How to Preacher Curl

About the Preacher Curl

Mechanically similar to the concentration curl, the preacher curl is an arm training favourite and is very effective at stressing the arm flexors, including the biceps. With the upper arms pressed against the preacher pad during the curl there is minimal assistance from other muscle groups or body movement, making the preacher curl a perfect biceps isolation exercise.

The specific arm flexor muscles worked during the preacher curl will depend on what type of curl is performed. Typically gym-goers will perform the dumbbell, barbell or EZ bar curl at the preacher station using a supinated (palms up) grip, which will actively engage the biceps. However, it is also possible to target the brachioradialis and brachialis arm flexor muscles using a pronated (palms down) grip, such as during the reverse EZ bar preacher curl, which causes the biceps to be less active.

As mentioned, the preacher curl is similar to the concentration curl with the upper arm being supported during the curl. This not only isolates the biceps but also shifts greater stress onto the long (outer) head as the short (inner) head enters active insufficiency during the curl – meaning it doesn’t possess enough tension to fully contract. This interesting quirk of the preacher curl also explains why it tops the league table of exercises which cause the most activity in the long head of the biceps as measured with EMG readings. It also gives some credence to the view that the concentration curl and preacher curl are exercises which help develop the biceps “peak”.

How to perform

Preparation

  1. Find a dumbbell of a suitable weight
  2. Adjust the height of the seat on a preacher station if necessary, and then sit down on the seat
  3. Place your upper (working) arm on the pad with your arm pit positioned at the top of pad. Your upper arm should be fully supported by the pad, and will remain fixed in this position throughout the exercise
  4. Pass the dumbbell to the working arm, with the arm bent so that your forearm is perpendicular to the ground

Execution

  1. Slowly lower the dumbbell whilst keeping the arm pressed on the pad and stationary
  2. Descend until your forearm is extended, and then curl the weight back up to the starting position
  3. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Common Questions

If you don’t have access to a preacher bench there are a few alternative exercises which will target the arm flexors in a similar fashion.

The concentration curl is mechanically comparable, with the athlete’s thigh providing the support for the working arm instead of the preacher pad. Placing the arm in this position provides similar stimulus to the arm flexors, with the short head of the biceps entering active insufficiency (shifting most the work onto the long head), akin to the preacher curl.

It is also possible to replicate the preacher curl by using an incline bench set at a fairly steep angle to provide a makeshift (albeit narrow) preacher pad for dumbbell preacher curls. Alternatively, a similar effect can be achieved by using the bar in a smith machine station, with a towel wrapped around, to provide support for the upper arms.

This is a debatable topic.

It is usually advisable to perform an exercise through its full range of motion (ROM) for maximum benefit, so this would indicate that the arms should go from full extension at the bottom to full contraction at the top of the preacher curl.

However, the preacher pad is usually angled so that when the forearms are parallel to the ground the arms are just shy of full extension. It may therefore make sense to perform the preacher curl so that the forearms travel no further than parallel to the ground, ensuring tension on the biceps is maintained throughout the movement.

Assuming the same supinated (palms up) grip is used during both curls, there are two main differences between the preacher curl and barbell curl:

Easier to maintain stricter form – with the athlete seated and the upper arms supported, there is little room to cheat the bar up when performing the preacher curl, ensuring all the load is placed on the working arm flexor muscles. Good form should of course be maintained during the barbell curl, but it is a common sight for gym-goers to slacken their form as loads are increased.

Greater long head activation – as shown using EMG readings, the preacher curl produces far greater activity in the long (outer) head of the biceps as the short head undergoes active insufficiency. The barbell curl, when using a standard shoulder width grip, results in a far more equalised distribution between the two heads. That said, it is possible to shift greater stress onto the long head during the barbell curl by using a narrow grip, albeit not quite to the same degree as the preacher curl.

The Zottman curl is an uncommon sight in gyms despite being an effective choice for targeting all the arm flexor muscles in one exercise.

The curl is performed with a set of dumbbells and the initial concentric phase of the exercise is the same as during the traditional dumbbell curl.

For the standing version of the Zottman curl the dumbbells begin down at the athlete’s sides with the palms acing towards the body (hammer grip). The dumbbells are then curled up while the wrists rotate so that at the top of the curl the palms are facing towards the shoulder. This is where the Zottman curl then differs from the traditional dumbbell curl. At the top of the curl the athlete rotates their wrist so the eccentric portion of the curl is performed using a pronated (palms down) grip which places much greater load onto the brachioradialis.

As with any curl, the Zottman curl can also be performed on a preacher bench to provide greater support and variation during your arm workouts.

Workout Ideas

Within a full body workout

Exercise Targets
Hack squat Lower body
Bent over row Middle and upper back and arm flexors
Chest dip Chest and arm extenders
Preacher curl Arm flexors
Hanging leg raise Abdominals

Within a pull workout (e.g. if following push / pull / legs)

Exercise Targets
Chin up Latissimus Dorsi
Cable row Middle and upper back and arm flexors
Arnold press Shoulders
Preacher curl Arm flexors

Within an upper workout (e.g. if following upper / lower)

Exercise Targets
T-bar row Middle and upper back and arm flexors
Dumbbell bench press Chest and arm extenders
Military press Shoulders
Preacher curl Arm flexors
Superset with  
Cable triceps push downs Arm extenders

Other Arm Exercises

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