Barbell Curl: A Complete Guide to Form, Benefits, & Tips 

a vector image of a man doing a barbell curl

The barbell curl is one of the best exercises for developing large and strong arms, and there is a good reason why it is included in pretty much every training program on the planet. 

However, there are a ton of common errors that we see when beginners do the bicep curl, so much so that most people are not getting the most out of this exercise. 

Let’s get right into it and take a look at proper barbell curl form, the benefits that barbell curls can bring, as well as some handy tips and tricks.  

How to Do the Barbell Curl 

Step 1 — Stand Up Tall 

The first step to performing a barbell curl correctly is to stand up tall. 

You do not want your back to be arched and your whole body should be firm and tight.  

Step 2 — Squeeze the Bar 

The next step is to squeeze the bar.  

Most people tend to grip the bar lightly, thinking it will increase tension in the biceps. 

While this may be partly true, the increased chance of injury as well as the sacrifice in weight makes it the inferior solution. 

The harder you grip the bar, the more weight you will be able to lift without sacrificing good form.  

Step 3 — Curl Up and Slightly Out 

When you begin the curl, the bar path should be upwards and slightly out. 

A good barbell curl will have a slight arc, with the barbell only being next to your body at the start and the end of the movement.  

Step 4 — Find the Contraction and Hold it 

Once you reach the top position of the curl, try to really feel your biceps and develop a good mind-muscle connection. 

It’s also a good idea to do a brief pause at the top of every rep to increase time under tension and boost hypertrophy.  

Step 5 — Control the Bar on the Way Down 

The last step is to control the bar on the way down. 

Far too many people let gravity take over when it comes to the lowering portion of the movement, but this reduces the effectiveness of the barbell curl drastically. 

You should be in control throughout the entire movement – do not release tension for even a second.  

Barbell Curl Video: 

Link:  How to Do a Barbell Curl | Arm Workout – YouTube 

4 Benefits of the Barbell Curl 

1. Improved Grip Strength 

A benefit that is seldom discussed when it comes to barbell curls is improved grip strength. 

As you go up in weight with barbell curls, your forearms and grip strength will improve in near direct correlation.  

2. Injury Prevention (to the Elbows/Arms) 

Barbell curls are one of the safest exercises out there. 

Not only is the chance of getting injured from barbell curls practically zero, but they also help to prevent other injuries by strengthening the arms and the elbows.  

Barbell curls can help keep you protected when performing over movements, and because of this, they become even more valuable as an exercise.  

3. Increased Upper Body Mass 

While barbell curls are not generally considered to be a compound exercise, they do work multiple muscle groups.  

This includes the biceps, the brachialis, and the forearms, as well as shoulders to a much lesser extent. 

Barbell curls also allow you to use more weight than other isolation exercises, meaning they will potentially create more hypertrophy for the muscles they do target. 

This makes the barbell curl a great overall upper body builder, and they belong in every dedicated bodybuilders program.  

4. They’re Accessible 

Another major benefit to barbell curls is that they are incredibly accessible.  

You do not need access to specialist equipment to perform barbell curls – you do not even need access to a gym. 

You can pick up a barbell and a few plates for under $200 dollars and then be able to train your arms for the rest of your life. 

Muscles Worked 

Biceps 

As you may suspect, the biceps are the primary muscles worked with barbell curls

Barbell curls are one of the most effective exercises when it comes to growing biceps, and it comes as no surprise that they have been a staple arm-builder for generations. 

However, something that most people do not know is that barbell curls also work a muscle that lies underneath the biceps, the brachialis. 

While this muscle isn’t visible, increasing its size will push the biceps out and make your arm look bigger as a whole.  

Forearms 

Another muscle that is worked when performing a barbell curl is the forearms.  

Forearms can be a little tedious to train – you usually have to go out of your way to perform forearm-specific movements if you want to get massive forearms. 

However, if you decide to throw a few barbell curls into your routine, you may be able to get away with doing no forearm exercises whatsoever! 

While barbell curls primarily hit the biceps, they actually do a pretty good job of working the forearms too.  

This makes barbell curls an overall great arm-builder.  

Who Should Perform Barbell Curls? 

Strength and Power Athletes 

Bicep curls are not usually the go-to choice for strength and power athletes, and there is a good reason why. 

Barbell curls have very little crossover with other exercises, and this makes performing them a waste of time for most. 

However, this isn’t always the case. 

For some athletes (particularly athletes who specialise in either deadlifts or pullups), barbell curls can be a great accessory movement.   

If you are a strength and power athlete, consider whether or not adding barbell curls into your routine could be beneficial for you.  

