How to Do Preacher Curls for Bigger Biceps

Jan 18, 2023 | Strength & Conditioning

Man doing single-arm dumbbell preacher curl in gym for bigger biceps.
Who doesn’t love hitting a good biceps workout and feeling that skin-splitting pump? The preacher curl is a great exercise for bulking up your biceps, but using the EZ bar isn’t the best option for everyone. To build juicy biceps without pissing off your elbow joint, follow this technique next time you do preacher curls.

Marc Lavallee is a tactical fitness coach with experience training Canadian military units in the Search and Rescue Technician (SAR-Tech) program. He currently coaches for a policing agency. In this blog, Marc explains how to do preacher curls based on your specific anatomy for noticeably bigger biceps without any pain in your elbow.

Mark Lavalee
Marc Lavallee

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A Better Setup for Bigger Arms

The preacher curl is a super popular, time-tested exercise often used to round out a solid back/biceps or arms day. Typically, you load up the EZ curl bar that sits in the bar holder to perform this exercise. But I want to share a few tweaks for a better setup, one that is tailored to your body specifically and gets you beefier biceps without risking injury.

Your training age (the amount of time and years you spent working out, aka gym experience) dictates how tolerable the EZ bar biceps curl is for you. If you’ve been training smart and effectively during your training career, you may experience zero nagging injuries in your shoulders, elbows, and/or wrists.

But let’s be honest. Most of us started off going “full send” and pushing the limits too fast and too soon without much thought about technique. All that mattered was the weight on the bar, the dumbbell used, or the stack on the machine. There was a lot of ego-lifting early on (especially in high school and college years for many of us).

I admit I’m just as guilty of this early on and made a lot of mistakes, which is partly why I became a strength coach.

Don’t make the mistakes I did by ego-lifting, especially when it comes to the preacher curl. For the biggest biceps gains, leave the ego at home and try this technique instead.

Consider Your Carrying Angle

I take a more functional anatomy and biomechanics approach when it comes to training biceps. And for that reason, I recommend ditching the EZ bar and swapping it out for dumbbells instead. Actually just one dumbbell.

I already hear you saying to yourself and asking me, “Why!?” When looking at the elbow and joint angle more closely, notice how each one of us has a different anatomy makeup. This dictates different positioning for biceps curls for everyone. As it should.

This is referred to as the carrying angle and is very similar to the Q-angle of the hip and knee. To find your own carrying angle, stand straight with your arms at your side and palms facing forward in front of a mirror. Examine how your elbow angles away from the body. That’s your carrying angle.

Former PGA Tour player Larry Rinkle explains it in more detail in the first 45 seconds of this video:

When you think about differing carrying angles, it’s not hard to understand why the EZ bar might not be the best position for everyone. If you feel discomfort, it’s not worth pissing off your elbow and risking injury.

How to Do Preacher Curls Based On Your Anatomy

For a biceps pump that is best suited for your unique carrying angle, I recommend doing a single-arm dumbbell preacher curl.

To do this, angle your body to the side to match your carrying angle. Your forearm should still fall straight on the preacher curl pad, but your upper arm should be angled to avoid torque at your elbow.

You get the best angle of attack to hit your biceps without aggravating your elbows by doing it this way. You’re also putting your upper arm closer in scaption, which means angling your upper arm in a straight line with your scapula (shoulder blade). This is great for your joint and shoulder health down the line!

Another favorite of mine is a technique from the late Charles Poliquin. He wrote a few books on developing massive arms and he loved the single-arm preacher curl!

He often used a pronated grip position for the curl on the way up and a semi-pronated neutral grip on the way down. Basically, this means your palm faces up when you curl up and rotate to a hammer curl position on the way down.

Next time you’re in the gym, consider your carrying angle and maybe ditch the EZ bar. Give the single-arm dumbbell or Charles Poliquin variation a try for healthier joints, bigger biceps, and better longevity with your lifting.

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