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Close grip curls vs wide grip curls: Differences explained

Learn how these opposing grip widths affect your bicep activation.
Written By  Liam Brown
Last Updated on 29th December 2021
A weight lifter performing a close grip curls vs wide grip curls comparison to show the differences

Welcome to our wide grip vs close grip curls debate. Over the next few minutes, you'll learn all the differences between these two popular exercises, as well as which is the most effective for building your biceps.

Let's get into the comparison.

Close grip vs wide grip curls: The key differences

  1. Close grip curls emphasize the long (outer) head of the biceps, whereas wide grip curls prioritize the short (inner) head.
  2. You can typically lift a bit more weight on wide curls.
  3. Close grip curls tend to produce a stronger peak contraction because your biceps are in a shorter muscle position.

Which one builds more muscle?

A man doing a wide grip curls vs close grip curls comparison to show the differences

Exercises like the close grip standing barbell curl and close EZ bar curls emphasize the long head of the biceps by biomechanically shifting more of the tension onto the outer muscle fibers of the biceps.

The long head is the part of the biceps that's responsible for building the greatly-desired bicep peak. So if you already have a decent foundation of mass and want your biceps to look taller, then the close grip curl is the superior choice.

On the other hand, movements such as wide cable bicep curls and wide dumbbell curls shift the emphasis of the exercise onto the inner bicep muscle fibers, otherwise known as the short head. This part of the biceps can make your arms look thick and rounded when well-developed, so it's definitely no less important than the long head.

So which one is best for muscle growth? It depends on which head is less developed on you. For example, if your long head has more room to grow than your short head, then close grip curls will provide better gains.

Which one is superior for gaining strength?

A man performing a wide grip vs close grip curls comparison

Most people will be able to lift more weight on wide grip curls. This is because the range of motion is slightly shorter when you use a wider grip; thus, the biceps don't have to perform as much work.

For gaining strength, however, things are pretty much equal.

Barbells are easy to progressively overload because you can increase the weight in very manageable increments. So regardless of whether you do wide grip or close grip curls, you'll be able to gain strength regularly and at virtually identical rates.

Should you do both exercises?

A man doing a narrow grip curls vs wide grip curls comparison

Since wide grip and narrow grip curls each emphasize different regions of the biceps, it definitely makes sense to perform both movements if you want to achieve optimal arm development.

However, you don't need to do both exercises within the same session.

It's perfectly fine and perhaps even preferable to split the drills over different days of the week. Partitioning your training volume like this over multiple days actually makes you stronger, too. For example, you'll be able to lift more total weight (weight x reps x sets) by doing 5 sets twice a week than by doing 10 sets in one go.

You'll also take advantage of more frequent protein synthesis spikes by spreading out your training volume over the week.

Close grip curls vs wide grip curls: The verdict

A man doing a wide grip vs narrow grip curls comparison

Both exercises have their place in a well-thought-out workout plan. While wide grip curls enable you to lift more weight, close grip curls generally produce a stronger bicep contraction. This is because you're curling with your hands in front of your body rather than by your sides, which means that the biceps are in a shorter muscle position.

I hope that you found our wide grip vs narrow grip curls debate helpful and interesting. For optimal results, your best bet is to perform both exercises so that you can recruit the most amount of bicep muscle fibers possible.

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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