Nothing says “I train” like a big pair of biceps. Biceps are the hallmark of gym training, with their unmistakable shape and mass. They make your arms look hot in a vest, a shirt, or even a sweater.
If there’s one exercise you need to master for biceps, it’s the barbell curl. This big move puts a ton of work through the bicep muscle, sculpting serious mass and shape. But so many guys get the barbell curl wrong. Don’t be one of them.
We asked CrazyBulk ambassador Chris Tripp to create a video tutorial explaining exactly how to perform the barbell curl properly and build an eye-catching pair of arms in no time.
But first of all, here’s a little more about the exercise itself:
What are barbell curls?
Exercise type: mass builder, strength, muscle gain, hypertrophy
Main muscle worked: biceps
Equipment needed: barbell (can also be done with fixed bar, EZ bar, dumbbell, cables)
Level: beginner, intermediate
Other names for barbell curls: biceps curls, bicep curls, standing barbell curl, wide grip barbell curl
Which muscles do barbell curls work?
Master the standing barbell curl exercise and you’ll know exactly which muscle it works, cos you’ll feel it! Yep, the barbell bicep curl isolates the biceps, holding tension in the working muscle as you apply serious load.
Your biceps are one big muscle with two heads (“bi” ceps – two heads, “tri” ceps – three heads, you with us?) The two heads are called the short head and the long head. The Latin name for the biceps is biceps brachii. The biceps muscle controls the shoulder and the elbow joints, and its main job is to lift the forearm.
And that’s why the barbell curl is such a killer biceps move. Do it right, and you’ll lock down every other movement, leaving your bicep to do the work of lifting that forearm – and the barbell you’re holding.
How to do barbell curls properly
Even the best bicep exercise is only as good as your technique. A barbell curl might look simple but you won’t believe how many guys get it wrong, or do it so sloppily that they wind up giving their lower back more of a workout. Here’s CrazyBulk ambassador Chris Tripp showing us how to do barbell curls with perfect form:
As you’ll see in this video, Chris chose to use a barbell for his biceps curls. You could do the same move with dumbbells, a fixed bar, an EZ bar, or even with cables. But Chris always goes with a barbell. We asked him why. “Standing barbell curls are such a big exercise for the biceps, so it makes sense to put as much load through the move as possible,” he said. Chris said he does sometimes use other equipment for biceps curls, but a barbell is his go-to. “Using a loaded barbell means you can lock your upper arm in and focus on the tension and squeeze,” he said.
Don’t like re-watching videos while working out? Here are step-by-step instructions on how to do the perfect barbell curl every time you train arms:
1 – Stand behind the loaded barbell with feet slightly wider than hip width. If you’re just working with the bar, rest it on the pins of the rack, or within the squat rack, so you don’t have to bend down so far.
2 – Bend down and pick up the weight. Have your hands slightly wider than hip width, hands underneath the bar (palms upwards) and thumbs around the top of the bar. Use good form to pick the bar up, bend your knees and protect your back.
3 – Stand up straight with the barbell at its extended position. Your hands should be just outside your hips. Have your shoulders back and down, chest high, and head straight forward (not looking down or up).
4 – Now curl the bar up by squeezing the biceps. Keep your upper arms pressed into your ribs, and your elbows fixed. This will stop you from bringing your elbows forwards during the move. Squeeze your core and glutes as you curl the bar up (it helps!)
5 – Keep all the work in the biceps as you curl the bar to chest level. It doesn’t need to come any higher than this.
6 – Squeeze your biceps at the top and hold the contraction for 1-2 seconds.
7 – Slowly lower the weight down, keeping the upper arm and elbow locked in place. Maintain constant tension on the biceps.
Stop making this #1 barbell curl mistake
Using momentum to move the weight is kinda cheating. By using momentum, you’ll take the work out of the working muscle (the bicep, remember). And what’s more, you put your lower back at risk of injury. Using momentum doesn’t look impressive. It just looks like you chose a weight that’s too heavy. Leave your ego at the door, use less weight, and focus on strict form and muscle connection.
How to programme barbell curls in your biceps workouts
The golden rule of workout planning is to start with your big, main move for the muscle group. Barbell curls are a major exercise for the biceps. So begin your biceps workout with barbell curls before moving on to variations or accessory work. To really hit the biceps after standing barbell curls, use dumbbells or cables at different angles. Stick with 8-12 reps for barbell curls and then get a good pump with higher rep exercise choices.
If you do a push/pull/legs routine, put barbell curls into your pull days. This means putting your barbell curls into the same workout as bent over rows, pull ups, seated rows, and other back exercises. All of these exercises work the biceps too, so your arms will get a major pump.
Similar exercises to barbell curls
Barbell curls are a biceps exercise which works by lifting the forearm using the elbow as a lever. Similar exercises to the barbell curl include standing fixed bar curls, EZ bar curls, standing or seated dumbbell curls, cable curls, preacher curls, or incline dumbbell curls.
Take your biceps workouts to the next level with barbell curls
Once you’ve mastered the perfect biceps curl form with a barbell, you can take your bicep curl workouts to the next level. This is where arm training gets serious. Perfecting the barbell curl is important because it will develop a great mind-muscle connection with the bicep, teaching you how to keep the tension in that muscle without moving anything else. Take that intense focus and form to any other isolation biceps exercise.
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Use a preacher curl bench, or set up a regular bench on a steep incline and stand behind it with your arm lying along the length of the pad. Hold a dumbbell (for single arm preacher curls) or an EZ bar. Start at the bottom of the move and curl the weight up, squeezing through the bicep. Lower with control. This is a tough bicep exercise cos you’re forced to hold your arm still.
Incline dumbbell curls
This one’s killer. Set up a bench on an incline and sit with a dumbbell in each hand. Lower your arms right down (the angle will mean your arms hang slightly backwards). Curl the weight up to your chest without bringing your elbows forwards. Want more? Do 8 reps, then hold the stretch at the bottom of the move for 5 seconds. Then bang out a few more reps.
Alternate standing dumbbell curls
This is kinda like the barbell curl we’ve been talking about, but using dumbbells. And instead of working both arms at the same time, you work them alternately, curling the left arm up and down then starting on the right side. Or you can do your full reps on one side then move to the other side.
Over to you!
Master the perfect form for barbell curls and you’ll unlock the secret to the best ever bicep workout, every time.
When did you first learn to do barbell curls? How have they improved your arms? Tell us about it in the comments below.