12 Best Curl Bar Exercises & Workouts (That Actually Work)

the 12 best curl bar exercises

The curl bar is a specialized piece of equipment that can be useful for training arms, as well as other muscles (back and shoulders). Unlike a straight barbell, the curl bar is not straight, but rather zig zagged to allow for angled narrow and wide grips. 

The curl bar can be helpful for some individuals who have wrist pain during straight bar exercises, and can offer some unique benefits to popular arm exercises

But, the curl bar is not just for curls. In this guide we will share with you some of the best exercises to build bigger biceps, triceps, and even attack the back and shoulders using the curl bar. 

We will also share with you two of our top workouts to build bigger arms (first sample workout) and a thicker, fuller back and shoulders (second sample workout).  

The 12 best curl bar exercises are:

Is Training with the Curl Bar Effective?

Training with the curl bar can be an effective way to train the biceps, triceps, shoulders, and back if the movements themselves are done properly. The curl bar is a specialized bar that offers slight variations to common movements, however if you are not training with proper technique, loading, and training volume, the curl bar is no more effective than other pieces of equipment.

That being said, the curl bar offers some unique variations to arm, back, and shoulder isolation exercise that could be very beneficial for lifters looking to add muscle mass to their physique. The angular bar allows for more customization of grips which could decrease discomfort for some lifters who have issues using a straight bar. 

Additionally, the curl bar can be used to place the grip and arm in different positions (more or less supinated), which can help shift emphasis on the muscle throughout the range of motion.

Looking for a program to build bigger arms, shoulders, and upper body muscles? Check out the Fitbod app, which can build a program designed to help you gain muscle, track your progress, and progress you week to week to get the the most out of your training.

12 Best Curl Bar Exercises 

While other exercises exist, it is important to ask yourself if doing them with a curl bar for the sake of using a curl bar is more effective than using something else.

A curl bar is not an end-all piece of equipment, and often has its limitations when looking to load up heavy weights or perform more compound, complex exercises. It is a tool that can be integrated into an already good program.

Below are 12 curl bar exercises you can integrate into your training program to train the arms, back, and shoulders if you are looking to add variation to your training program.

1. Standing Bicep Curl

The standing bicep curl is an iconic exercise that can be done with a curl bar, straight barbell, dumbbells, cables, and any other piece of equipment. The curl bar however, is a great option when looking to target the biceps a little more, as the angle of the angle allows you to go into more supination as you curl the load upwards, resulting in a better bicep contraction.

This can be trained with heavier loads (5-10 reps) as well as moderate to high reps (10-25 reps). When training with the standing curl, it is key to not allow your torso to move around too much to assist in moving the load, which is why it may be best to pair this with the “Arm Blaster” harness listed below.

How To Do It

  • Stand upright, with your hands supinated gripping the curl bar 
  • With the chest up, shoulder back, and elbows slightly in front of the body, lift the curl bar using your biceps
  • Make sure that you elbows stay in front of the torso, and do not allow them to move backwards (as this will increase shoulder involvement)
  • Curl the bar upwards to about face height. You can also curl the bar to the forehead if like, as long as you allow the elbows to move forward as you lift the load
  • Lower the bar slowly, as the eccentric is a huge phase for muscle building
  • Lower the bar all the way to the starting position, with the elbows fully extended to maximize the range of motion

Pro-Tip

Keep the elbows in front of your torso at all times, or at the very least in line with your torso. The more your elbows move backward (behind or in line with your torso), the more shoulder involvement and less effective this is on isolating the bicep.

2. Arm Blaster Standing Bicep Curl

The arm blaster standing bicep curl is a variation of the standing curl, with the addition of the “Arm Blaster” harness. The arm blaster is a harness that is worn around the neck, with a piece of hard plastic that rests on the chest with grooves for your arms to rest in. 

The arm blaster turns your standing curl into a supported “preacher curl” exercise that minimizes your ability to use momentum, and forces the elbows to stay in front of the body and not move throughout the range of motion. 

This is an excellent addition to the curl, and is great for all levels to remove any ability to cheat or perform sloppy reps.

How To Do It

  • Place the arm blaster strap around the neck, and rest the support piece across the chest.
  • Perform the standing curl in the exact manner as listed above (standing bicep curl)

Pro-Tip

Using the arm blaster harness is a foolproof way to do curls. Control the eccentric, and feel the muscle growth!

