth was by focusing on the Smith machine drag curl.

group of men training with weights in a gymnasium

Unlike other bicep exercises, you can't really muscle the bar up during drag curls. So in this sense, it's just about the best bicep exercise in existence for adding size, because you can't cheat the weight up even if you wanted to.

That said, there are 4 fatal drag curl mistakes that I see all the time. And if you make even one of these errors, your bicep size is going to suffer.

Smith machine drag curl exercise details

  • Main muscles: Biceps
  • Supporting muscles: Forearms
  • Exercise type: Isolation
  • Difficulty: Beginner
  • Equipment needed: Smith machine
  • Recommended gear: Lifting gloves, Fat Gripz, occlusion cuffs
  • Exercise purpose: Isolate the biceps by limiting front delt involvement

How to do Smith machine drag curls

Here's how to do a Smith machine drag curl:

  1. Set the Smith bar to knee height.
  2. Start with an empty bar to get a feel for the exercise.
  3. Keep your shoulder blades back and look straight ahead.
  4. Grab the bar at shoulder-width and then relax your grip to disengage your forearms.
  5. Rotate your wrists to lift the bar off the hook and then let it rest against your thighs.
  6. Drag the bar up your body by driving your elbows back and curling your palms up.
  7. Squeeze your biceps as hard as possible for a second and then lower the bar under control. Repeat for 2-4 sets of 10-15 reps.
"The number one rule is this: squeeze extra hard at the top."
Christian Thibaudeau

Smith machine drag curl mistakes

Shrugging the weight up

man performing a shrug exercise

Since you're driving your elbows back, it's natural to feel some degree of trap involvement because it's your traps that actually stabilise and elevate your shoulder blades.

However, you should feel the vast majority of the tension in your biceps.

Here's the cue that I use: think about decreasing the distance between your upper arms and forearms.

Works like a charm for isolating the biceps.

Maxing out

bodybuilder doing heavy dumbbell curls

There's a time and place to test your strength. But if you want big biceps (who doesn't?), then the Smith-machine drag curl certainly isn't it.

Not only does maxing out on drag curls place excessive strain on your wrists, forearms and elbows, it also makes getting a pump virtually impossible.

Taking a quality citrulline-based pre-workout 30 minutes before your session can help with blood flow tremendously. However, for the best results, you need to perform the Smith machine bicep drag for high reps.

Doing so creates metabolic stress, which in turn recruits more motor units. And ultimately, your biceps are left with no choice but to grow!

Shortcutting the rep

sporty man doing barbell curls in front of the gym mirror

Performing the drag curl on Smith machine stations is such an effective method for stimulating the biceps, that you can actually get away with doing half reps.

However, since you're reading this article, I'm going to presume that you're interested in truly maximising your gains.

Well, if you want to get the fastest and best results from drag curls, then it's important to bring the bar all the way up.

You know that you've come high enough when you feel that unmistakably intense peak contraction in your biceps. It'll almost feel like your arms are cramping up, especially if you took a pump-enhancing pre workout.

Drag curls produce a pleasurable kind of pain that only bodybuilding enthusiasts can appreciate. But the hard work doesn't stop once you feel the contraction—oh no. After the peak contraction sends blood rushing into your biceps, it's time to tear down the muscle fibres by resisting the weight with all of your might [1].

Lower the bar until your elbows are almost fully extended. But be sure to leave just a little bend in your elbows. This way, you'll get a more potent muscle pump because your "poor" biceps won't have time to rest [2].

Gripping the bar too tightly

man squeezing an orange

Whether you're performing the drag curl Smith machine style or with a barbell, you're going to be lifting pretty light (relatively speaking).

Therefore, there's no need to grip the bar too tightly. If you do, you'll engage your forearm flexors at the expense of your biceps. This is a big no-no when you're trying to fill your sleeves because the biceps need isolation to grow to their full potential.

Recommended training gear for Smith machine drag curls

1. Lifting gloves

It might be a placebo—but I'll take it. When I perform drag curls Smith machine style or with free weights, I always wear lifting gloves because they help me to keep the tension on my biceps and off my forearms.

grebarley gym gloves

I don't use anything fancy, though. I just wear Grebarley Gym Gloves.

Having said that, these gloves are particularly good for drag curls. Here's why: the integrated wrist support helps me to take my forearms (mostly) out of the equation because I can keep my wrists straighter. As a result, my biceps receive better stimulation because they have to lift more of the weight.

Yet, as someone who sweats a lot, I also like the fact that these gloves are made from tear-resistant microfiber material. Not only does this heavy-duty construction make my gloves smell less (because the material is so effective at wicking away moisture), but it also keeps my hands callus-free.

