Barbell Curls vs Reverse Barbell Curls (Is One Better?)


Barbell Curls and Reverse Barbell Curls are two popular exercises that target the biceps. Both exercises involve curling with a barbell, but the two exercises differ in the grip used while curling.

Barbell Curls use a supinated grip (underhand), while a Reverse Barbell Curl uses a pronated grip (overhand).

The overhand grip used by Reverse Barbell Curl puts a heavy emphasis on the extensors of the forearms. In fact, few exercises will challenge the extensors quite like a Reverse Barbell Curl.

In this article, I’m going to break down how to do each exercise and then discuss which exercise might be best for you depending on your lifting goals and preferences.


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.

Related –> 11 Alternatives for Barbell Curls that also Develop Strong Biceps

Benefits

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.


Reverse Barbell Curls


Reverse Curl

Equipment Needed

  • Barbell
  • Weight Plates

Step-by-Step Instructions

  • Stand tall, back straight, head up, feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold the barbell with both hands, palms down (pronated 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

You’ll most likely need to use less weight than you would normally use for barbell curls. The wrist extensors will be the limiting factor here that will dictate how much weight you’re able to use.

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.

Benefits

Reverse Barbell Curls, like regular Barbell Curls, will help strengthen and grow the biceps.

However, the main benefit of using a pronated grip (overhand) for barbell curls is the challenge it places on the forearms. Reverse Barbell Curls put an enormous emphasis on the forearm extensors and are one of the best exercises for adding muscle mass to the forearms and improving grip strength.

Barbell Curls vs Reverse Barbell Curls: Which is Better?

Now, let’s do a side-by-side comparison and see how both variations stack up when it comes to common lifting goals.

Better For Building Size and Strength: Barbell Curls

Barbell Curls are the better option if your goal is to simply build size and strength (with one exception that I’ll get to in just a second). Barbell Curls allow the lifter to move a significantly more amount of weight than Reverse Curls. Generally speaking, the more weight you can move, the more strength you can develop.

The one exception would be if your focus is forearms. Few exercises will challenge your forearms quite like Reverse Barbell Curls. If your goal is to grow your forearms and increase your grip strength, then Reverse Barbell Curls are your answer.

Better For Beginners: Barbell Curls

As I’ve already covered, Reverse Curls put a heavy emphasis on forearm strength. On the downside, this also means they can put a large strain on the wrists as well. For a beginner, learning how to properly lock the wrist in place to reduce the amount of stress when doing Reverse Curls can be a little tricky.

I would suggest beginners to start with Barbell Curls first. Once they are comfortable with the regular version they can give the reverse variation a try.

Final Thoughts

I’ve just spent the last section of this article comparing which is better – Barbell Curls or Barbell Reverse 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 Barbell Reverse Curls in your training plan.

Finally, now check out how Barbell Curls stack up against Dumbbell Curls.

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Ryan Horton

Horton Barbell was created by Ryan Horton who has served as a Sports Performance Coach for almost 20 years. My mission is to create a training resource to help as many coaches and athletes as possible maximize athletic potential.

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