Google the term “biceps curl,” and you’ll get over 20 million hits. There is no shortage of information about this beloved muscle group and its most popular exercise. Think back to your first time in a gym when you didn’t know much about lifting. Was one of the first exercises you performed a biceps curl? (Be honest.)
Biceps curls are one of those exercises in which you can watch yourself in a mirror with pride when your arm swells after every curl. And no one will bat an eyelid when you pull up your sleeve and bust open a biceps flex pose. With a multitude of variations, there’s one curl that gets lost in the wash like a disappearing pair of socks.
That’s the barbell biceps curl.
If it’s been a while since you have done a barbell biceps curl, and you need to get acquainted with this excellent bicep variation, this is for you. Here we’ll dive into this old-school exercise for your biceps flexing pleasure.
What is the Barbell Biceps Curl?
There are many variations of the bicep curl but only one barbell bicep curl. Using either a supinated (underhand grip) or a reverse (pronated grip), grip the barbell tightly while curling up to your shoulders. The beauty of the barbell curl is that the barbell locks you into a specific range of motion, which allows you to load up more than most other biceps variations.
How to do The Barbell Biceps Curl
Grip the barbell with an underhand grip around shoulder-width, with your chest up, shoulders down, and the barbell in front of your thighs.
Keeping your upper arms by your side and your upper back engaged, curl the barbell up to your anterior deltoids.
While keeping an upright stance and feeling a contraction in your biceps—lower down to the starting position and reset and repeat.
Well, you know one because it’s in the title, but other muscles are trained with the barbell biceps curls that allow the biceps to do their job. Here are the primary muscles trained by the barbell biceps curl.
Biceps Brachii: (short and long head) are the primary muscles of elbow flexion. Whether you use a wide or narrow grip determines which bicep head is focused on more.
Brachialis(forearm flexor): A powerful flexor of the elbow joint that crosses the elbow joint.
Brachioradialis (forearm flexor): Similar function to the brachialis but activated less during the barbell biceps curl.
Anterior Deltoid: The biceps also cross the shoulder joint; it assists the anterior deltoid with shoulder flexion, which occurs near the end of the curl’s range of motion.
Upper Back (isometrically): Keeping your chest up and shoulders down keeps you in good lifting posture because the weight is anterior to you, pulling you forward.
3 Barbell Biceps Curl Benefits
Obviously, for bigger biceps, of course. Due to its relative stability, the barbell variation allows you to use more weight than other biceps variations for better size and strength. Have you ever seen a lifter curling huge weights who didn’t have massive arms? I rest my case.
Here are some other little-known benefits of barbell biceps curl.
Improved Shoulder Stability: Because the biceps have two heads, the short head originating at the top of the scapula and the long head just above the shoulder joint, both assist the rotator cuff with shoulder stability, mainly through the anterior shoulder.
Sneaky Shoulder Strengthener: As the biceps originate in and around the shoulder joint, they also play a secondary role in shoulder flexion. Plus, both biceps muscles are activated to help your anterior deltoid when performing shoulder flexion exercises. So, biceps curls sneakily strengthen the shoulders. But the cherry on top is the shoulder blades’ stabilizer muscles; the lat’s, rhomboids, and lower traps are engaged isometrically to prevent the shoulders from rolling forward when performing curls.
Improved Pulling Performance: You have heard the term; You are only as strong as your weakest link. As the biceps play a vital role with everything rows and pull-ups, wouldn’t it be a shame for the biceps to give out before you’ve maxed out your shoulders and back? Because you’re only as strong as your weakest link, having stronger biceps will only help build a strong and muscular back.
3 Common Barbell Biceps Curl Mistakes
The barbell biceps curl is pretty straightforward, but to get the best out of this awesome bicep builder, it’s best to avoid these common mistakes.
Too Much Body English: There is a time and place to use a little body of English to finish a rep, but we are not discussing this here. When you’re using your lower body and lower back to complete a rep, you are getting it done, but you are taking tension off the biceps, and isn’t this the point of the exercise? Don’t let your ego get in the way of flex time.
