12 Alternatives To Barbell Curls: Bicep Exercise Substitutes

Every major muscle group has one key exercise. For legs, it's the squat; for your chest, it's the chest press, and most people agree that for biceps, it's the barbell curl. If you aren't able to perform a barbell curl or don't have a barbell, then you may be worried that you can't train your biceps properly. But don't worry because, in this guide, we'll introduce the best alternatives to barbell curls so you can still get a killer arm workout. 

1. Dumbbell Curls 

Dumbbell curls are the natural alternative to barbell curls because they mimic the movement exactly. This means you engage almost all the same muscle groups, and by using dumbbells, you can actually activate some smaller muscles used to stabilize your arms.

You'll generally not be able to lift as much with dumbbells as you would with a barbell, but you'll feel the benefits across your core and upper body.  

Start by standing with a dumbbell in each hand at around waist height. Then, alternating each hand, contract your bicep and curl it towards your shoulder. Pause for a second at the top, and then lower down to starting position.

As you lower one dumbbell, lift the other upwards and keep alternating as you go. Aim for 8-12 reps on each arm, and as that becomes too easy, you should up the weights. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

To make this exercise more difficult, you can stand with your back straight against a wall. Perform strict dumbbell curls with little to no movement in the rest of your body.

dumbbell curls

2. EZ-Bar Curls 

EZ-bars are designed to target your biceps and help them grow. The unique curves of the bar force your arm into specific angles, which engage your biceps more effectively.

This primarily targets the long head of the bicep to increase the visible muscle mass and can be even more effective than a regular barbell curl. The only disadvantage of this alternative is that you need the EZ curl bar, which can be expensive and can't really be used for other exercises.

Start by standing tall, holding the EZ curl barbell in both hands. You should be gripping the angled portions of the bar and holding the barbell around waist height. Next, engage your biceps and contract the muscles to curl the bar up towards your shoulders.

Pause at the top, and then lower back down to starting position. You should aim for 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps for maximum muscle development, but put more weight on the bar if the movement is no longer challenging you. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

Try changing up your grip on the EZ curl bar to target different parts of your biceps and forearms.

Read Also - How Much Does An EZ Curl Bar Weigh?

ez bar curl

3. Cable Curls 

Cable curls aren’t a viable alternative for everyone because you need access to a cable machine, and they can be too expensive for home gym owners.

However, they’re a great way to grow big bicep muscles because the cables provide consistent tension through the movement. This makes cable curls more challenging to perform but will lead to more significant hypertrophy and muscle growth.  

Set the cable so it's as low as possible, and then reach down to pick up the handle. There should be tension in the cable as you pull it up to around waist height. Next, engage your biceps and curl the handle up towards you.

Pause at the top, and then lower back down to starting position. Cable curls can be challenging because of the tension from the cables throughout the movement, but they’re much better for your joints than barbell curls. You should feel a good pump after just 8-10 reps.  

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

This is one of the best exercises to do as a drop set since you can easily lean forward and drop the weight on the cable machine using the selectorized weight stack.

See Also - Selectorized Vs Plate-Loaded Machines

Cable Curls

4. Resistance Band Curls 

Resistance band curls are a great alternative to barbell curls because they’re effective, and resistance bands are cheap. They’re an excellent way to improve your flexibility, endurance, and prepare your body for the curl movement.

But the downside is that you generally won't challenge your arms as much, and you shouldn't expect the same gains. However, if you’re a beginner, resistance band curls are a solid option.  

Start with two resistance bands and secure one end in place. We usually do this by shutting it in the door, but you can also wrap it around a bench or put it under a weight plate.

Hold the other end of the resistance band in each hand, and take a step away so that there's some tension. Next, curl both arms up towards your shoulders, pause at the top, and then lower back down. Repeat this for 12-14 reps or as many as you can.   

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

Instead of focusing on the number of reps, try setting a timer for 30 seconds and do as many as you can. This should give you a great pump.

