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.

There are plenty of great bicep exercises and in this guide I introduce the best barbell curl alternatives so you can still get a killer arm workout. 

Bicep training may not be the most important part of your training routine, but training arms will help you grow bigger biceps that look great and also help performance in other lifts.

Biceps are a key player in most pulling exercises. Strengthening the bicep muscles will carry over to exercises such as deadlift, pull ups and rows.

If you need other great bicep exercises that isn't a barbell curl then read on. Here are my top 12 barbell curl alternatives, let's dive in!

1. Dumbbell Curls 

man doing dumbbell curls at home

The Dumbbell curl alternative to regular barbell curls are at the top of my list because it mimics 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 regular barbell curls, but you'll feel the benefits across your core and upper body.  


  • Builds bigger biceps by targeting both the long head and short head of the biceps brachii.
  • The standing position engages your core.
  • Using dumbbells help reduce muscular imbalances. 

How To Do A Dumbbell Curl:

  1. Start by standing with a dumbbell in each hand at around waist height, this is the starting position. 
  2. Then, alternating each hand, contract your bicep and curl it towards your shoulder.
  3. Pause for a second at the top, and then lower down with control to the starting position.
  4. As you lower one dumbbell, lift the other upwards and keep alternating as you go.
  5. Aim for 8-12 reps on each arm, and as that becomes too easy, increase the weight.  

Tips From A Trainer!

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. 

2. EZ-Bar Curls 

man working on an ez bar curl

EZ bar curls are designed specifically to target your biceps and help them grow, I'm a big fan of this bar if you have access to it.

The unique curves of the EZ bar force your arm into specific angles, which engage your biceps more effectively whilst reducing the tension on your joints. 

EZ curl bar exercises 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. If you don't have a curl bar, you can try out EZ bar curl alternatives.


  • The EZ bar design helps reduce joint strain on the wrists and elbows.
  • Much more comfortable than a straight barbell.
  • Suitable for any fitness level. 

How To Do A EZ-Bar Curl:

  1. Start by standing tall, holding the EZ curl barbell in both hands. 
  2. You should be gripping the angled portions of the bar and holding the barbell around waist height.
  3. Next, engage your biceps and contract the muscles to curl the bar up towards your shoulders.
  4. Pause at the top, and then lower back down to starting position.
  5. 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. 

Tips From A Trainer!

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

3. Cable Curls 

Man Doing Cable Curls In The Gym

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. 

If you do have access to one they are a great barbell curl alternative to grow bigger biceps because the cables provide consistent tension through the movement.

This makes cable curls a more challenging bicep curl exercise to perform but will lead to more significant hypertrophy and muscle growth. 

If you don't have access to a cable machine, don't worry, because there are cable curl alternative exercises that target similar muscle groups.


  • Reduces joint strain that you can experience with a barbell.
  • Increases time under tension and provides more muscle hypertrophy.
  • Core is working to stabalize your body throughout the movement.

How To Do A Cable Curl:

  1. 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. 
  2. Next, engage your biceps and curl the handle up towards you.
  3. Pause at the top, and then lower back down to starting position. 

Tips From A Trainer!

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. 

4. Resistance Band Curls 

Man Doing Resistance Band Curls Exercise At Home

I'm a big fan of resistance bands due to their verticality, and they can be added into your arm routine.

Resistance band curls are a great alternative to barbell curls because they’re effective, and resistance bands are cheap. 

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


  • Easier on the joints than a straight barbell.
  • Perfect for slow eccentric reps and time under tension.
  • Easy to modify the resistance. 

How To Do A Resistance Band Curl:

  1. Start with two resistance bands and secure one end in place. 
  2. 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.
  3. Hold the other end of the resistance band in each hand, and take a step away so that there's some tension.
  4.  Next, curl both arms up towards your shoulders, pause at the top, and then lower back down.
  5. Repeat this for 12-14 reps or as many as you can.   

Tips From A Trainer!

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. 

5. TRX Curl 

Man Doing 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 bicep curls. However, if you don't have access to a TRX you can try out the best TRX alternatives.


  • Targets the biceps and also shoulders and forearms are working.
  • Core is more engaged to stabalize the body throughout the movement.
  • Great option for beginners.

How To Do A TRX Curl:

  1. Start by securing your TRX band to a secure surface above you, and hold the handles with an underhand grip.
  2. Next, lean back until your arms are fully extended, and then pull yourself back up to a standing position.
  3. TRX curls are a good alternative to barbell curls and will help you build functional strength to improve your overall fitness.  

Tips From A Trainer!

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

6. Concentration Curls 

Man Doing Concentration Curls

Concentration curls are a seated barbell curl and a seriously effective way to grow and improve the shape of your biceps, making them a good barbell curl alternative if you have dumbbells. 

