Barbell Curl vs Dumbbell Curl: Two Exercises Compared

Biceps curl is a popular exercise and is nearly done by everyone that ever went to a gym. Because it is so important to many and in fact very beneficial, you will notice that most of the fitness influencers uploading videos when doing it on social media.

The bicep curl has many variations. Some people say that the barbell curl is better than the dumbbell curl, some say otherwise.

Because in every argument there is a comparison, we are going to discuss the barbell curl vs dumbbell curl topic. So we can get everything straight and guide you through greatness.

If you’ve ever dreamt about having veins and big muscular arms, this post is for you.

Barbell Curl vs Dumbbell Curl

The Anatomy of Curls

dumbbell curl

The anatomy of the curl is pretty simple. If you ever went to a gym or know someone that is into fitness, then you probably know where the biceps are. The curl’s main muscle group activated is the biceps. The biceps is the muscle that is responsible for bending the elbow. It starts from the elbow and ends at the shoulder joint.

barbell curl

The biceps muscle has two different heads, the long head, and the short head. When someone does the double back biceps pose and you are amazed at how the biceps has the side of an apple and has a big peak at the back, this is the main function of the long head. Most commonly, the long head can be the weak point in most people,

The bicep curl does not only activate the biceps, it also activates the forearms and wrist muscles depending on the grip you are using. Research suggests that when you grip the barbell or dumbbell with different grips you will target different heads and muscles stronger.

Grip variation

When gripping the bar or dumbbell with a supinated grip, the main focus will be on the biceps with the help of the forearms.

As we said, the only difference that happens is changing in the activation of muscles, grip variation will not change the muscles that work.

Gripping the bar or dumbbell with a pronated grip will focus on the forearms mostly. Because of that, you will find it hard to put on heavy-weight when doing this exercise.

The neutral grip, on the other hand, will put a huge stimulus to the forearms and biceps together. But the downside to the neutral grip that it can’t be applied to the normal barbells. Preferably, you will do the neutral grip exercises with dumbbells.

Variation in the width of the grip also changes the biceps’ heads activation. A wide grip curl will activate the inner “short” head of the biceps more, as research suggests. On the other hand, a narrow grip will activate the long head more, which results on a bigger peak for those interested.

The Barbell Curl Explained

The barbell curl is from the most respected and most popular exercises for biceps. It is simple to do, but quite effective. The barbell curl is a bi-lateral exercise meaning that you will train both arms at the same time. Allowing for balance and stability throughout the movement.

The barbell curl is nearly done by every famous and every respected lifter, that tells you something, right?

This exercise is made for the ones that want to increase their arms muscle mass especially the biceps. It nearly recruits every single fiber of the biceps. But of course, every exercise has pros and cons, we will talk about that later in the post.

How to do it

  1. The barbell curl is an easy-to-do exercise, it carries little fatigue and allows for great recovery when it is done right.
  2. Stand with your feet in width shoulder or a little wider.
  3. Bend your knees a little and grab the bar will straight and healthy back.
  4. Stand up with your elbows tucked in and in-control.
  5. Bend your elbows and let the barbell touches or upper chest or near your chin.
  6. Lower the back slowly without moving your back or legs and keep control throughout the movement.
  7. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.

The Dumbbell Curl Explained

The dumbbell curl is an exercise that can target different muscles depending on the grip. Because you can grip the dumbbell with various grips including supinated, pronated, and neutral grip, you can target the forearms or biceps more allowing for variation in your training program.

The dumbbell curl exercise a unilateral exercise meaning that it works a single arm at a time. When alternating between arms and focusing on one at a time, your body requires more stabilization and balance to keep it neutral.

When doing only bi-lateral exercises, your biceps develop imbalance, because as we know, the human being must have one side that is stronger than the other. If your left biceps is stronger than your right, it will have a bigger impact on your barbell curls or any other exercise. The dumbbell curl allows strengthening each arm at a time, which develops balance and coordination.

How to

The dumbbell curl has a lot of variation and can be done in several ways, but we will address the most, the most popular, and the most basic variation of the dumbbell curl.

  1. Stand with your feet at shoulder width or a little bit wider.
  2. Bend your knees a little and grip the dumbbells with a supinated grip.
  3. Keep your hands straight at your sides with your elbows tucked in.
  4. Bring one dumbbell to your chest, then lower it down with control.
  5. When the dumbbell is lowered, bring the other one up.
  6. Train each one at a time, focus, and try to execute the movement with no momentum at all.


Barbell curl pros

  • Progressive overload: Because the barbell curl uses plates, you will be able to add tiny weights to your barbell each week, allowing for progress. Commonly, the smallest increment will be 2.5lbs.
  • Safer: The barbell curl exercise is somehow safer than the dumbbell because you are using both hands and the barbell can not travel past your legs, which will decrease the amount of momentum you are allowed to.
  • Better for powerlifting or heavy sets: Because the barbell keeps you balanced and stabilized, it is better when it comes to heavy lifting, try to grab a heavy dumbbell and curl, you will probably fail or do it with huge momentum. A barbell makes it easy for you if you want to train in the 6 to 10 rep ranges.

Barbell curl cons

  • Limited range of motion: The barbell curl can offer a more limited range of motion when compared to the dumbbell curl. As the bar can’t move past your legs, you will not be able to fully stretch your arms.
  • One arm dominance: Normally, you will have an arm that is stronger than the other. Because the barbell curl is a bi-lateral exercise, your stronger arm will probably be dominant over the weaker one, which will cause muscle imbalance if you are a beginner.
  • Wrist pain: Some people experience wrist pain when doing the barbell curl exercise. However, that only happens with the straight bar, consider changing to the EZ barbell.

Dumbbell curl pros

  • Great for muscle imbalances: Because the dumbbell curl is a unilateral exercise, it strengthens each arm independently.
  • Greater range of motion: Unlike the barbell curl, the dumbbell curl has a far greater range of motion and you will have the ability to stretch your arms.
  • Work stabilizer muscles: As the dumbbell curl is a unilateral exercise, your stabilizer muscles work up to keep you balanced. This is a big plus to the dumbbell curl as it makes it great for functional and conditioning matters.

Dumbbell curl cons

  • Limited progressive overload: Unlike barbells, dumbbells do not have small increments. The most common is 5lbs increment at a time, which is hard when it comes to bicep curls.
  • Hard to balance: The dumbbell curl exercise is not the exercise you would want to lift heavy on. It is hard to balance and will include a lot of momentum and bad form when done with high weights.

Barbell curl variations

1. Standing straight barbell curl

The standing straight barbell curl is from the most used variations of the barbell curl, it is standard, basic, and easy.

2. Standing EZ barbell curl

The EZ barbell curl is similar to the straight barbell curl. But, the EZ bar is easier on the wrist joint. If you experience wrist pain with the straight bar, your best bet is to try the EZ bar variation.

Dumbbell curl variations

1. Standing alternating dumbbell curl

The standing dumbbell curl is the most basic and effective exercise with dumbbells. It allows you to train each arm at a time and focus.

2. Hammer curl

The hammer curl is a dumbbell curl variation that uses a neutral grip instead of a supinated grip. Allowing for more activation in the forearm muscles.


We hope that this post helped clarify the different kinds of curls and the pros and cons of each. If you have any questions or thoughts, please do leave a comment below!

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