Zottman Curl

by Al Myers

Zottman and his collection of thick shafted bars (photo taken from Atomic Athletic Website).

I know most all-rounders don’t get all “pumped up” about bicep exercises, but Roger’s story the other day involving thick bar training and his mention of George Zottman and the Zottman Curl (from his website link) got me thinking a little about this old-time  exercise and strongman.   George Zottman was a strongman from Philadelphia in the early 1900’s who this lift is named after.  Most gym lifters have never heard of  the Zottman Curl, and it’s benefits.  I did them frequently when I was a “young lifter” but have given them up in recent years as my lifting focus has changed (with less emphasis based on bicep strength and size, especially since my two bicep surgical re attachments!).  I have seen lifters in gyms doing this curl exercise (or a slight deviation of it) and weren’t even aware of George Zottman and this exercise being named after him.  I have also seen lifters “thinking” they were doing Zottman Curls when in fact they weren’t – they were doing hammers curls or supinating curls. 

The method of performing a Zottman Curl is the combination of two steps: 1. the first being a standard standing  dumbbell curl (not a hammer curl) with palms forward during the upward or positive portion of the lift, and 2. turning the dumbbells over at the top 180 degrees so the palms are facing away from the body (reverse grip)  for the downward  or negative portion of the lift.  So you can see this is the combination of two movements.  The Zottman Curl is intended to be done in strict fashion, which is the safe way to do it. It is an “overload” exercise on the forearms, especially on the brachioradialis muscle.  George Zottman is said to have done this curl with 50 pound dumbbells for repetitions.  I feel this exercise is more a forearm exercise than a bicep brachii exercise, however, the benefits to the biceps muscle is there. The downward portion with the reverse grip is like a “negative”, since you can curl much more with a dumbbell with an underhand grip than you can reverse curl a dumbbell with an overhand grip (if done strictly that is!).   When I have done them in the past, I do remember the strain that is put on the elbows, especially when the dumbbells are turned at the top.  That is reason enough NOT to do them!

Interesting exercise about an interesting old time strongman nonetheless.

Now for a question to the readers – does anyone know who it was that originally named the Zottman Curl???

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