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The best bicep barbell exercises and workout routines for muscle growth

Here's our list of the top 7 barbell bicep exercises after trying more than 20.
Written By  Liam Brown
Last Updated on 11th June 2021
A man performing some bicep barbell exercises during his workout

The primary biceps function, in addition to elbow flexion, is forearm supination, which involves turning your hands from a palms-down to a palms-up position. This fact is significant because any movement that trains these two functions simultaneously—like these bicep barbell exercises—is going to give your arms a great workout.

Top 7 barbell bicep exercises

Before we get into the barbell bicep workout routines that you can follow, let's see which individual exercises are the most effective for gaining muscle mass.

1. Barbell curl

A man demonstrating the proper standing barbell curl form for working the biceps

The barbell curl has been building the arms of bodybuilders and weight lifting enthusiasts for decades; hence, it's arguably the best barbell exercise for biceps that you can possibly do.

Since exercises like the wide-grip barbell curl, and their counterpart close grip barbell curls, enable you to lift heavy poundages, they're perfect for building mass because they let you overload your biceps with lots of resistance.

The barbell curl is also a highly convenient muscle-building movement because you can perform it virtually anywhere as long as you have some kind of bar and a few weights. So in this regard, it's equally effective regardless of whether you pump iron in a state-of-the-art gym or prefer to train at home.

  1. Load some weight onto a barbell.
  2. Grab the bar with a shoulder-width underhand grip.
  3. Stand up straight and let the bar rest on your thighs.
  4. Curl the weight toward your chest by flexing your biceps.
  5. Keep lifting until your biceps and forearms make forceful contact.
  6. Hold the peak contraction for a second and then lower the weight under control until your elbows are locked out.
  7. Perform 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps in total.

2. Barbell reverse curl

Man demonstrating how to do a reverse barbell curl correctly

The reverse grip bicep curl is one of the best barbell bicep exercises that you can perform because it trains your biceps in addition to your brachialis and brachioradialis muscles.

The latter two muscle groups are a significant weak point for many lifters, mainly because they do far too many biceps curls and not enough reverse curls; hence, they have unsymmetrical arms.

As a rule of thumb, if your brachialis and brachioradialis are comparatively worse than your biceps, do the same amount of reverse curls and regular curls until your arm development becomes more equal.

  1. Place an appropriate amount of weight onto a bar.
  2. Grab the barbell with an overhand grip and let it rest in front of your thighs.
  3. Curl the bar toward your shoulders.
  4. Keep lifting until the tops of your forearms make forceful contact with your biceps.
  5. Pause at the top of the rep for a moment.
  6. Slowly lower the bar back down until your elbows reach full extension.
  7. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.

3. Barbell drag curl

A man performing a barbell drag curl for his biceps

Barbell drag curls are an old school bodybuilding exercise that keeps on producing new gains for many lifters.

Unlike regular curls, drag curls help to build better bicep peaks by emphasizing the often neglected long head of the biceps. This is because they have you curl with your elbows behind your torso, which biomechanically shifts more of the tension onto the outer muscle fibers of your biceps.

The key to getting the best results from this exercise, as in the seated barbell curl, is to avoid shrugging the weight up. While it's normal to feel a moderate amount of trap activation due to the nature of the movement, you should feel the vast majority of the tension in your biceps.

  1. Load a suitable amount of weight onto a bar.
  2. Grab the barbell with a supinated shoulder-width grip.
  3. With the bar resting against your thighs, drag it up your body by moving your forearms toward your biceps while allowing your elbows to drift behind your torso.
  4. Keep dragging the bar upward until your biceps are maximally contracted.
  5. Pause at the top of the rep and then slowly release the contraction.
  6. Lower the weight until your arms are locked out.
  7. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

Related: Barbell vs dumbbell curl

4. Barbell preacher curl

A man performing a barbell preacher curl

The barbell preacher curl is a useful exercise if you want to ensure that all of your curls are performed with the strictest possible form.

Since your arms are braced against the preacher pad and your lower back, hips, and legs are stabilized by the seat, you can't effectively cheat the weight up during this exercise, which means that your biceps receive the vast majority of the tension.

As such, the barbell preacher curl is ideal for beginners who are still learning the correct lifting technique. Yet, the movement is also valuable for advanced lifters who want to maximize their arm development by isolating their biceps as much as possible.

  1. Load an appropriate amount of weight onto a barbell.
  2. Place the bar in the preacher rack.
  3. Sit on the preacher seat and reach down to grab the bar.
  4. Hold the bar with a shoulder-width underhand grip.
  5. Brace your arms against the sloped side of the pad.
  6. Curl the weight toward your shoulders.
  7. Keeping curling until the undersides of your forearms press up against your biceps.
  8. Hold the contraction for a moment and then lower the weight under control until your elbows reach full extension.
  9. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 6-15 reps.

5. Barbell hammer curl

A man performing a barbell hammer curl

Out of all the barbell exercises for biceps that you can perform, hammer barbell curls are the most unique because a) they emphasize different muscles, and b) they use a different type of bar.

So if you have access to a tricep bar and want to target your brachialis and brachioradialis (the prime movers) in addition to your biceps, then definitely add this drill to your workout because it's one of the best barbell curl alternatives out there.

Building the brachialis can help to make your biceps look more peaked, and developing the brachioradialis will help to thicken up your forearms. That's why this exercise is so effective.

