Barbell Biceps Curl

With as much information available today, the barbell curl is easy to overlook. The movement pattern used is simple. Curl a loaded bar up to shoulder height then down again. Despite this, it has several amazing benefits that make it a great workout staple to include in your routine.

In this guide, we’ve discussed the barbell biceps curl in detail. We’ve discussed the proper form, the muscles worked, and how to program it effectively. We’ve also looked at who should perform the barbell biceps curl and the many benefits it can offer.

How To Do

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  2. Keep your chest lifted and pull your shoulder blades back and down.
  3. Grasp the bar with a closed, underhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder-width. Fully extend your arms, establishing the starting position.
  4. Take a deep breath in and engage your core. Initiate the movement by engaging your biceps and curling the barbell towards your shoulder in a controlled manner. Avoid using momentum to swing the bar.
  5. Once the bar reaches your shoulders, pause at the top position. Slowly lower it back to the starting position. Breathe out as you bring it back to the starting position.

Tips From Expert

  • A full range of motion is the best way to maximize muscle growth. What does this mean? On barbell curls, start from the fully stretched position at the bottom, and do not cut your reps short at the top. 
  • Think back to high school science class. What direction does gravity pull? It's not a trick question; the answer is straight down. Allowing your elbows to drift forward takes tension off the biceps and distributes it with the shoulders. Keep your elbows tight to your sides.
  • Don't be afraid to curl some big weights. A barbell curl's main advantage over other curl variations is the ability to use more weight and progressively overload the muscle.

Optimal Sets and Reps

The next question you probably have is how many sets and reps to do. Follow the recommendations in the chart below based on what you want to accomplish.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 3–5 4–6
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–12
Endurance Training 3–4 15+
Power Training 3–5 1–3

How to Put in Your Workout Split

One thing to keep in mind when looking at the chart is that research indicates muscle growth is comparable across multiple rep ranges. This is as long as the volume is equated and the sets are taken close to failure. 

When deciding how to program the barbell curl, we must first outline our overall biceps training plan. Around ten sets per muscle group per week is the suggested volume for muscle growth. This can vary between individuals but is a good general guideline. 

The next question is, do you want to do all ten sets in one workout or two per week? Both options are likely equally effective.

Here are some sample workouts for using barbell curls to build muscle.

Option #1: Biceps Once a Week 

  • Barbell curl: 4 sets x 8–10 reps.
  • Dumbbell incline curl 3 sets x 8–12 reps.
  • Machine or cable preacher curl: 3 sets x 10–12 reps.

This workout could be part of a pull day, shoulders and arms, or full-arm workout.

Option #2: Biceps Twice a Week

Workout 1:

  • Barbell curl: 4 sets x 8–10 reps. 

Workout 2:

  • Dumbbell alternating curl: 3 sets x 8–10 reps.
  • Dumbbell hammer preacher curl: 3 sets x 10–12 reps.

This approach works well if you follow an upper/lower, full body, or a push-pull-legs routine.

Use these loading recommendations below for other training goals. Use your one repetition maximum (1RM) to work out your training intensity. This is the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one repetition.

If you want to focus more on strength, lower the reps and increase the weight. Perform 1–5 reps of barbell curls with 80%–100% of your 1RM for strength. 

On the other hand, if you want more muscular endurance, stick to lighter weights at 40%–60% of your 1RM.

Primary Muscle Groups

Biceps Long Head

Most outside part of your bicep.The front of your upper arm.

Biceps Short Head

Most inside portion of the biceps. Located at the front of your upper arm closest to your chest.

Biceps Long Head

Your biceps brachii is made up of two main muscle heads; the long head and the short head. 

The biceps long head runs along the upper arm's outer part and contributes to the bicep peak. It assists in elbow flexion and supination (turning the palm up). During barbell curls, the long head is engaged. 

Targeting the long head of the biceps with barbell curls helps develop a more prominent bicep peak, enhancing the overall arm shape. A narrower grip targets the long head more effectively. 

Did you know? When performing elbow flexion, the biceps brachii are the most engaged at 90-degree elbow flexion. This is the top position of the barbell biceps curl.

Biceps Short Head

The short head of the biceps is located on the inner part of the upper arm and contributes to overall bicep thickness. It also plays a role in elbow flexion and assists in shoulder flexion. 

During barbell curls, the short head is engaged by using a wider grip. This emphasizes the inner part of the bicep. Targeting the short head helps build the thickness and fullness of the biceps, enhancing arm size.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Wrist Extensors

Muscles that make up the back portion of your lower arm, between your elbow and wrist.

Wrist Extensors 

The brachioradialis is a large muscle on the back of your forearm that allows you to extend your wrist. While it is not directly involved in a barbell curl, it plays a supporting role.

