How to Do Barbell Curl: Muscles Worked & Proper Form

Barbell biceps curl exercise technique

Muscles Worked in Barbell Curls

Muscles worked in the barbell curl

Primary muscles worked:

Secondary muscles worked:

How to Do Barbell Curl

  1. Grip a bar with an underhand (supinated) grip, hands about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift the bar with control, by flexing your elbows.
  3. Don’t let your upper arm travel back during the curl, keep it at your side or move it slightly forward.
  4. Reverse the movement and lower the bar back to the starting position.

Text and graphics from the StrengthLog app.

Introduction to the Barbell Curl

The barbell curl is one of the most classic (and best) exercises you can do for your biceps.

In this article, we’ll go through which muscles are working, how to perform the exercise, and other things that are good to keep in mind before you start pumping up those biceps.

Which Muscles Do the Barbell Curl Work?

The barbell curl primarily targets your biceps and brachialis (which lie beneath the biceps), but the forearm flexors are also involved as a secondary muscle group.

Muscles worked in the barbell curl

For the best training effect on your biceps, you should maintain a strict form, where your muscles are under constant tension.

To accomplish this, avoid letting your elbows travel backward during the lift, and also keep tension in the muscles in the bottom position.

Benefits of the Barbell Curl

  • Stronger and bigger arms. Barbell curls primarily target the biceps brachii and brachialis muscles, which results in increased strength and size of the upper arms.
  • Grip strength. Barbell curls can significantly enhance your grip strength, which can be beneficial for improving performance in other exercises and also in your daily life.
  • Accessible. All you need to perform the exercise is a barbell of any form, which is available at most gyms. This makes the exercise very accessible.
  • Functional. Ironically enough, bicep curls are actually very functional, as they are one of the most common movements we do with our arms in our daily life.

Barbell Curl: Proper Form & Technique

barbell curl starting position
Barbell curl starting position
barbell curl top position
Barbell curl top position

The barbell curl is a pretty straightforward exercise, but there are a few things that are good to keep in mind for good form.


Grip the barbell with a shoulder-wide grip. Stand with your feet about hip-width apart and make sure that you’re standing in a stable position. Keep a good posture, and brace your core during the entire movement.


Curl up the barbell, and make sure that you keep your elbows close to your body the entire time. Your body shouldn’t move, just the arms.

If you start to swing to move the barbell with help from the momentum of the body, you should probably remove some weight instead and focus on performing the movement with control.

Common Mistakes in the Barbell Curl

  • Elbow positioning. If your elbows move forward while you’re lifting the weight, it will put an additional load on your front delts, instead of focusing on your biceps. If your elbows move backward, you’ll also move the load from your biceps and be able to “cheat up” the weight.
  • Using too heavy weights. By adding more weight than you can lift, you might start to swing your body and use momentum to get the weight up. Another sign of using too much weight is if you’re not using the full range of motion and start doing half reps instead.
  • Not locking your wrists. Keep your wrists straight during the movement. If they’re bent, it can put an unnecessary load on them and lead to discomfort and maybe even injuries.

Barbell Curl Alternatives & Variations

  1. Dumbbell Curl & Hammer Curl
  2. Machine Bicep Curl
  3. Preacher Curl
  4. Bodyweight Curl

1. Dumbbell Curl & Hammer Curl

Dumbbell curls allow for a greater range of motion than the barbell curl since each arm works independently. This can also help to address any muscle imbalances.

By switching from a supinated to a neutral grip, it becomes a hammer curl instead. The hammer curl is practically the same as the dumbbell curl, but it targets the muscles brachialis and brachioradialis a bit more.

2. Machine Bicep Curl

Machine Bicep Curl
Machine Bicep Curl

The machine curl provides more stability than the barbell curl, as they keep you in a fixed path of motion. This might be beneficial, especially for beginners, or if you want to be able to focus on your biceps without any distractions like balance and stabilization.

However, the machines typically have less versatility, with most offering a fixed grip width and position that might not fit all lifters.

3. Preacher Curl

If you have difficulties getting good muscle contact in the barbell or dumbbell curl, the preacher curl might be a good alternative. By resting your upper arms on the sloping pad of the preacher bench, you get more stabilization, and it eliminates the possibility of moving your elbows and creating excessive momentum.

4. Bodyweight Curl

Bodyweight curl
Bodyweight Curl

The bodyweight curl is a good alternative for training biceps if you don’t have access to any external weight. All you need is a TRX or something similar to hang on to, and then use your own body weight and gravity as resistance.

How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do of the Barbell Curl?

How many reps you should do of an exercise depends on your goal: do you mainly want to increase your strength or build muscle?

Generally, a lower rep range of about 1–5 reps per set is most effective for strength gains.

For muscle gains, a slightly higher rep range of about 8–15 reps per set is generally the most effective and practical. You can cycle in periods of working in this rep range, even if your goal is to get as strong as possible.

Of course, you will see an increase in both muscle and strength regardless of which rep range you choose, but you can emphasize one or the other slightly by working in the right number of reps.

Workouts and Training Programs That Include the Barbell Curl

Bicep Training Programs

Bicep Workouts

All these, and many more programs and workouts, are available in our workout log app StrengthLog.

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