Go to a gym, approach five guys, and ask them about the two muscles they want to grow most — chances are, biceps will be on every list.
Despite being primarily associated with aesthetics, the biceps play a substantial role in our day-to-day activities, like carrying groceries and opening doors.
A randomized controlled trial published in The Clinical Respiratory Journal showed that arm strength training increases peripheral muscle strength and arm exercise capacity while decreasing dyspnea and arm fatigue. All that makes arm strength training very beneficial for patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). (1)
Having worked with over 100 clients in the last seven years, I’ve noticed a common trend in their biceps routines before hiring me as their trainer — a lack of diversity. The tendency to stick to one or two exercises is not the most effective strategy for achieving significant results.
Below, you’ll learn how to do one amazing bicep curl variation — wide-grip barbell curl and learn its benefits, common mistakes, and alternatives.
How To Do Wide Grip Barbell Curl: Step-By-Step
This is how to perform wide-grip barbell curl properly:
Step One — Get into the Starting Position
Load a barbell with an appropriate weight and stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Grab the barbell with a wider-than-shoulder-width underhand grip (palms facing forward). The bar should be resting against your thighs.
Pro Tip: Use barbell collars to prevent weight plates from moving around during a set.
Step Two — Curl the Barbell
Maintain a straight back and engage your core for stability. Flex your elbows to begin the movement. Keep your upper arms pinned to your sides, and limit the motion to the elbow joint.
The barbell should be at shoulder level at the top of the range of motion. Pause and contract your biceps in this position.
Pro Tip: Use a fat-grip accessory or a thicker barbell for additional forearm activation.
Step Three — Eccentric Phase
Slowly lower the barbell to the starting position. Don’t let gravity take over. Otherwise, you reduce the effectiveness of the exercise and risk a strain. Slow eccentrics can help boost muscle activation.
Pro Tip: Avoid fully extending your elbows at the bottom to keep constant tension on the target muscles.
Watch the following video demonstration in which Filip Maric demonstrates the wide-grip barbell curl:
Muscles Worked During Wide Grip Barbell Curl
The wide-grip barbell curl is a single-joint (isolation) exercise that biases the shorter bicep heads.
The wide-grip barbell curl isolates the biceps brachii and brachialis, biasing the short head of the biceps, which is situated closer to the torso.
It also involves secondary muscles, such as forearms, especially the brachioradialis, the core, and, to a minor extent, the front delts. The triceps acts as an antagonist muscle.
Benefits of Wide Grip Barbell Curl
Adding wide-grip barbell curls to your biceps workout brings multiple benefits:
Every muscle will eventually get used to a certain movement, which could result in a strength and muscle plateau. To overcome this and avoid stagnation, employ different exercises in your workouts.
Of course, progressive overload is very important, but training the target muscles from different angles is equally essential for growth.
So, a wide-grip barbell curl provides a different stimulus than traditional curls.
Improved Range of Motion
The wider grip allows for an extended range of motion, ensuring maximal fiber engagement. Following a full ROM can boost functionality and performance.
Tips For Performing Wide Grip Barbell Curl
I’ll give you a few more tips that help my clients execute the exercise flawlessly:
Choose Appropriate Weight
Load the barbell with an appropriate weight. Do not go beyond your capabilities, especially for wider-than-shoulder-width grips, because the likelihood of injury is higher.
Exposing the wrists, elbows, and shoulders to excessive weight is futile and potentially harmful. Overloading these areas won’t stimulate further bicep growth but could lead to an injury.
Keep Elbows Tight To The Sides
You must keep your elbows pinned to your torso. This is harder to do with wide-grip curls than with regular ones because of the position of the forearms, but you still have to keep that in mind.
If you can’t do this, reduce the weight and work on your wrist and elbow mobility.
Think About Tempo
I mentioned tempo when discussing the eccentric phase and the short isometric pause at the bottom.
However, the overall rep cadence also has an effect on the results. Moving swiftly through the full range of motion improves power in addition to strength. Nevertheless, this method will limit the weight you’re able to curl. So, you have to balance the rep cadence with your goals.
Common Mistakes During Wide Grip Barbell Curl
If you don’t have anyone to correct you or you don’t record yourself doing the exercise, you may make one of these mistakes:
Bending the Wrists
Many lifters make the mistake of adding too much weight to the bar, leading to excessive wrist strain. Try to keep both wrists neutral throughout the range of motion. Remember this for the EZ bar bicep curls as well.
When you flex or extend the wrist, you reduce the bicep activation and expose the wrist to unnecessary strain.
Overarching the Back
This is a sign that you are not activating your core, that your core is weak, or that you are using too much weight. Keep your spine neutral throughout the movement. Overarching on concentrics is not allowed.
Best Wide Grip Barbell Curl Alternatives
The following alternatives are excellent for spicing up your biceps workout. I had a client who, due to an old shoulder injury, found this exercise uncomfortable. The following alternatives helped us target the short head of the biceps successfully.
Cable Biceps Curl
Cable machines must be part of every well-rounded fitness routine because they place constant tension on the target muscle. When doing cable bicep curls, don’t try to go too heavy. Leave personal records for free weights. Instead, use the cables to stimulate the muscles through the entire range of motion.
- Attach a straight bar handle or V-handle to the cable pulley and set it at the lowest setting.
- Stand in front of a cable machine with feet shoulder-width apart.
- Grab the handle with an underhand grip.
- Keep your elbows tight to the sides.
- Curl the cable towards your shoulders by flexing the elbows.
- Lower the weight back to the starting position.
Pro tip: When lowering the weight, focus on achieving a deep bicep stretch.
This old-school bicep curl variation will help you strengthen your biceps and forearms. Zottman Curl involves a regular curling motion on concentrics and a reverse grip on eccentrics.
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing forward.
- Perform a standard bicep curl.
- Rotate your wrists to a pronated (palms facing down) position at the top of the movement.
- Lower the dumbbells with the reverse grip.
- Rotate your wrists back to the starting position and repeat.
Pro tip: Rotate your wrists fully during both phases.
It’s one of my favorite isolation exercises. This exercise allows you to focus on the biceps because the involvement of other muscle groups is minimal. Another advantage is that you can do this exercise even if you have low back pain.
- Adjust the preacher bench and seat height.
- Place your armpits on top of the pad and hold the barbell with an underhand grip.
- Curl the barbell towards your shoulders by flexing your elbows.
- Lower the barbell slowly.
Pro tip: Try an EZ bar if you find using a straight bar uncomfortable on your wrists. (2)
Wide-grip barbell curls can help you build biceps that you will be proud of. You must execute the exercise correctly to avoid elbow, shoulder, and wrist injuries. Also, proper form will maximize the exercise’s effectiveness.
Use the wide-grip barbell curls and the variations mentioned in this article to get one step closer to the perfect beach body. You got this!
- Calik-Kutukcu E, Arikan H, Saglam M, Vardar-Yagli N, Oksuz C, Inal-Ince D, Savci S, Duger T, Coplu L. Arm strength training improves activities of daily living and occupational performance in patients with COPD. Clin Respir J. 2017 Nov;11(6):820-832. doi: 10.1111/crj.12422. Epub 2015 Dec 22. PMID: 26621050.
- Marcolin G, Panizzolo FA, Petrone N, Moro T, Grigoletto D, Piccolo D, Paoli A. Differences in electromyographic activity of biceps brachii and brachioradialis while performing three variants of curl. PeerJ. 2018 Jul 13;6:e5165. doi: 10.7717/peerj.5165. PMID: 30013836; PMCID: PMC6047503.
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February 13, 2024
Filip Maric, PT