Total Shape is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission. Learn more.

10 Best Curl Bar Exercises to Build Massive Arms (2022 Upd.)

Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: August 19, 2022

A lot of folks who venture into the weight room wind up doing the bicep curl over and over again, gradually adding weight over time. But as lifting guru Mark Rippetoe says...

Lifting more weight is not always the same thing as getting stronger.

By that, he means that to really make your biceps explode, you need to mix things up.

You need to grab the curl bar of the gym and do reverse curls, drop sets, 21s, build your own meal plan, and more. Variation is key to growth and progress.

Fret no more, because we've spent hours researching, and come up with a list of the 10 best curl bar exercises that will help you build massive guns and keep your upper chest up high.

Read on to find out more.

Summary of the Key Findings:

  • Discover 10 different exercises that use curl bar for maximum upper chest results.
  • If you’re looking for bicep growth, the preacher curl is the best choice.
  • The reverse grip curl is excellent for your upper arms.
  • If you like to workout with a friend, do the back and forth curl.
  • Do overhead triceps to avoid saggy biceps.

Top 10 Exercises Using a Curl Bar

These curl bar exercises work the entire upper arm, including both heads of the biceps and triceps.

Let’s take a look at 10 of them.


1. Preacher Curl

Preacher Curl

The promise of the preacher curl is simple: you’ll get bigger biceps.

Studies show that during this type of curl bar exercise, activation of the bicep is at its maximum due to the support of the preacher bench, so it helps you build muscle.

Here’s how you do the preacher curl:

Step 1 - Adjust the height of the preacher bench so that it comes in contact with your armpits. Grasp the barbell with a standard palms-up grip (underhand grip) with hands at shoulder width.

Step 2 - Keep the back of your arms firmly against the equipment and curl upwards until vertical. Lower the bar slowly over the course of about 3 seconds. Repeat it any number of times that you want.

2. ​Reverse Grip Curl

Reverse Grip Curl

The reverse curl bar exercise helps you achieve more fully realized upper arms by working muscles not always targeted by standard bicep curl including those at the top of the forearm.

Here is how you do it:

Step 1 - ​Start by standing upright—hands and feet shoulder width, elbows close in to the sides, palms facing downward (overhand grip).

Step 2 - ​Moving only the forearms, curl the bar upward while breathing out until it’s as close to vertical as possible. Squeeze the bicep while holding things there for a second, then slowly return to the starting position while breathing in. Repeat.

3. ​Varied Grip Curl

Varied Grip Curl

The bicep has 2 heads—the long and (little understood) short head. The positioning of your hands as you do curl bar exercises influences which head is emphasized.

Since you want both heads to benefit from your exercise, it’s important to vary the way you grasp the curl bar. Here’s the best way to incorporate this into your routine:

Step 1 - Choose a particular type of curl and with each subsequent exercise, increase the width of your hold by 2 inches, beginning with the hands close together and moving outward.

Step 2 - An alternative approach is to increase the width of your curl bar grip by 2 inches with each set of reps within the same exercise.

4. Back and Forth Curl

Back and Forth Curl

To perform the back and forth curl bar exercise, you require a training buddy.

One of you will set the challenge and the other takes it up, back and forth until neither can continue anymore.

This exercise results in serious bicep pumps but is not for the faint-hearted.

Step 1 - Start by gripping the curl bar just as you would do with bicep curl.

Perform a set of curls to failure rather than to any particular number. When you’ve finished, pass the barbell to your gym training partner whose challenge is to do more curls than you did.

Step 2 - When your training partner is done, they should pass the barbell back to you and once again, you perform a set to failure before passing the bar back to them to see if they can surpass what you did.

Related Article:

5. Close Grip Curl

Close Grip Curl

With this type of curl bar exercise, you’re executing a standard curl but with your hands in close and your elbows pinned to your sides.

Step 1 - Stand with feet at shoulder width. With elbows close in, grab the bar with both hands, underhand grip, and no more than 8 to 12 inches apart. Exhale as you raise the bar until your forearms touch your bicep. Flex your biceps for a second at the top.

Step 2 - Slowly return the bar to the standing position, inhaling as you do. Repeat this close grip bench press exercise to your desired number of reps.

6. Drop Set

Drop Set

The drop set curl was designed to allow you to press on past the initial failure point, with the goal being to max out the potential growth you achieve during each exercise.  [1]

Here’s how it’s done:

Step 1 - Using 5-pound plates, load the bar with the maximum amount of weight you think you can do 6 reps with. Then perform a set of curls to failure.

Step 2 - Now remove 1 plate from each side of the bar and curl to failure again. Then remove another plate and curl to failure again. Repeat until you’ve reached the final set of plates.

