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How to do a barbell curl and press

Sculpt your shoulders and blast your biceps with the barbell curl and press.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 10th August 2021
A man performing a barbell curl to press

Because of the biceps brachii origin at the coracoid process of the scapula (short head) and at the supraglenoid tubercle of the scapula (long head), the biceps perform shoulder flexion as well as elbow flexion and forearm supination.

As such, the curl and press makes a great addition to your bicep barbell workouts because you're training even more functions of the muscle than on straight barbell curls.

This tutorial shows you how to perform the barbell curl and press and then discusses the benefits of this underrated compound exercise.

Barbell curl and press exercise details

  • Also Known As: Barbell curl to reverse press
  • Main Muscles: Biceps brachii, deltoids, triceps
  • Secondary Muscles: Brachialis, brachioradialis, forearm flexors
  • Exercise Type: Strength
  • Exercise Mechanics: Compound
  • Difficulty Level: Intermediate
  • Equipment Needed: Barbell, weights

How to barbell curl and press

  1. Load some weight onto a barbell.
  2. Grab the bar with a shoulder-width underhand grip and let it rest on your thighs. This is the starting position.
  3. While keeping your elbows still, curl the bar toward your chest.
  4. Squeeze your biceps as they come into contact with your forearms.
  5. Press the bar over your head until your elbows are locked out.
  6. Lower the bar back down to your chest with your shoulders.
  7. Then lower the weight back to the original starting position by letting it stretch your biceps.
  8. Perform 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps in total.

Barbell curl and press benefits

The barbell curl to press can really bulk up your biceps if you perform it consistently. However, that's not the only advantage of this exercise. You can develop your deltoids and increase your training efficiency with this movement as well.

Stronger anterior deltoids

Bodybuilder doing a most muscular pose

This exercise is often called the barbell curl to reverse press because you're lifting the bar over your head with an underhand grip, which is the opposite of what you'd do in a regular shoulder press.

The advantage of this grip is that it's safer for your shoulders because it puts less strain on your rotator cuffs, seen as your glenohumeral joint is externally rotated. [1]

More significantly, from a hypertrophy perspective, this grip increases front delt activation and thus generates a more potent shoulder pump.

For optimal results, however, it's recommended to perform regular overhead presses as well because there's no way that you can curl enough weight on this exercise to truly overload your shoulders.

To train your entire body, you can also give the two arm ball squat curl to press a go if you have the necessary equipment.

More bicep mass

A bodybuilder flexing his arm

Bodybuilders might look at the barbell curl to press exercise and complain that it's a "functional exercise" and not hypertrophy-focused.

And while I can definitely see their point, movements like the barbell curl and press and the popular DB hammer curl and press still overload your biceps with as much resistance as regular curls.

The only difference is that you're getting plenty of shoulder activation as well.

However, this deltoid activation doesn't come at the expense of bicep recruitment because, as mentioned, the first half of this exercise is essentially the same as a standard bicep curl.

On the other hand, if you're very particular about only training specific muscle groups together, then you may find that this exercise interferes with your workout. Or, to say it another way, this movement isn't ideal if you're not willing to train your biceps and shoulders within the same session.

Shorter workouts

A man doing a barbell curl and press

Many bodybuilders are happy to spend hours in the gym to get those gains.

And while many of us love lifting weights as well, not everyone wants to live in the weight room in an attempt to eke out a few more ounces of muscle mass. [2]

So in this regard, doing a dead curl press with dumbbells or performing the aforementioned barbell curl and press is an excellent idea if you want to speed up your training sessions while still getting in plenty of volume.

This is because you're training two muscles in one movement; hence, you don't need to do as many isolation exercises for your shoulders and biceps.

Related Exercises: Single arm barbell curlsTall kneeling curl to press

In closing: Is the barbell curl to press a worthwhile exercise?

The barbell curl and press blasts your biceps and shoulders while giving you a good, if short, cardiovascular workout in the process. This muscle-building movement is ultra-convenient because it trains multiple body parts in one lift, which means that you can get away with performing fewer total exercises.

So if you're looking for a drill to get your heart and your visible muscles pumping, then the barbell curl to press is an excellent choice. It's also very accessible because all you need is a barbell and a few weights. As such, it's perfect if you train at home and don't have access to much equipment.

On the other hand, if you're a bodybuilder seeking to maximally isolate each muscle, then this might not be the best exercise for you. As mentioned, it's hard to optimally overload your shoulders because you're always going to be able to overhead press more weight than you can curl.

References

  1. Contreras, B. (2017, January 11). The Overhead Shoulder Rotation Quandary. Bret Contreras. https://bretcontreras.com/overhead-shoulder-rotation-quandary/
  2. Workout Plateau | Law Of Diminishing Returns & FITT Principle. (2019, July 23). My Protein. https://us.myprotein.com/thezone/training/the-principle-of-diminishing-returns/
James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
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