What is a bicep preacher curl? (A guide for bodybuilders)


What is a bicep preacher curl

What is a bicep preacher curl?

In this article, we will look at the various ways to perform the bicep preacher curl as well as variations of the exercise to target different heads of the bicep. But first, what is a bicep preacher curl?

Preacher curls are a resistance exercise that target the bicep muscles in the upper arm. This curling exercise isolates the bicep and allows you to focus on the squeeze rather than stabilising your body. The preacher curl is one of the most popular, bicep building exercises in bodybuilding. 

Muscles used with preacher curls.

What is a bicep preacher curl?


Both bicep heads are targeted through a preacher curl. It is possible to put more emphasis on each head by narrowing or widening your grip. Your forearms are also activated as you are flexing at the elbow and stabilising your wrists. 

Your stabilising back and core muscles are not activated as you are using the bench to stop your arms and body from moving. This allows great muscle connection to the bicep and isolation if you have just completed a heavy back day. 

How to perform a bicep preacher curl.

Equipment required.

To perform a bicep preacher curl you will need a preacher bench and an EZ bar with plates. If you're lucky, your gym may have a preacher curl machine. These are great as the allow you to quickly change the weight for drop sets and pyramid sets. 

Using a preacher bench.

Sit on the bench with your chest against the armrest and rest your upper arms on top. Grip the bar on the inner handle, giving you a close grip with your palms facing upwards. Take a deep breath in, as you exhale slowly curl the bar towards your chin. Hold the position and squeeze your biceps before slowly lowering the bar and straightening your arms.

Do not rest your bar on the rack between each rep to keep the muscle under tension. It is advisable to start with a low weight and slow movements. If you are looking for hypertrophy, sets of 15+ are advisable. For strength this can be lowered to 5-8 reps. 

Advantages of the bicep preacher curl.

This bicep preacher curl is an isolation exercise that focuses on both bicep heads. The advantage to using a preacher bench over a traditional barbell curl is that you can really connect to the muscle and focus all concentration on the bicep. You do not need to worry about stabilising muscles, keeping straight arms or following perfect form as it is almost impossible to perform it incorrectly. If you are struggling to make your biceps pop with traditional curls, give preacher curls a go.

Disadvantages of the bicep preacher curl.

As mentioned above, the bicep preacher curl is purely a bicep isolation exercise. If you are a beginner, it is advisable to start with traditional bicep curls as it promotes strength in your stabiliser muscles around the arms, back and core. 

The only real downside to the bicep preacher curl is the risk of injury. As long as you use a reasonably light weight and warm-up well, injury is unlikely. If you jump straight in with a heavy weight without warming up, you run the risk of detaching or tearing your biceps. 

Variations of the bicep preacher curl.

Machine preacher curl.

Preacher machines are becoming a common sight in commercial gyms. The allow you to perform the same movement as a traditional preacher bench but with a smoother motion. Using a preacher curl machine is great for drop sets and pyramid sets as you can adjust the weight with the pin instead of unloading a barbell bar. 

Dumbbell Preacher Curl

Dumbbell bicep preacher curl
The preacher curl can also be performed with dumbbells. The main advantage of using dumbbells instead of a barbell is that you can focus on one arm at a time. This allows for an even greater mind/muscle connection. 

The second advantage is that you can find a more comfortable grip. This is great if you suffer from bad wrist mobility and find an EZ bar hard to work with. Using a hammer grip is also a great option if you want to target the short head of the biceps. 

The third advantage is that you do not even need a dedicated preacher bench in your gym. As long as you have an incline dumbbell bench, you can stand behind it and rest the back of your arm on the backrest. This is only really possible with dumbbells or single cable stirrups as you will struggle to fit two arms on the bench at the same time.

Cable preacher curls.

Cable preacher curl on an incline bench

Cable preacher curls can be performed in much the same way as a dumbbell preacher curl. If you have a movable bicep preacher bench at your gym, just wheel it over to the cables and attach an EZ bar on a low pin. If you are using an incline bench, you will need to use a stirrup or single rope attachment. 

The movement is the same as other preacher curl exercises with the added benefit of quick weight selection for drop sets. 

If you do not have an incline bench or preacher bench, it is possible to perform the curl by crouching down and resting your elbows on your knees. If you opt for this method, you need to make sure that you are crouched very near to the cable to get tension on the upward movement of the curl. 

Can I use an arm blaster instead of a preacher bench?

If all of the above options are not possible, there is always the arm blaster. The arm blaster has been around since the 70s and is a viable alternative to a preacher curl. The strap fits around your body and provides armrests so that you don't have to worry about keeping your upper arms in line. You will be engaging your core and back muscles as stabilisers so it is not as good as the previous options. 

It is arguable that this is just a way to keep a strict range of motion during a standard bicep curl, but if there is no preacher bench, incline bench or cables, it is still a great alternative.

What is a bicep preacher curl alternative

Barbell Curl

Dumbbell Curl

Cable Curl

Spider Curls

Drag Curls


If you want to really isolate and target the bicep muscle, there is no better exercise than a preacher curl. You are not expending energy on supporting the movement or stabilisting the arms, everything can be focussed purely onto the biceps.

Preacher Curls FAQs

Can I do this exercise without a preacher bench?
Preacher curls can be performed without a dedicated preacher bench. Simply stand behind an incline bench with a dumbell and rest your working arm on the back pad. Use the bench at its steepest incling so that it is almost vertical.

Should I get pain from preacher curls?
If performed with good form and a manageable weight, preacher curls should not cause pain in your forearms or biceps. If they  do, drop the weight and put more focus on slow movement and time-under-tension. 

Do preacher curls hit both bicep heads?
If you are using a neutral grip, a preacher curl will work both bicep heads. You can use a wide grip or a narrow, hammer grip if you want to target the inner or outer heads.

Are preacher curls the best bicep exercise?
As a bicep exercise, there is probably no better isolation eercise than a preacher curl. The fact that your core and upper body are supported means that you can put all of your attention and focus into connecting with the bicep. 


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