Bodybuilders 

The bicep is one of the most important muscles for bodybuilders. 

There are very few muscles that are closely related to bodybuilding as the bicep, and for this reason, including barbell curls into your routine is a necessity if you are a bodybuilder.  

That goes without even mentioning the impact that having incredible biceps can have on one’s overall physique – without strong and bulging biceps, a bodybuilder will struggle to see any success in the industry.  

General Lifters 

If you just like to hit the gym to look good and stay healthy, then the barbell curl would be a perfect exercise to add into your routine.  

The barbell curl works the biceps as well as the forearms, both of which are muscles that are very visible in a t-shirt and contribute quite significantly to your overall look. 

They are also pretty easy to perform and have very little chance of injury, making them an ideal pick for increasing muscle mass.  

Barbell Curl Sets, Reps, and Weight Recommendations 

To Gain Strength 

To gain strength with bicep curls, you should aim to do 1-4 sets with a weight that you can lift with proper form for 1-5 reps.  

However, it is worth noting that you are probably looking in the wrong place if you are looking to gain strength with bicep curls. 

While bicep curls can be used as an accessory movement to increase strength on other lifts, it has very poor crossover with lifts like squats and presses.   

The only exceptions would be if you are just looking to get a strong barbell curl for fun, or if you are looking to improve weighted pull up, deadlift, or chin up strength.  

To Build Muscle 

If your goal is to build muscle, then the focus should be on cramming in sufficient volume while also managing rest.  

A good rule of thumb to build muscle with barbell curls is to include them whenever you do upper body or arms, and to aim for 4-5 sets of 8-12. 

This means that you should pick a weight that you can do for 8-12 reps with good form.  

Make sure you leave around 48 hours in between doing barbell curls to ensure you get adequate recovery. 

Barbell Curl Variations 

Eccentric Barbell Curls 

Eccentric curls involve emphasizing the lowering (eccentric) phase of the lift.  

The lifter curls the barbell up with both arms, then lowers it slowly with one arm while the other arm holds the weight.  

This variation helps to build strength in the biceps while also improving control and stability. 

Drag Curl 

A drag curl is performed by keeping the bar close to the body during the curl and pulling it up towards the body.  

This exercise can help you break out of a plateau if you are struggling to increase weight for regular barbell curls.  

Seated Barbell Curl 

This variation is performed while sitting on a bench, with the back straight and the arms extended.  

The barbell is then curled towards the shoulders, targeting the biceps brachii and brachialis muscles. 

Once again, this is a good variation to switch things up with as it can help you bust past plateaus and target the bicep in a different way.  

Reverse Barbell Curl  

The reverse barbell curl is performed by holding the barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing down) and curling the bar towards the shoulders.  

This variation targets the brachioradialis muscle in the forearm as well as the biceps brachii more than the regular barbell curl. 

Some people even argue that this variation is more effective at building the arms than the original.  

Barbell Curl Alternatives 

Hammer Curl 

A hummer curl is performed by holding a dumbbell vertically in both hands instead of horizontally.  

Hammer curls may be more effective at targeting the peak of the biceps than traditional bicep curls, making this a popular option among bodybuilders.  

Preacher Curl  

Another alternative to the barbell curl is the preacher curl (or incline dumbbell curl), which involves resting your arms over a preacher curl stand to increase tension on the biceps.  

This is a great alternative that really helps develop that mind-muscle connection.  

Chin-Up 

While not a barbell exercise, chin-ups are a great alternative to barbell curls as they work the same muscles in the arms. 

By using your bodyweight as resistance, you can improve your overall strength and build muscle in the biceps, back, and forearms. 

Barbell Curl Tips: 

How To Do a Barbell Bicep Curl 

Knowing proper barbell curl form is one thing, but incorporating it when doing barbell curls is another thing entirely.  

This is why being aware of certain cues can help exponentially. 

One of the best cues that you should look out for that will almost guarantee that you do the movement properly is to keep your elbows by your side at all times. 

It can be easy to allow your elbows to move out and utilise other muscle groups to help move the weight, but this reduces the effectiveness of the exercise and increases the chance of injury greatly.  

Another tip is to always be in control.  

Never let gravity do the work for you on the way down, and never use momentum to get the weight up.  

These two cues are all you need to perform the barbell curl perfectly.  

This exercise is incredibly simple, and as long as you are aware of these cues, there are virtually no ways for you to mess things up.  

What is a Barbell Curl? 

A barbell curl is a weightlifting exercise that involves grabbing a loaded barbell and lifting it up to your chin and back using the biceps. 

