As a long-time strength and conditioning coach, I’ve had the pleasure of experimenting with countless exercise combinations to enhance muscle growth, strength, and athletic performance.
One movement that seems to never go out of style is the Barbell Curl.
But have you ever thought about how to take your standard curls to the next level?
By pairing Barbell Curls with another exercise, you can target multiple muscle groups, save time, and elevate the intensity of your workout.
In this article, I’ll share the best exercises to superset with Barbell Curls to level up your training program.
Keys to a Good Barbell Curl Superset Exercise
Choosing the right exercise to superset with Barbell Curls can be a crucial decision that impacts your training effectiveness, muscle growth, and overall workout experience.
Here are some key factors to consider:
Target Muscle Groups
You can either choose an exercise that works the same muscle group for a more intense focus or an exercise that targets a different group for a balanced approach.
For example, Hammer Curls can intensify the bicep workout, while Tricep Extensions would balance out the arm workout.
Opt for exercises that use equipment close to where you perform Barbell Curls, or even better, exercises that use the barbell itself (assuming the weight used is similar for both exercises).
This ensures smoother transitions between sets, making your workout more efficient.
Your ultimate goals – whether it’s strength building, muscle hypertrophy, or endurance – should guide your choice. Certain exercises may better complement Barbell Curls depending on what you aim to achieve.
Best Exercises to Superset with Barbell Curls
Here they are, in no particular order, my favorite exercises to pair up with Barbell Curls.
Why: Tricep Pushdowns target the opposing muscle group, helping to balance out your arm workout.
They’re also convenient because a cable machine is quick and easy to set up for your superset (can also use a resistance band if you don’t have access to a cable machine).
- Step up a cable machine by sliding the pin all the way to the top of the beam.
- Attach the rack attachment of your choice.
- Grab the attachment and pull the attachment down until your elbows are next to your sides (arms should still be bent).
- Now, extend the arms down by flexing the triceps and driving the attachment toward the floor.
- Squeeze the triceps at full extension for one second and then slowly allow the attachment to raise back to the starting position.
- Keep elbows tucked into the sides throughout the movement.
Why: Hammer Curls focus on both the biceps and the brachialis, adding a different type of tension to the same muscle group, which can lead to increased muscle growth.
Coaching Point: This type of superset, where both exercises target the same muscle group, is called a compound superset and they’ll absolutely torch whatever you’re focusing on.
- Start standing with feet flat on the ground about hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.
- Hold one dumbbell in each hand and stand tall with good posture.
- Start with palms facing in toward the body.
- Now, curl both dumbbells up to shoulder level by flexing the biceps. Palms should finish still facing one another. Do not rotate the palm up.
- Squeeze the biceps at the top of the rep and then lower back down to the starting position.
Why: To be honest, pretty much every tricep exercise will make a great superset to go with Barbell Curls.
But, if you’re going to do triceps, why not go with the most effective triceps exercise you can? Well, that’s Dips.
- Attach your dip rack to your rack. This process will vary based on your rack and dip attachment. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely.
- Set your dip rack just above waist height. This will allow enough room for your feet not to hit the ground while doing reps, but not so high you feel you have to jump up into your first rep.
- Starting position is hands on bars, arms extended, knees slightly bent and feet crossed (crossing feet is optional but does help with unwanted swinging in my experience.
- Descend down by bending the elbows and slightly leaning forward.
- Lower yourself under control until the triceps become parallel with the ground and then drive yourself back up to the starting position.
Bent Over Rows
Why: Bent Over Barbell Rows target the back and help to improve the strength of your erectors (low back) as well.
Be aware though that it also involves the biceps which will fatigue much quicker than your back and therefore you’ll have to use less weight on the rows than you normally would.
- Approach the barbell and take a shoulder-width stance. Your shins should be almost touching the barbell.
- Hinge at the waist and bend the knee until you can grab the barbell. Use a pronated grip (Knuckles facing the floor). I will talk later about the supinated grip (palms up) in this movement.
