Preacher curls are one of the classic mass-building exercises for mass. They were a favourite of bodybuilding legend Larry Scott and still work awesome today. But there are so many grips to choose from! What is the best grip for preacher curls? Let’s find out!
- Part 1: Preacher Ez-Bar Curl Variations
- Part 2: Preacher Ez-Bar Curl Sample Routine!
- Part 3: Preacher Dumbbell Curl Variations
- Part 4: Preacher Dumbbell Curl Sample Routine!
- Part 5: Summary
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you everything there is to know about the best grips for preacher curls.
You will learn how varying your grip on ez-bar preacher curls and dumbbell preacher curls allows you to emphasize different muscle groups.
I will also give you two unbelievable effective preacher curl routines that you can’t find anywhere else! Trust me, you don’t want to miss this cutting-edge information!
Note: if you have any trouble reading the routines presented here then check out this article on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Preacher Ez-Bar Curl Variations
One of the most difficult things about preacher ez-bar curls is deciding which grip to use! In reality there are four separate grips that you can choose from.
First of all you have to decide whether to use a supinated (underhand) grip or a pronated (overhand grip). You also have to decide whether to use a narrow grip or a wide grip on the ez-bar.
In total this means there are four separate grips to choose from! Most people just randomly pick one of these grips and start curling.
However, this is a big mistake if you want to maximize your gains in the gym. Each grip has its place in your overall training plan.
However, you MUST understand how changing the grip targets different parts of the elbow flexors. Only once you understand your anatomy can you make an informed decision about which grip to use!
This topic is so important that we are going to quickly examine the supinated (underhand) and pronated (overhand) grips separately.
The Supinated Grip
As a general rule of thumb, whenever you use a supinated grip on a curling exercise you are primarily targeting the biceps brachii.
The brachialis contributes a little bit to curling with a supinated grip, but the lion’s share of the work goes directly on the biceps.
The decision of whether to use a narrow grip or wide grip during your supinated curls also impacts which muscles are recruited the most.
The wider your grip is, the more you will recruit the long head of the biceps. This is the portion of the biceps responsible for the biceps “peak.”
On the other hand, you will recruit the short head of the biceps more when you use a narrow grip. The short head of the biceps is the one on the inside of your arm, or closer to your body.
This all tells us that if you were doing a workout with preacher ez-bar curls and you wanted to target the long head of the biceps, then you would use a narrow supinated grip.
On the other hand, if you wanted to target the short head of the biceps a little more than you would use a wide supinated grip.
The Pronated grip
When you curl with a pronated grip you are primarily targeting the brachialis muscle. The brachialis is one of the muscles that “flex” the upper arm (bends the elbow).
It doesn’t get nearly as much love as the biceps brachii muscle, but it is at least as important for developing a big, strong upper body.
When you curl with a pronated grip it actually doesn’t matter all that much whether you use a narrow or wide grip on the ez-bar!
In both cases the brachialis will be primarily responsible for lifting the load. Don’t get me wrong, both grips should be used in your training.
If you use only a narrow pronated grip or only a narrow wide grip on preacher ez-bar curls then you may hit a training plateau sooner than someone who rotated between both grips after a few workouts on each.
Part 2: Preacher Ez-Bar Curl Sample Routines
By now you should have a good grasp of how different grips will allow you to place emphasis on different muscles during preacher ez-bar curls.
Let’s use this information to design a couple of extremely effective preacher ez-bar curl routines!
Routine #1: Mechanical Advantage Drop Sets
One of my favourite preacher curl routines of all time is actually a mechanical advantage drop set for the elbow flexors!
I can’t take full credit for this one though – Charles Poliquin planted the seed in my mind for this routine.
Let’s dive right into the details. Don’t worry, I’ll give you a detailed explanation of how to do the routine afterwards.
Here is the routine:
- A1: Preacher ez-bar curls (narrow / pronated grip), 4 x 6-8, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Preacher ez-bar curls (wide / pronated grip), 4 x AMRAP**, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Preacher ez-bar curls (wide / supinated grip), 4 x AMRAP**, 3/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A4: Preacher ez-bar curls (narrow / supinated grip), 4 x AMRAP**, 3/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
**AMRAP stands for “as many reps as possible.” Use the exact same weight that you used for the A1 exercise and perform as many reps as you can in good form.
On each of these four exercises you are going to use the exact same weight. This means if you used 100 pounds on your “A1” exercise, then that weight stays the same for exercises A2-A4.
When you perform each of these 4 exercises in a row with only 10 seconds rest in between each variation, that counts as 1 mechanical advantage drop set.
Your goal for the routine is to complete 4 mechanical advantage drop sets! This is quite a bit of volume but I am confident you can pull this off.