The long and short heads of the biceps brachii perform the primary actions; elbow flexion and extension. The wrist extensors help maintain a stable wrist position, preventing it from collapsing under the weight. 

They counteract the wrist's tendency to flex under the load, ensuring that the force generated by the biceps is transmitted to the barbell.

Equipment

Barbell

Barbell

You can use this for a range of arm exercises. Ensure the seat is at the right height. A good alternative would be the incline bench.

Who Should Do?

Bodybuilders

Bodybuilding is a sport that aims to maximize muscular development across the entire body. Of course, part of that includes building big biceps. 

The barbell curl is one of the best biceps-building exercises you can do. It allows you to progressively overload your biceps using a simple movement pattern. Because of this, it makes sense that it should be a bodybuilding staple.

For bodybuilders, the barbell curl is a perfect main movement for the biceps. It also isolates the biceps, allowing for targeted muscle growth and development. 

Athletes

Despite the common perception of the biceps as a vanity muscle, their strength is functional and beneficial for many sports. For example, your biceps come into play when you pull. Biceps strength is particularly important in sports like jiu-jitsu and wrestling, where pulling strength is a crucial factor.

Strong biceps are critical for strength sports, too. Even in an exercise like the bench press, the biceps serve as a stabilizing muscle. The barbell curl is an excellent option for athletes because of its efficiency.

Beginners Who Want Bigger Arms

Barbell curls are versatile and can benefit nearly everyone, not just bodybuilders or athletes. The barbell curl is the perfect biceps movement for a beginner to start with.

The barbell curl is ideal for beginners because it has a small initial learning curve, making it easy to learn and perform correctly. Additionally, it’s easy to progress by gradually increasing the weight, helping beginners steadily build strength and muscle.

*Expert tip: As a beginner, use the barbell biceps curl to build foundational strength. Once you’ve done this, progress to different bicep curl variations.

Who Should Not Do?

Individuals With Elbow Or Wrist Pain

As good as the barbell curl is, it’s not without issues. Curling heavy weights with your wrists fixed in a fully supinated (underhand) position can stress the wrists and elbows. 

If you develop symptoms of elbow or wrist pain when performing elbow flexion, make sure to consult a healthcare specialist.

*Expert tip: If the traditional barbell doesn’t feel great on your joints, an easy solution is to use an EZ Bar.

People With Back Pain

Individuals with lower back pain should be cautious with exercises like the barbell curl. The curling motion can strain the lower back, primarily if proper form is not maintained. This strain can exacerbate existing lower back issues or lead to new injuries. 

In this case, performing seated bicep exercises with back support may be a better option. Again, consult the help of a relevant healthcare professional if suffering from back pain.

Benefits Of The Barbell Biceps Curl

Greater Upper Body Mass

To build upper body mass, you need two main things; a suitable resistance training stimulus and enough training volume. When these are both adequate, you can successfully build upper-body mass.

The most significant benefit of the barbell curl is greater upper body mass. It activates the biceps more than dumbbell curls. As part of your upper body, your biceps comprise a large portion of your upper arms. Growing your biceps will make a big impact on your physique. 

Therefore, the barbell biceps curl provides a suitable resistance training stimulus that can be performed with enough volume. Both are key factors for muscle growth to occur.

Enhanced Grip Strength

Remember, the barbell curl is not just a biceps exercise. It also enhances the wrist extensor muscles of the forearms. Lifting the bar requires you to grip it tightly, engaging the muscles in your hands, wrists, and forearms. 

As you increase the weight over time, these muscles get stronger, improving your overall grip. Grip strength has also been shown to be a key indicator of overall health

Resilience Against Injury

Barbell curls strengthen the biceps, making them more resilient against injury. Stronger biceps can provide better support for the elbow and shoulder joints, lowering the likelihood of strains and tears.

Enhanced muscle strength also helps absorb shocks and impacts, protecting the arm from potential damage during physical activities. 

Strong biceps are important for preventing injury when carrying heavy things in everyday life. Anyone who has carried a toddler around Disney World knows what I’m talking about.
If your biceps are weak, it can cause you to carry loads with poor posture. Poor posture can lead to back pain, which many of the adult population already deal with.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the barbell good for bicep curls?

A barbell is an excellent option for bicep curls. It allows you to lift heavier weights than dumbbells or cables and effectively targets the biceps for growth and strength.

Is a 100 lb barbell curl good?

A 100 lb barbell curl is good if you can lift it properly with strict form. Using good technique is much more important than forcing the weight up using momentum or other muscles.

Is there a wrong way to do bicep curls?

Yes, there is a wrong way to do bicep curls. Using poor form, lifting too much weight, or swinging your body are all examples of poor technique.

Should you twist your arm when doing bicep curls?

Some people twist their wrists clockwise at the top when doing dumbbell curls. The idea is that this increases the curl’s effectiveness, but little evidence supports that claim.

Resources

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