Barbell Curls: Muscle Worked, How To Do, Form, Alternate

If you want to build a bigger and stronger bicep, you should add barbell curls to your arm workout routine.

Why are barbell curls so vital? Barbell curls are a classic biceps curl exercise that has been used for decades by bodybuilders and strength athletes. They are a highly effective way to target the biceps brachii and brachialis muscles.

They not only build the aesthetic appeal of your arms, but also contribute to functional upper body strength.

In this beginner guide, we will explore the following:

What is Barbell Curl

The barbell curl is a highly recognizable biceps exercise that helps to build bigger and stronger biceps. It’s a good way to make your arm stronger and more defined.

The barbell curl is known for its ability to isolate and strengthen the biceps, promoting muscle growth, definition, and increased arm strength.

This is a pull-type, isolation exercise that works primarily on your biceps and also trains the muscles in your forearms. It’s usually added to upper body workouts to make the arms look good and be strong.

There are many variations of barber curl that you can add to your workout routine, and all have their own unique benefits.

Muscle Worked During Barbell Curl

The barbell curl, primarily works the biceps brachii. A handful of other muscles worked or play the role of stabilizer muscles, including your brachialis, brachioradialis and forearm muscles.

The barbell curl has the involvement of several synergist muscles, these muscles include, oblique and core muscles.

Muscle Worked During Barbell Curl

Bicep Brachii

The Biceps is a large, thick muscle of the upper arm. It has two heads: short (inner) and long (outer).

  • The short head is located along the inner side of the anterior upper arm. It contributes to the biceps’ width.
  • The long head is located along the outer side of the anterior upper arm. It comprises the majority of the biceps’ peak.


The brachialis is a muscle located underneath the biceps brachii. It is primarily responsible for elbow flexion.


The brachioradialis is a forearm muscle that runs along the outer side of the forearm. It assists in elbow flexion and plays a secondary role during the barbell curl.

How To Do Barbell Curl

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
  2. Grab the barbell with an underhand grip (palms facing up) at shoulder-width or slightly narrower.
  3. Allow your arms to fully extend, ensure that the barbell is resting against the front of your thighs.
  4. Keep your elbows close to your sides.
  5. Engage your core and maintain an upright posture with your chest lifted and shoulders back.
  6. Exhale and slowly curl the barbell upwards towards your chest.
  7. Keep curling until your forearms are almost vertical and the barbell is close to your chest.
  8. Inhale and slowly lower the barbell back down to the starting position.
  9. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
  10. Aim to complete 8-12 repetitions.
How To Do Barbell Curl

Barbell Bicep Curl Proper Form And Technique

  • Avoid using excessive momentum or swinging your body in order to lift the weight. Focus on using your biceps to control the movement.
  • Don’t underestimate the pause at the top of your curl, and take a moment to squeeze your bicep when you get there.
  • slow controlled descent will increase time under tension, leading to more effective sets, and less risk of injury.
  • Ensure that your elbows are kept close to your sides with your knees slightly bent, and your hands gripped tightly to the bar.
  • You should focus on the contraction of the biceps at the top of the movement.
  • Always select a weight that allows you to have full control of your body.
  • Incorporate proper warm-ups, rest, and nutrition into your exercise program.
  • Rest for 24 to 48 hours before training the same muscle groups to allow sufficient recovery.
  • Perform this exercise in a slow, controlled manner for best results.
  • Don’t go heavy. Choose a lighter weight and focus on perfecting your form.

Set, Reps And Frequency For Barbell Curl

The number of reps you should do depends on your goals, whether they are to increase strength or build muscle mass and endurance.

  • For muscle growth, it is best to do for around 6–12 reps per set.
  • For strength, around 3–8 reps per set are recommended.
  • To build Muscle Endurance, do 15-20+ reps per set.

Here are some general guidelines for the barbell curl exercise, including sets, reps, and frequency, in order to build muscle mass


If you’re new to barbell curls or strength training in general, start with lighter weights and focus on mastering proper form and technique.

2-38-121-2 times per week


Once you’re comfortable with the exercise, gradually increase the weight and intensity.

3-48-122-3 times per week


As an advanced fitness enthusiast, you can add more sets, higher weights, and advanced variations to your barbell curl workouts.

4-58-152-3 times per week

Tips for Increasing Weight and Reps

Once you’ve mastered proper form with a lighter weight, you can start to increase the weight and reps. However, it’s important to do so safely and gradually.

