How To Barbell Curl

Barbell Curl (How To, Muscles Worked, Benefits)

Barbell Curls are one of the best biceps exercises for building mass and strength. This is because you can use more weight with a barbell curl than most other curl variations. Increased resistance equals increased strength and increased size.

Here are instructions on how to do barbell curls, step-by-step, along with what muscles barbell curls work and a few alternatives if you’re unable to do them.

How To Do Barbell Curls

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • 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.

Coaching Points

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.

How Many Reps?

Barbell Curls are a supplemental strength exercise that is usually programmed toward the end of a workout. 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.

Muscles Worked

Biceps Muscle 3D Body

Barbell Curls primarily work both heads of the Biceps Brachii – the long head and short head. The Brachialis is also very involved in Barbell Curls.

Pro Tip: Use a wider grip to emphasize the biceps short head and use a narrower grip to emphasize the biceps long head. The best practice is to vary your grip occasionally to hit the biceps in different ways.

Barbell Curl Alternatives

If you’re unable to do barbell curls (or maybe you just want to change up your workout a bit), here are a few barbell curl alternatives.

If you’d like even more options to do in place of Barbell Curls, check out my 10 favorite Barbell Curl Alternatives.

Seated DB Curls

Seated Dumbbell Curl
Turn a Hammer Curl into a Regular Curl by simply turning the palm up as you curl.

If you don’t have a barbell, but you do have dumbbells – Seated DB Curls are a great alternative to Barbell Curls. They can also be a good choice if you can only work one arm due to a limitation and/or injury.

Band Curls

Band Curls are another good barbell curl alternative if you don’t have access to a barbell. If you have a resistance band, simply stand on the band and curl. One of the easiest exercises to pick up for a beginner.

More Links and Info

Looking for more biceps and triceps exercises? Check out the Arm Farm section of the Horton Barbell Exercise Library. There you’ll find dozens of arm movements to build bigger, stronger arms.

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