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Bicep Curl (Barbell) – How to Instructions, Proper Exercise Form and Tips

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Benefits of the Barbell Bicep Curl

The barbell bicep curl is arguably one of the most popular gym exercises, next to the bench press and barbell row. You get to use a popular gym tool (the barbell), you can lift more weight, and the range of motion is enough to make your biceps burn. But despite its popularity, many people struggle to make full use of the movement or build a set of impressive biceps. 

At first glance, bicep curls are as straightforward as it gets. You grab a weight and proceed to flex and extend your elbows. But upon closer look, pulling off an effective bicep curl is an art. When done correctly, the barbell bicep curl adds mass to your arms and builds strength that translates to other movements and activities. For example, strong biceps improve your back training and make certain everyday activities easier to carry out. 

How to do a Barbell Bicep Curl

  1. Start with an empty 20-kilo barbell.
  2. Grab the barbell with an even underhand grip (palms facing forward). Your hands should be shoulder-width apart or slightly wider.
  3. Bring your shoulders, engage your abs, and squeeze your glutes.
  4. Take a breath and curl the barbell until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows.
  5. Hold the top position for a second, squeezing your biceps as you do.
  6. Lower the barbell slowly as you exhale on the way down. Extend your arms fully.
  7. Take another breath and curl the barbell again.

What muscles does the barbell bicep curl activate?

The primary muscles that work during а barbell curl are our biceps, which cover the front side of our upper arms and produce elbow flexion (bending the arm) (1). Our biceps have two heads (a long and short one), both of which activate during a bicep curl (2). A wider grip emphasizes the inner (short) head, where a more narrow grip allows us to train the outer (long) head more effectively.

Barbell curls also train the brachialis, a muscle situated underneath the bicep that assists elbow flexion (3). Developing the muscle pushes the bicep out, contributing to the overall size of the upper arm. The third muscle group involved in barbell curls is the brachioradialis, which covers the top side of our forearms (4).

Some core involvement is also inevitable with the barbell curl. Our abs, transverse abdominis, obliques, erector spinae, and glutes engage to keep us stable and in position.

Proper Form and Technique when doing a Barbell Bicep Curl

The most important tip to keep in mind for the barbell bicep curl is to use a full range of motion. Extend your arms fully as you lower the barbell, then follow that with a strong contraction in the top position. Doing so will allow you to take full advantage of each repetition and build your bicep strength and size. 

Another tip to consider with the barbell curl is to experiment with grip width. As discussed above, a wider grip helps you emphasize the short bicep head, whereas a more narrow one works the long head. Experimenting allows you to see what lets you feel your biceps best. 

It would be best if you also strived to develop a good mind-muscle connection with your biceps. Feel your biceps stretching as you lower the barbell, then engage them as best as possible on the way up. Doing so can improve bicep activation, leading to more growth.

Variations and Modifications of the Barbell Bicep Curl

1. Barbell Curl With Slow Negatives

The barbell curl with slow negatives is a variation where you raise the barbell with a normal tempo but prolong the descent to three or four seconds. In doing so, you cause significant eccentric overload, which could help you overcome a training plateau and build more muscle. Slow negatives are also beneficial for improving your mind-muscle connection.

2. Pause Barbell Curl

The pause barbell curl features a slight tweak in the technique that increases time under tension, improving the mind-muscle connection, and making the movement more challenging. The goal is to curl the barbell to the top position and hold it there for two to four seconds.

3. Reverse-Grip Barbell Curl

Your goal with this movement is to grab the barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing back). In doing so, you can better emphasize your forearm muscles.

Mistakes to Avoid

The most common mistake related to barbell curls is shortening the range of motion. Many trainees curl the barbell to a high enough position but don’t lower it enough. Doing so allows you to use slightly more weight, but you cannot stretch your bicep that well on the bottom position. Avoid the mistake by extending your elbows fully on the way down. You can even flex your triceps at the bottom position to ensure that you’ve lowered the weight enough.

Another significant mistake related to barbell curls is using momentum. The issue occurs because many people load too much weight on the barbell. As a result, they have to resort to momentum and body swinging to move the barbell from point A to B. Avoid the mistake by choosing the appropriate load to do at least eight good repetitions with a smooth technique.

The third significant mistake with the barbell curl is letting the weight drop on the way down. For example, you would lift the barbell to the top but then let it fall to the bottom before lifting it again. Doing so isn’t good because you miss out on the eccentric contraction (your muscles lengthening under tension) (5). Controlling the weight on the way down allows you to cause a more significant stimulus, resulting in superior muscle growth and strength gain.

Similar Exercises to the Barbell Bicep Curl

Zottman Curl (Dumbbell)

man zottman curl dumbbell

The Zottman curl is a dumbbell bicep exercise. The goal is to start in a traditional bicep curl position with your palms facing forward. You curl the dumbbells to the top position, but instead of lowering them, you first rotate your wrist 180 degrees. After that, you bring the dumbbells down with your palms facing your body. In doing so, you train your biceps and forearms more evenly.

Bicep Curl (Dumbbell)

Bicep curl man dumbbell

The dumbbell bicep curl is one of the best exercises you can include in your training. Bicep curls come in many forms, their range of motion is excellent, and you can overload the exercise as you get stronger. A common way to do bicep curls is to lift both dumbbells simultaneously and twist your wrists at the top position.

Hammer Curl (Dumbbell)

man hammer curl dumbbell

The hammer curl is another fantastic movement for excellent bicep growth. Unlike classic curls, your goal here is to maintain a neutral grip (palms facing one another). In doing so, you involve your brachioradialis muscle more effectively. Hammer curls are also great because trainees can typically lift a bit more weight, which is beneficial for overloading the biceps.

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