Learn How to Perform the Barbell Biceps Curl for Size and Strength

By Matt Walter
Published on:
Learn how to properly perform and program the barbell biceps curl

The biceps curl is a standard weightlifting exercise that can be performed with free weights or an exercise machine. It targets the muscles of the upper arm, shoulder, and back.

The barbell biceps curl is one of the most popular variations because it allows for heavier loads than other types of curls. This post will explain how to do this movement correctly so you can maximize your performance during each rep!

Table of Contents

Barbell Biceps Curl Fact Sheet

Alternate names: barbell bicep curl, barbell curl, standing barbell curl
Joint Action: Elbow Flexion
Muscles Trained: biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis
Alternate Exercises: dumbbell curl, concentration curl, kettlebell curl, cable curl, band curl, hammer curl
Variations: reverse/pronated grip barbell biceps curl, preacher curl, EZ bar curl

Biceps Diagram

Video: Barbell Biceps Curl Demonstration

How to Perform the Barbell Biceps Curl: Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Approach your barbell with an upright posture and your feet shoulder-width apart. Grasp the barbell with your palms facing away from you (supinated grip). Your hands should be just outside shoulder-width; comfortable and in a straight line.

Barbell Biceps Curl Starting Position

Step 2: Curl the weight upward by contracting the biceps to flex your arms. Keep your elbows and upper arms at your sides as you move the weight.

Coach’s Tip: Focus on moving the weight with the biceps only. Avoid swinging your body to help start or finish the movement. This is often called a cheat curl, which is a technique that is often used incorrectly and should be avoided by beginners.

Step 3: Squeeze your biceps hard at the top of the movement, with the barbell between your collar bones and chin.

Step 4: Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. Repeat as necessary.

Coach’s Tip: When lowering the weight to the starting position, lower the weight slowly and under control. A good starting point is a count of 2 seconds to lower the weight. The lifting phase of the movement should be controlled and slightly faster than the lowering phase.

Barbell Biceps Curl Finishing Position

Barbell Biceps Curl Tips

The biceps are not a large muscle and are generally weaker than many of the other muscles in the body. You do not need to lift a lot of weight in order to make them grow.

Visualize your biceps muscles in your mind and focus on the muscles moving the movement, both during the concentric phase (lifting the weight) and the eccentric phase (lowering the weight).

Keep your wrists neutral. Do you not flex your wrists toward your body, or let your wrists extend away from you. They should stay in a perfectly straight line with your forearm.

Programming the Barbell Biceps Curl

The biceps tend to respond best through the metabolic stress pathway. In other words, we are looking for a pump here, not necessarily big weights.

For muscle growth: higher reps in the 10-12 rep range at least, with 30-60 seconds rest between efforts.

For strength: reps in the 8-10 range with 1:30-2:00 rest between sets.

Here are three other great ways to make the biceps grow through the metabolic stress pathway:

  • Mechanical drop sets: start with a weight you can perform 6-8 good, controlled reps with. Immediately drop the weight and perform another 4-8 reps in the same way. Immediately drop to a lower weight and perform again.
  • 1 and 1/2 reps: curl the weight in a slow, controlled manner. Lower the weight halfway and then return to the top of the movement. Finally, lower the weight all the way back to the starting position.
  • 21’s: Fully curl the weight in a slow, controlled manner. Lower the weight halfway and return to the top. Do 7 reps from halway up to the top. On the 8th rep, lower the weight all the way to the starting position and perform 7 reps from the bottom to the halfway point. Finally, complete 7 full reps, moving from the starting position all the way to full contraction.

Barbells:

I use each of the barbells listed below on a regular basis. They are incredible all-purpose barbells at great prices.

Again Faster Team Barbell 2.0 – This is the barbell I have and use at home.

Rogue Bar 2.0 – This is an incredible all-purpose barbell. Some of my closest friends own this one and use it as their daily bar. It’s also one of the bars used at the CrossFit Games.

Rogue Bella Bar 2.0 – Modeled after the Rogue Bar 2.0 but designed for women with a 25mm shaft and 15kg (33lb) weight. This is an incredible all-purpose barbell and is the bar the women use at the CrossFit Games.

Titan Fitness Blues City Olympic Barbell – My local CrossFit gym has this barbell and I use it often. It’s a great all-purpose barbell.

Plates:

Rogue Fitness Cast Iron Olympic Plates – These are high quality and slightly less expensive than bumper plates. Again, great if you’re not going to drop them.

Rogue Crumb Bumper Plates – Crumb bumpers are amazing for home gyms! They are incredibly durable and are much quieter than typical bumper plates. And, if you plan on training outside at any point, these are the plates you need.

Conclusion: The Barbell Biceps Curl

The barbell biceps curl is a foundational movement for bicep growth. It’s an easy exercise to learn how to perform correctly and will continue to provide results year after year. Performing this exercise correctly is the key to maximizing its benefits and ensuring safety. If you’re new, start with lighter weights until you get used to performing the movement properly.

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AUTHOR

Matt has been a personal trainer for more than 18 years. He is also a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, has a master's degree in teaching, and is a former competitive powerlifter and CrossFit athlete. His passion is helping others get in shape from mid-life and beyond.

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