While strength exercises like Deadlifts, back squats, and overhead presses would often make the cut in your biceps training program, you should not forget about barbell curls. Why? Because they can help you achieve a mean pair of meaty arms! So, if you want to know more about this arm day essential, here’s a complete guide!

If you’re wondering what barbell curls are, it’s a variation of the biceps curl that you perform using a weighted barbell. It’s an isolation workout that activates not only your biceps but also your forearms and shoulders to some degree. With this exercise included in your fitness plan, you’ll be able to develop solid and massive biceps, which is a crucial player in many pulling movements. 

This Ultimate Guide Will Cover:

  • How to Barbell Curl
  • Barbell Curls Benefits
  • Common Barbell Curl Mistakes to Avoid
  • The Barbell Curl Muscles Worked
  • Barbell Curl vs Dumbell Curl
  • Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, & Programs
  • Barbell Curl Variations
  • Barbell Curl Alternative Exercises
  • FAQs About Barbell Curls

How to Barbell Curl

What You’ll Need:

The main equipment that you’ll need when executing barbell curls is a Barbell. However, other variations may require using alternative tools, like:

Step 1: Stand Straight and Tall

Do an upright stance with your shoulder blades down your back, chest up, and shoulders pulled backward. Your grip should be slightly wider than hip-width, with your palms facing away from yourself. Don’t let your shoulders hunch forward. Instead, pull your chest high and keep your shoulders back to concentrate the load on your full biceps. 

Step 2: Clutch the Bar

If you don’t squeeze the bar, your elbows will flare out, your chest will collapse, and your biceps will lack width and fullness. When you grip the bar, you can engage all the muscles in your forearms and upper arms, which can generally activate your target muscles more. Plus, you’ll be compact and less likely to perform a sloppy rep. Try squeezing your pinkies on the barbell!

Step 3: Curl Up and Somewhat Out

Instead of dragging the bar upwards towards your body, keep your elbows slightly in front of yourself always. Curl up and focus on not letting your shoulders move forward. It is only coming into play as your elbow drifts forward to further isolate your biceps. Squeeze your shoulder blades tightly together and keep your chest up. If you don’t, you’ll disengage your biceps.

Step 4: Feel the Contraction and Hold

Don’t lift too quickly or lift past the contraction point, or you’ll lose the essence of the exercise. You can curl the bar until it’s around one or two inches in front of your shoulders or until you feel your muscles contracting the most. When you find the spot, hold it for a moment and repeat for the other reps. Diligently flex your biceps thought the entire movement.

Step 5: Bring the Bar Down with Control

Lifting the barbell up does not complete this exercise. You also need to lower it down with control to tax more muscle fibers. Since your muscles are still experiencing the load, you still have the opportunity to build more mass and break down more muscle tissues in your biceps.

4 Barbell Curl Benefits

1. Enhances Grip Strength

You can do barbell curl to build up your grip and arm strength, both of which can affect your pulling performance and power as your biceps lift more weight, your hands, forearms, and wrist support. Because of this, you engage all those secondary muscles, which in turn gives you a crushing grip!

2. Build Upper Body Mass

Aside from the beefy and pumped bicep muscles, barbell curls can also break down the muscle fibers in your chest, shoulders, and traps! You see, every time you stress your muscles, it responds by building themselves back to becoming more robust and more prominent!

3. Prevents Injury in the Elbows and Arms

Your biceps are in charge of elbow flexion, and it supports your grip muscles in pulls and loaded carries. If you have weak and underdeveloped biceps, you may experience grip issues, biceps strain, and in worst cases, muscle tear. So, it’s essential to have more muscular biceps to avoid injury!

4. Accessible

If you own a barbell, dumbbell, or Kettlebell, you most definitely can perform a curl! You don’t need to drag an enormous cable machine into your home gym or construct a fancy workout station. Even if you only have a square foot, you can efficiently execute the barbell curl.

Common Barbell Curl Mistakes To Avoid

Squeezing the bar too hard

Although you want to have a good grip on the weight that you’re raising, death-gripping the barbell or dumbbell is an indication that your body is making up for the lack of strength. Because of this, you end up recruiting other muscles (like the forearms), which removes the tension off your biceps. If you make this mistake often, you may end up with issues such as tennis elbow.

Neglecting angles and bars

You can target both your biceps’ short and long heads by doing barbell curls with different bars and wide and narrow angles. Also, you can use a preacher bench for more isolation and a varied range of motion.

Arching your back

When you end up arching your back on each rep, it means that you’re using your body, not your biceps, to lift the weight up. Aside from that, you’re placing your lower back at risk of strain! Either curl in a split stance or with your back against a solid wall as a remedy.

Relying on the momentum

When you start to rely on momentum when completing a barbell curl, it’s a sign that you’re lifting heavy weights that are too much for you, or you’re starting to feel the fatigue nearing the end of the set. Opt for a lighter weight and focus on proper form to avoid this. Try to only activate your elbow flexors to lift the weight up and down. Also, focus on engaging your core to keep a neutral spine.

