Build Your Biceps With a Curls Workout

10 Biceps Curl Variations to Build Strength

When strengthening your biceps, it's vital to perform exercises targeting the biceps muscle in your upper arm. Find different ways to work the biceps to keep your workouts challenging and exciting. These 10 bicep curl variations will help strengthen and tone your arm muscles. Incorporate some of them into your upper body strength training day, or use a couple as part of a full-body circuit. You can also combine two bicep curls exercises to create a superset for arm day.

Biceps Curls

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

The biceps curl is probably the most traditional exercise targeting the bicep muscles. By using dumbbells, you can work both arms independently, which is a great way to work on any weaknesses in your non-dominant arm.

  1. Stand with feet about hip-width apart, abs engaged as you hold medium-heavy dumbbells in front of the thighs. Palms should face forward.
  2. Squeeze the biceps and bend the arms, curling the weights towards the shoulders.
  3. Keep the elbows stationary and only bring the weight as high as you can without moving the elbows.
  4. Slowly lower the weights, keeping a slight bend in the elbows at the bottom (e.g., don't lock the joints and try to keep tension on the muscle)
  5. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-15 reps.

Barbell Bicep Curls

The barbell bicep curl is a great way to work both heads of the biceps with a heavier weight than we can typically handle with dumbbells. Research shows that barbell biceps curls activate more muscle fibers than dumbbell versions. This is an excellent complement to dumbbell curls, allowing you to work each arm individually.

  1. Stand with feet about hip-width apart, abs engaged as you hold the weight in front of the thighs, palms facing up.
  2. Squeeze the biceps and bend the arms, curling the weight towards the shoulders.
  3. Keep the elbows stationary and only bring the weight as high as you can without moving the elbows.
  4. Slowly lower the weight, keeping a slight bend in the elbows at the bottom (e.g., don't lock the joints and try to keep tension on the muscle)
  5. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-15 reps.

Incline Bicep Curls on the Ball

There aren't many ways to change a bicep curl, but one way to make the exercise a bit more challenging is to do them on an incline. You can do this on an incline bench or use an exercise ball. Because you're at an incline, you'll have to work a bit harder against gravity, so you may want to use a lighter weight.

  1. Sit on the ball with the weights resting on the thighs.
  2. Slowly walk your feet forward until you're at an incline with the ball supporting your back, weights hanging down, and palms facing out.
  3. Bend the elbows and bring the weights towards the shoulder without swinging the arms.
  4. Lower back down, keeping a slight bend in the elbow at the bottom of the movement (don't lock the joints).
  5. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps.

Bicep Curls With Alternating Arms

If you're looking for a simple way to change your bicep exercises, try alternating your arms. By alternating the arms, you change the exercise just a bit and may be able to use heavier weights than you use with regular curls. Because one arm gets a bit of a rest while the other one works, you may find heavier weights a better choice.

  1. Stand with feet about hip distance apart or whatever is comfortable and hold weights in front of thighs, palms facing out.
  2. Bend the right elbow and curl the weight towards the shoulder, keeping the elbow static.
  3. Lower the weight, keeping a slight bend at the bottom to keep tension on the muscle.
  4. Repeat the move with the left arm.
  5. Continue alternating arms for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps.
  6. Avoid using momentum. Keep the movement slow and controlled, and don't swing the weights. Also, take care not to use your hips (or any movement from your lower body) to propel the weights upward.

Preacher Curls on the Ball

The preacher curl is just one variation of the traditional bicep curl. By placing your arms at an angle, you really challenge both heads of the biceps muscles, so you may need to use less weight with this move. In this version, a ball is used to create the angle, but you can also do this move on a preacher bench. You may want to skip this ​move if you have any elbow issues.

  1. Holding weights, kneel in front of the ball and drape yourself over it, placing the elbows halfway down the ball and parallel to one another.
  2. Lower the weights until the arms are almost fully extended.
  3. Contract the biceps to raise the weights until the forearms are vertical to the back of the upper arm.
  4. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps.

Tips

  • This move can strain the front side of the elbow if you use a weight that is too heavy or don't position yourself correctly. If you feel any pain or discomfort, skip this exercise.
  • Use control when lowering the weight to avoid injury.
  • Don't stop short of the full range of motion. Try to lower the weights until your arms are nearly straight.

Hammer Curls

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Like the regular curl shown previously, the hammer curl targets the biceps muscles. But because the hands are rotated in, the forearms also get a bit more attention in this exercise.

Changing the hand position can also make the exercise challenging, so you can do these in combination with regular curls or barbell curls to target the full range of the biceps and the forearms.

  1. Stand with feet about hip-width apart, abs engaged as you hold medium-heavy dumbbells in front of the thighs.
  2. Turn the hands, so the palms face each other (keeping the hands apart, with weights in front of the thighs). Squeeze the biceps to curl the weights towards the shoulders.
  3. Keep the elbows stationary and only bring the weight as high as you can without moving the elbows.
  4. Slowly lower the weights, keeping a slight bend in the elbows at the bottom (e.g., don't lock the joints and try to keep tension on the muscle)
  5. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-15 reps.