The dumbbell concentration curl activates 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.  


  • Effective at increasing size and appearance of the bicep brachii.
  • High muscular activation.
  • Improves both aesthetics and function. 

How To Do A Concentration Curl:

  1. To perform this exercise, you'll need at least one dumbbell. 
  2. Sit on a bench or chair, with the dumbbell in your hand hanging down and your elbow resting on your inner thigh.
  3. Contract your bicep and curl it upwards until it almost reaches your forehead.
  4. Pause for a second, then lower it back down to the starting position.
  5. 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.  

Tips From A Trainer!

The strict nature of the dumbbell concentration curl 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. 

7. Sissy Curl 

man doing sissy curls at home

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.

The sissy curl is a bit unique and the upper body angle leads to greater activation of the long head of the bicep and can lead to more significant muscle development than performing barbell curls alone.  


  • Allows for fuller range of motion and challenges the biceps in the stretched position.
  • Builds bigger biceps.
  • Good option for those who are more advanced and need more of a challenge. 

How to Do A Sissy Curl:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

It is important to keep you core engaged throughout the bicep curl to maintain core stability.

8. Plate Curl 

Woman Doing Plate Curl Exercise At The Gym

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 to perform these bicep curls, preferably a heavy one to challenge your body.  


  • Strengthens your grip.
  • Adds variety to your arm workout.
  • Good for beginners and ideal for those who don't have access to an EZ bar or dumbbells. 

how To Do A Plate Curl:

  1. Start by standing tall with a weight plate gripped in both hands hanging down. 
  2. Grip the edges of the plate tightly, and curl it up towards your chest.
  3. Pause at the top, and then lower back down to starting position.
  4. You may struggle with this exercise at first if you don’t have enough grip strength.
  5. Try using a lower weight, and then move up when you feel comfortable.  

Tips From A Trainer!

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

9. Preacher Curls 

Man Doing Preacher Curls

For those who have access to a preacher curl bench, I highly recommend using this equipment.

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.  


  • Keeps the upper body completely stable allowing you to target the biceps more.
  • Large focus on the eccentric (lengthening) movement which is key for muscle growth.
  • The EZ bar curl puts less strain on the wrists and elbows. 

How To Do A Preacher Curl:

  1. 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. 
  2. Contract your arms so that you’re raising the dumbbell off the bench and up towards your shoulders.
  3. Pause at the top, and lower back down to the bench to complete the rep.

Tips From A Trainer!

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.  

10. Chin-Ups 

Man Doing Slow 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 biceps exercises easier.[1]

You'll need a pull up bar to perform this exercise. If you don't have one, you can check out our article on how to make DIY free standing pull up bar at home or try out pull up alternative exercises.


  • Chin ups are one of the most effective exercises in targeting the upper back and biceps.
  • Can be easily altered to suit your fitness level.
  • Will improve overall fitness and athleticism. 

How To Do A Chin-Up:

  1. Start by standing facing it and reach up to grip the bar, palms facing towards you and hands shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Next, engage your back and lift your body until your chin goes above the bar. 
  3. Pause for a second, and then lower yourself back down.

Tips From A Trainer!

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. 

11. Dive Bomber Push Up 

Man Doing Dive Bomber Push Ups Outdoors

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.  


  • Works the whole body and improves mobility.
  • Improves coordination and core strength.
  • Increases muscular size and functionality. 

How To Do A Dive Bomber Push Up:

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

Tips From A Trainer!

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. 

12. Monkey Bars 

woman doing 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.   


  • Great for improving forearm strength and grip.
  • Improves functional fitness.
  • Fun and challenging and something different to traditional barbell, dumbbell and EZ bar exercises.

How To Do Monkey Bars:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. You'll look less like a swinging monkey with this technique, but you'll focus the effort on your biceps rather than your shoulders.
  4. Performing this exercise a few times a week will help you develop your functional strength and bigger arms.  

Tips From A Trainer!

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. 

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:  


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 the biceps brachii and build strong arms.[2] Many of the barbell curl alternatives 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.[3]

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 Questions

Are barbell curls better than dumbbell curls? 

Barbell curls are better than dumbbell curls 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.  

How often should you do barbell curls? 

Training your biceps and doing barbell curls around 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 on the list 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.  


We all want big, strong arms and barbell curls aren't the only way to achieve that.

There are many barbell curl alternatives you can try, and by mixing it up, you can get even better results.

I hope this list has given you some inspiration to try few new arm exercises at your next workout. 





Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor

Hi, I’m Jo. I love sunrise swims, cold water immersion and cats. I have been dedicated to strength training for the past 14 years. I became a qualified Personal Trainer in 2020, and am passionate about helping my clients get stronger. Visit Jo Taylors Website