3. Preacher Bicep Curl

The preacher curl is a bicep variation that has you do curl seated, with your arms resting on a support that keeps your elbows fixed and the shoulders out of the movement. This is similar to the arm blaster harness in that it is a great way to isolate the muscle and minimize the ability to cheat on reps.

This is a great option when training with heavier as well as moderate to light loads, as the preacher curl limits your ability to cheat, making it great for direct arm training for all goals.

How To Do It

  • Sit down in the preacher curl set up, with your arms resting over the side of the platform
  • Make sure that your armpits are resting at the apex of the pad, and you are seated
  • Reach down and grab the curl bar with whichever grip you prefer
  • Curl the weight upwards, keeping the elbows down on the pad
  • Contract the biceps hard at the top, then slowly lower the load, making sure to keep the back of the arms on the pad at all times.

Pro-Tip

Keep your elbows down on the pad at all times. If you allow the arms to lift and move around, it defeats the purpose of the preacher curl. 

4. Varied Grip Bicep Curl

The curl bar allows you to train any bicep curl exercise with a variety of supinated grips. You can train the curl with a more narrow grip, or a wider grip. The narrower grip will train more of the outer head of the bicep, whereas the wider grip will train more of the inner bicep.

Mixing grip widths on any variation can change the movement entirely. Try the grips out with any of the bicep curl exercises on this list.

How To Do It

  • To do this, you just need to take either a wider or narrower grip, and perform any of the curl exercises listed in this guide.

Pro-Tip

You can also switch grips during a set, starting with one grip, then switching to another after you reach failure. This is a fun and effective way to extend a set.

5. Spider Bicep Curl

The spider curl is a bicep curl variation that takes the shoulders out of the movement, and can be a great option if you do not have access to a preacher curl or arm blaster. 

To do this, lie chest down on an incline bench (slight incline), with your upper body and arms hanging off the end, with the arms fully extended towards the floor. Curl the weights upwards towards your forehead or face, making sure to not let the elbows move backwards as you curl, but rather forwards.

How To Do It

  • Lie chest down on an incline bench
  • Grab the curl bar, and let the arms hang downwards, fully extended
  • Move the hands an inch or two in front of the body, feeling the biceps engage
  • Curl upwards, making sure to keep the elbows and not let them move backwards
  • Curl up to the face or forehead, keeping the elbows in and allowing the elbows to point slightly more forward
  • Lower the curl bar downwards slowly, making sure to not let the elbows move backwards past the original starting point 

Pro-Tip

This is a tricky exercise. The most important thing here is to not let the elbow move backwards as you curl up or lower the weight. The elbows should (front the side view) not move behind the shoulders, and should often stay under or slightly in front of the shoulders to isolate the biceps and minimize shoulder involvement. 

6. Reverse Arm Curl

The reverse arm curl is a forearm and bicep exercise that is done by taking a protracted grip on the curl bar, and curling the weight upwards. This trains the tops of the forearms.

This is a good exercise to build grip strength, as well as train the forearms to improve elbow health and function.

How To Do It

  • Take a pronated grip (palms down) on the curl bar, with any width you prefer
  • You can do this standing, seated in the preacher curl machine, and even in the spider curl set up
  • Perform a curl in a same manner you would, just that now your palms are pronated rather than supinated
  • This is a good movement to train with moderate to lighter loads, for higher reps
  • Control the lowering phase to maximize muscle growth 

Pro-Tip

Higher rep work may be a great way to build healthier elbows, increase grip strength and endurance, and build muscle. If you want to train grip heavy, this may not be the best exercise.

Adding size to your arms takes time, however with the right program that progressively delivers more volume, loading, and a variety of exercises will get you there faster. Let Fitbod app design a program that fits your goals and helps you gain arm size and strength faster!

7. Skullcrusher (Triceps)

The skullcrusher is a popular triceps exercise that is done with a barbell, curl bar, or dumbbells. This exercise targets the long and lateral head of the triceps.

When paired with other movements like pushdowns and overhead extensions, the skullcrusher can be a powerful muscle building exercise in your triceps training regimen!

When doing this exercise, you want to make sure that your elbows remain inwards, and that the bar is lowered to your forehead with control.

