11 Barbell Curl Alternatives For Jacked Biceps (2023)

Barbell Curls are arguably the most effective biceps curl exercise for adding mass and building bigger arms. Using a barbell allows the lifter to use more weight and more weight can lead to more size and strength.

But, sometimes you might an alternative to Barbell Curls.

Maybe you don’t have the proper equipment, maybe barbell curls bother your wrist or elbow, or maybe you just want to switch up your workout. Whatever the reason, if you need a Barbell Curl alternative, you’re in the right place.

In this guide, I’m going to go over 11 Barbell Curl alternatives and hopefully at least one of them will work for your particular situation.

Alternatives for Barbell Curls

All ten exercises listed here are broken up into four sections.

Don’t have a barbell? Most hotel gyms don’t carry barbells and/or you may not have a barbell in your home gym. If this is the case, these first four exercises may work as a good substitution if the reason you can’t do barbell curls is because of a lack of a barbell.

The next three alternative exercises still use a straight barbell but are different barbell bicep curl variations. These can all work great if you’re getting bored with your current workout plan and looking to change things up.

Finally, the last four exercises consist of a few of my personal favorites for growing the upper arms, one of which isn’t even a curl exercise at all.

Dumbbell Curl

Dumbbell Curl

If you don’t have a barbell, don’t worry, Dumbbell Curls are a perfect alternative to their barbell cousin.

Grab two dumbbells, stand tall (or can also be done seated), keep elbows tucked and curl the dumbbells up to shoulder height. Slowly lower back to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps.

Also, part of what makes Dumbbell Curls so great is all the variations you can do with them. Standing, Seated, Tempo and Alternate Dumbbell Curls are just a few of the simple variations you can do to change up your workout.

Dumbbell Curls are my number one go-to for an alternative to straight bar curls.

Band Curls

Band Curls not only work great if you don’t have a barbell but also if Barbell Curls bother your wrist or elbow.

Stand on one end of a resistance band and grab the other end with both hands. Stand on the resistance band with both feet to increase the difficulty or use one foot to make them a little easier.

With Band Curls, you can use more of a neutral grip by keeping your palms facing each other.

Sometimes this type of grip (also similar to the grip used in hammer curls) can be less stressful on the wrist and/or elbow.

Cable Curls

Cable Curls

Although it may seem odd that one would have access to a cable machine but not a barbell, there is one situation in particular that I’ve been in this situation more than once – hotel gyms.

I’ve had multiple cases where the only form of resistance training in the hotel gym was some sort of universal cable machine. If this happens to be you right now, drop a cable attachment down to the bottom of the machine and start repping out Cable Curls.

EZ Bar Curls

EZ Bar Curl

I would imagine this is probably most lifter’s favorite bar to do curls with. Often times I would simply write ‘curls’ on athletes’ programs and it was always safe to assume that all 3 EZ Bars (also called cambered bars) would find their way off of their storage rack.

As for the movement itself, it is the same as a barbell curl – just with a slightly different grip angle. That different grip angle for EZ Bar Curls can be a game-changer though for lifters (myself included) who find barbell curls to be uncomfortable on the wrists.

Reverse Curl

Reverse Curl

Reverse Curls are a barbell curl variation that places more emphasis on the forearm muscles.

They are done with an overhand (pronated) grip, which is the reverse of most other curl exercises. You’ll need to use considerably less weight for Reverse Curls than for regular Barbell Curls as you’ll be limited by the strength of your grip, not necessarily your biceps strength.

Partner Curls

Partner Curls, aka Buddy Curls, is one of my all-time favorites to quickly, and brutally, finish off the biceps at the end of a workout.

Grab a partner and a barbell. You won’t need very much weight at all. A 10-pound plate on each side is more than enough for most lifters.

Do one curl and hand the barbell over to your partner. They’ll do one curl and hand it back to you. Then you do two curls.

Continue handing the bar back and forth and increasing the reps each set by one. Once you both do a set of 8, start reducing the reps each set by one until you both finish with a set of one rep each.

The key to partner curls is not to sit the bar down the entire set.


21s are generally done with a partner holding the hand around the bottom of the sternum to give the lifter a visual cue to touch the bar to, but they can still be done without a partner if necessary.