Barbell Curl Muscles Worked

The barbell curl is a well-known weight-training exercise that targets different muscle groups, including:

  • Biceps Brachii
  • Brachialis 
  • Brachioradialis
  • Deltoids
  • Wrist Extensor
  • Wrist Flexor

Barbell curls are a single-joint hypertrophy/accessory workout that highly engages your arms, primarily the biceps and forearms. These muscle groups are vital as you use them every day while picking something up. When you do a standing arm curl, you’re able to increase strength in your upper arm and learn to utilize your arm muscles correctly. 

Barbell Curl vs Dumbbell Curl

Comparing barbell curls and dumbbell curls is impossible because they belong in distinct categories, yielding different benefits and drawbacks. Barbell curls are a bilateral movement, while dumbbell curls are a unilateral movement. 

In addition, barbell curls will enable you to lift heavier weights, building more muscles, while dumbbell curls can correct and prevent muscles imbalances. Looking for a deeper stretch or tighter contraction? Check out our guide on Incline Dumbbell Curl!

Our Trainer’s Suggested Reps, Sets, and Programs

For Improved Strength

Structuring your volumes (reps and sets) will determine if you will be able to gain more muscle or strength. If you want to increase your biceps strength, then we suggest executing more sets with fewer reps. With that being said, you don’t want to lift heavy-weight plates (lower than four reps). Your biceps are small muscles, and lifting too much can put you at risk of getting injured.

Perform four to six sets of four to eight repetitions. Remember to begin with lighter weight and do one to two warm-up sets before you add weight on the bar and go for broke. Unlike the muscle-building set, the volume with strength building is lower. However, that’s because raising heavy weights fatigues both your muscles and nervous system.

For Muscle Gains

If you’re targeting to increase your muscle mass, you have to focus on contractions. This means you’ll be lowering the weight on the bar and executing the barbell curl slowly and with intention. To know if the weight is light enough, add two more reps than your target reps. If you cannot do it, then bring the load down.

Aim to perform five to eight sets of eight to fifteen reps. Again, do a couple of warm-up sets until the motion feels fluid and you’re prepared to crush your workout plan!

Barbell Curl Variations

Are you getting used to the movement batten and activation of barbell curls? If so, it’s time to change it up a bit to continuously activate your upper body muscles. In addition, performing variations can make your workout more exciting and target different muscle groups.

EZ Bar Curl

Instead of the usual straight barbell, this variation uses an angled EZ bar. Although it will engage your forearms less, the EZ bar curls are notably easier on your wrist as you do multiple sets. 

Seated Barbell Curl

This variation only has the partial range of motion of a barbell curl since it often omits the bottom segment of the movement. However, seated curl is effective in enhancing the loading of your bicep and isolating the upper parts of your biceps.

Drag Curl

With this bicep curl variation, you will be holding the bar against your body for the entire range of motion, so you’re dragging it up to your chest. Drag curls lock your arms in place and put an immense amount of tension on your biceps. However, you won’t be able to curl that much weight in this exercise, so it’s better to perform it as a finisher in your workout.

Barbell Curl Alternatives

Although a straight barbell curl targets your upper body perfectly, you cannot do it all the time. Once your muscles get used to the stress, it won’t be as effective as you first started. So, try these alternatives to ensure that your progress will not stall! 

Hammer Curl

This barbell biceps curl alternative will engage your forearms and biceps at a slightly different angle. Because of this, you get more dimensions to your arm development and training. Most of the time, you perform this Hammer Curl Exercise with a dumbbell so you can turn your wrist as you curl in a neutral position.

Preacher Curl

This biceps curl alternative can be performed using dumbbells, a barbell, an EZ bar, or a machine. When doing preacher curls, you’ll place your arms (at an angle) on a preacher bench with your shoulder and arms supported on the pad. This will help isolate your biceps fully. We have also included a list of Alternatives for Preacher Curl, Spider Curl, that will be useful to your bicep exercises.


Chin-ups are one of the best workouts to build your overall biceps size and strength. If you cannot do chin-up (for volume) because you’re lacking the strength and size, then there’s a good chance that it’s the reason why you don’t have solid and large arms! Start here to build those muscles first.

Frequently Asked Questions

A Recumbent Bike is a kind of exercise equipment that you can find at the gym or even bring home for use. It is a bicycle that places its rider in a relaxed, laid-back reclining position. Its design type is for ergonomic reasons such as it distributes the weight of the user evenly and comfortably while also fully supporting your back and buttocks. 

The primary reason people do the barbell curl is that it helps increase their muscle growth and strength. Aside from that, the bicep curls can also enhance your muscular endurance and bone density by getting your bicep muscles, including the surrounding tissues, used to manage resistance on a regular basis. 

Doing a barbell curl is not a waste of time because it does yield results. If it does not, why do many training programs or most personal trainers recommend this exercise? You may think that you’re wasting your time if you don’t perform barbell curls in proper form and with intent. If you don’t contract and isolate your biceps, then you won’t get the expected amount of engagement.

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