There are few biceps exercises better than the preacher curl, mostly because it’s damn-near impossible to mess up. 

You’re anchored in place by a preacher curl bench, which stops you from “cheating” by swinging your upper body or arms back and forth like many people do with the dumbbell biceps curl.

As with any exercise, though, God is in the details. Fudge the fundamentals, and even an “idiot proof” exercise like the preacher curl can be made significantly less effective. 

In this article you’ll learn everything you need to know about the preacher curl, including what the preacher curl is, what the benefits of the preacher curl are, how to preacher curl with proper form, and five of the best preacher curl alternatives.

What Is a Preacher Curl?

The preacher curl—also known as the “EZ-bar preacher curl” or “bicep preacher curl”—is an isolation exercise for the biceps that’s similar to the barbell curl.

Traditionally, the preacher curl is performed using two pieces of equipment:

  • An EZ bar (pronounced “easy bar” and sometimes referred to as a “preacher curl bar”), which is a type of barbell with a slanted grip that’s designed to take some of the stress off your wrists during biceps and triceps exercises.
  • A preacher curl bench, which is a type of seated bench with a large pad that supports your upper arms and keep them in the correct position.

That said, there are several effective preacher curl variations you can do that don’t require an EZ bar or a preacher curl bench (more on this in a moment).

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Preacher Curl Benefits

1. It prevents you from “cheating.”

One of the biggest mistakes people make when doing biceps curls of any kind is using momentum to “cheat” the weight up. You’ve probably seen or done this yourself: swinging the hips and torso or arms back and forth to help hoist the weight up.

While this allows you to lift heavier weights and strokes the ego, it reduces the effectiveness of the exercise.

When you perform the preacher curl, however, the preacher curl bench prevents you from using “body English” to swing the weight to the top position. This forces your biceps to do the majority of the work, which can lead to more biceps growth over time. 

2. It places your upper arm in front of your body.

Research shows that one of the best ways to build proportional biceps is to use a variety of biceps exercises that put your upper arms in different positions relative to your torso.

In other words, to get the most biceps development possible, you should include exercises in your biceps workouts that place your arms in front of your torso, beside your torso, and behind your torso. 

As the preacher curl puts your upper arms well in front of your torso, it’s a worthwhile alternative to the more traditional biceps curls that have your arms at your sides.

3. It emphasizes the eccentric portion of the exercise.

With the preacher curl, you’re forced to control the eccentric (lowering) portion of each rep more so than with other types of biceps curls, which not only increases the safety of the exercise but makes it more effective.

How to Preacher Curl

The best way to learn how to preacher curl is to break the exercise into three parts: set up, curl, and descend.

Step 1: Set up

Load an EZ bar with the desired amount of weight and set it on the hooks of a preacher curl bench, then adjust the seat height so that your armpits rest on the top of the pad when you’re sitting on the seat.

Place your upper arms about shoulder-width apart on the pad, and grab the EZ bar with your palms facing up (supinated grip).

Step 2: Curl

Curl the bar up until your hands are in front of your shoulders, keeping your elbows on the pad throughout the movement.

As you curl the bar up, focus on squeezing your biceps—research shows this can increase the activation of your biceps muscles, which may lead to more muscle growth over time.

Step 3: Descend

Keeping your upper arms on the pad, reverse the movement and return to the starting position. 

Note: Don’t let the bar fall back to the starting position. The eccentric portion of the lift should take about the same amount of time as the concentric—or lifting—portion (normally about a second).

The 5 Best Preacher Curl Alternatives

1. Machine Preacher Curl

Machine Preacher Curl

Generally speaking, machines aren’t as effective as free weights for building muscle. However, the preacher curl machine can be useful if you’re new to weightlifting and trying to build a base level of strength before switching to free-weight variations of the preacher curl. 

It can also be a fun way to make your workouts more interesting, even if you’re proficient with the EZ-bar preacher curl.

How to:

  1. Adjust a preacher curl machine seat so that the top of the pad rests in your armpits while you’re sitting on the seat. 
  2. Place your upper arms about shoulder-width apart on the pad, and grab the handles with your palms facing up.
  3. Curl the handles up until your hands are in front of your shoulders, making sure to keep your elbows on the pad. 
  4. Lower the handles to return to the starting position.