Concentration Curls

Ben Goldstein

Concentration curls, as the name implies, not only take concentration to get your form right but also concentrate all your energy into your bicep muscle. This is a great exercise to put at the end of your biceps workout to really get the blood to your muscles (or the 'pump').

  1. Sit or kneel and hold a dumbbell in the right hand.
  2. Bend forward, keeping the abs engaged, and prop the right elbow against the inside of the right thigh.
  3. Contract the bicep and curl the hand towards the shoulder without moving the elbow. You don't have to touch your shoulder.
  4. Lower all the way down (keep a very slight bend in the elbow to keep tension in the biceps) and repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps on each side.

Barbell Concentration Curls

The concentration curl is an excellent exercise for the biceps, and this version, done with a short barbell, adds even more intensity. With this version, you're in a bent-over position, which shortens the range of motion and requires the abs and back to work harder to keep you stable. Because the range of motion is short, you'll really feel this exercise, so start with a lighter weight if you're new to this exercise.

  1. Sit in a chair or on a bench and hold a medium-weight, short-length barbell with hands about shoulder-width apart. (Do not use a full-size bench press or Olympic bar.)
  2. Bend over, keeping the back flat and the abs engaged, and prop the elbows on the inside of the thighs.
  3. Begin the move with the arms straight, the barbell hanging down to mid-shin.
  4. Squeeze the biceps to curl the barbell up as high as possible (the range of motion will be shorter due to your position).
  5. Lower back down, keeping a slight bend in the elbows at the bottom of the motion.
  6. Repeat for 1-3 sets of 10-16 reps.
  7. Keep the core strong and the back straight throughout the movement.

Reverse Curls

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

While traditional biceps exercises, like curls, work the biceps as well as the forearms, the reverse curl is a great way to focus more attention on the forearms. In the reverse curl, you turn the palms in so that the forearms do most of the work while the biceps help as synergists. This move is great for anyone into sports like golf, baseball or tennis where you need forearm and grip strength.

  1. Hold medium-heavy dumbbells in front of the thighs with palms facing the thighs.
  2. Curl the weight up towards the shoulders so that the forearms are vertical and the palms face out.
  3. Lower back down and repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps.
  4. It's normal for your hands to widen at an angle at the top of the movement.
  5. You can also do this move with a barbell.

One-Arm Preacher Curls on the Ball

The preacher curl is an excellent exercise for isolating the biceps muscles. By resting your arm on a preacher bench or, in this case, an exercise ball, you take the momentum out of the movement, allowing the biceps to do all the work. When using a ball for this exercise, practice with your positioning until you feel supported and can use good form throughout the movement.

  1. Place a medium-heavy weight on the floor in front of you and roll forward on the ball to support the torso.
  2. Extend the right arm over the ball and grab the dumbbell, keeping the back of the arm resting against the ball. Take care not to hyperextend the elbow here. Ensure you're forward enough on the ball to reach the weight safely.
  3. Contract the biceps to curl the weight up toward the shoulder, keeping the wrist straight.
  4. Lower back down without locking the elbow joint, and repeat for 1-3 sets of 8-16 reps and switch sides.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do curls build muscle?

    Biceps curls build muscle in your biceps as long as you perform them correctly while eating enough calories and protein to support muscle growth. Remember to leave time between bicep workouts so the muscle tissue can repair and grow, about 24 hours.

  • How many curls should I do per workout?

    To build muscle, you must increase your volume over time, so the number of biceps curls you should do per workout will depend on your current fitness level and where you are in your mesocycle. Try starting with 10 to 15 reps per set for 3 or more sets and work up from there.

  • What muscles do curls work?

    Biceps curls work the muscles of your inner arm in particular, which are the biceps brachii, the short head and long head. You'll also indirectly work your shoulders, triceps, and sometimes, your core as you brace.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Realzola RA, Mang ZA, Millender DJ, et al. Metabolic profile of reciprocal supersets in young, recreationally active women and menJournal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2021;Publish Ahead of Print. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000003920

  2. Marcolin G, Panizzolo FA, Petrone N, et al. Differences in electromyographic activity of biceps brachii and brachioradialis while performing three variants of curl. PeerJ. 2018;6:e5165.

  3. Marcolin G, Panizzolo FA, Petrone N, et al. Differences in electromyographic activity of biceps brachii and brachioradialis while performing three variants of curl. PeerJ. 2018;6:e5165. doi:10.7717%2Fpeerj.5165

  4. Coach Magazine. How to do the preacher curl.

  5. Young S, Porcari JP, Camic C, Kovacs A, Foster C. ACE study reveals best biceps exercises. American Council on Exercise. 2014.

By Paige Waehner
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."