  • Start by increasing the weight by 5-10% and reducing your reps to 6-8.
  • However, it’s important to listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard.
  • It’s also important to give your muscles time to recover between workouts.

Variations Of Barbell Bicep Curls

There are several variations of barbell curls that can target different areas of your biceps and forearms.

1. Wide Grip Barbell Curl

Wide grip barbell curl in the best variation of barbell bicep exercises to build a short head of bicep. When you do it, make sure your hands are wider than your shoulders.

The wide grip barbell curl has several unique benefits over other types of bicep curls.

  • First, it allows you to use more weight, which can help you build bigger biceps.
  • Second, it puts more emphasis on the inner head of the biceps, which can help to give your biceps a fuller look.
  • Third, it can help to improve your grip strength.
Wide Grip Barbell Curl

How To Do

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Grip the barbell with an underhand grip, with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Keep your back straight and your core engaged.
  4. Bend your elbows and curl the barbell up to shoulder level.
  5. Squeeze your biceps at the top of the movement.
  6. Then slowly lower the barbell back down to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for desired reps.

2. Close Grip Barbell Curl

The close grip barbell curl is a highly recognizable biceps exercise that builds the outer biceps (long head).

When you do this, you should place your hands closer together on the bar, typically a few inches apart, instead of gripping it with your hands shoulder-width apart.

Close Grip Barbell Curl

How To Do

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  2. Grasp the barbell with an underhand grip at a narrower distance than shoulder-width,
  3. Curl the bar up to shoulder level by bending your elbows.
  4. Lower the bar back down to the arms’ extended position.
  5. Repeat for desired reps.

3. Barbell Preacher Curl

The barbell preacher curl is performed on a preacher bench, which provides support for the upper arms and helps to isolate the biceps. This also helps to minimize cheating or swinging movements.

The preacher bench allows for a full range of motion, starting with the arms fully extended and ending with a full contraction at the top of the movement.

Preacher curl

How To Do

  1. Set up a preacher bench and adjust the height so that your upper arms can comfortably rest on the angled pad
  2. Sit on a preacher bench with your elbows resting on the preacher pad.
  3. Now grasp the barbell with an underhand grip (palms facing up) at shoulder-width or slightly wider.
  4. Curl the bar to the barbell upward and get maximum contraction at the top.
  5. Then slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.
  6. Repeats the desired number of sets.

4. Barbell Spider Curl

If you’re looking for a way to get more creative with your barbell curl exercises, why not try the Barbell spider curl?

Barbell spider curls train your biceps in a shortened (which is to say a maximally contracted) muscle position. This results in a powerful muscle pump that makes your arms appear more vascular, and which can also lead to significant hypertrophy.

Spider bicep curls are typically done with a barbell. However, you can also use an EZ bar or dumbbells.

Barbell spider curl

How To Do

  1. Adjust the bench to an incline, level to a 45-degree angle. Lean against the bench so that your chest is supported.
  2. Stand on the balls of your feet and keep them about shoulder width apart for stability.
  3. Let your arms hang in front of your torso. From here, have a barbell ready, or have it set-up in front of you.
  4. Slowly curl the barbell toward your shoulders and squeeze your biceps forcefully.
  5. Hold the contraction for a moment, and then slowly lower the bar under control until your elbows are fully extended.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

5. Barbell Drag Curl

If you want to improve your arm size, strength, and appearance, the drag curl is for you. This barbell curl exercise is another great option that will help you to target the biceps and grow your arms.

The barbell drag curl is less popular than the standard barbell curl exercises, even though it is a very effective bicep exercise. 

Barbell Drag Curl

How To Do

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your knees slightly bent, and your abs are drawn in.
  2. Grab the barbell with a double underhand (supinated) grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart
  3. Bring your elbows and shoulders back slightly as you curl the barbell upwards. It should feel like you are “dragging” the barbell up to your body.
  4. Squeeze your biceps hard at the top and slowly return to the starting position.

6. EZ Bar Curl

If you want to target your outer biceps, then this is a great exercise for you. Here, you can focus on the long head as your hands are close to each other during the movement.

The straight bar version of this exercise is excellent too. However, it can cause wrist and forearm discomfort for many lifters due to the need to use a fully supinated grip.

