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7 Preacher Curl Alternatives to Get the Ultimate Body

I feel the same about preacher curls as I do about hack squats – that they’re just exercise variety for the sake of it. In my near 20 years of training people, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever programmed them into a workout. 

So what are the best preacher curl alternatives? 

In this article I’m going to show you a bunch of preacher curl alternatives that will not only work your biceps more effectively, they’ll also give you a lot of exercise variety that doesn’t involve you buying specialist benches for your home gym. I’ll even round it off with a preacher curl you can do even if you don’t have a preacher curl bench!

I’ve backed up my own personal opinions with the science behind each one. You’ll see I’m not just disliking them for the sake of it – I’ve got evidence as to why I think you’ve got much better alternatives to the preacher curl.

These are exercises I’ve used in my own training and that of my personal training clients successfully throughout my career…

Preacher curls… are they really worth it anyway?

I opened the article by telling you I’m not a big fan of preacher curls. I say this with good reason too – exercise science backs up my beliefs that there are much better curl exercises. In fact, in a comparison of 8 different variations of curl, the preacher curl showed the least bicep activation of them all. 

These findings are backed up by other research comparing preacher curls with incline dumbbell curls and standard dumbbell curls. The results showed that although the preacher curl activated the biceps, the range of motion was shorter (which we know means there’s less time under tension, making the exercise less effective). 

They also showed that the incline dumbbell curl and the dumbbell biceps curl resulted in a considerable neuromuscular effort throughout the whole elbow range of motion and, thus, may be preferable for the improvement of biceps brachii force in training programs.

A couple of things we do know about preacher curls though is that if you want to build strength, use a barbell. If you want to build muscle, cable machines, dumbbells or barbells will work for you. That’s according to this study on preacher curls

To sum up my own thinking, it’s not that they’re a particularly bad exercise, there’s just much more effective exercises you can do, so why waste your time on them?

Bicep curls – the general low down

Outside of bench pressing, I think the exercise that is most at risk of being subject to ‘bro science’ is the bicep curl and its variations. 

From the belief that the old school ‘21’s’ exercise trains the upper and lower part of the muscle (they don’t), to the opinions of different people when it comes to grip, barbell type and weight selections, everyone has an opinion when it comes to how to best train biceps. 

Thankfully, we have science to take opinion out of the matter and instead leave us with the bare facts. 

Here’s what we know for sure…

The importance of grip type and angle used in a curl may be overstated. In a study from 2016 comparing neutral (palms facing) and supinated (palms up) grip bicep curls, researchers concluded there “was not a significant difference in muscle activity and performance between a neutral grip and supinated grip bicep curl.”

This means that we may not need a specialist bar and that instead, a good quality Olympic Barbell will work just fine for bicep curls. There’s still a case for EZ bars and the like, they just may not be vital.

Form is more important than weight. This one is relatively obvious, but you don’t have to look too hard on the internet to find a fight between the ‘weight or form’ crews. When the issue has been studied in relation to bicep curls, the conclusion is that weights lower than 90% of 1 rep max are more conducive to good form and still allow for optimal strength gains. 

Form always trumps weight. Lighter weights lifted with good form are better and more effective than heavier weights with poor form.

The other rules of training (reasonable time under tension, plenty of protein and recovery, high intensity exercise etc) all hold true when it comes to bicep training. There’s no special cases in that sense!

7 Preacher curl alternatives

So far we’ve discussed the good and the bad about the preacher curl. In this section I’m going to give you a list of 7 more effective alternative bicep and curl exercises that I like to programme for my clients…

1. Concentration Curls

There’s two strengths that concentration curls have… the first is that they are unilateral – they train each side individually. The second is that they have a large range of motion with an inability to easily cheat the movement. It’s no surprise that they feature as the bicep curl exercise with the most muscle engagement in studies.

Equipment needed for concentration curls:

How to do concentration curls:

  • Sit on the edge of the bench, with your feet wide apart
  • Lean forward slightly and place the arm you’re training on the inside of your thigh, pointing straight down, holding on to the dumbbell
  • With the back of the elbow leaning on the inside of the thigh, curl the dumbbell up slowly and smoothly until it reaches full contraction
  • At the top of the movement, slowly lower it back down until it reaches full extension
  • Repeat as many times as required

Concentration curls muscles trained:

  • Bicep muscle group

2. Incline bench dumbbell curl

The incline bench dumbbell curl delivers excellent bang for your buck. It’s another unilateral exercise, which I love for biceps. It also has an excellent range of movement, which makes it a very efficient curl variation. A lot of people cheat with curls, but this variation makes it tougher to cheat on the exercise.