Perhaps best of all you can do 21s with any of the implements I’ve discussed so far – straight bar, dumbbells, cable, etc.

Curl halfway up for seven reps. Curl the bar all the way to the top of the rep and then go halfway down for seven reps. Finally, do seven reps with full range of motion.

Concentration Curls

DB Concentration Curls

Concentration Curls are a biceps curl Hall-of-Famer. They are probably one of the most well-known and beloved exercises, right next to Bench Press.

Done sitting on a bench with one arm at a time, set your feet wide and place your elbow on the inside of your thigh.

This position keeps the upper arm stationary and removes any momentum, or swinging, from the movement.

Curl the dumbbell toward the shoulder and really focus on squeezing the biceps at the top of the rep. Lower back down under control. Once all reps are complete on one arm, switch over to the other and repeat.

4 x 4s

This is probably the least well-known of all the exercises on the list. But, I can almost guarantee you that once you try 4 x 4s, they’ll immediately become one of your favorite biceps exercises.

Grab a dumbbell for each hand (can be done standing or seated). Curl one dumbbell up (palm facing up) so that your elbow is at a 90-degree angle and the forearm is parallel to the ground. Hold it there.

Now perform 4 dumbbell curls with the opposite arm. After the fourth rep, bring that arm up to 90 degrees and freeze it there. Then release the first arm and perform 4 curls with that arm.

Finally, perform 4 more curls with both arms at the same time. If you have the proper amount of weight, 4 x 4s will absolutely toast those biceps.

Preacher Curl

Preacher Curl (1)

Preacher Curl is easily one of the most popular curl variations in any weight room that has a preacher curl bench. An EZ Curl Bar is generally used for Preacher Curl, but a barbell will work as well.

Raise the bench so that it sits comfortably under the armpits and keep the triceps in contact with the preacher curl bench and the upper arms stationary throughout the movement.

Don’t have a preacher curl bench? Incline an adjustable bench up to about 45 degrees and use that. If both arms don’t fit well on your bench, switch to dumbbells and go one arm at a time.


My final alternative for Barbell Curls isn’t even a curl exercise at all and can be done with just a pull-up bar and your body weight. However, if the point of working out is to get strong and build mass then it would be a crime to not include Chin-ups.

This is because Chin-ups are one of the best exercises for building strong (and big) biceps. This is because using a shoulder-width, underhand grip for Pull-ups – which is what Chin-ups are – puts so much emphasis on the biceps that they have no choice but to grow.

Equipment Needed

  • Pull Up Bar (Either as part of a rack or a wall-mounted bar)

Optional Equipment

  • Weight belt (For weighted variations)
  • Resistance Band (To assist in completing the pull-up or doing more repetitions with full range of motion).
  • Partner (To assist in getting your chin over the bar)

Step-by-Step Instruction

  • Approach the pull-up bar and grab the bar with a supinated grip (palms facing toward you).
  • Use a bench to get to the bar if it is too high.
  • Squeeze the bar and engage the core muscles and do not cross your legs.
  • Engage the upper back and pull up until your chin is over the bar.
  • Pause for 1 second with your chin over the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position.
  • Repeat until all reps are completed.

Coaching Points

By far the biggest mistake I see in the chin-up is lifters not using a full range of motion. Hang all the way down and maintain great tension through the shoulders and abdomen (DO NOT JUST HANG IN THE BOTTOM). Pull all the way up and do not whip your head so that your chin barely makes it over the bar.

Horton barbell strength programs
Horton Barbell Logo 3

Need a Training Program?

Coach Horton has 20 years of experience training elite level athletes at schools like the University of Tennessee and Georgia Tech. He has also written plenty of programs for other coaches and friends and family.

So, whether you need a program to improve your performance in your sport or you just want to look good at the beach, there is a program designed just for you.

Final Thoughts

Barbell Curls are one of the best biceps exercises that there is. However, there are situations where you either can’t do a regular barbell curl or maybe just want to do something a little different.

Either way, hopefully, this list of Barbell Curl alternatives has given you at least one option that you can use to still get the biceps pump you’re looking for.

Share This

Similar Posts