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Preacher curl alternatives that you can do at home without a bench

A personal trainer reveals the top 5 preacher curl substitutes that you can do without a bench.
Written By  Liam Brown
Last Updated on 12th June 2021
A man demonstrating various preacher curl alternatives

The preacher curl is one of the most effective exercises for building the bicep muscle because the stability of the pad really lets you isolate the target area. But what if you don't have a preacher curl bench?

Well, you needn't worry. There are a variety of preacher curl alternatives that you can do without a bench. So whether you train at home or work out in a gym with minimal equipment, you'll be sure to find a suitable preacher curl substitute within our detailed guide.

Preacher curl alternatives

Before you learn how to perform a preacher curl at home without any gym equipment, we thought it would be helpful to discuss the best preacher curl alternatives that you can do with weights. After all, there's more than one way to attain the bicep size and shape that you desire.

1. Concentration curls

A man doing a concentration curl with a twist for his biceps

Concentration curls are the perfect preacher curl replacement if you lift at home because they require minimal equipment. In fact, all you need is a dumbbell and a seat.

To perform a concentration curl, sit down and hold a dumbbell with an underhand grip. Then, brace your arm against the inside of your leg. Curl the weight toward your shoulder and contract your biceps forcefully. Finish the rep by lowering the dumbbell under control until your elbow is completely extended.

Since this exercise gets more challenging as your biceps become more contracted, it's recommended to stick to moderate or high reps so that you can maximize your muscle pump. See exercises #3 and #4 in this list if you want a movement that's more suited to heavy weights and low reps.

You can also click the link to learn the difference between a concentration curl and a preacher curl.

2. Spider curls

A man performing an EZ bar spider curl

Spider curls are the most obvious preacher curl alternative because you can do them right there on the preacher pad. The main difference is that you're bracing your arms against the vertical side of the pad rather than the sloped side.

However, the spider curl is also the biomechanical opposite of a preacher curl. This is because spider curls are most difficult when your biceps are maximally contracted, whereas preacher curls pose more challenge at the start of the concentric when your elbows are close to full extension.

To learn more, just click the link to find out the main differences between preacher curls and spider curls.

3. Incline curls

Man performing a seated incline dumbbell curl for his biceps

Incline curls are the ideal preacher curl substitute if you have access to weights and an adjustable bench. The exercise is superior to preacher curls in many ways because it provides more consistent tension during the set, which means that your biceps have to work harder.

To do this exercise correctly, grab some dumbbells with an underhand grip and set the backrest of an adjustable bench to 45 degrees. Sit on the bench and let your arms hang by either side of the backrest. Begin the rep by curling the weights toward your shoulders. Squeeze your biceps forcefully as they make contact with your forearms. Complete the rep by lowing the dumbbells until your elbows are completely locked out.

It's definitely possible to test your strength and lift heavy on incline curls, so don't hesitate to perform sets of 6-10 reps to focus on fatiguing the fast-twitch muscle fibers.

You can also read our preacher curls vs incline dumbbell curls comparison to learn more about the differences between the exercises.

4. Dumbbell curls

A man doing dumbbell curls for his biceps

Dumbbell curls are the most accessible alternative to preacher curls because they don't require a bench of any kind. All you need is two dumbbells, a small amount of space, and a spare five minutes.

To perform the exercise, hold two dumbbells by your sides with an underhand grip. Then, curl the weights toward your front delts and flex your biceps as they squeeze up against the undersides of your forearms. Finish the rep by lowering the dumbbells under control until your arms are fully locked out.

Dumbbell curls are a very versatile exercise, so you can definitely get great results from both high and low rep training. I recommended trying different rep ranges to see which approach you like the most.

Check out our preacher curl vs barbell curl debate if you want to learn more about how the two exercises compare to each other.

5. Reverse curls

Man demonstrating how to do a reverse barbell curl correctly

Reverse curls certainly aren't the most obvious barbell preacher curl alternative. And that's because these exercises emphasize different muscle groups. Whereas preacher curl bias the resistance towards the biceps brachii, reverse curls prioritize the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles.

Since many lifters already have decent bicep development, performing more reverse curls than preacher curls could help you to sculpt a more proportional physique. After all, the brachioradialis and brachialis can make your biceps look much thicker when they're well-developed, so it's within your best interest to train them with enough volume if you're in pursuit of aesthetic arms.

If you want to learn the difference between hammer curls and preacher curls to get even more inspiration for possible alternatives, then you can read our comparison by clicking the link.

How to do preacher curls without a bench

If you don't have access to a preacher bench, try these exercise variations to work your biceps in a similar way to how preacher curls would train them.

