How to Do Barbell Biceps Curls
THE BARBELL BICEPS curl is one of a handful of old-school exercises that retains the hardcore reputation today as it did decades ago, when bodybuilding icons Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno pumped though rep after rep.
While this classic movement is timeless, it may not be the right time for everyone to add barbell biceps curls to their training routine, according to Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. The barbell curl can still be considered a relatively advanced exercise, one that beginners may want to hold off on incorporating before learning the biceps training basics via other curl variations.
“It’s all about moving a little bit of load,” Samuel says. “So if you want to feel like a badass when you’re curling, then you want to work up to the barbell biceps curl, and you want to take this on. It is a great way to start any biceps workout.”
Who Should Do Barbell Biceps Curls
Everyone can do barbell biceps curls, from athletes to bodybuilders to average Joes who know their way around the gym. But not everyone should be doing this move. At least not at first, Samuel says.
The exercise may look similar in execution to curls using other implements; you curl a barbell up, then lower it down. For beginners, dumbbell curls and even EZ-bar curls make more sense as adequate alternatives. Both styles are not only going to help you add size to your biceps, but they’ll also be a little more shoulder friendly for you. That’s going to be a solid benefit for those still becoming familiar with learning how to create and maintain a proper squeeze after each rep.
Benefits of Barbell Biceps Curls
Once you’ve nailed the technique with the accessory moves, then it’s time to start adding barbell curls to your workouts. One of the benefits of barbell curls is that you’re able to load more weight than other exercises, a key for growth.
Another element you get with barbell curls is something called supination force. Unlike dumbbells, which allow both hands the ability to turn your pinkies toward the ceiling at the top of each rep, called supination, the barbell’s fixed positioning prevents that movement. However, by gripping the bar nice and tight—almost as if you’re trying to bend the bar—you’re creating additional force which sets up an even better biceps squeeze after each rep.
Setting Up the Barbell Biceps Curl
Performing barbell curls are basically the same as any other curl, but you do want to be well set up to maximize the barbell curl’s benefits. Good form includes squeezing your shoulder blades, tightening your core and squeezing your torso.
When it it comes to hand and wrist placement, a straight bar provides more options. So which is best? One Golden Age idea was to use a wider grip for curls. A more optimal way, however, would be to hold the bar with a shoulder-width grip. You’ll be able to load more while also reducing a bit of wrist struggle as you curl toward the top.
How to Do a Barbell Biceps Curl
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, holding the bar, using a shoulder-width grip.
- Squeeze your glutes, abs, and shoulder blades. Keep your torso tight. Curl the weight up, moving only at the elbows.
- Squeeze your biceps at the top for a split second, then lower the weight back down.
2 Common Barbell Biceps Curl Mistakes
- Don’t lean too much.
You might be tempted to lean back to emphasize the movement, especially as you begin to fatigue or struggle with a heavier load. The last thing you want to do is “power clean” the weight up. Done properly, a good curl should be hitting your biceps for a great squeeze at the top, while also getting a little work in with your forearms, core, glutes, and shoulder blades. The only movement should be at the elbows.
- Don’t shift your elbows forward.
As you begin increasing the load completing the rep may often tempt you shift your elbows forward, which may reduce the tension intended for your biceps. Instead, the work shifts to your shoulders, and you don’t want that. To avoid shifting forward, try and focus on keeping your upper arms “pinned” to your torso. This should allow you to focus on the squeeze and perfect form.
Where to Include Barbell Biceps Curls in Your Workouts
If you’re still in the beginning stages of training, stick with the EZ bar and dumbbells as you focus on gaining that squeeze.
When you’re comfortable with those movements, add barbell biceps curls to your workout. Because you’re using more load, make sure this is the first move in your biceps day training.
Think about doing it for three sets of eight to 10 reps. You can even drop the reps, maybe six to eight on the last set.
Jeff Tomko is a freelance fitness writer who has written for Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Fitness, and Men’s Health.
Brett Williams, a fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a NASM-CPT certified trainer and former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running. You can find his work elsewhere at Mashable, Thrillist, and other outlets.
Do you ever feel discouraged? Maybe like you’re not doing enough? I’ve been battling that feeling lately, and it…