2. Dumbbell Preacher Curl

Dumbbell Preacher Curl

The dumbbell preacher curl is very similar to the EZ-bar preacher curl, but by using dumbbells you train each arm independently, which helps prevent one arm from getting bigger or stronger than the other.

How to :

  1. Adjust a preacher curl bench so that the top of the pad rests in your armpits while you’re sitting on the seat.
  2. Grab a dumbbell in each hand, place your upper arms about shoulder-width apart on the pad, straighten your arms, and turn your wrists so that your palms are facing up.
  3. Curl the dumbbells up until your hands are in front of your shoulders, making sure to keep your elbows on the pad. 
  4. Lower the dumbbells to return to the starting position.

3. Barbell Preacher Curl

Barbell Preacher Curl

The main benefit of the barbell preacher curl is that it places your wrist in a fully supinated position (your palms are turned completely upward) which increases biceps activation during the exercise and may lead to more muscle growth. 

That said, some people find this position uncomfortable, so feel free to stick with the EZ-bar preacher curl if that’s true for you. 

How to:

  1. Adjust a preacher curl bench so that the top of the pad rests in your armpits while you’re sitting on the seat. 
  2. Place your upper arms about shoulder-width apart on the pad, and grab the barbell with your palms facing up.
  3. Curl the barbell up until your hands are in front of your shoulders, making sure to keep your elbows on the pad.
  4. Lower the bar to return to the starting position.

4. Cable Preacher Curl

Cable Preacher Curl

The main benefit of cable preacher curl over EZ-bar preacher curl is that by using a cable, there’s constant tension on your biceps throughout each rep (and in particular during the eccentric portion of each rep) which is beneficial for biceps growth. 

How to:

  1. Set the pulley on a cable machine to the lowest setting and attach a straight bar attachment.
  2. Move a preacher curl bench in front of the pulley and adjust the seat height so that the top of the pad rests in your armpits while you’re sitting on the seat.
  3. Place your upper arms about shoulder-width apart on the pad, and grab the bar with your palms facing up.
  4. Curl the bar up until your hands are in front of your shoulders, making sure to keep your elbows on the pad.
  5. Lower the bar to return to the starting position.

5. Standing Preacher Curl

Standing Preacher Curl

The standing preacher curl is a great variation if you have limited equipment because you only need an adjustable bench and a set of dumbbells to perform the exercise correctly. 

It also trains each arm independently, which means it’s useful for identifying and evening out any muscle or strength imbalances you might have.

How to:

  1. Set and adjustable bench to a 45-to-60 degree incline.
  2. Grab a dumbbell in your left hand and stand behind the bench (where your head would normally go when bench pressing).
  3. Place your left arm on the bench, then crouch so that the pad rests in your left armpit.
  4. Straighten your left arm and turn your wrist so that your palm is facing up.
  5. Curl the dumbbell up until your hand is in front of your left shoulder, keeping your elbow on the bench.
  6. Lower the dumbbell to return to the starting position.
  7. Once you’ve completed the desired number of reps, switch sides and repeat the process with your right arm.

FAQ #1: How can I do the preacher curl at home?

The best way to do preacher curls at home is using an adjustable bench and a set of dumbbells (the standing preacher curl).

If, however, you don’t have access to a bench, you can make do with any sturdy object that you can rest the back of your arm on at an inclined angle, like the back of a chair or sofa.

FAQ #2: How much does a preacher curl bar weigh?

There’s no standard weight for preacher curl bars, which means different bars weigh different amounts. 

That said, most preacher curl bars that are designed to work with Olympic plates (bars that have sleeves that are 2 inches in diameter) weigh between 10 and 25 pounds.

FAQ #3: Is it worth buying a preacher curl attachment for my home gym?

It depends.

Preacher curl attachments tend to be fairly bulky and can only be used for one exercise, so if space or budget are an issue with your home gym, it probably isn’t worth buying one.

What’s more, if you already have an adjustable bench and some dumbbells, you can substitute the standard preacher curl for the standing preacher curl without needing to buy a specific attachment.

That said, if you have the space and resources, a preacher curl attachment is a nice addition to any home gym, especially if growing your biceps is one of your main goals. 

+ Scientific References

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