Resistance Band Curls

5. TRX Curl 

TRX, or Total Resistance Training, is a way to use your body weight to exercise major muscle groups. It's often used by navy seals as a way to build functional strength, and you don't need much equipment. You will need to get yourself a TRX system or access one in your gym to perform these curls.  

Start by securing your TRX band to a secure surface above you, and hold the handles with an underhand grip. Next, lean back until your arms are fully extended, and then pull yourself back up to a standing position.

TRX curls are a good alternative to barbell curls and will help you build functional strength to improve your overall fitness.  

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

Make sure you focus the energy on your biceps and not on your back or chest to maximize the benefits. 

Read Also - 5 Best TRX Substitutes

TRX Curl

6. Concentration Curls 

Concentration curls are an effective way to tone and improve the shape of your biceps. They activate the long and short heads of your biceps brachii to enhance the strength in your arms and increase muscle size. They also help you improve your mind-muscle connection, which is why they're called concentration curls.  

To perform this exercise, you'll need at least one dumbbell. Sit on a bench or chair, with the dumbbell in your hand hanging down and your elbow resting on your inner thigh. Contract your bicep and curl it upwards until it almost reaches your forehead.

Pause for a second, then lower it back down to the starting position. Aim for 8-10 reps on each arm, but bear in mind that these can be tough, so you might have to go a little lighter than you would with regular curls.  

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

The strict nature of this exercise makes it great for building bicep peaks. Try to be as strict as possible even if that means dropping the weight or number of reps.

Concentration Curls

7. Sissy Curl 

Sissy curls offer a different range of motion than a regular curl because your body is leaning back throughout the movement. This allows you to follow the natural strength curve of the bicep and makes it more challenging at the bottom of the rep.

This should lead to greater activation of the long head of the bicep and can lead to more significant muscle development than performing barbell curls alone.  

Start by holding a dumbbell in each hand and standing tall. Lean back and bend your knees forward slightly, as if preparing for a sissy squat, and then curl the weights up towards your shoulder. Try to do 8-12 reps and repeat for as many sets as you can. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

You’ll find the first quarter of the movement pretty challenging, but it should be easier past this point. 

Suggested Equipment - Best Budget Adjustable Dumbbells

sissy curls

8.  Plate Curl 

Plate curls are a practical alternative exercise for those who don't have access to barbells or dumbbells. It will activate all of the same muscle groups but also improve your forearm and grip strength more than a regular barbell curl will. All you'll need is a single plate, but preferably a heavy one to challenge your body.  

Start by standing tall with a weight plate gripped in both hands hanging down. Grip the edges of the plate tightly, and curl it up towards your chest. Pause at the top, and then lower back down to starting position.

You may struggle with this exercise at first if you don’t have enough grip strength. Try using a lower weight, and then move up when you feel comfortable.  

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

You can also grab a few lighter weight plates and do alternating plate curls. Both variations are equally great for your forearms and biceps.

Also Check Out - Iron Vs Bumper Weight Plates

Plate Curl

9.  Preacher Curls 

Preacher curls are one of the most effective exercises for isolating your biceps because they take pretty much everything else out of the equation. The controlled movement takes the pressure off your forearms and shoulders so you can maximize the benefit to your upper arms. If your goal is to grow bigger biceps, then you should be performing preacher curls regularly.  

Start with a barbell or EZ curl bar and your triceps resting on a preacher curl bench or another surface that is at a 45-degree angle. Contract your arms so that you’re raising the dumbbell off the bench and up towards your shoulders. Pause at the top, and lower back down to the bench to complete the rep. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

The start of the rep can be really challenging with preacher curls because you're totally reliant on your biceps, but this is where all the gains are made. Fight through the pain, and you'll get a great pump. 

Required Equipment - Best Preacher Curl Benches 

Preacher Curls

10. Chin-Ups 

Chin-ups are a great way to train your entire body with very little equipment. The movement focuses particularly on your biceps and back but also engages your core and shoulders to make your body physically stronger.

You won't get as much growth in your biceps as you would with a barbell curl, but you'll get a much more comprehensive range of benefits, and performing chin-ups regularly will make other bicep exercises easier.  