Use an adjustable bench

A man doing an over bench curl

If you don't have access to a preacher bench but still have an adjustable bench, then you can still perform a perfect preacher curl. This exercise is sometimes called an over bench curl and is essentially a preacher curl done over an incline bench.

To begin, set the backrest of a weight bench to a 45-degree angle. Then, with a dumbbell in your hand, brace your arm against the bench. Begin the rep by curling the weight toward your front delt. Keep curling until your bicep and forearm make forceful contact. End the rep by slowly lowering the dumbbell until your elbow is extended.

You can do this movement with a barbell, but you'd have to use a really close-grip, which will likely impede your range of motion. Instead, your best bet is to use a dumbbell and hold onto the bench with your spare arm for support. This way, you can keep the tension firmly on your biceps and ensure that both of your arms receive equal work.

Use your torso

A man performing a popular preacher curl substitute

If you want to perform a preacher curl without a bench of any kind, then this little-known preacher curl variation is where you need to focus your attention.

By holding a bar or a pair of dumbbells in front of your body and then bracing your arms against your abs or ribcage, you've essentially created your very own preacher curl bench. You can take this a step further by leaning your torso back, which will help to make the strength curve more along the lines of an actual preacher curl.

By leaning back while bracing your arms against your core, you're naturally forcing your biceps to work harder during the initial phase of the concentric, which is precisely what happens in a traditional preacher curl. Plus, by curling with your arms supported against your abs, it's much harder to cheat the weight up with your other muscles, which means that your biceps receive maximum isolation.

Try a flat bench

A man doing a preacher curl on a flat bench

Believe it or not, you can actually do a preacher curl on a flat bench. Sure, it's not the prettiest or most comfortable exercise in the world, but it definitely works the biceps well.

First, you want to hold a dumbbell and then sit on the end of a weight bench. Then, brace the arm that's holding the dumbbell against the outer part of the end of a bench. From there, you simply curl the weight and flex your biceps, and then lower the dumbbell to complete your rep.

How to do preacher curls at home

This section teaches you how to do preacher curls at home without gym equipment of any kind (besides the mandatory weights).

Use an office chair

A man doing a preacher curl at home without a bench

While you can use any chair for this exercise, office chairs are best because they usually have plenty of padding (like a preacher pad). Moreover, office chairs are taller than regular chairs, meaning that they can better support your arm and more closely mimic the traditional dumbbell Scott curl.

To perform it, hold a dumbbell in one hand and then brace your arm against the backrest of an office chair. Use your spare arm to pull the backrest backward if possible, as this will help to create more of a slope.

Begin the rep by curling the weight upwards without letting your upper arm come off the backrest. Keep lifting until your bicep and forearm squeeze together. Then, lower the dumbbell under control until you reach full elbow extension. Repeat the motion for your other arm and do 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps in total.

Try the sofa

A man demonstrating how to do preacher curls at home without a bench

The sofa curl is the ideal preacher curl substitute because most couches typically have plenty of padding to keep your arm nicely cushioned while you blast your biceps.

I like to do this exercise while laying on my stomach so that it takes the pressure off my lower back.

Essentially, you want to start by placing a dumbbell at the end of the sofa where your head will be. Then, lie on the sofa and brace your arm against the side of the armrest. Grab the dumbbell and curl it toward your shoulders while keeping your arm pressed against the armrest. Contract your bicep forcefully as your forearm pushes up against it and then lower the weight under control.

You can also do this exercise with a barbell, but I recommend sticking to dumbbells (and ideally one arm at a time) so that you don't put excessive strain on your lower back.

Use your legs

A man demonstrating how to do preacher curls without a bench

If you don't like the idea of training your biceps on the sofa, then you can also do the dumbbell preacher curl at home by using your legs for support. Again, this movement is compatible with barbells, but you might want to stick to dumbbells so that you don't develop or worsen any muscular imbalances.

Start by holding two dumbbells with an underhand grip. Bend over at the waist and push your hips back, and then rest your arms against your knees. Begin the rep by curling the weights toward your front delts and flexing your biceps as hard as you can. Hold the contraction for a split second, and then lower the dumbbells down until your elbows reach full extension.

Conclusion: Which preacher curl alternative is most effective?

All of the preacher curl alternatives mentioned in this guide can considerably improve the size and strength of your biceps if you perform them consistently alongside a healthy diet and a good recovery regime.

However, the over bench curl is clearly the best preacher curl replacement because you can adjust the backrest of the bench to the ideal angle. The drawback, of course, is that not everyone has access to a weight bench, especially if they train at home.

If this is the case for you, then I recommend either choosing a different exercise or using your torso as a makeshift preacher pad. This movement might take a bit of getting used to, but once you nail the technique, your biceps will get to reap the benefits of this tough preacher curl variation.

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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