Your Guide to Barbell Curls – Bigger Biceps Through Proper Form

Black man performing barbel curls with a spotter.

Barbell curls are a goto exercise for increasing the strength and size of your biceps. Performing barbell curls correctly is essential for you to develop stronger biceps while minimizing your potential for injury.

Barbell Curl Summary

  • Primary Muscles Worked: Biceps
  • Other Muscles (Secondary) Worked: Deltoid, Trapezius, Wrist Flexors
  • Equipment: Barbell
  • Mechanics Type: Isolation
  • Force: Pull
  • Utility: Basic

Barbell Curl Instructions

  • Grasp the bar using an under handing grip with your palms facing up. You want your hands to be slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart or slightly wider, straighten you back by pushing your chest out.
  • With you arms straight the bar should be resting across your upper thigh. Now using your shoulders raise the bar forward away from your legs keeping your arms straight. Having this starting and finishing position with the bar not resting on your legs will ensure that your biceps stay engaged the entire time.
  • Next while inhaling, raise the barbell up to your collar bone. Ensure you are only bending at your elbows. Your elbows should stay in the same position.
  • To stabilize your body and spine, you should flex your core as you lift the barbell.
  • Concentrate on flexing your bicep fully at the top and hold for a second.
  • Slowly lower the barbel back to the starting position while exhaling. The slower you go on the negative the harder you will work your biceps.
  • Repeat

Man performing barbell curls.

Muscles Worked During Barbell Curls

Target (Agonist) Muscles

  • Biceps Brachii

Synergist Muscles

  • Brachioradialis
  • Brachialis

Stabilizers Muscles

  • Deltoid, Anterior
  • Trapezius, Upper and Middle
  • Levator Scapulae
  • Wrist Flexors

Antagonist Stabilizers

  • Triceps

Tips For Maximizing Gains with Barbell Curls

  • You should squeeze your bicep at the top of each curl for maximum growth.
  • Embrace the negative and lower the bar slowly. If your goal is to develop big or strong biceps, lower the raise and lower the bar slowly. You can explode the bar up quickly and lower the bar slowly to build both explosive muscle capacity and gain strength faster.
  • You should use an EZ bar if you are stressing your wrist too much. If you find barbell curls straining your wrist, then use an EZ bar. Although, an EZ bar should not be your go-to bar for curls since you can’t fully flex your bicep at the top.

Scott’s 3 Golden Rules for Biceps Curls

How To: Barbell Bicep Curl | 3 GOLDEN RULES
  1. You should use a straight bar if possible to maximize both supination of the forearm and full flex at the top.
  2. Always keep the tension on your biceps
  3. Don’t be scared of momentum (Use the negative for increased muscle growth)

Mistakes to Avoid When Performing Curls

  • Don’t swing the weight or bounce it off of your legs. You want to maintain constant steady tension on your biceps. It’s more critical fully stress your bicep than it is to do more reps or lift more weight than you can control. Also swinging the weight will shift tension off your biceps stress other muscle groups and could lead to injury. You’re performing bicep curls to strengthen your biceps, so let them do the work until you can’t work them anymore.
  • It’s crucial that you don’t lean back during barbell curls. Leaning back causes you to cheat by using your back to lift the weight. Obviously, cheating is taking training away from your biceps.
  • If you’re having trouble with leaning back or swinging the weight, you place your back against a wall or other vertical surface. Although if you use a wall, you will want to position your feet about 2-3 ft in front of you for balance. As a result of using the wall and adjusting your feet, you will maintain the emphasis entirely on your biceps.
  • Above all, don’t lower the bar too fast. A majority of your muscle growth will come from lowering of the weight back down. But only if you lower the bar slowly.

Bicep Curl Variations

Simple grip variation will work different parts of your bicep. When you vary your grip width you will work your Bicep Brachii long head or Bicep Brachii short head more or less. You can also switch your hands to an overhand grip, this will put more strain on your forearms.

Wide-Grip Barbell Curls. Wide-Grip Barbell Curls is a variation of barbell curls that emphasizes the inner portion of your biceps (short head). The grip is typically wide enough so that your wrists are slightly turned outward. Typically slightly more than one hand’s width wider than you standard grip.

Close-Grip Barbell Curls. A narrow grip barbell curls is a variation of barbell curls that emphasizes the outer portion of your biceps (long head). You should perform narrow grip barbell curls in the same manner as your normal grip. Of course, the only difference is your grip will be slightly inside should width. Although you don’t need your hands to touch to work your outer bicep.

Reverse Grip Barbell Curls. If you want to increase your grip strength while training your biceps then you should do some reverse grip curls. You will likely find that as you gain strength in you pull-ups and deadlifts you will be limited by grip strength. Consequently, many people start using straps to deadlift. You can also increase your grip strength with lower weight by performing reverse grip curls.

When to Use an EZ Barbell

Fit woman performing ez barbell curls with lifting gloves and nose piercing.
This is how not to hold an EZ-Bar, notice her hands are not using the angles made to help your wrist. You might as well use a straight bar if you hold the EZ-barbell this way.

If you find that your wrists are a bit uncomfortable during barbell curls, you can use an EZ-bar for your curls. Specifically, using an EZ bar is more about comfort than anything else. As a result, you will perform EZ-Bar curls the same way you perform regular barbell curls, except that you use an EZ-bar. The bends in an EZ-bar enable your palms to face each other slightly and this can relieve some of the strain that you may experience in your wrists.

How to Do a Barbell Curl | Arm Workout

When you perform EZ-Bar Curls, grasp the outer-most bends in the bar with an underhand grip so that your palms are tilted toward each other. When you curl with the EZ-bar, all the same rules apply as when you’re performing regular barbell curls. Using the inside grips would be similar to performing a close grip barbell curl, as it would work primarily the outer portion of the bicep.

Alternative Barbell Exercises

Alternative Bicep Curl Exercise Resistance

Cable Curls. When you use a cable it allows you to change the direction of resistance. In contrast, when you use a barbell the direction is always straight down with gravity. You can perform cable curls the same way as barbell curls. Although you will find that if you ensure that the cable is pulling you slightly forward and down that your biceps will be more engaged. For example with the barbell when you get to the top you can rest the bar on your arms. But with the cable, it will be pulling away keeping your biceps engaged.
Dumbbell Curls. There are too many variations of dumbbell curls to cover here. There are many benefits to dumbbell curls with all the variations as well. The main drawback of dumbbell curls from barbell curls is the range of motion. Since as dumbbells become larger and they are compact they will limit your range of motion more as they get bigger. The bar will stay the same size since the weight is away from your body and doesn’t impact your range of motion.

Kettlebell Curls. Many people are using kettlebells for their resistance training. kettlebells provide you with similar benefits as dumbbells, and similar drawbacks.

Developing Strong and Defined Arms

You should be able to perform barbell curls correctly in a manner that is sure to build your bicep strength and reduce chances of injuries. There are so many bicep exercises you should really mix them up and not do the same one on every bicep day. In fact, if you mix up your bicep exercise you will develop more rounded and full biceps. If you want some more Bicep exercises to add to your routine check out our other biceps exercise and routines here.

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