How To Do It

  • Start by lying on your back on a flat bench
  • Grab the curl bar with an overhand grip (palms facing away) with a slightly narrower width
  • With the curl bar directly above your forehead (not the shoulders), bend at the elbows while keeping them inwards, allowing the curl bar to lower to your forehead
  • At the bottom of the movement, establish control so that you do not have the bar hit your head, and the push upwards to the start position

Pro-Tip

There is no exact depth or point to which you should take the bar to on the skull, so you can play around with what gives you the best triceps stretch and least amount of discomfort in the joints. 

8. Overhead Triceps Extension

The overhead triceps extension can be done with the curl bar either seated or standing. When doing this movement, it is important to prioritize a big stretch on the triceps, and making sure that the bar stays behind the head as you lower the load.

This exercise targets the long head of the triceps, and is a mass building exercise that pairs nicely with skullcrushers and pushdowns.

How To Do It

  • Sit down on a flat bench, or with a bench that has a vertical back support that is not taller than your shoulders, as you want to be able to lower the bar behind your head without touching the bench
  • Take an overhead grip on the curl bar, and press the bar over your head
  • The width of the grip can vary, but generally speaking a narrower grip will suffice
  • With the bar over your head, and slightly behind you, allow the elbows to bend, making sure to keep the elbows inwards (do not let them flare outwards)
  • Lower the bar as deep as you can, as the increased range of motion can improve muscle growth with less loading needed
  • Get a big stretch, and then extend the elbows to bring the curl bar back to the start position

Pro-Tip

Keep the curl bar overhead and slightly behind you at the start and end position, as this will keep constant tension on the triceps, even in between reps.

9. JM Press (Triceps)

The JM press is similar to the skullcrusher in that it targets the long and lateral heads of the triceps. The difference between the JM press and the skullcrusher however is that the JM press has the lifter lower the bar to their chin, neck, or upper chest, rather than the forehead.

By changing the point at which the lift lowers the load, the JM press takes the pressure and stress of the elbow joints, which could be helpful for those who have discomfort when training the skull crusher. 

How To Do It

  • Start by lying on your back on a flat bench
  • Grab the curl bar with an overhand grip (palms facing away) with a slightly narrower width
  • With the curl bar directly above your forehead (not the shoulders), bend at the elbows while keeping them inwards, allowing the curl bar to lower to your chin area, letting the elbows drop downwards toward the ribcage
  • At the bottom of the movement, establish control so that you do not have the bar hit your head, and the push upwards to the start position

Pro-Tip

You can customize the area at which you lower the curl bar to based on preference and what provides the best stretch on the tricep, muscle contraction, and the least amount of joint discomfort.

10. Underhand Bent Over Row

The underhand bent over row using the curl bar is a great way to build a thicker, more muscular back. Using the curl bar, you are able to use a supinated grip at varying grips, which is often less stressful on the wrists than a straight bar.

When performing these, try to do them in a full range of motion. Loading the bar with smaller, 25lb plates instead than larger (circumference) 45lb plates will increase the range of motion and muscle growth potential. You can also stand on a platform to allow you to lower the bar more and increase the range of motion.

How To Do It

  • Stand with the feet aout hip width apart, and your knees softly bent
  • Push your hips back, and keep the back straight, until you back is nearly parallel to the floor
  • Take an underhand grip on the curl bar, making sure your arms are fully extended, back flat, and weight resting on the floor. This is the starting position
  • Row the weight upwards so that the curl bar touches your upper abdomen/stomach. The concave shape of the bar will allow you to pull your elbow higher towards the sky
  • Do not let your hips move back or forth, or up and down during the movement
  • The chest should stay up
  • Do not let your shoulders rounded forward or move towards the floor (a lot of people will let their chest and shoulders fall down as they weight gets lifted)
  • Keep the elbow into the body as you row, touch the abdomen, then lower the weight to the floor under control.

Pro-Tip

Make sure to master the bent over row before doing this exercise. This moment is a little more advanced, but well worth it if you can force yourself to not cheat on rows.

11. Front Deltoid Raise 

The front delt raise is a shoulder isolation exercise that can be done with the curl bar, as well as dumbbells and even a barbell. 

The curl bar is a good option because the wider grip places your wrist in a position that decreases shoulder internal rotation, which could be helpful for those who have issues with normal raises. 

