Skip to Content

What Bicep Head Do Barbell Curls Work? (Long or Short)

If you’re wondering what bicep head barbell curls work, then you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we look at whether barbell curls focus on the short or long head, how to target each head more throughout the exercise, as well as looking at the anatomy of your biceps and which other muscles play a part in the movement.

woman doing barbell curls

What Bicep Head Do Barbell Curls Work?

Barbell curls are a great bicep-building exercise. 

Depending on the placement of your hands (i.e. the width of your grip), you can work both heads of your bicep with this exercise.

While many people stick to just one variation of barbell curls, using multiple grip positions can result in bigger biceps much quicker than just relying on the standard barbell curl.

How To Target The Short Head More During Barbell Curls

The short head of your bicep is the head that appears to add width to your upper arms.

Having a defined short head commonly makes your biceps look much fuller and can give the appearance of bigger biceps.

Targeting the short head can be easily done by adopting a wider grip on the barbell.

Ideally, your grip should be wider than shoulder-width to ensure that your short head engages as much as possible during the movement. 

Something to consider when doing wide grip barbell curls is that your range of movement will be less.

This can result in barbell curls hurting your wrists, so you may need to start with a light weight before increasing, as you get more experienced with this variation.

Another good exercise that works the short head are spider curls, so you should include these in your workout if you want to build wider biceps.

How To Target The Long Head More During Barbell Curls

To put more focus on the long head of your biceps during a barbell curl, a narrow grip should be used.

Working the long head more can result in some big size gains.

This is the exercise that can add a bigger peak to your biceps, which tends to be what people are aiming for when they say they want bigger arms.

A narrow grip means that your arms are placed on the barbell less than shoulder-width apart.

Like with the wide grip variation, changing your hand position on the bar can take a bit of getting used to.

But, once you’ve mastered it, this is a great exercise for building bigger and stronger biceps.

What Other Muscles Do Barbell Curls Target?

When using the correct technique, barbell curls primarily target your biceps. Secondary muscles, such as your forearms, work in barbell curls too.

Your bicep’s main function is to flex your elbow. As this is the main movement in a barbell curl, it makes complete sense that these are the main muscles being worked.

Your forearms could be seen as the supporting muscles during barbell curls. 

While they aren’t doing much of the heavy lifting, they certainly benefit and can get bigger and stronger through performing the movement.

Your core muscles also play a role in the exercise. They help keep your body upright and stable during barbell curls so they’re pretty important too.

Whether focussing on the inner or the outer head of your biceps, barbell curls are a great exercise for building bigger and stronger arms. 

Providing the correct technique is used, bigger biceps (and forearms) can be achieved in a relatively short period of time.

The Anatomy Of Biceps

The biceps consists of 2 heads – the outer (long) head and the inner (short) head.

Both of these heads can be targeted by different exercises. This is an important point for anyone looking to build bigger arms.

If we take bodybuilders as an example, they want their biceps to look as big as possible during competitions.

In this situation, putting more emphasis on the outer head of the biceps could be more beneficial as it’s this that tends to cause a bigger “peak” in the biceps compared to the inner head.

That isn’t to say you only need to work your outer head to get bigger arms though.

It simply means that in certain situations, working on one head more than the other can be beneficial for your fitness goals.


In summary:

  • Barbell curls work both bicep heads.
  • To target the short head more, use a wider grip.
  • Using a narrower grip will work the long head more.

Hope this helped!


Biceps Anatomy

Barbell Curls Muscles Worked