Arm day way of life for most of us. Most new lifters only know a few exercises — and the barbell and the most popular one is this staple and its multitude of variations. One variation that is often left out cold is the drag curl. Why? Because it’s hard.

The drag curl unlike a lot of other biceps curl variations takes body English and the deltoids out of the movement to focus more on the biceps. Plus, during the peak contraction, your elbows are behind your body which sets you up for an intense bicep contraction. The strict range of motion gives your biceps the time under tension they deserve for more flex appeal.

Here we will go into what the drag curl is, how to do it, muscles trained, benefits of training biceps, programming, and some variations and alternatives.


This drag curl has you set up with the barbell right against your body. Rather than curling up toward your shoulders, you’re dragging the barbell up to your body while your elbows go behind you. This strict and shorter range of motion takes the shoulders out to focus more on the biceps.

The momentum from other muscles here is minimal to increase the time under tension on the biceps for a more intense pump. Because of these factors, the weight you’ll use will be less but the benefits for your biceps will be worth it.


  1. Begin by gripping a barbell with a palms-up shoulder-width grip with the barbell across your thighs.
  2. Keep your chest up, shoulders down, and look straight ahead.
  3. Pull your elbows back to contract your bicep and “drag” the barbell up to your body towards your shoulders.
  4. Stop at the lower chest/upper ab level and pause then slowly lower the bar along the same path back to the starting position. Reset and repeat.


  • Biceps: Both the long and short head of the biceps are the prime movers with the drag curl.
  • Forearms: Every curl variation involves the forearm muscles to assist elbow flexion and for gripping purposes.
  • Brachialis: This is the muscle underneath the biceps. This muscle is a strong elbow flexor that assists the biceps with elbow flexion and this muscle helps add width to the upper arm.


Besides vanity, there are other important reasons why to include biceps curl variations like the drag curl into your programming.

  • Improved shoulder stability: The biceps are a double-headed muscle, which attaches to the scapula and shoulder joint and assists the rotator cuff with shoulder stability, particularly through the anterior deltoid. The rotator cuff secures the humerus to the shoulder joint and the biceps secures the shoulder joint to the humerus and this compression from both sides of your shoulder joint benefits your shoulder stability.
  • Great for shoulder rehab: The biceps play a minor role in shoulder flexion because the biceps and anterior deltoid are trained when your shoulder goes into flexion. Plus, the upper back muscles contract isometrically to keep you in good posture and prevent the shoulders from rolling forward while performing curls. This is why biceps curls are programmed into the later stages of a rehab program as a way to strengthen the rotator cuff and the upper back.
  • They help you lift more weight: Exercises that involve the biceps — like chinups, pullups, and rows — benefit from stronger biceps and improved grip strength. Wouldn’t it be a shame for your biceps to give out before you’ve exhausted your shoulders and back?


The point of the drag curl is to minimize shoulder involvement so the biceps can get all the love. Although a simple move to perform, here are a few considerations to help you get the best out of the drag curl exercise.

  • Limit momentum: Don’t start the movement from your lower body and resist the urge to lean backward and to use body English to get the weight up. This negates the benefits of this exercise because the dragging motion should be slow and deliberate.
  • Avoid rolling the anterior shoulder: The ROM is less is than in a standard curl but please avoid rolling the shoulder too far forward to gain extra ROM here. More is not better here. Plus, keeping a slight bend in the knees takes the pressure off the low back if this is a problem area for you.


The biceps is a muscle group that assists in my pulling exercises, and it is best trained after your main strength exercises for the day. Doing so allows you to lift more weight. Here are a few programming suggestions to pump up your biceps with drag curls.

Biceps Triset Finisher

Doing three biceps exercises back-to-back to back at the end of your training will give your biceps all they can handle. For example

1A. Drag curls: 3 sets of 8-12 reps

1B. Concentration Curls: 3 sets of 8-12 reps each side

1C. Hammer curls: 3 sets of 12-20 reps

Mechanical Biceps Dropset

Mechanical drop sets have you starting with the most difficult exercise for a particular muscle group and pairing it with a less difficult variation and taking both to technical failure. For example, starting with drag curls and then performing barbell cheat curls. Burn baby burn.


The barbell and EZ-bar drag curl are variations that will allow you to lift the most weight. But if these tools aggravate your joints, don’t despair. Perform these variations instead.

Female fitness model doing an upper body workout routine with a land mine press exercise

Learn Why You Should Include the Landmine Press in...

Add strength while reducing wear and tear with this shoulder press alternative.

Read article