You'll need a pull up bar to perform this exercise. Start by standing facing it and reach up to grip the bar, palms facing towards you and hands shoulder-width apart. Next, engage your back and lift your body until your chin goes above the bar. Pause for a second, and then lower yourself back down. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

Chin-ups are a great way to test your overall fitness but can be challenging for beginners, so you may need to strengthen your arms and back before you try them.

More Exercises For Back - Best Pull Up Alternatives

Chin Ups

11. Dive Bomber Push Up 

This is a really useful bicep workout for those exercising at home without any equipment. This push up variation engages the biceps and shoulders more. While it isn't as effective at isolating your biceps as a barbell curl, it's still a valuable exercise to have in your back pocket for when you can't access any fitness equipment.  

Start in the push up position with your hips in the air. Move forward and duck your head down as if you're going under a bar in front of you. As you push your head down, arch your back and hold for a second. Reverse backwards slowly to complete the exercise. 

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

This exercise is also great for improving your flexibility and stability. You should feel a nice stretch in your middle and upper back, which makes this a great warm up movement.

Dive Bomber Push Up

12. Monkey Bars 

When you think of monkey bars, you may picture a kid playing in the park, but the swinging motion is actually a great way to build strong biceps. It works really well when you're an adult and is useful for those who have access to the equipment.

Now we aren't saying go and swing on the kids' playground, but many commercial gyms have monkey bar rigs set up for you to use.   

There are a few different methods for this, but the best way is to start facing the bars with both hands gripping them, palms away from you. Move one arm forward to the next bar, grip it, and then move the next arm across. Keep going until you reach the far side.

You'll look less like a swinging monkey with this technique, but you'll focus the effort on your biceps rather than your shoulders. Performing this exercise a few times a week will help you develop your functional strength and bigger arms.  

Garage Gym Pro Tip!

Performing functional movements is a great way to improve your overall physique and strength. Monkey bars involves a lot of grip strength, which will transfer into big lifts like the deadlift.

monkey bars

Advantages of Substitute Exercises Over Barbell Curls

The exercises on our list are all different, but there are some advantages to incorporating them into your arm workouts:  

Accessibility

With a barbell curl, you are reliant on a single piece of equipment. That's fine if you have access to a barbell, but if you don't, then you're a bit stuck. The substitute exercises on this list allow you to get a great arm workout no matter what you have available and whether you’re training at home or the gym. 

Muscle Activation 

Barbell curls are an excellent way to isolate your biceps and build strong arms. However, many of the substitute exercises on this list will activate other muscle groups and improve your functional strength, as well as helping you grow your biceps. In addition, performing exercises like chin ups will train your whole body and not limit you to one area.

Mix It Up 

Challenging your body with new exercises has been proven to give you greater results. Limiting yourself to a barbell curl won’t bring you as many gains, but introducing 3 or 4 exercises from this list into your routine should stimulate greater muscle gains.  


Frequently Asked Barbell Curl Alternative Questions 

Are barbell curls better than dumbbell curls? 

Barbell curls are better for hypertrophy because you can generally lift heavier weights and challenge your body more. However, dumbbell curls offer greater versatility and can engage some of the smaller muscle groups to improve your functional strength. Incorporating both into your workout is usually best.  

Related Article - Barbell Vs Dumbbell Curls

How often should you do barbell curls? 

Training your biceps 2-3 times a week is usually optimal because it allows time for your muscles to heal and grow.  

What is the easiest exercise on our list? 

Resistance band curls are probably the easiest exercise because they are easier to curl than loaded barbells or dumbbells. They're an excellent option for beginners and will help you improve your functional strength and flexibility so you can perform some of the more challenging exercises on the list.  

What is the most difficult exercise on our list? 

The most challenging barbell curl substitute is probably the chin up because it requires a reasonable amount of strength in your back and biceps already. You may have to start with other exercises and build up to them.  


Conclusion

We all want big, strong arms, but barbell curls aren't the only way to achieve that. There are many alternative exercises you can try, and by mixing it up, you can get even better results. Hopefully, this list has given you some inspiration, and you've got a few new arm exercises to try in your next workout.