Forgotten Exercises: Zellar Curls

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Every now and then we like to mix up our gym routines. For some of us this means an entirely new programme, while for others, just throwing in a different exercise can freshen things up.

Today’s post looks at Zeller Curls, a forgotten bodybuilding exercise that targets the biceps and helps break through lifting plateaus. If you’ve been looking for an old school training technique, your search is over.

What are Zeller Curls and where did they come from?

According to Marvin Eder, a 1940s bodybuilding aptly named ‘The Biceps from the Bronx’, Zeller Curls are performed as follows,

This curl is named after Artie Zeller who popularized it some years back, and is now widely used by New York City bodybuilders.

Take a heavy dumbbell, heavier than you can curl to the shoulder in good form, and swing this weight to the shoulder. Hold the elbow against the side, on the hip if possible. Now, lower the weight, leaning back while doing so, fighting the downward movement of the weight every inch of the way. When it is down all the way, swing it up to the shoulder again and repeat…

It may take a little practice to master this movement, but since Marvin feels that it is one of the very best, it will be worth a little special attention

The photograph at the beginning of the post gives a good indication of Marvin’s description. Think of a cheat curl with a super slow negative.

Intuitively you’ve most likely practised this form of bicep curl when you let your ego overtake your technique while hammering out those last few reps. Eder used this form of lifting for a purpose however. He used it to progressively increase the weight he could curl while getting his biceps used to heavier weights.

As opposed to the cheat curl favoured by Arnold, pictured below, the Zeller Curls don’t place a huge amount of pressure on the lower back. By keeping your elbow tucked into your side, the biceps are primarily utilised, especially during the cheat portion.

Arnold’s Cheat Curls

If you’re wondering how slowly to conduct the negative, 5 seconds minimum is a good starting point. Work from there and adjust to your own needs.

From personal experience I’ve found the Zeller Curl a hugely effective way of progressing on bicep exercises. One or two weeks of Zeller Curls generally give the confidence and strength to lift the weight with impeccable form.

So try it out and let us know how it goes!

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