Close Grip Ez Bar

How To Do

  1. Stand holding an EZ-curl bar using a supinated grip.
  2. Keep your elbows fixed to your sides and exhale as you curl the bar up toward your shoulders.
  3. Hold for a count of two and squeeze your biceps.
  4. Inhale as you lower the EZ-curl bar to the starting position.

Note: In the study conducted, they found that the EZ barbell curl showed the highest overall electromyography (EMG) activity in the biceps brachii (BB) and brachioradialis (BR) muscles compared to the dumbbell curl (DC) and barbell curl (BC) variants.

7. Reverse Curl

The reversal curl is an essential part of bicep workouts. It is a variation of the traditional barbell biceps curl exercise that targets the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles, as well as the biceps brachii.

This exercise is performed by using an overhand grip (pronated grip) instead of the typical underhand grip (supinated grip), which shifts the emphasis to different muscles of the forearm and upper arm.

Strengthening this muscle can improve grip strength and improve the look of the forearm and upper arm.

Barbell Reverse Curl

How To Do

  1. With your feet shoulder-width apart, stand upright and hold a barbell in front of your thighs with an overhand grip.
  2. Maintain a straight back, engage your core, and keep your elbows close to your body.
  3. Curl the bar up to shoulder level by bending your elbows.
  4. Continue the curl until the weight is close to your shoulders.
  5. Hold the contracted position for a moment.
  6. Inhale and slowly lower the barbell to the starting position.
  7. Repeat for desired reps.

Benefits Of Doing Barbell Bicep Curl

Barbell Biceps curl exercises are weight-training exercises that involve lifting heavy weights loaded onto a barbell. The weight is delivered by weight plates, which come in increments, allowing you to work your way up to lifting heavier weights.

  • Barbell Bicep Workouts forced to incorporate balance and coordination, which machines don’t demand of you.
  • Bicep curls are a great choice for anyone looking to strengthen biceps, and brachialis muscles.
  • It strengthens your neuromuscular connection, which is considered to be responsible for major strength gains.
  • By activating your forearm muscles, the barbell bicep curls improve your grip strength.
  • It offers versatility as it allows you to modify grip width, hand position, and even perform variations like preacher curls or EZ bar curls and spider curl.
  • Many people prefer the comfort of working out at home, since barbell curls require only a bar and weights. Setting up a home gym, therefore, becomes manageable.

Add Barbell Curl Into Your Workout Routine

The barbell curls can be incorporated into your workout routine in a variety of ways. Here are some options:

  1. As a standalone exercise: Do on 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.
  2. As part of a bicep workout: Do 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps along with other bicep exercises like the Dumbbell bicep curl and hammer curl.
  3. As part of a full-body workout: Do 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps along with other compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses.

Sample Workout Routine

1. Bicep-Focused Workout Routine

Barbell Curl3-48-12
Hammer Curl310-12
Preacher Curl38-10
Concentration Curl48-12
Cable Curl38-12

2. Pull Workout Routine

Lat Pulldowns310-12
Barbell Curl38-12
Dumbbell Shrugs38-12

3. Full Body Workout Routine

Bench Press46-8
Barbell Curl38-10
Overhead Press48-10
Plank330 sec


Do barbell curls work forearms

Yes, barbell curls do work the forearms to a certain extent. While the primary focus of barbell curls is on the biceps brachii, the forearms also play a supporting role in stabilizing the weight and assisting with grip strength.


Mastering the barbell bicep curl and its variations is essential for sculpting strong and defined arms. You can achieve a more well-rounded and sculpted arm appearance by adding preacher curls, spider curls, and reverse curls to your arm workout routine.

Always focus on proper form and technique when doing bicep curls. Also, try different weights and reps, take breaks to recover, and avoid common mistakes to get the most out of your barbell curl workouts.

Get ready to build a strong and defined bicep like never before.


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  • Kraemer & Ratamess (2004) Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA. Fundamentals of resistance training: progression and exercise prescription. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2004;36(4):674–688. doi: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000121945.36635.61.
  • Differences in electromyographic activity of biceps brachii and brachioradialis while performing three variants of curl
  • Lehman GJ. 2005. The influence of grip width and forearm pronation/supination on upper-body myoelectric activity during the flat bench press. Strength & Conditioning Journal 19(3):587-591
  • Staudenmann D, Taube W. 2015Brachialis muscle activity can be assessed with surface electromyographyJournal of Electromyography and Kinesiology 25(2):199-204

10 Barbell Bicep Exercises For Mass and Strength

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