Barbell Curls and Preacher Curls are two popular exercises used to target the biceps. While both exercises involve curling a bar, they differ in their execution.
Barbell Curls are performed standing with a barbell, while preacher curls are performed on a special bench called a preacher curl bench, with the upper arms resting on the bench. Preacher Curls can also be done with a barbell (or even dumbbells), but generally, an EZ Curl Bar is used.
While both exercises can be effective for strengthening and building the biceps, the execution of the movements makes them slightly different and may be better suited for different goals and training programs.
In this article, I’m going to break down how to do each exercise, the benefits of each variation and then discuss which you may want to choose depending on your specific goals and preferences.
- Stand tall, back straight, head up, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the barbell with both hands, palms up (supinated grip).
- Start with the bar at arm’s length against the upper thighs.
- Curl the bar up towards the shoulders until the forearms touch the biceps.
- Keep upper elbows close to the side.
- Lower the bar back to starting position using the same path.
- Continue until all reps are completed.
By far the most common mistake with any curl exercise, but perhaps even more so with Barbell Curls is swinging and rocking in an attempt to lift more weight. If you need to swing the bar, use momentum or generally contort your body to move the weight, it’s too heavy. Lower the weight and use proper form.
Don’t allow the wrists to bow back when holding and curling the bar. Keep the wrist neutral by keeping the forearms engaged. This will take pressure off the wrist that could otherwise lead to Barbell Curls being very uncomfortable on the wrists.
Some potential benefits of performing barbell curls include:
- Increased upper arm strength and size
- Improved grip strength
- Enhanced athletic performance in activities that require upper body strength
Additionally, the barbell curl is a relatively simple and convenient exercise that can be performed using a standard barbell and weight plates. This makes it a popular choice for strength training at home or in the gym.
- Preacher Curl Bench (or an adjustable bench)
- Barbell or EZ Curl Bar
- First, adjust the preacher curl bench so that the bench sits comfortably into the armpits.
- This position should allow the triceps to lay flat against the bench.
- Grab the bar (barbell or cambered bar) or have it handed to you by a partner.
- Flex the biceps and curl the bar towards the shoulders, squeezing the biceps at the top of the rep.
- Lower back down under control and stop just short of lockout.
- Raise the bar back up and continue until all reps are completed.
Stop the arm short of locking out at the bottom. Fully extending the arm at the bottom of a Preacher Curl rep can place a lot of unnecessary strain on the elbow. Stop just short of lockout each rep and then curl back to the top.
There are several benefits to incorporating Preacher Curls into your workout routine, including:
- Isolated muscle activation: Because the upper arms are rested on a preacher bench during the exercise, preacher curls allow for a stricter range of motion and more isolated muscle activation, particularly in the biceps brachii and the brachioradialis muscles in the forearm. This can help to build and strengthen these specific muscles more effectively.
- Increased biceps strength and size: As with any resistance training exercise, regularly performing preacher curls can help to increase strength and size in the biceps muscles. This can improve overall upper body strength and functional fitness, as well as enhance athletic performance.
Overall, preacher curls are a valuable exercise for building and strengthening the biceps.
Barbell Curls vs Preacher Curls: Which is Better?
Now, let’s do a side-by-side comparison to see which variation is better for a couple of common lifting goals.
Better For Size and Strength: Toss Up
Saying that either Barbell Curls or Preacher Curls do a better job at building muscle mass and strength would really be splitting hairs. The fact is, both do a great job at developing biceps strength and hypertrophy.
If you simply want to move a lot of weight, then Barbell Curls is the answer. However, if you want to really isolate and focus on the biceps then Preacher Curls are the better option.
In my opinion, this one really comes down to personal preference.
Better For Beginners: Preacher Curls
This one is really close as well because I believe, ultimately, both exercises are rather beginner-friendly.
I give Preacher Curls the slight edge here because of the Preacher Curl bench’s ability to reinforce proper form and technique.
The most common mistake I see with curls of almost any kind is rocking and using momentum to curl the weight. Preacher Curls do a good job of eliminating this from the movement, making it slightly better for beginners.
I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Barbell Curls or Preacher Curls. However, the truth is, there is no reason you shouldn’t have both exercises in your strength training program.
Both are excellent exercises for developing strong biceps and forearms. Incorporating both exercises into your training program can also add variety and keep your workouts from getting stale.
So, my suggestion would be instead of trying to decide between the two exercises, figure out how you can utilize both Barbell Curls and Preacher Curls in your training plan.
More Links and Info
Check out how Barbell Curls stack up against some other popular curl exercises: