Barbell Curls Vs. Dumbbell Curls – Which is Better?

bicep curls barbell

Want to build your biceps? Curls are the go-to exercise for putting mass on our arms.

There are loads of curl variations. The most popular include barbell and dumbbell curls.

So, what’s the difference? Which should you be doing?

The truth is, neither is “better” or “worse.” They’re just different. They both have their pros and cons. Which one you should be doing will depend on your goals.

Let’s take a closer look at both. 

Dumbbell Curls

bicep curls dumbbells

Dumbbell curls are a unilateral movement. Unilateral movements train one side of the body. For example, if you’re performing dumbbell curls with two 15kg dumbbells, each arm will be lifting 15kg. The weight is isolated to that individual arm. 

Benefits of Dumbbell Curls (vs. Barbell Curls)

Training each arm individually ensures both arms receive equal workload.

Equal workload helps prevent and correct any muscle imbalances. Therefore, the risk of injury is reduced. Unilateral movements like dumbbell curls also help to build symmetry between both sides of the body. 

How to Perform Dumbbell Curls

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Grip a dumbbell in each hand in the middle of your palm. 
  3. Slightly bend your knees and pull your shoulders back. 
  4. Squeeze your core and buttock. 
  5. Rotate your palms so they are facing forwards. 
  6. Keeping your elbows tucked in, pull the dumbbells up to your shoulders. 
  7. Pause briefly. 
  8. Slowly lower to the starting position. 

Got that? Great, now let’s make sure you get the gains.

Dumbbell Curl Form Mistakes to Avoid

Momentum: Many people rely on momentum when the weight becomes too challenging. Swinging the dumbbell reduces the amount of tension applied to the bicep. Don’t let your ego get in the way; scale the weight back if it becomes too heavy. 

Elbows: Pin your elbows to your side throughout the movement. Flaring your elbows out or moving them back generates unwanted momentum. 

Now that you have the basics down, let’s look at mixing things up with some variation.

Best Dumbbell Curl Variations 

Hammer Curl 

Hammer curls involve supinating your palms to target additional muscles in the arms. 

How to Perform Hammer Curls 

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Grip a dumbbell in each hand in the middle of your palm. 
  3. Slightly bend your knees and pull your shoulders back. 
  4. Squeeze your core and buttock. 
  5. Rotate your palms so they are facing your body. 
  6. Keeping your elbows tucked in, pull the dumbbells up to your shoulders.
  7. Pause briefly. 
  8. Slowly lower to the starting position. 

Cable Overhead Curl 

The cable overhead curl is a great unilateral alternative for building bicep muscle and strength. 

How to Perform Cable Overhead Curls 

  1. Stand in the center of the cable machine with your legs hip-width apart.
  2. Attach D-handles to the cable and set the height to shoulder level. 
  3. Grip a handle in each hand in the middle of your palm. 
  4. Slightly bend your knees and pull your shoulders back. 
  5. Squeeze your core and buttock.
  6. Rotate your palms so they are facing upwards. 
  7. Pull the handles to your shoulders. 
  8. Pause briefly. 
  9. Slowly lower to the starting position. 

Key Takeaway

Dumbbell curls are best for isolating each bicep. Isolation helps to build symmetry and equal strength. Dumbbell curls also help prevent and correct any muscle imbalances, thus reducing the risk of injury. 

That’s the case for dumbbell curls, so now let’s look at barbell curls.


Barbell Curls

Barbell Curls Vs. Dumbbell Curls - Which is Better? 1

Barbell curls are a bilateral movement. Bilateral movements use both sides of the body simultaneously. For example, if you’re performing barbell curls with a 30kg barbell, the weight is applied over both arms.

This weight may not always be distributed equally. This can lead to muscle imbalances. 

Benefits of Barbell Curls (vs. Dumbbell Curls)

Since the weight is distributed over both arms, you can achieve a greater maximal load with barbell curls than dumbbell curls. When you’re trying to build muscle and strength, it’s essential a heavy load is applied. 

How to Perform Barbell Curls

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Grip a barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Slightly bend your knees and pull your shoulders back. 
  4. Squeeze your core and buttock. 
  5. Keeping your elbows tucked in, pull the barbell up to your chest. 
  6. Pause briefly. 
  7. Slowly lower to the starting position. 

You don’t want to do all that work and ruin your gains through poor form, so keep reading.

Barbell Curl Form Mistakes to Avoid

Rushing: Most of us only think about the lifting (concentric) phase of the barbell curl and neglect the lowering (eccentric) phase. This is an integral part of the lift that shouldn’t be ignored.

The eccentric phase actually generates the most amount of force. If we control the descent, we can build more strength and muscle. Don’t let gravity dictate your reps. Take your time and control the lowering phase.

Half Reps: It’s often debated whether a lifter should perform a full range of motion or stick to half reps. While there’s a time and place for half reps, it’s generally accepted a full range of motion is more beneficial to the average gym-goer.

Ensure you’re performing a full range of motion, including fully extending the elbow and bring the weight to the top. 

Variety is the spice of life, so let’s look at some variations.

Best Barbell Curl Variations

Preacher Curl 

Preacher curls use a pad to help eliminate any unwanted momentum. Each rep should be a slow-controlled movement. 

How to Perform Preacher Curls 

  1. Sit on a preacher bench with your upper arms and chest resting on the pad.
  2. Grip the barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Drive your feet into the floor. 
  4. Pull the barbell to your chest.
  5. Pause briefly. 
  6. Slowly lower to the starting position. 

Narrow Grip EZ Bar Curl 

Narrow grip EZ bar curls isolate the short head of the bicep to help build the middle of your bicep, giving it greater height. 

How to Perform Narrow Grip EZ Bar Curls 

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Grip an EZ bar with your hands a couple of inches apart. 
  3. Slightly bend your knees and pull your shoulders back. 
  4. Squeeze your core and buttock. 
  5. Keeping your elbows tucked in, pull the EZ bar up to your chest. 
  6. Pause briefly. 
  7. Slowly lower to the starting position. 

Key Takeaway

Barbell curls are best for achieving maximal loads. Applying a heavy load helps build overall muscle and strength. 


FAQs

How Often Should You Train Your Biceps?

When performing isolation exercises such as curls, it’s best to leave at least 48 hours between sessions. It’s perfectly acceptable for overall health and performance to train biceps 1-2 times per week.

Should You Do Barbell and Dumbbell Curls in the Same Workout?

I recommend performing both barbell and dumbbell curls in the same workout. Performing both ensures you get the best of both exercises. You can apply maximal load and help prevent and correct muscle imbalances. Perform your barbell curls before dumbbell curls. 


Conclusion

The key difference between barbell and dumbbell curls is their weight distribution. Barbell curls distribute the weight between both arms allowing you to apply a greater maximal weight.

Dumbbell curls isolate the weight per arm to help prevent and correct any muscle imbalances. If you’re looking to gain maximal bicep growth, I recommend performing both barbell and dumbbell curls in your training. 

Leave a Reply

Home Gym Boss is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. We only recommend products we would use and all opinions expressed here are our own.