In my coaching opinion, the Jefferson curl is one of the most underrated back exercises. The Jefferson curl is an exercise that works well both as a warm-up and an accessory to build a more resilient back.
Over the last few years, the Jefferson curl has become a staple to help me prep for big deadlifts and it’s one of my favorite exercises to perform when on the road traveling.
In my Jefferson curl guide, I’ll cover how to properly perform this exercise, discuss some benefits, mistakes to avoid, and regressions for beginners.
The Jefferson curl can be an awesome exercise for strengthening the back’s flexion strength, tolerance, and capabilities. It can also be a great back exercise to use as a warm-up before a deadlift workout.
Stand on an elevated surface with a kettlebell
Grab a kettlebell with both hands and stand on an elevated surface like a low box or stacked 45 lb bumper plates. Use a weight and elevation that makes sense for your strength levels.
Flex the spine and lower yourself slowly one vertebrate at a time
Keep the legs relatively straight (a soft knee bend is fine), then start to lower yourself down thinking about unlocking and flexing the vertebrate of the spine one at a time.
Drive legs down and use the core to help flex the spine
As you flex the spine in a nice controlled manner, drive the legs into the ground, use the core to help assist you with creation torso flexion, and keep the hips back.
Flex until you run out of range of motion
Lower the weight to a point where you either run out of range of motion or feel comfortable doing it. Once you’ve hit this point, you’ll lift the weight back up.
Stand back up slowly working one vertebrate at a time
Use a nice slow tempo as you extend the back and stand back up. Think about coming up with one vertebrate at a time similar to how you sequenced the lowering part of this exercise.
Lock out and begin next rep
As you stand back up fully, squeeze the quads and glutes, then repeated this process and control your tempo throughout each rep.
Jefferson Curl Benefits
While there are countless benefits that come along with the Jefferson curl, I’m going to discuss my favorite three that I keep in mind for both my personal training and for my clients.
Coaching Note: As with any exercise, benefits can ebb and flow based on training goals and needs, so if you find that you have other benefits with the Jefferson curl — that’s okay and normal!
1. Great Warm-Up for Back and Deadlift Workouts
Whether training the back for hypertrophy or hitting deadlifts, warming up the back/spine is never a bad idea. When warming up, we generally want to move our body and joints through ranges of motion that help us prep for our program.
The Jefferson curl will take the entire back through a large degree of flexion which is fantastic for a pre-deadlift stimulus or for getting the back ready for some nasty lat and erector training.
Flexion is one of the main movement patterns that the back does and we can move our back through a nice degree of flexion and extension pre-workout, then we can better prepare for the varied demands that different back workouts can have on the body.
Coaching Note: If you’ve never performed the pre-deadlifts, definitely give them a try. They can also be awesome as a final exercise following a deadlift-focused training day and will typically result in an “ahhhh”.
2. Awesome for Building Our Back’s Flexion Capabilities
As stated above, our back, and spine more specifically, is designed to flex (amongst other movement patterns). Our ability to flex through different ranges of motion can be awesome for building both general strength and our back’s resiliency.
Injuries that happen in sport and life can occur when load/stress exceed what tissue is capable of handling. At times, I think spinal flexion with lifting gets a bad rep, however, this is often biased towards a back that’s moving through non-progressive degrees of flexion.
For example, if you’re strategically training your back to handle different loads through various ranges of motion, then you’ll typically be better off than someone who never exposed their body to this type of range of motion when managing loads and stress.
Spinal flexion is going to happen with training as your intensity increases, especially with exercises like trap bar deadlifts and deadlifts, so building your back’s capabilities when moving through different degrees of flexion is great for building a well-rounded and resilient back.
If you use Jefferson curls for a block or two and progress them accordingly per your needs, I have no doubt that your erectors and inner back muscles will thank you.
3. Useful for Building Mental Capabilities
Outside of building our back’s ability to flex and being great for warm-ups, Jefferson curls can also be a useful tool for building our mental resiliency towards spinal flexion.
In a world of overly set and rigid backs, I constantly find that some lifters are afraid to flex and bend their backs when training. If you find yourself mentally guarding your back when training, then performing Jefferson curls can be great for your training mentality.
