Variations of the barbell curl

This is a follow-up article to the introduction to barbell curls and discusses some variations of that exercise.

I find that the barbell curl exercise works well with the knees slightly bent. Just make sure you don’t bend them too much to the point that you end up moving your body up and down instead of the bar itself. Set your feet firmly on the ground as your balance is important in this exercise.

Mind your hand grip

The biggest variations occur in the grip. You can enormously vary your hand spacing from none at all to the hands set much wider than shoulder-width. Each variation in the grip places focus on the biceps in a slightly different area. With hands close together, known as the narrow grip barbell curl, the external head of the muscle is more emphasised; with the hands widely spaced, known as the wide grip curl, the inner head is being recruited just that bit harder. In all cases, the whole muscle is being worked fully. In the end, you should use a grip that feels most comfortable to you.

Simply by performing the barbell curl with an overhand grip, the whole exercise is changed. The biceps is no longer the primary muscle being targeted; it is now the forearm. In fact, the reverse grip barbell curl is a good forearm exercise. In this case, you will not be able to go as heavy. The reverse grip barbell curl does not feel comfortable with a straight bar and I feel that using an EZ-bar for this exercise places much more focus on the forearm muscle.

The wonderful EZ-bar

Instead of using a straight bar, try using an EZ-bar for your curls. Due to the shape of the bar, your hands are in a more natural position and less stress is placed on the wrists. This is useful for those suffering from painful wrists. I also find that because I feel more comfortable using the EZ-bar, I am able to lift heavier. In fact, I never use the straight bar for the barbell curl, unless an EZ-bar is not available. You can’t grip an EZ-bar anywhere along its length due to its shape so you will not have as many options for your hand grip but there are still many places where you can hold the bar and for me these are more than enough.

I use the EZ-bar for the back row as well and favour a narrow grip. The combination of narrow and comfortable grip allow me to go very heavy indeed. In fact, the EZ-bar is much more ergonomic than a straight bar and I use it as often as I need.


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