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7 Spider Curl Alternatives To Build Biceps Mass

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Think of biceps exercises and the spider curl probably won’t be the first – or the fifth – move that comes to mind.

Even though it’s not as well known as standing barbell or preacher curls, the spider curl is still an effective mass builder. Yet, it’s not for everyone. 

Some people find that the positioning of the exercise puts too much compressive stress on their chest. Others may not have access to a bench to do the exercise.

As a personal trainer, I’ve used the spider curl, as well as a range of variations to build the biceps.

In this article, I’ll lay out the 7 best spider curl alternatives that build bicep mass.

What is the Spider Curl?

The spider curl is a variation of a barbell or dumbbell curl. It’s quite similar to a preacher curl in terms of set up and movement angle. To do it, you need to set an adjustable bench to an angle of 45 degrees and lie face down on it so your arms are hanging toward the floor.

Press your chest into the bench and plant your feet firmly on the floor. 

You can do the spider with either a barbell or dumbbells in your hands. In the starting position, your arms should be behind straight down to the floor, your shoulders should be retracted and your lats engaged as you continue to press your chest into the bench. 

From full arm extension, you flex the elbows to bring the weight up to your shoulders. 

Note: We have a separate article on preacher curl alternatives as well, in case you want more ideas on strengthening your biceps.

Spider Curl Benefits

The main benefit of the spider curl is that it eliminates momentum from the curling movement, because your body is supported by the bench. This makes your biceps do all the work.

The stricter form that the spider curl requires will probably mean that you cannot use the same amount of weight that you could on a standing version of the exercise. But that lighter weight will feel heavier. That’s because the entire load is being taken by the biceps.

Spider Curl Alternatives Muscles Used

Correcting Common Spider Curl Errors

As a personal trainer, I’ve noticed four common mistakes when people do the spider curl. Let’s break down what these errors are, and how to correct them.

Going Too Heavy

The biggest mistake I see is people using the same weight on the spider curl as they do standing versions of the curl. Yet, the spider curl is an isolation exercise. If you try to lift the same weight as you do on standard curls, you’ll be forced to swing so that your chest comes off the bar.

Alternatively, you won’t be able to get the weight all the way up to a full contraction.

In my experience, you should use a weight that represents about 70% of what you’d use on the standing curl.

Reduced Range of Motion

An advantage of spider curls is that it allows you to move your arms through a full range of motion, without the body getting in the way. If you don’t take advantage by coming all the way up and going all the way down, you are defeating the very purpose of the exercise. 

Research suggests that a full range of motion is better for hypertrophy and strength.

As it is a chest-supported curl you’ll mainly be targeting the short head of the bicep.

How to build bigger biceps infographic

Not Contracting in the Top Position

The biceps squeeze in the top contraction position is the pay-off for the effort required in getting the weight up. It will give you an awesome pump feeling in the biceps and increase blood flow to the muscle.

Improper Body Positioning

Unless your body positioning is on point, your form will be compromised and you may experience energy and strength leaks.

Make sure that both feet are firmly planted on the floor, that your chest remains in contact with the bench throughout the entire exercise and that you are looking down to the floor as you curl the weight up. 

Equipment Needed for These Exercises

7 Spider Curl Alternatives that Replicate the Same Movement Pattern

Spider Curl Alternatives Infographic

1. Alternating Dumbbell Curl 

Equipment needed for alternate cable curl

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Adjustable Dumbbells

SMRFT Nüobell 80LB Classic
Read our best adjustable dumbbell guide here

These are the dumbbells we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 50 hours of research and compared over 100 dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells make sense for most home gyms as they save space.

The Nüobell dumbbells go all the way to 80lbs per hand. This means they are much more versatile than most 50lbs adjustable dumbbells. You can use these for heavy shrugs, squats and bench press etc.

The main reason they are the top pick is because of their shape. They actually feel like real dumbbells and are not awkward to lift like some others.

How to do the alternate cable curl:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and a pair of dumbbells held at arm’s length by your sides. Your palms should be facing your body.
  2. Turn the right wrist so that your palm is facing forward.
  3. Keeping your elbow in at the side of your body, flex the right elbow to curl your hand up to your shoulder. Squeeze the bicep tightly in the top position.
  4. Lower under control, turn the wrist back to face the body in the bottom position.
  5. Repeat with the left arm.
  6. Alternate sides to complete your rep count. 

Alternate cable curl muscles worked:

  • Biceps
  • Forearms

2. Alternating Cable Curl 

Equipment needed for alternating cable curl

  • Cable pulley machine

How to do the alternating cable curl:

  1. Set the pulley on a double cable pulley machine at their lowest level.
  2. Stand in front of the machine, facing away from it and grab the cable handles.
  3. Adjust your position so the cables are taut with your arms slightly behind your torso, elbows at your sides.
  4. Flex the right elbow to curl your hand up to your shoulder. Squeeze the bicep tightly in the top position.
  5. Lower under control and repeat with the left arm.
  6. Alternate sides to complete your rep count. 