If you are having a crappy day then feel free to just do 1 or 2 mechanical advantage drop sets for the day and go home.
The reason this routine works is that we are starting with the weakest of the 4 grips: the narrow pronated grip. Each time we switch grips we are moving to a grip where we are slightly stronger.
We end up finishing with the narrow supinated grip, which is actually our strongest grip on the preacher ez-bar curl!
The fact that we are going from our weakest to our strongest grip means that will not have too much trouble squeezing out additional reps on each portion of the mechanical advantage drop set.
However, the brachialis is probably hit the hardest on this routine. If you have a weak brachialis muscle then this routine is highly recommended!
Part 3: Preacher Dumbbell Curl Variations
Performing preacher curls with a dumbbell can be just as confusing as performing preacher curls with an ez-curl bar. This is because there are so many different grips that you can use with a dumbbell!
There is the supinated (underhand) grip, the neutral (hammer) grip, and the pronated (overhand) grip. There is also a grip called the “offset-grip” which can be applied in many situations.
Let’s dive right into the thick of things!
The supinated grip is going to primarily target the biceps brachii muscle, although the brachialis will still be stimulated a little bit.
As a general rule of thumb the preacher curl is a bit better at stimulating the short head of the biceps as opposed to the long head of the biceps.
If you are looking for a great exercise to stimulate the biceps brachii, particularly the short head, then you’ve found one!
The neutral grip primarily recruits the brachioradialis muscle. This is the large muscle sitting on the top / outside of your forearm.
Believe it or not this forearm muscle actually plays a significant role in flexing the upper arm!
This also happens to be the grip where you can lift the most loads. I would not be surprised if you can lift at least 10% more weight with the neutral grip vs the supinated grip!
The pronated grip is best suited for targeting the brachialis muscle.
The brachialis tends to be extremely weak in most people. If this is the case then you may find that you have to use significantly less weight here vs with a supinated grip.
How do you know if your brachialis is too weak? Simple: you should be able to reverse curl approximately 82% of the weight that you can curl with a supinated grip.
If your reverse curl performance is worse than this then you need to start working on strengthening your brachialis right now!
This is a special type of grip that you can use on all of your pronated and supinated DB preacher curls.
Normally you will hold the middle of the dumbbell handle. With the offset grip I want you to hold it so that your pinky is touching the inside of the dumbbell!
Your pinky should literally be pressed right up against the rubber part of the weight. This will force the short head of your biceps brachii and your brachialis to work a bit harder than normal.
The Zottman Curl
OK, this is more of an exercise than a grip, but I feel it is worth talking about here. The Zottman Curl combines a supinated grip and a pronated grip into one unbelievable effective movement!
The idea is to curl the weight up with a supinated grip, then pronate your hands at the top before lowering the weight back down.
We already know that you are stronger with a supinated grip than you are with a pronated grip. What this means is that you can lower a weight down with a pronated grip that you would otherwise have a very hard time lifting.
This means we are eccentrically overloading the brachialis muscle! How cool is that? Seriously, the zottman curl is easily one of my favourite exercises of all time for training the elbow flexors.
I highly recommend you give it a try!
Part 4: Preacher Dumbbell Curl Sample Routine!
Let’s examine a typical strength-building routine for the brachialis muscle using the dumbbell preacher curl.
5 x 5 Routine:
- A1: Unilateral preacher zottman curl (offset grip), 5 x 5, 4/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: 45 degree incline dumbbell curl (supinated grip), 5 x 5, 2/0/2/0, 180 seconds rest
This is an absolutely fantastic intensification style workout for developing literally all of the elbow flexors!
Don’t let the lower training volume fool you: this is a highly effective training routine!
The zottman curls primarily targets the brachialis and the brachioradialis, although the short head of the biceps also receives a good amount of stimulation.
Basically, this routine thrashes all of the muscle fibers in the elbow flexors family of muscles!
I think it would be a great idea to train your biceps together with your triceps on this routine. I will leave it up to you to figure out how you want to organize your triceps exercises.
Again let’s take a look at some exercise videos to make sure we have the form down:
Understanding the best grip for preacher curls doesn’t have to be a difficult task! As long as you know your anatomy then things will always make sense.
1. Supinated grips are best for targeting the biceps brachii.
If you are using an ez-bar then a narrow grip targets the long head more, while a wide grip targets the short head more.
2. Neutral grips are best for targeting the brachioradialis.
This is the muscle that sits on top of your forearm.
3. A pronated grip is best for targeting the brachialis.
Both a wide grip and close grip are viable options when using an ez-bar. With dumbbells I am particularly fond of the Zottman curl as you may have noticed.
And there you have it!
You now have everything you need to know to start playing around with your grip on preacher curls!
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck with your strength training endeavors!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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