Barbell curls are a staple in any strength-training routine, yet many lifters tend to favor more popular strength moves like back squats and deadlifts. The thinking goes that you should prioritize those compound moves in your workout split. But if you’re struggling to hammer out those last few reps in your set of barbell curls, you might want to give these four exercises the seat at the front of the bus.
The barbell curl is the bread and butter of biceps development. It is a basic exercise that has been used in bodybuilding routines for decades. Its ability to build size and strength in the biceps is legendary, and it is one of the most popular exercises for this muscle group.
The barbell curl can be done using either an EZ-bar or a straight bar, although it can also be performed with dumbbells as well as other types of equipment.
Using an EZ-Curl Bar
EZ-curl bars are more comfortable on the wrists during curls than straight bars, especially for those who have wrist problems.
This exercise uses a supinated (underhand) grip. Use an EZ-curl bar if you have wrist problems, or if you want to place less stress on your wrists while doing barbell curls.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and abs tight. Hold the EZ-bar at hip level with your arms extended, elbows tucked close to your sides and palms facing up (supinated grip). This is the starting position.
Grip the barbell with a palms-up grip with your hands about shoulder width apart. Be sure to get a good grip on the bar, using your thumbs to wrap around the top of the bar to maintain control.
Stand straight up with your head facing forward, shoulders back and chest out. Keep your elbows at your sides throughout this exercise; if you’re looking to work out the triceps as well as the biceps, do not let your elbows drift backward.
Bend at the elbow and curl the barbell up in one fluid motion until you cannot go any higher without letting go of the weight or otherwise breaking form. Hold this position for a second or two before slowly lowering back down to the starting position.
When doing barbell curls, you should avoid swinging the barbell or using momentum to curl the weight. Using momentum doesn’t properly work the biceps muscles. Instead, keep your elbows fixed at your sides and curl only your forearms as high as you can. The higher you curl the barbell, the greater the range of motion and the more challenging this exercise becomes for your biceps.
In general, how many reps of Barbell curls should you do?
The most common rep ranges for Barbell curls are 8-12 repetitions per set. However, it’s not uncommon to see people do sets of 6-20 reps per set. If you’re unsure what rep range to use, start with 8-12 reps per set. To increase difficulty when doing a certain number of reps, increase the weight used or decrease rest time between sets (if you feel comfortable doing so).
If you are just starting out and don’t have a lot of strength, choose the lightest weight possible, around 5 pounds. A good goal is to be able to do 10 repetitions with that weight before moving up to a heavier one. If you can, start with a 5-pound dumbbell in each hand.
An intermediate goal is 50 pounds, which is what most barbells weigh without any additional plates. However, if you are working out at home and don’t want to invest in this much equipment, it is just as effective to use two 25-pound dumbbells or two 10-pound dumbbells in each hand.
If you are already quite strong, or are hoping to build strength quickly, go straight for 100 pounds if your gym has them. Otherwise, begin with 50-pound barbells or two 25-pound dumbbells in each hand.
This will largely depend on your goal and what you’re trying to accomplish.
- In order to gain strength, do three to five sets of six to eight reps.
- In order to build muscle, do three to four sets of eight to 12 reps.
- In order to build endurance, do two sets of 16 or more reps.
- In order to tone without changing your muscle size, do two or three sets of 10 or more reps.
Exercises Similar to Barbell Curls
- Hammer Curl
- Preacher Curl
- Seated Barbell Curls
- Chin Ups
The barbell curl can be performed standing or seated, with a straight or EZ-bar. The video shows an EZ-bar version of the exercise, which is especially good for people who have shoulder problems.
The key to doing this exercise is good form. Keep your elbows in at your sides, and focus on moving only at the elbow joint. Don’t sway or lean back as you lift the bar — that will only cheat your arms out of some of the work they should be doing.