Alternate cable curl muscles worked:

  • Biceps
  • Forearms

3. Close Grip Chin Ups

Equipment needed for the close grip chin up:

  • Pull Up bar

How to do the close grip chin up:

  1. Reach up to grab the bar with a palms facing close grip that has your little fingers about six inches from each other. 
  2. Hang from the bar and curl your body slightly so that your knees come up. Pull with your biceps and back to bring your chin up to and over the bar. 
  3. Hold the top contracted position and squeeze your biceps as tight as you possibly can.
  4. Lower back to the start position under control.

Close grip chin up muscles worked:

  • Biceps
  • Forearms
  • Latissimus dorsi

4. Dumbbell Lying Supine Curl

Equipment needed for the dumbbell lying supine curl:

REP AB-3000 Bench

REP AB-3000 Weight Bench
Read our best weight bench guide here

This is the weight bench we recommend for ‘most people’.

We compared over 70 benches against 12 criteria. This is our highest-ranked flat, incline & decline (FID) bench.

Some adjustable benches can be a bit wobbly when on the incline. But the AB-3000 is very sturdy.

With a height 18mm it’s comparable to benches that cost twice as much.

How to do the dumbbell lying supine curl:

  1. Elevate a flat bench by pacing 45-pound weight plates or a couple of pieces of 2-4 timber under the base. Lie facedown with a pair of dumbbells in your hands, so that they hang down toward the floor. 
  2. Curl both arms up together to full contraction.
  3. Squeeze the biceps tightly in the contracted position.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.

Dumbbell lying supine curl muscles worked:

  • Biceps
  • Forearms

5. EZ Bar Curl

Equipment needed for EZ Bar Curl:

How to do the EZ Bar Curl:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding an EZ Curl bar with a medium underhand grip so that your hands are slightly pronated.
  2. Keeping your elbows in at the sides of your body, curl the bar from full arm extension up to your shoulders. Squeeze your biceps tightly in the top position.
  3. Lower under control and repeat.

EZ Bar Curl muscles worked:

  • Biceps

Planning to add a squat rack to your home gym this year? Check out our review of the 17 best squat racks (out of 127).

6. Barbell Drag Curl

Equipment needed for the barbell drag curl:

Rogue Ohio Cerakote Bar

Rogue Ohio Bar Cerakote
Read our best Olympic barbell guide here

This is the bar that we recommend for ‘most people’.

We have spent over 120 hours of research and tested over 100 barbells.

It is affordable but comes with some high specs. The Rogue Work Hardening and 190k PSI tensile strength mean the bar will last a lifetime in a home gym.

It is a multi-purpose bar with a 28.5mm diameter shaft and composite bushings in the sleeves. This means it’s balanced for heavy slow bench presses but you can also perform snatches and fast overhead lifts.

How to do the barbell drag curl:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder distance apart, and a barbell held at arm’s length.
  2. Extend your elbows behind your body so that the weights are hard up against your thighs
  3. Drag curl the weights up the side of your body, keeping your elbows back to full contraction.
  4. Squeeze the biceps tightly in the top position. 
  5. Lower under control

Barbell drag curl muscles worked:

  • Biceps
  • Forearms

7. Dumbbell Seated Preacher Curl

Equipment needed for the dumbbell seated preacher curl:

How to do the dumbbell seated preacher curl:

  1. Adjust the pad height on a preacher curl machine so that the pad sits directly under your armpits when you sit on the bench.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit on it with your arms draped over the pad. Your palms should be facing toward the ceiling.
  3. Lower your arms to full extension, with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  4. Curl the dumbbells up toward your shoulders, contracting the biceps in the top position.
  5. Lower under control and repeat for the required rep count.

Dumbbell seated preacher curl muscles worked:

  • Biceps
  • Forearms

Spider Curl Alternatives: The Bottom Line

The spider curl is an isolation bicep curl exercise that removes momentum. It’s a good exercise to have in your arsenal, along with the seven other curling options covered above.

Use our spider curl alternatives to construct your personal bicep routine, choosing the moves that give you the best pump, contraction, and feel.

Looking for alternatives to pulls ups, to build wide lats without a bar? Check out our 9 home-gym pull up alternatives for beginners.

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  • The 4 items of kit every gym needs
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Steve is a certified personal trainer, current home gym owner, former gym owner, and copywriter. He joined his first gym at age 15 and, five years later, he was managing his own studio. In 1987, he became the first personal fitness trainer in New Zealand.

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