  1. Load a suitable weight onto a tricep bar.
  2. Grab the bar with a neutral grip and hold it in front of your thighs.
  3. Curl the bar toward your chest.
  4. Squeeze your biceps and forearms as they come into contact with each other.
  5. Hold the contraction for a moment and slowly lower the bar back down until your elbows are fully locked out.
  6. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps.

6. Barbell spider curl

A man doing a barbell spider curl for his biceps

If you have access to a bar, a bench, and some weights and want to get the best bicep pump of your life, then make sure to do the barbell spider curl in your next workout.

This underrated exercise trains your biceps in a shortened muscle position, which naturally creates an intense pump and a potent peak contraction.

Since the spider curl challenges your muscles the most where they're naturally meant to be weakest (i.e., when they're maximally contracted), you'll need to lift lighter on this movement than on the other biceps barbell exercises so that you can feel the target muscles working.

  1. Load a moderately light weight onto a barbell, or use a fixed bar for more convenience.
  2. Place the bar at the backrest end of a weight bench.
  3. Lie against the bench in a reverse direction with your chest pressed against the back pad.
  4. Reach down and grab the bar with a shoulder-width supinated grip.
  5. Curl the bar toward your shoulders while keeping your elbows still.
  6. Keep lifting until the undersides of your forearms forcefully press up against your biceps.
  7. Squeeze your biceps and hold the contraction for a second.
  8. Lower the weight under control until your elbows are locked out.
  9. Perform 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps in total.

7. Barbell concentration curl

Man performing a bent over barbell concentration curl

The barbell concentration curl is a versatile exercise because you can perform it seated or standing, which naturally makes this movement ideal for a variety of training environments.

Both versions have their place, but you may want to include the standing variation in your barbell biceps workout because it doesn't force you to use such a close grip like the seated type.

Barbell concentration curls create a strong peak contraction and generate an intense muscle pump, so it's recommended to perform slightly higher reps on this movement to maximize its metabolic effects.

On a side note, if you want to save time by training your biceps and shoulders together, then you can also do the barbell curl and press exercise. Bodybuilders might not like this movement because it doesn't completely isolate the biceps, but it's definitely a time-efficient way to build muscle.

  1. Place some weight onto a barbell and then grab it with a supinated, shoulder-width grip.
  2. Bend over and brace your elbows against your knees—keep your back flat.
  3. Curl the weight toward your shoulders and flex your biceps as they come into contact with your forearms.
  4. Hold the contraction for a moment, and then carefully lower the bar until your elbows reach full extension.
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

Related: EZ bar vs straight bar

Barbell biceps workout routines

Both of these barbell bicep workout routines will increase the size of your muscles while also making them stronger. However, each workout has a focus of its own. For example, the first workout is designed to maximize muscle growth but still has a secondary emphasis on strength gain.

Workout 1: Beginner

A man doing some barbell exercises for his biceps

This is the best barbell biceps workout to do if you're a beginner. It has enough volume for you to build size but not so much that it will impair your recovery (and thereby your muscle growth). It's also a very simple routine, but don't be fooled; this is a mass-building bicep barbell workout if there ever was one.

1: Barbell Curls — 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps

2: Reverse Curls — 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps

3: Narrow Grip Curl — 2 sets of 15-20 reps

Workout 2: Muscle growth

A man doing various exercises during his barbell bicep workout

This biceps bar workout has plenty of training volume to stimulate maximum muscle growth while still letting you lift heavy enough to gain some serious strength as well. It's an advanced workout, so if you're new to training, definitely don't do this routine more than once a week and also scale back the volume by doing fewer sets per exercise.

1: Barbell Curl — 4-5 sets of 6-12 reps

2: Barbell Preacher Curl — 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

3: Reverse Curl — 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps

4: Close Grip Barbell Curl — 2 sets of 15-20 reps

Workout 3: Strength development

A man performing a barbell biceps workout

Out of the three barbell bicep workouts, this one is superior for gaining strength (unless you're a novice lifter) because the reps are lower for the main exercises, and so is the volume; hence, it's easier to recover from.

You can also substitute one of the exercises for one arm barbell curls if you want to train your supination strength and stabilizer muscles with more specificity.

1: Barbell curl — 5-6 sets of 5-8 reps

2: Reverse curl — 4-5 sets of 8-12 reps

3: Drag Curl — 4 sets of 10-15 reps

You can also click the link to learn whether you should do a cable curl or barbell curl for optimal bicep development.

Conclusion: Which bicep barbell exercises are most effective?

All of the bicep barbell exercises mentioned in this workout guide can build slabs of mass if you perform them with good technique on a consistent basis. The most effective movement, however, depends on your goals and current physique.

For example, if you need more mass in general, then regular standing curls are your best bet because they enable you to lift the most amount of weight.

On the other hand, if you already have decent biceps but comparatively worse brachialis and brachioradialis development, then the reverse curl is a better choice because it will help your physique to look more proportional.

Of course, you can include many different exercises in your barbell bicep workout to stimulate maximum muscle growth by working your arms from different angles. But definitely start with the exercises that train the areas that you need to improve the most.

References

  1. Frothingham, S. (2020, January 24). Hypertrophy Training vs. Strength Training: Pros and Cons. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/hypertrophy-vs-strength
  2. John, D. (2019, August 18). 10 Secrets to Building Mass. T NATION. https://www.t-nation.com/training/10-secrets-to-building-mass/

Liam Brown
Liam Brown has been coaching clients as a personal trainer for more than 12 years. Raised by his athlete mother and physiotherapist father, he understands the critical importance of learning the proper technique for both avoiding injury and building muscle.
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