7. Upright Rows

Upright Rows

The unique shape of the barbell of your gym allows you to use it for more than just standard curls. The upright row is a perfect example.

Because of the curve in the bar, you’re able to raise your arms higher than you could with a straight bar and thereby activate your traps. [2]

Here’s how you do it:

Step 1 - Start with the bar parallel to the floor and hold with an overhand grip with the hands close together, arms extended, and knees slightly bent. Keep your shoulders back and raise the bar as high as you possibly can. Hold for a few seconds.

Step 2 - Slowly return the bar to the starting position and repeat. Make sure to maintain the overhand grip to keep it secure.

8. Overhead Triceps Extensions

Overhead Triceps Extensions

As they age, people will notice that the tissue under their bicep will start to sag. [3] Most simply accept these saggy triceps. But you don’t have to.

Overhead triceps extension curls will help keep that area toned. Here’s how they’re done:

Step 1 - Stand straight with feet shoulder distance apart. Grab the bar with a close overhand grip. Lift the bar to your chin then press it overhead.

Carefully lower the bar behind your head. Then raise it, arms extended straight upward.

Step 2 - Slowly return the bar to its starting position behind your head and repeat. Ideally, you’ll have a spotter working with you since dropping the bar in this position could be dangerous.

9. 21s


If you’re interested in creating savage-looking biceps then you’ll want to explore 21s. “21” in this case refers to the number of reps per complete set, with each set comprised of 3 segments each requiring 7 reps.

Here’s how you do them:

Step 1 - Stand upright, hands at shoulder width, bar grasped with a standard underhand grip. Elbows should be tucked in closely to your sides.

Step 2 - Go from rest position to a 90-degree angle and back to rest 7 times. Then from a 90-degree angle to fully vertical and then back to 90 degrees 7 times. Then from at rest to fully vertical 7 times.

10. 100s


100s get their name from the fact that you’re going to do 100 reps total over 3 segments of each set. This exercise will help build muscle endurance as well as strength.

Load up 40 percent of the weight you would normally use to do 6-8 reps. Then do the following:

Step 1 - Start by doing 50 reps with a standard underhand grip. Don’t rush it or break form. 50 reps at a nice, steady pace. Then rest for no more than 2 minutes max.

Step 2 - Now do 30 reps. Again, no rushing or bad form. When finished, cop another 2 minutes of rest and do 20 reps. Repeat to failure.


What’s the Difference Between a Curl Bar and Straight Bar?

The main difference between curl bar and straight bars rests mainly on the weight and shape of the bar and the positioning of the hands on the bar.

EZ curl bars undulate in a W-type of shape that allows for more natural positioning of the hands. This is particularly useful when doing various curls requiring close and overhand grip.

In fact, as the name implies, an EZ curl bar is used almost exclusively to perform various types of curls that target and build specific muscles, as opposed to, say, the squat, which targets a whole range of muscles.

What Muscles Do Curls Work?

Curls work the bicep and tricep muscles. They also lead to minor improvements on grip strength.

For some people, that’s enough. However, others want to develop the entire arm muscle from wrist to shoulder, and that’s certainly understandable as well.

But as two-time Mr. Universe Lou Ferrigno says, “You have to work hard for any kind of meaningful forearm development.”

So if you are looking for well-balanced arms, consider many of the training variations listed above that also target the forearms.

Final Thoughts

Incorporating a curl bar on your workout routine will transform your arms from their current unremarkable state into legendary limbs in fairly short order.

In fact, if you work your biceps to failure 3 times a week, you should start to see a real, measurable difference in less than a month.

Remember that having strong arms provides a range of practical benefits as well as makes you look like the Terminator. But no one can do it for you.

So what are you waiting for? Grab an EZ curl bar and get busy. 

The Herculean arms you’ve always wanted are just a few dozen workouts away.

Perhaps you could also do several squats to help you have firmer leg muscles.


  1. NCBI, Effects of drop sets with resistance training on increases in muscle CSA, strength, and endurance: a pilot study, retrieved from
  2. McAllister MJ, Schilling BK, Hammond KG, Weiss LW, Farney TM., Effect of grip width on electromyographic activity during the upright row., retrieved from
  3. Silke K. Schagen, Vasiliki A. Zampeli, Evgenia Makrantonaki, Christos C. Zouboulis, Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging, retrieved from

Was this article helpful?

About The Author

You May Also Like

2 thoughts on “10 Best Ez Curl Bar Exercises
Variations to Build Bigger Arms

  1. I’m new to fitness and I’ve been having a mental block on what workouts to do with a curl bar. Thanks for these suggestions!

  2. Hello, everything is going perfectly here and ofcourse every one is
    sharing data, that’s truly excellent, keep up writing.

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published.