Barbell Curl

Exercise Name:
Name: Barbell Curl
Also Called: Straight Bar Curl
Muscles Worked:
Primary: Biceps
Secondary: Forearms
Function: Strength
Mechanics: Compound
Force: Pull
Main: Barbell
Ancillary: None
Optional: None
Experience: Beginner
Rep Range: 5-15
Training Tempo: 2 – 1 – 1 – 0
Related Exercises:
Variations: Wide Grip Barbell Curl, Close Grip Barbell Curl, EZ-Bar Curl, Cable Curl, Dumbbell Curl
Alternatives: Chin Up, Neutral-Grip Chin Up, Reverse Grip Inverted Row

Instructions with Pictures

Note: Pictures coming soon!

1. Starting Position

  • Use an underhand, shoulder width grip to pick up a barbell.
  • Stand upright and hold the barbell at thigh-level.
  • Assume a hip width stance with knees slightly bent.
  • Flex elbows slightly, with upper arms tucked at sides.
  • Pull shoulders back and bring your chest up.
  • Maintain a neutral spine posture throughout the lift.

2. Concentric Repetition

  • Flex elbows to curl the weight up.
  • Shift elbows forward slightly; no more than a few inches.
  • Curl the bar until your forearms are perpendicular to the floor.

3. Midpoint

  • Pause for a breif moment to squeeze your biceps extra hard.

4. Eccentric Repetition

  • Extend elbows to lower the weight.
  • Shift elbows back to their original position.
  • Lower the bar until you return to the starting position.

5. Repeat

  • Repeat the movement for the remaining number of reps.
  • 5-15 reps is good as a broad rep range. However, for a more specific rep range, I’ve found that 8-12 reps is best.

Common Barbell Curl Errors to Avoid

Mistake: Solution:
Too much weight! Using too much weight is at the root of all other errors. As such, it’s imperative that you use weight you can actually handle (a novel concept, I know!). Curling a bar 10 lbs too light is much more productive than curling a bar 10 lbs too heavy. Don’t let your ego convince you otherwise.
Swinging your body Maintain a neutral spine. Hips stationary, torso upright and don’t extend your back. Abs flexed at all times. This is a biceps curl, meaning you’re supposed to lift with your biceps; not with your whole damn body! 😀
Using your legs Ensure that your knees remain slightly flexed at all times. Don’t extend them to generate leg drive. Also, don’t dip down to gain a biomechanical advantage by getting partially under the bar.
Swinging elbows Only move your elbows forward by the minimum distance (~2-3 inches) needed to achieve full range of motion (i.e. full elbow flexion; forearms approx. vertical) at the midpoint; and do so slowly. Going further and faster requires shoulder flexion, which produces momentum and is cheating.
Poor range of motion Use full range of motion on every rep: Start with the bar nearly touching your thighs and elbows just shy of full extension; end with the bar at shoulder/neck height with full elbow flexion and forearms perpendicular to the floor.
Lowering the bar too fast Lower the bar at a slow, controlled pace. Aim for 2 seconds (no less than 1 second). Don’t attempt to slow the bar by letting your torso get pulled forward (discussed below). Rather, tense your core and/or use less weight.
Bending forward When lowering the barbell, it’s common to have your torso “collapse” or bend forward at the hips. This often happens if lowering the bar too quickly (see above). You can prevent this by keeping your core tight at all times, especially during the eccentric repetition.
Elbows behind hips Keep your elbows at, or (preferably) slightly ahead of, your hip joints, at all times. Moving your elbows behind your hips shortens the range of motion and takes focus off the biceps, and is therefore cheating.

Barbell Curl Tips

  1. Fix your elbows in place for maximum biceps isolation. Above, I instruct you to move your elbows forward on the concentric; back on the eccentric. This is usually best. But if you want more biceps isolation, don’t move your elbows. The trade off? You can’t curl as heavy, and progression is harder.
  2. Use an EZ-Curl barbell to prevent the wrist strain that can potentially occur when doing the barbell curl with a straight bar. The EZ-Curl bar design enables various ergonomic wrist positions.
  3. Adjust grip width to hit the biceps from a different angle.
  4. Keep your wrists straight in relation to your forearms, throughout the movement. This keeps the tension on the biceps. Whereas, more flexing your wrists reduces the range of motion and diverts tension to the forearms.
  5. Flex your abs and obliques! I mentioned this earlier, but it warrants repeating. I recently made a conscious effort to tense my core. I noticed the instant improvement of a stronger stance and posture, which not only prevented various technique errors, but also boosted my strength a bit.
  6. Prioritize the barbell curl ahead of other biceps exercises in your workout. It’s generally a best training practice to
  7. Please leave the squat racks for squatters! It is basic gym etiquette to not curl in the squat and/or power racks. The only exceptions to this rule are:
    • If your gym is mostly empty.
    • If you train in a home gym.

Is This Exercise Right for You?

The barbell curl has practical applications for all levels of experience.

If you’re a beginner, I recommend doing 3 sets, 1-2x per week. However, since beginners should limit direct biceps training in general, don’t do any other biceps exercises.

If you’re intermediate or advanced, you can add more sets and do other biceps exercises. The total training volume will depend on your situation.

Avoid barbell curls (and other biceps exercises) if your triceps are underdeveloped in comparison. Do more triceps work instead.

Additionally, the dumbbell curl is superior if you have a strength imbalance between your left and right biceps.

About the Author Alex

Hey! My name is Alex, and I'm the owner and author of King of the Gym. I started this website back in late 2009 during college, and it has been my pet project ever since. My goal is to help you learn proper weight training and nutrition principles so that you can get strong and build the physique of your dreams!

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