How To Do It

  • Grab the curl bar with a pronated (palms down) grip, on the wider grip placement
  • Perform a standard shoulder front raise, making sure to lift the bar upwards without momentum
  • Pause at the top of the movement, then slowly lower the bar downwards
  • Be sure to not lower the bar all the way down, or else you will lose tension on the deltoids

Pro-Tip

The front raise (and all delt raises) are often done incorrectly. They are usually performed with too much weight, too much body momentum, and not enough control. Focus on training these with higher reps, and feel the muscular burn. Going too heavy can cause shoulder strain and issues. 

12. Upright Row (Rear Delts)

The upright row is a shoulder exercise that targets the rear delts, as well as some traps. The curl bar can be a good way to do this if the straight bar places your wrists in an uncomfortable position.

You can perform these with a wider or narrower grip depending on what feels most isolated on the rear shoulders.

This is not an exercise to use heavy weights with, but rather focus on high rep sets, with controlled movements and feel the muscle working. Going too heavy could result in shoulder injury.

How To Do It

  • Stand tall and take a pronated (palms down grip) on the curl bar
  • Lift the bar upwards, making sure to lead with the elbows pointing up to the sky
  • Lift the bar as high as you can, but make sure your elbows do not drop or rotate backwards
  • Pause at the tip of the movement, then slowly lower the bar
  • Lowering the bar is the key here, so focus on keeping tension

Pro-Tip

Lift the bar only as high as you can without pain or discomfort. If you feel discomfort, stop. This exercise is sometimes not good for people who have shoulder issues, so don’t force it!


Need a workout program? Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod right now.


2 Sample Upper Body Workouts Using the Curl Bar

sample workouts you can do with a curl bar

Here are two sample workouts you can do with a curl bar to target the biceps, triceps, back, and shoulders. All of these are beginner friendly, and can be progressed simply by adding load.

Workout 1 – Bicep and Tricep Focused

This workout consists of four movements, two for the biceps and two for the triceps. The first exercise for each muscle group is done to build mass using straight sets, with controlled reps, eccentric phases, and heavier loads. The second exercise for each muscle should be done with lighter loads (still challenging) and extremely high intensity and short rest periods.

  • Preacher Curl: 4 sets of 10-15 reps, 3-4 second eccentric phase, pause at the bottom, and contract the biceps at the top
  • Seated Overhead Triceps Extension: 4 sets of 10-15 reps, 2-3 second eccentric phase, pause at the bottom, and contract the triceps at the top
  • Standing Bicep Curl 21s: 3 sets of 7/7/7 reps. To perform 21s, you will perform 7 reps at the bottom half of the curl, then perform 7 reps at the top half of the curl, then full reps. This is one set. You will perform 3 rounds of this, making sure to not use momentum. You can adjust weight as needed, but this should be brutal
  • Close Grip Push Up: 3-4 sets to failure, with the rep minimum on the first set to be 15. If you cannot perform 15 or more reps on the first set, then do incline close grip push ups. The goal is to get high reps here, to really drive muscle growth and fatigue to the triceps

Workout 2 – Back and Shoulders Focuses

This workout consists of three movements, with the first exercise being a back focused underhand row, with plenty of volume via drop sets. Make sure your back is parallel to the floor. If you have issues maintaining good bent over positions, you can do these lying face down on a small incline bench (supported). Make sure to bring the curl bar to your upper abs. The other two exercises are for the deltoids (front and rear), and are done with lighter loads, little to no rest periods, and high intensity high rep sets to drive serious muscle growth. 

  • Underhand Bent Over Row: 4 sets of 10-15 reps, with drop sets after each set. To perform a drop set, perform a hard set to failure between 10-15 reps, then immediately decrease the weight by 10-20% and perform more reps to failure. That is one (1) set. With this movement, take your time,and focus on reaching to the floor every rep. Use plates that are not larger than 25s, since this will increase the range of motion at the bottom. If you only have access to 45s, then stand on something to elevate your body to increase the range of motion of this row
  • Upright Row: Choose a weight that is near your 15-20 rep max. You will perform a total of 60-80 reps with that load, resting only 10-15 seconds between sets. Have a slight angle forward with your torso (almost standing fully upright, but maybe slightly leaning forward)
  • Supported Front Lateral Raise Choose a weight that is near your 15-20 rep max. You will perform a total of 60-80 reps with that load, resting only 10-15 seconds between sets. Set an adjustable bench on a small incline, and lie chest down on the bench to support your body. This will have your body leaning forward, increase the range of motion of the movement, and decrease your ability to cheat reps. DO NOT SWING THE WEIGHT AROUND.

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.


About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.