Use the preacher curl to build bigger biceps
Want to be the proud owner of bigger, stronger and more defined arms? Have impressive biceps that fill out your t-shirt sleeves? Then you need to get smart with your exercise selection – and that means adding the preacher curl to your next arms sessions to get the eye-catching results you want, says New Body Plan creator and Men’s Fitness cover model Jon Lipsey
The preacher curl looks impressive and feels satisfying to do. But will it add size and strength to your biceps? The good news is that the answer to that question is a resounding yes.
It’s an excellent way of isolating and fatiguing your biceps. And if you do those two things, you ramp up your chances to build bigger arms. But before you hit the preacher curl bench, here’s what you need to know about the exercise.
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What is a preacher curl?
It is a biceps isolation exercise, in that it only works the biceps muscles. It’s typically done using a preacher bench, which has an angled, padded platform that you rest your upper arms on. The angle of that upper arm rest varies but is typically about a 45-60 degree angle. You can also improvise and do the move on a standard gym bench. You just stand behind it and set it at an appropriate angle. The limiting factor with a standard workout bench is that you may only be able to train one arm at a time.
What are the benefits of doing the preacher curl?
There are several benefits to doing this biceps move. Here are the main ones.
It’s almost impossible to cheat
Typically, when people do biceps curl variations they use a bit of upper arm forwards movement to assist the exercise. They may not be aware they’re doing it but it is incredibly common. The consequence of upper arm movement is reduced tension on the target muscle and reduced muscle fibre recruitment. This move fixes your upper arm in place so you can’t use it to ‘cheat’ the exercise.
It’s great for muscle fibre recruitment
This curl variation encourages you to use a full range of motion and really stretch your biceps at the bottom of the rep. That stretch position has been shown in studies to positively influence muscle fibre recruitment. A recent study in the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research showed that getting into a stretched position (where your arms are fully straight) between reps had a positive impact in biceps muscle fibre recruitment.
It’s a great variation to include in your biceps workouts
If you want to build bigger arms then you’re going to need to do more than endless dumbbell biceps curls. You want to do a variety of the best dumbbell biceps exercises. And, crucially, you want a range of positions of flexion. That refers to the angle of your upper arm when you perform the set. The preacher curl will complement the other biceps exercises in your regime and help maximise results.
When should I do a preacher curl?
You can do them in any workout that involves your biceps. You’re best to do it towards the end of the session because it is an isolation exercise. If you did it at the start of your session you would fatigue your biceps. If you then tried to do a big compound move that also involves the biceps, such as a barbell bent-over row, your ability to lift a heavy weight would be compromised. So do your compound lifts at the start of a session and the isolation moves at the end.
How often should I do the preacher curl?
There’s no set frequency that you need to adhere to. If you’re training your arms once or twice a week then you might do the preacher curl once a week. You don’t have to include it in every programme. But it should make an appearance every now and again. There are also lots of variations you can use, which are described below. Mixing them up will ensure that you always provide your muscles with a challenge that fuels growth.
How to do the perfect dumbbell preacher curl
• Position yourself on a preacher bench with your upper arms resting on the pad.
• Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms straight and your palms facing up.
• Contract your biceps to bend your elbows and raise your forearms to your shoulders.
• Squeeze the biceps muscles hard at the top of the rep then lower slowly to the start.
• Make sure you straighten your arms to maximise the range of motion then start the next rep.
How to get better at the preacher curl to build bigger biceps
Barbell preacher curl
Doing a barbell preacher curl will maximise the weight you can lift. That can contribute to increased muscle growth. The limiting factor is that some people find it uncomfortable.
EZ bar preacher curl
This is key preacher curl variation. The semi-supinated (slightly rotated) wrist position makes the EZ bar curl kinder on your elbow joint. The bar also puts you in a stable position so you can lift a heavier load than when using dumbbells.
Dumbbell hammer preacher curl
In this preacher curl variation you do the lift with your palms facing each other. This shifts the emphasis towards your forearms, which makes dumbbell hammer curls a good all-round biceps and forearm builder.
Alternating dumbbell preacher curl
This is the same as a standard dumbbell preacher curl but you alternate sides. That gives you a longer rest between reps, which makes it easier. It might be tempting to use this variation at the start of a set because it is easier. Our recommendation would be to use it if you fail before the end of a set of dumbbell preacher curls. You can use it to complete the reps when you’re fatigued.
Cable preacher curl
The benefit of a cable preacher curl, and indeed any cable move, is that it keeps tension on the muscle constant. That’s really useful in a preacher curl because dumbbells and barbells pose an uneven challenge. The angles mean that it is a lot harder to do the start and middle part of a rep than it is to do the final part. With a cable, the challenge is more even.
Reverse grip EZ bar preacher curl
Doing reverse curls will target your forearms as well as your biceps. An EZ bar is a good reverse preacher curl option because of the undulating bar shape. The slight wrist rotation generally makes it easier on the elbow joint.
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