Equipment needed for incline bench dumbbell curls:

How to do incline bench dumbbell curls:

  • Set the bench to a steep incline and sit down
  • With a dumbbell in each hand, start with your arms pointing straight down
  • Keep your back secure against the bench and curl the dumbbells up slowly and smoothly until they reach full contraction
  • At the top of the movement, slowly lower them back down until the your arm reaches full extension
  • Repeat as many times as required

Incline bench dumbbell curls muscles trained:

  • Bicep muscle group

3. Spider curls

Spider curls are what preacher curls should be – a way to elevate the elbows yet still achieve a full range of motion throughout the bicep curl. The main difference is rather than the upper arms being supported, the chest is supported, leaving the arms to move more freely. I believe this is a more natural way to move.

Equipment needed for spider curls:

How to do spider curls:

  • Set the bench to a steep incline and lie down on your front
  • With a dumbbell in each hand, start with your arms pointing straight down
  • Keep your chest secure against the bench and curl the dumbbells up slowly and smoothly until they reach full contraction
  • At the top of the movement, slowly lower them back down until your arms reach full extension
  • Repeat as many times as required

Spider curls muscles trained:

  • Bicep muscle group

4. Hammer curls

Hammer curls are probably the bicep exercise I programme the most – they tend to be the most elbow-joint friendly and they train the long head of the bicep, as well as the brachialis and the brachioradialis. This more general training of the bicep muscle group is an effective change from the other exercises, plus it gives your arms a new challenge.

Equipment needed for hammer curls:

How to do hammer curls:

  • Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, hands by your sides, palms facing inwards
  • Perform a standard curl, but keep your arms in a neutral grip (palms facing one another) throughout the entire movement
  • Curl the dumbbells up slowly and smoothly until they reach full contraction
  • At the top of the movement, slowly lower them back down until the your arm reaches full extension
  • Repeat as many times as required

Hammer curls muscles trained:

  • Bicep muscle group

5. EZ bar curls

The EZ bar curl is a great bicep exercise for a few reasons – it protects the elbows, it is a halfway-house between the supinated grip and a neutral grip, plus it offers excellent muscular contraction properties and grip variety. You can even use the EZ bar with an overhand grip. It absolutely has to feature in this list, because it’s another one of my go-to bicep exercises.

Equipment needed for EZ bar curls:

How to do EZ bar curls:

  • Take hold of the EZ bar with an underhand grip, using the upward diagonals as your grip point
  • Stand upright, keep your core tight and your back straight
  • Initiate the movement from the forearms, keeping the upper arms straight and your torso still – don’t introduce any swinging or momentum
  • At the top of the movement, slowly lower the bar back down until your arms reach full extension
  • Repeat as many times as required

Spider curls muscles trained:

  • Bicep muscle group

6. Dead hang chin up

One of the best bicep exercises is actually predominantly a back exercise – the chin up. It’s an excellent bicep exercise, elicits a large growth hormone response and has a decent level of athletic carryover. It is backed up with a lot of research too. Chin ups are more achievable for people than pull ups, but even if you can’t do them yet you can still regress them with bands.

Equipment needed for dead hang chin ups:

How to do chin ups:

  • Keeping your back straight, hold the bar at arm’s length
  • Hold the bar with an underhand grip
  • Pull yourself upwards, driving your elbows back and down
  • Lift yourself until your chest reaches the bar
  • Squeeze the shoulder blade at the top
  • Lower yourself slowly until you reach a dead hang, with straight arms
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Chin ups muscles trained:

  • Upper back
  • Lats
  • Bicep muscle group

7. Bench preacher curls

If you really want to do preacher curls (despite me giving you better alternatives!), but you don’t have a preacher curl bench, here’s how you can do them with a basic home gym set up. All you need here is a dumbbell and an adjustable bench and you’ve got yourself a preacher bench without shelling out a few hundred extra bucks!

Equipment needed for bench preacher curls:

How to do hammer curls:

  • Set the bench to an incline – you’re looking for around 45 degrees or (slightly) more
  • Lean over it, with the back of your upper arm in contact with the bench
  • Holding the dumbbell in your hand, keep your arm straight down along the length of the bench
  • Keeping your upper arm in contact with the bench, curl the dumbbell up towards your shoulder
  • Once you’ve reached full motion, slowly lower back down to the start position, which is where your arm is completely flat
  • Repeat as many times as necessary

Hammer curls muscles trained:

  • Bicep muscle group

Preacher curl alternatives – the bottom line

Our job here at Strong Home Gym isn’t just to show you the best equipment for your home gym, it’s to help you maximize the effectiveness of that equipment when you use it. I didn’t write this article to tell you how bad preacher curls are, instead, I just wanted to show you better, more effective bicep training alternatives you can do at home.

The 7 preacher curl alternatives you’ve seen here will help you to improve your bicep training, learn new exercises and save you money on a preacher bench that (according to science) isn’t even that effective anyway!

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Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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