Essentially, we don’t want to “fear” a movement pattern and completely ignore it. Jefferson curls can be a great way to progressively load the spine when in different degrees of flexion which can be great for internal confidence when training.
They can also be great for lifters that may have experienced an injury with this movement pattern and want to rehab both their body and mind regarding spinal flexion while managing loads.
Jefferson Curl Mistakes
If you’re new to this exercise, then you’ll want to make sure you avoid some of the most common Jefferson curl mistakes. These are mistakes that I constantly see beginner and intermediate lifters make with this movement.
1. Using Romanian Deadlift Hip Mechanics
The first and most common Jefferson curl mistake is treating the hips and what they’re doing similar to what you perform in Romanian deadlifts. For Jefferson curls, you don’t want the hips to hinge and shoot backward.
If you notice that you’re bending the knees a lot or hinging when doing Jefferson curls, try cueing yourself to drive the legs into the ground more while maintaining straight legs or a soft knee bend.
This mental cue should help prevent you from overly hip-hinging your Jefferson curls. You can also try setting something behind the hips to limit how much they’re moving backward.
For example, you could have a friend or lifting partner hold a dowel a few inches behind the glutes before starting your Jefferson curl, then as you lower yourself down and feel contact with the dowel, you’ll stop the hips from traveling back and focus on what the torso is doing.
2. Rushing Reps and Not Using Tempo
Another Jefferson curl mistake that I see beginners make is rushing reps. For Jefferson curls, we want to use a nice slow and controlled tempo so we can focus on the quality of our movement and not the quantity.
Jefferson curls are intended to be performed with control so we can very strategically flex the back at different points. If you find yourself rushing through reps, there’s a good chance you’re missing out on your spine’s flexion potential.
To focus on the quality of your Jefferson curl reps, I’d suggest adding a 4-7 second tempo to your eccentric (lowering phase), a 1-2 second pause at the bottom, then a 4-7 second concentric (lifting phase).
In practice and on paper this would look like the following,
- 5-seconds down
- 1-second hold at the bottom
- 5-seconds up
Whether you’re doing these as a warm-up or accessory exercise, your body will thank you for programming a tempo with them. They will not only feel better but they can also help you better identify areas of your back that feel tighter or need more attention.
Jefferson Curl Variations and Regressions
For beginners or those that are coming back from a back injury, it can be a good idea to start your Jefferson curl journey from a regressed point of view and then build yourself up accordingly.
Coaching Note: If you’re working through some form of back injury, please work with and consult a professional that you can see in person. This can be great for helping you progress properly and identify training blindspots.
1. Jefferson Curl From Floor
My favorite Jefferson curl regression is simply working from the floor. By performing Jefferson curls on the floor you’ll naturally have a range of motion constraint to limit how much spinal flexion you’re moving through.
For example, if you’re using a kettlebell for your Jefferson curls, then you’ll curl to a point in which the bottom of the kettlebell hits the floor. This will shorten your range of motion and familiarize you with moving slowly through loaded spinal flexion.
If you’re starting on the floor, I’d suggest starting with a light kettlebell, then moving to something like a barbell (normal, women’s, or kid’s works depending on your strength level). A barbell will allow you a little more range of motion and the floor will still serve as a constraint.
Outside of this progression, I’d also suggest exploring different tempos and pauses to acclimate to this exercise’s mechanics. Once you feel comfortable with Jefferson curls on the floor, move to an elevated surface.
Are Jefferson curls beneficial?
Jefferson curls can be beneficial for both mobility and strength. This exercise is designed to train the spine through various degrees of flexion while managing load.
What does a Jefferson curl do?
A Jefferson curl trains the back through large degrees of flexion and extension. This can have some benefits for building the back’s resiliency when navigating both sports and daily life.
What muscles does a Jefferson curl work?
The primary muscles the Jefferson curl will train are the erectors, glutes, hamstrings, upper back muscles, and the muscles that run up the spine through the midback.
The Jefferson curl can be an awesome exercise for lifters from all walks of life with different goals. This back exercise works well as a warm-up and as an accessory to build a stronger back.
If you’re new to Jefferson curls, then I’d suggest starting with lighter weight and potentially working with a reduced range of motion based on your needs.
If you have additional questions about the Jefferson curl, drop a comment below or reach out to me personally via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).