Barbell Curl vs. Preacher Curl: Which Builds Bigger Biceps?

Want bigger biceps but not sure which movement is the best for mass? Brad Borland takes a look at 2 major bicep exercises and helps you to decide which is best.

Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.

As the ultimate “show-me” muscle, the biceps has taken on numerous names such as guns and pythons among many others. Nicely, well developed biceps make any physique look instantly bigger no matter how in or out of shape someone is. Of course, big guns are forged through many hours toiling away at rows, pull-ups and pulldowns, however, the curl is still the sometimes lonely road to larger, more muscular arms.

Although the simple action of the curl remains as basic as it gets, the biceps still possesses a full list of exercises to choose from. Standing barbell, preacher, dumbbell, incline and concentration are just a very few of the seemingly endless possibilities. As nothing can replace a good ole fashioned standing barbell curl, there are still others that have their place in a carefully structured and effective program.

Let us look into pitting two well-known moves against each other and see who comes out ahead for bigger, better guns. The standard barbell curl versus the preacher curl.

Barbell curl

Signified as the standard for building big mass in the biceps, the barbell curl is oftentimes included on the short list for big moves for big gains. Along with bench presses, barbell rows, shoulder presses and squats, it is unsurpassed as the curl that enables you to use as much weight as possible. Take an underhand grip on a barbell shoulder width with your arms straight down and your elbows pinned to your sides.

From a dead stop curl the weight up keeping your elbows by your sides in a controlled manner resisting any upper body swing. In a large arching motion curl the weight up all the way toward your upper chest while actively squeezing the biceps. Once at the top position, slowly lower the weight in the same controlled fashion until your arms are once again straight down for a complete stretch.

Pros: First and foremost, the amount of weight that you can potentially use is significantly more than with any other curl. More weight equals more overload equals more muscle. Another great advantage of the barbell curl is the ease of use – it can virtually be dome anywhere – no special equipment needed other than a barbell. Finally, when performed correctly, it can be used with a myriad of techniques such as 21s, “I-go-you-go,” cheat curls, partials and various speed reps.

Cons: When executing good form, it is hard to find many flaws with the barbell curl, however, way too many gym-goers fail to get the true benefit of this exercise. Bent backs, heaving of the weight, too much help form a spotter, funky contortions and a get-the-weight-up-by-all-means attitude are seen more than those brave souls who curl in the squat rack. Too much weight is a guarantee for little to no results and an injury waiting to happen.

Preacher Curl

Preacher curl

Performed on an angled bench aptly named the preacher bench, the preacher curl is a gym favorite by those looking for a little variety to their curl-boredom. Sit on the seat of the bench where your arms and torso are firmly planted against the pad. Your arms should sit flat against the pad and your shoulders should be relaxed and not be in a shrugged up position.

With an underhand grip on the bar, start from the absolute bottom position with your arms completely straight. Curl the bar up in a controlled motion without raising your shoulders. When you reach the top, flex your biceps and prevent them from relaxing – keep the tension. Your body should also be stable the entire time. Lower the bar under control back to the extended position.

Pros: The preacher curl is a nice change if your current routine has fallen into a rut. Also, the preacher bench forces you to perform a curl in the strictest manner possible. High reps are somewhat easier to do on the bench because of the lack of full body stability and movement required such as during a standing barbell curl. Finally, since it is a strict move with less weight, you have the opportunity to work on form and function and developing a better mind to muscle connection.

Cons: When not using correct form, the preacher curl can be a very dangerous exercise. Using too much weight can have a severely negative effect on biceps tendon and shoulder joint strain. Heaving up too much weight will do very little in the way of bigger biceps. The preacher curl is designed for lighter weight, perfect form and a large range of motion.

The verdict

As with most weapons in your arsenal of biceps builders, both exercises can prove effective for bigger, more muscular arms. As the big bruiser, the barbell curl packs on the mass and strength building the bulk of muscle. Conversely, the preacher curl can give you a better contraction and connection for an improved range of motion and a lesson in slow and controlled movement. Try cleaning up your form and giving these two moves a real run in your current routine for both more mass and muscularity.