Overall, I'm pretty chuffed with them considering that they cost me less than a meal out.

2. Fat Gripz

If you've read my other articles, then you'll know that I recently started training with Fat Gripz (after years of being in two minds over them).

man doing cable curls with fat gripz

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I put a solid half-inch on my forearms in 8 weeks by using them.

And this was without any wrist curls. Plus, I had to lighten the weight significantly while using Fat Gripz. So it just shows how quickly they can add mass with enough effort (I used them 2x a week, 4 sets each session).

I'm actually thinking about upgrading to the Fat Gripz Extreme package to take my forearm size to the next level. So if you've tried them, then let me know!

Anyway, I feel like I'm gloating, so I'm just going to shut up and let you enjoy the gains for yourself.

3. Occlusion cuffs

Fat Gripz and occlusion cuffs go together like milk and a protein shake; they're an irresistible combination. When you try them, you'll feel like someone inflated your arms with air, as if they were ballons—muscular balloons.

man wearing occlusion cuffs while training his arms

Anyway, the cool thing about occlusion training is that you can use ridiculously light weights and still get the same growth rate as if you were lifting heavy. However, the workouts take a fraction of the time, and they're way more fun, in my opinion.

I've used the these BFR Bands before, and they're great because it's really easy to adjust the tension. Plus, they come with a money-back guarantee for peace of mind. So I figured why not?

But honestly, I found that wrapping my arms with a regular Floss Band was just as effective for getting a pump. Unlike dedicated occlusion cuffs, you can use these bands for legs as well (because they're much longer and offer higher levels of resistance).

Either way, you'll love blood flow restriction training if you enjoy the feeling of a skin-splitting pump as much as I do.

Smith machine drag curl muscles worked


bodybuilder doing cable curls

Smith machine drag curls are great for building a bigger biceps peak because they emphasise the long head of the biceps brachii. It's an important muscle for any bodybuilding pose where the arms are flexed, and if you can develop yours, then your physique will definitely stand out from the crowd [3].


bodybuilder holding a protein shake

The forearms are less active during drag curls than in other bicep exercises because you initiate the movement by squeezing your biceps, rather than just curling the weight "up".

Smith machine drag curl benefits

Astonishing biceps pump

muscular man looking at his biceps

I'm sure that if you've ever watched Pumping Iron, then you already know how important the pump is for muscle growth. But did you know that a muscle produces the biggest pump when it's fully shortened?

It's true! And it's why isolation exercises like chest flys, leg extensions and lateral raises all give you a more intense pump than their compound equivalents.

And you can use this fact to your advantage during Smith machine or barbell drag curls. How so?

Squeeze your arms during the peak contraction as if you're performing a dynamometer test. I kid you not, if you do this, your biceps will get instantly more vascular.

Stronger mind-muscle connection

man using a preacher curls bench at the gym

Any exercise that emphasises the peak contraction also helps you to develop a stronger mind-muscle connection. This is because you're getting used to activating the muscle by squeezing it.

Yet, once you develop a potent mind-muscle connection, you can reap its rewards on other exercises, too.

For example, by improving your ability to contract your biceps during drag curls, you simultaneously make every rep of regular curls more effective because you can more easily "switch on" the working muscle.

Bigger bicep peaks

bodybuilder flexing his big biceps

Next time you're performing the bicep drag curl Smith machine style or with a barbell, look at your arms. What position are they in?

If you're lifting with the proper form, then your arms will be in the same contracted position that they would be in during a front double biceps pose. And guess what that means?

That's right. You're working the all-important bicep peak.

Now you know why drag curls have stood the test of time—nothing builds the peak like them.

Smith machine drag curl alternatives

Smith machine bicep curl

If you're bored of regular biceps moves like barbell curls and cable curls, then give the Smith machine bicep curl a try. It's an unconventional exercise that enables you to focus on the working muscle since the machine removes the stabilisation element of the lift. Add in Fat Gripz if you want to emphasise the peak contraction (and your forearms) even more.

Smith machine curl throw

Unless you spend your spare time researching new and exciting training methods, then you've probably never heard of the Smith machine curl throw. However, this little-known exercise packs quite a punch considering it's not a mainstream movement. I highly recommend giving it a try if you want to work the fast-twitch muscle fibres.

Reverse drag curl

Besides the Smith machine one arm drag curl and the barbell drag curl, another variation that you can try is the reverse drag curl. The form is exactly the same as on regular Smith machine drag curls—expcept that you're using an overhand grip to target the brachioradialis. It works wonders for bringing up the forearms, especially if you also use Fat Gripz like I do [4].

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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