The biceps are often referred to as “show muscles” because anytime you ask someone “show me your muscles”, they almost always flex their arms. Getting muscular arms is an essential part of nearly every bodybuilding program.
The biceps are primarily responsible for flexing your arms at the elbow. For increasing biceps strength, shape and size, we add resistance by using weights or bands.
Bicep curls are one of the most popular exercises that exist. They are easy to learn, not very fatiguing, and effective for building biceps strength and size. Additionally, several variations of the bicep curls exist that target different areas of the bicep.
But are they all created equal?
We are going to compare and contrast two of the most common bicep curl variations — dumbbell bicep curls versus preacher curls — to see which one is better for adding size to your arms.
More specifically, we will cover the main differences between dumbbell bicep curls and preacher curls, the pros and cons of each, when and how to do them properly, common mistakes to avoid, and what muscle groups are targeted.
Keep reading to learn which bicep curl variation will get the most results.!
Bicep Curl vs Preacher Curl
What are the main differences between bicep curls and preacher curls?
The main difference between the bicep curl and the preacher curl is that the preacher curl targets the short head of the biceps more. The bicep curl works the biceps more evenly than the preacher curl.
Bicep curls rely on your body’s capacity for isolating the movement, which allows for more momentum to achieve the next rep. Preacher curls require a surface on which to stabilize the arm above the elbow, forcing you to lift from a more static position.
Preacher curls are performed with your shoulder in a flexed position. Since the long head of the biceps provides some assistance with shoulder flexion, it’s not in the most advantageous position to help flex the elbow. So the short head of the biceps has to do more work.
Some other differences between the bicep curl and preacher curl are that you can typically lift more weight on a bicep curl so they are better for adding mass. The preacher curl targets more of the short head, which is helpful for adding shape to the bicep.
Each also emphasizes different portions of the rep. Preacher curls are most difficult at the bottom portion of the rep when your arms are fully stretched and there’s little to no tension at the top portion of the rep when the arms are fully flexed.
Bicep curls are the complete opposite.
They are most difficult at the top portion of the rep when the arms are flexed. There’s little to no tension on the biceps when the arms are fully extended at the bottom portion of the rep.
For adding overall size and strength, the bicep curl is a superior exercise because you can lift more weight and each muscle of the bicep is contributing evenly. But if you want to add more definition or shape to the bicep, then a preacher curl is the way to go.
Pros and Cons
Bicep Curl Pros
- Bicep curls are one of the most effective exercises for increasing the size and strength of the biceps.
- They work both heads of the biceps evenly.
- Minimal equipment is required to perform bicep curls. You don’t need any kind of special machine, bench, or pad and can do them virtually anywhere.
- Bicep curls are very easy to learn, so they are great for beginners.
- There’s less injury risk associated with bicep curls compared to preacher curls.
- You don’t need a spotter and can safely train to failure.
- You’re stronger on a bicep curl compared to a preacher curl, so you can overload the biceps to a greater extent which is great for adding mass.
- There’s a variety of equipment you can use to perform dumbbell curls, including dumbbells, and barbells.
- Doing bicep curls may help prevent injuries from other activities and provide carry-over to other movements, such as pull-ups, rows, and chin-ups.
Bicep Curl Cons
- It’s easier to cheat on a bicep curl by swinging or using other muscles to help get the weight up.
- Improper form can lead to biceps tendinitis which is typically associated with pain in the front of the shoulder.
- Bicep curls don’t target a specific head of the biceps more or less which may be a downside if you want to increase the peak of your biceps for example.
- At certain points of the movement, there’s no tension on the bicep, which isn’t ideal for maximally stimulating the muscle. This can be overcome by using cables instead of free weights.
Preacher Curl Pros
- It’s nearly impossible to cheat on a preacher curl since your upper arm is in a fixed position.
- The preacher curl allows you to isolate the biceps better, specifically the short head.
- It helps add shape, definition, and size to your arms.
- You don’t need a spotter and it’s safe to train to failure.
- The preacher curl is not a very fatiguing exercise, so you can perform it quite often.
- You can use a variety of equipment to do a preacher curl, including barbells, EZ bar, cables, and dumbbells.
- There’s less tension on the shoulders.
Preacher Curl Cons
- You can’t lift as much weight compared to a bicep curl.
- At certain points of the lift, particularly the top portion, there’s little to no tension on the biceps. Using cables, resistance bands, or a machine would solve this issue.
- Preacher curl pads/machines are popular but not every gym has one. Not to mention, the angle of the incline can vary drastically, making it difficult to track progress.
- There’s a greater risk for injuries because you can easily hyperextend your elbows at the bottom of the rep, especially since the most amount of tension is placed on the bicep at that point.