Many people get confused between a bicep curl and barbell curl – this is why searches like “barbell curl with dumbbells” are so common. 

A barbell curl is just a bicep curl with a barbell, while a bicep curl can refer to a curl that is done in a range of different ways. 

Bicep curls are generally performed by bodybuilders and weightlifters to increase size and strength, but they can also be used by powerlifters, strongmen, and Olympic weightlifters as an accessory movement.   

This is all there is to know about barbell curls.  

Barbell curls are a fantastic exercise that are performed by millions of people around the world, and they are perhaps one of the most popular weightlifting exercises period.  

How to Do the Barbell Curl for Biceps Size and Strength  

The main thing you need to know if you are looking to do the barbell curl for size and strength is that how you perform the exercise matters. 

If you are just using momentum and bad form to perform bicep curls, you are not going to get anywhere. 

Not only will results come much more slowly, but you will also actively increase the chances of injury. 

For optimal results, you need to make sure the entire movement is controlled, and try to feel the exercise in your biceps as much as possible.  

Mind-muscle connection is something that will just come with time, but you do need to proactively try to feel where the exercise is targeting if you want to get the best results. 

It’s also a good idea to do a brief pause at the top of the movement and to not let your arms fully relax in the bottom position. 

Both of these tips will increase tension on your biceps, accelerating muscle and strength growth.  

Here’s Everything You Need to Know About This Arm Day Staple. 

The barbell curl is an excellent exercise, but if you do not know how to follow a proper weightlifting program or have not got your nutrition on point, then you are not going to see any progress.  

To build muscle and strength with barbell curls, you need to eat in a caloric surplus and eat at least 0.8g of protein per pound of bodyweight.  

You can go to an online calorie calculator to find out your maintenance calories, and from here, simply increase this number by 250-500.

Another important factor is rest time.  

Most people vastly underestimate how important rest is. 

Without adequate rest, not only will you not build muscle, but you may even lose muscle. 

As a general rule of thumb, you should leave 48 hours between working on the same muscle group. 

Applying this to the barbell curl, this means that you should only do bicep curls once every other day. 

It’s also worth noting that barbell curls should not be the only exercise you perform. 

If you only do barbell curls, your physique will become incredibly unbalanced. 

In addition, the bicep only makes up a small portion of the arm – you have to incorporate tricep exercises if your goal is to get huge arms. 

Barbell curls are a great exercise, but make sure to include them amongst a plethora of other exercises that target muscles all over your body.  

Barbell Curl – FAQs 


What Does Barbell Curl Work? 

The barbell curl works the biceps as well as the forearms.  

To be more specific, the barbell curl hits the biceps, brachialis and brachioradialis. 

Is 20 kg Barbell Curl Good? 

Yes, a 20 KG barbell curl is good. 

Getting to this level would take months or even years of training for most, and it is something that the vast majority of people will never achieve.  

Is Barbell or Dumbbell Curl Better? 

Neither the barbell or dumbbell curl is better than the other. 

Dumbbell curls allow you to create more tension and bring up a lagging arm if one is stronger than the other, while barbell curls allow you to lift more weight overall. 

Unless you have a muscle imbalance, both are going to give similar results.  

How to do Barbell Curls Correctly? 

To do barbell curls correctly, you need to keep your elbows next to your side and control the weight throughout the entire movement.  

What Is the Barbell Curl Price?  

The price of a barbell curl bar can be as little as $100 to as much as $1000 depending on brand and quality.  

When Should I Do Barbell Curls in My Routine? 

You should do barbell curls in your routine when working other similar muscle groups, such as triceps or shoulders. 

In general, most people either have an upper body day where they include a variety of exercises that target their upper body (including barbell curls) or a dedicated arm day where barbell curls are performed along with other exercises for the arms.  

Can I do Just Barbell Curls For My Biceps? 

Yes, you can just do barbell curls for your biceps. 

Barbell curls hit all heads of the bicep, meaning they are the only exercise you need to get full bicep development.  

Curls are Simple, so I Can Sip My Workout Right? 

While curls can be simple, you still need to reach a certain amount of intensity to build muscle. 

In general, you should aim to be 0-2 reps away from failure at the end of every set.  

What Are the Barbell Curl Muscles Worked? 

The barbell curl muscles worked are the biceps, brachialis (a muscle that sits underneath the biceps) and brachioradialis (forearms).  

We hope this article will be of use to you! 

The barbell curl is an incredible exercise that is near essential for building up your arms, and knowing how to perform it properly as well as what it targets is going to help you get your ideal body much sooner. 

If you would like more fitness advice, make sure to head to MovingForwards to check out the rest of our articles.  

Have fun!