- Always keep a flat back, and a neutral spine, and keep your eyes focused slightly down about 1 foot in front of you.
- Take a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and pull the bar in until it makes contact right about the belly button.
- Pause for about 1 second. Squeeze the shoulder blades and lock in the rep.
- Slowly return the barbell back to the starting position (weights about 1-2 inches off the ground).
Why: Push-ups are a bodyweight exercise that engage your chest, shoulders, and triceps. They offer a good counterbalance to the pulling motion of curls.
- Lie face down on the floor.
- Pull your toes in so that you’re on the tip of your shoes.
- Eyes should be focused straight down or slightly up.
- Pull your hands close to about the nipple line of the chest and bring them out about 2-3 inches away.
- Take a deep breath, engage the core and brace.
- Push yourself up in one unit. There should be no sagging of the waist. The entire body from head to toe should move up and then back down in unison.
- Feel your scapula upwardly rotate and make sure the antagonist muscles (Back and biceps) are fully engaging.
- Lock out your push-up and pause.
- Slowly lower yourself back down and get ready for the next repetition from just above the ground. Do not fully relax at the bottom of the push-up unless your program specifies.
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Why: Focusing on the shoulders, the Seated Dumbbell Press complements Barbell Curls by targeting a different but adjacent muscle group, broadening your upper body workout.
- Once you’re set up and ready, raise the dumbbells to your shoulders, palms facing forward or slightly towards one another (whichever is more comfortable).
- Press the dumbbells straight overhead. Dumbbells should come close to one another at full lockout overhead, but should not touch.
- Lower the dumbbells back down until hands are about ear height and repeat.
Dumbbell Lateral Raises
Why: Lateral Raises isolate the deltoids and can help improve shoulder stability. It provides variety by targeting a muscle group not directly worked by curls.
- Hold dumbbells-palm in, arms straight down at sides.
- Raise dumbbells in semicircular motion slightly above shoulder height tilting the head of the dumbbell down.
- A slight pause, then lower to starting position under control.
- Keep your arms straight with just a slight bend in the elbow.
- Use the same path to continue repeated reps.
- Exhale up, inhale down.
Why: Skull Crushers are another tricep-focused exercise that balances out your arm workout. It can also be done on the same bench you might use for seated or lying curls.
- Grab a bar with an overhand grip, lie flat on a bench with head down, chin up. If you don’t have a bench, you can simply lay on the floor.
- Press the bar to arm’s length above the shoulder.
- Lower the bar until it almost touches the top of the forehead, bending arms at the elbows, keeping upper arm vertical and elbows in.
- Drive the bar back up to the starting position and repeat.
Why: Planking engages your core, which is a nice break from upper body movement and can also help improve your overall stability and posture.
- Start on the ground on your stomach.
- Assume a push-up like position on your elbows and toes. Elbows should be directly under the shoulders.
- Position your body in a straight line from the shoulders through the hips, knees and ankles.
- Brace the core tight. (As if you’re going to be punched in the stomach)
- Do not let the body slouch to the ground nor push the hips up high in the air.
- Hold for the designated amount of time.
Why: As a cardio-intensive exercise, Mountain Climbers can add an endurance component to your workout. Great as part of a superset or even a circuit to elevate your heart rate.
- Begin in a push-up position – hands under shoulders, core engaged, body in a straight line
- Now raise one knee toward the chest and place the ball of the foot on the ground – from this position you’re ready to begin performing reps.
- Drive one leg up and place the foot right next to where the opposite foot just left.
- Simultaneously extend the ‘up foot’ back to the original starting position.
- Continue alternating back and forth until all reps are completed. (count moving left and right legs up as one rep)
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Incorporating supersets with Barbell Curls into your workout plan is a strategic way to enhance muscle growth, promote endurance, and save time during your training sessions.
Whether you’re looking to hone in on bicep development or aiming for a more balanced, full-body approach, the exercises listed above offer a dynamic range of options to complement your Barbell Curls
Remember to choose exercises that align with your level of experience, equipment availability, and overall training objectives.