- Preacher curls are more difficult to learn than bicep curls.
When to Perform an Exercise
When Should You Do a Bicep Curl?
Anyone that wants to increase the size and strength of their biceps should consider doing bicep curls. Since bicep curls are an isolation exercise, they can be performed quite frequently because they aren’t very fatiguing. If your arms are lagging, then it’s a good idea to do bicep curls 2 to 3 times per week.
Bicep curls are usually done near the end of the workout, but some prefer to do them at the beginning if they are really trying to bring up their arms. Bicep curls are most commonly performed on upper body, back, or even arm days.
Most people use bicep curls for hypertrophy, increasing muscle size, so the 8-15 rep range is recommended. . Whether you’re stepping on a bodybuilding stage, competing in CrossFit, or getting ready for a strength sports competition, doing bicep curls will help prevent injuries from other compound movements.
When Should You Do a Preacher Curl?
Anyone that wants to add definition and focus more on adding size to the short head of the biceps should consider doing preacher curls. Similar to bicep curls, preacher curls are an isolation exercise that’s easy to recover.
You could do preacher curls multiple times per week, but it’s ideal to only do them once and add in other bicep exercises instead that place the shoulder in different positions.
For example, you could do bicep curls (elbows at the side), preacher curls (elbows in front), and incline curls (elbows out front) to hit the bicep from different angles. This will help target different areas of the bicep.
Preacher curls are usually programmed on back, upper body, or arm days and performed in a higher rep range because you’re not as strong. Anywhere from 8-20 reps is ideal for the preacher curl. Going lighter helps you keep form strict and focus on the mind-muscle-connection.
Bicep Curl Muscles Used
The bicep curl primarily activates the bicep brachii, but it also works the brachioradialis, brachialis, and forearms.
- Biceps Brachii
- Short Head
- Long Head
Preacher Curl Muscles Used
The preacher curl primarily targets the short head of the biceps brachii, but it also works the long head of the biceps, brachialis, brachioradialis, and forearms.
- Biceps Brachii
- Short Head
- Biceps Brachii
- Long Head
How to do a Bicep Curl Properly
- To do this exercise, you will need two dumbbells.
- Grab the dumbbells and stand straight up with a shoulder-width stance.
- With your arms fully extended at your sides, supinate your wrists until your palms are facing forward.
- Begin the movement by taking a deep breath and flexing your arms to bring the dumbbell up towards your chest by contracting your biceps.
- Be careful not to let your upper arm sway forward. The only thing that should be moving is your forearm at the elbow.
- Once your arms are fully flexed, squeeze the biceps at the top of the rep by twisting your pinky up, also known as supinating your wrists.
- After a brief pause, slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position by extending your arms. Repeat for the desired amount of reps.
- You can either do one arm at a time or both arms at the same time if you are using dumbbells.
Check out this video from Mind Pump TV to see how to perform a dumbbell bicep curl properly:
How to do a Preacher Curl Properly
- To do this exercise you will need dumbbells and a preacher curl bench.
- Before starting, adjust the height of the seat to ensure that your arms lay comfortably on the pad.
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand, and place your upper arms on the pad with your palms facing up while sitting down on the seat.
- Begin with your arms in a flexed position.
- Take a deep breath and begin to lower the dumbbells by extending your arms.
- Once your arms are nearly straight, pause for a moment then begin to bring the dumbbell up towards you by flexing the elbows and contracting the biceps.
- There should be a slight bend in your elbows at the bottom of the rep, be careful not to lock out the arms because that increases the risk of injury.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps. You can do both arms at once or one arm at a time.
Watch this video from Mind Pump TV to see how to get the most out of a preacher curl:
Bicep Curl vs Preacher Curl: Which One Builds Bigger Biceps?
Although preacher curls can help you build impressive arms, they aren’t as effective as the bicep curl for building size. Not only can you lift more weight with bicep curls, but both heads of the bicep are also worked evenly. If you only do preacher curls, then your bicep peak, which is made up of the long head, will not be as developed.
On the other hand, if you already have a well-developed bicep peak and are lacking in arm width, then the preacher curl is a good exercise to try out. One of the biggest pros to preacher curls is that it eliminates your ability to cheat. So it’s great for really isolating the bicep.
In conclusion, if you had to pick just one, go with the bicep curl. But if you can, it’s ideal to do a variety of exercises for optimal bicep development. So try adding both exercises into your routine and see what happens!
Related: How to Build Bigger Biceps
Other Exercise Comparison Posts
If you enjoyed this post, check out our comparisons of other popular exercises below.