Don’t Short Yourself: Due to the angle of performing barbell biceps curls, the bottom of the rep with the elbows extended is a challenging starting point to curl from. Because of this, particularly when a lifter gets fatigued, they avoid this and don’t go through a full range of motion. Doing so leaves gains on the table. There is a time and a place for partial ROM lifts, but isolation exercises like the biceps curl are not one of them.
Not Locking The Elbows In: When you want maximum tension on your biceps, your upper arms must be locked in and stationary. If your elbow drifts forward or flares out to the side, this takes the tension OFF the biceps and onto the shoulders.
Top 3 Biceps Training Tips
Mechanical tension (the amount of weight) is the main driver for muscle growth, and only a few other exercise tools build more muscle than the barbell. But time under tension and changing your grip or body position are other methods to progress your barbell biceps curl.
Here are three tips to get the best out of this excellent exercise.
Focusing On The Short Or Long Head: You cannot truly isolate each head but emphasize one over the other, which is done by changing your grip and arm angle. A wider grip (than shoulder width) emphasizes the short head, and a narrower grip (than shoulder width) will focus on the long head. Changing your grip is an underrated method of progression.
Think Tension, Not Weight: There’s always the temptation to emphasize weight over tension because, you know, ego and cool factor. Use a weight that allows you to do your reps with good form and to feel your biceps working. Body English has its place and going to failure too, but with isolation exercises like biceps curls, you’re better off focusing on tension and not weight.
Use Tempo: Tempo and tension are two sides of the same coin. Each rep has four parts the eccentric (lowering), bottom, concentric, and lockout, and each number is represented by how many seconds this takes.
For example, the “3212” tempo barbell curl—takes three seconds to lower, a two-second pause at the bottom, followed by one second to lift it, and a two-second squeeze at the top of the rep. Lifting with tempo puts the muscle under tension longer, a critical factor in building your biceps.
Barbell Biceps Curl Programming Suggestions
You can program barbell biceps curls in several ways because, you know, biceps. When performing barbell biceps curls on upper or full body day, it is best to train the compound moves first because fatiguing your biceps before you need them for rows, chin-ups, etc., most likely means lifting less weight or reps.
Here are a few suggestions for programming barbell biceps curls.
At the end of your training, grip an unloaded barbell and perform 50 curls in the least amount of sets possible. When you can perform two sets to get to 50 reps, add 5 to 10 pounds and go again.
When bigger arms and not back is a goal using a compound exercise that pre-fatigues the biceps paired with barbell biceps curls will lead to increased time under tension and flex time. It goes against the advice above but only use this method sparingly to change things up. For instance
1A. Underhand grip Inverted row 8 to 15 reps
1B. Barbell Biceps Curls 12 to 20 reps
Here are a few general recommendations for strength, muscle, and muscular endurance.
For Strength: Doing three to five sets of four to six reps with an increased load works well for strength.
For Muscle Growth: Three to five sets of eight to 15 repetitions using tempo (suggested above) and creating a mind-muscle connection with them to ‘feel” them growing.
For Endurance: Two to three sets of 15 repetitions, using only short rest periods, will have you feeling the burn.
The standard barbell biceps curl is great, but to keep things fresh and to progress, take these other variations out for a spin. Your biceps will be pleased.
1 of 3
Tall Kneeling Barbell Biceps Curl
Your glutes and core are engaged due to the tall kneeling position and act as a form check, too, because if you lose position, your form will suffer. The tall kneeling curl minimizes the use of your lower body and drives more action to the biceps.
2 of 3
Against-The-Wall Curl Barbell Curl
The against-the-wall barbell curl has you against the wall while performing a barbell biceps curl. Leaning against the wall while curling does a few things. One, it minimizes lower and upper body assistance and focuses more on the biceps. Two, it gives instant feedback because the wall will let you know if any other momentum is used.
3 of 3
Mixed Grip Curl
The mixed grip curl is a mix between an overhand and underhand grip. With the mixed grip barbell biceps curl, you’ll use less weight but double the reps because you must do both sides. You’ll improve your grip and forearm strength by simultaneously training forearm extensors and flexors.