How to Barbell Biceps Curl

About the Barbell Biceps Curl

The barbell biceps curl has been around for decades, providing stimulus to the biceps, as well as the brachialis (a muscle which runs beneath the biceps) and brachioradialis (a muscle which runs from the forearm and attaches above the elbow). These muscles are collectively known as the arm flexors, as they are responsible for bringing the forearm towards the upper arm.

Keep your upper arms stationary by your side, shoulders relaxed, grasping the barbell with a shoulder width, underhand grip. Curl the barbell up towards your chest while you exhale and keep your upper arms stationary by your sides. Fully contract the biceps at the top and then slowly reverse the curl while breathing in.

Many athletes now choose to perform the biceps curl using an EZ bar, as the barbell curl can be uncomfortable to the wrist joint. The EZ bars are slightly bent so the wrists are less rotated during the exercise.

As with all exercises, the form in which the barbell biceps curl is performed is important. The torso should remain stationary during the set, and the upper arms and elbows fixed in position at the side of your body.

How to perform


  1. Load the barbell with the correct weight and place on the safety collars
  2. Grasp the bar with a shoulder width underhand grip
  3. Stand erect with upper arms and elbows stationary down by your sides


  1. Flex at the elbow to curl the weight upward by contracting the biceps. Upper arms and elbows should remain fixed to your sides
  2. After peak contraction, slowly reverse the movement back to the starting position
  3. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Common Questions

A good starting point would be to use a shoulder width grip, but if necessary feel free to adjust this somewhat so you find a grip that is most comfortable for you.

Interestingly, using different width grips during the barbell biceps curl does result in different levels of muscle activation between the two biceps heads. The long (outer) head of the biceps is activated to a much larger degree when a narrow grip is used (it’s also highly activated by the preacher curl), whereas the short (inner) head is more active during a wider grip.

However, using a narrow grip, despite resulting in greater long head activation, does reduce the overall stimulus to the biceps as a whole when compared to a shoulder width grip as a greater proportion of the training load is placed on the brachialis.

In summary, while it’s fairly common to hear bodybuilding enthusiasts recommend varying the width to train specific regions of the biceps, the overwhelming majority of people would be best sticking to a comfortable shoulder width grip which will place near maximum loads of both biceps heads when a supinated grip is used.

If you feel any pain when weightlifting you must stop right away and seek help from your doctor.

Wrist and forearm pain can be fairly common in people who lift weights. While it’s impossible to get a diagnosis until you see a medical professional, common causes include tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon), tenosynovitis (inflammation of the sheath surrounding the tendon) and other forms of repetitive strain injuries resulting from the repeated gripping that occurs in weightlifting.

Those with such injuries will typically find the barbell biceps curl a particularly troublesome exercise and would be best avoiding it. A great alternative is the EZ bar curl which places the wrists in a much more comfortable position.

There are various differences between the dumbbell and barbell biceps curl.

The first obvious difference is that your arms work independently of one another when you perform the dumbbell biceps curl. This can be particularly beneficial if you have strength imbalances between the two arms. By performing the dumbbell curl you can ensure both arms are worked equally and progress at an even rate, opposed to one arm overpowering the exercise.

Secondly, most gym-goers perform the dumbbell curl by rotating their wrists, starting with a neutral grip (palms facing one another) and transitioning into a supinated grip (palms facing your shoulders at the top of the curl). This tends to target the Brachialis, the muscle running beneath the two biceps heads, as well as the biceps. You may also find this a much more comfortable option if you find the barbell biceps curl is too unforgiving on your wrists.

Both are fairly similar, yet many prefer the EZ bar curl as it offers a much more comfortable grip for most gym-goers.

There is minimal difference regarding how they target the arm flexors, so we would advise to choose the option which you find most comfortable to perform.

Workout Ideas

Within a full body workout

Exercise Targets
Squat Lower body and core
Chest dip Chest and arm extenders
Seated row Middle and upper back and arm flexors
Barbell biceps curl Arm flexors
V ups Abdominals

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

Exercise Targets
Pull up Latissimus Dorsi
T bar row Middle and upper back and arm flexors
Shrug Trapezius
Barbell biceps curl Arm flexors

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

Exercise Targets
One arm dumbbell row Middle and upper back and arm flexors
Bench press Chest and arm extenders
Shoulder press Shoulders
Barbell biceps curl Arm flexors
Superset with  
Skull crushers Arm extenders

Other Arm Exercises