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Barbell Curls vs Concentration Curls: Which Exercise Is Better?

Many serious gym goers desire strong upper arms.

Lots of time, effort, and a range of exercises are needed to get those bulging biceps that so many of us dream of.

Knowing if certain arm exercises are better than others can help you choose which ones to add to your workouts and which ones might not work for you.

In this article, we compare the two popular arm exercises of barbell curls and concentration curls.

What’s The Difference Between Barbell Curls And Concentration Curls?

The first difference between barbell curls and concentration curls is that barbell curls use a barbell (obviously) while concentration curls use a dumbbell.

The second difference is that barbell curls work both arms simultaneously whereas concentration curls work each arm independently.

A third difference is that barbell curls tend to be performed in a standing position with free movement of your arms.

Whereas, concentration curls are done sitting on a bench with your leg acting as a support and movement limiter for your working arm.

Which Is Better For Building Biceps?

When it comes to building biceps, a lot of it comes down to placing your biceps under stress which forces them to get stronger, develop, and grow.

Concentration curls place quite a bit more stress on your biceps than barbell curls resulting in your biceps working much harder.

This leads to increased growth.

Concentration curls are thought to be one of the most effective exercises for building biceps, so it’s a very effective arm exercise.

Which Is Better For Building Forearms?

Barbell curls use your forearms as stabilizing muscles.

While this doesn’t put a lot of stress on them, it causes them to activate meaning they’re still having to work during the exercise.

As concentration curls do a good job of isolating your biceps, barbell curls are a better choice for building your forearms.

Difficulty Level

Barbell Curls

Provided that you’re trying to lift a weight suitable to your current fitness levels, barbell curls are a pretty easy exercise to do.

The movement and technique are both relatively simple to learn, so you shouldn’t have too many issues with barbell curls.

Concentration Curls

Although the working movement of concentration curls is similar to that in barbell curls, the change in position can cause some difficulties.

The bent-over seated position can put increased pressure on your lower back which can cause problems. 

The technique of concentration curls can also be quite challenging as your bicep is completely isolated as you’re bracing your arm with your supporting leg.

This prevents other muscle groups from assisting meaning your bicep has to work very hard to make the movement happen.

Concentration curls are by no means an easy exercise.

The Verdict

Concentration curls are harder than barbell curls.

Your working bicep is isolated so has to work much harder than it would during barbell curls where other muscles activate to varying degrees to assist in the movement.

Ease of Access

Barbell Curls

As a barbell and weight plates are all that you need for barbell curls, they have great ease of access.

Barbells and weight plates are standard pieces of gym equipment so you should have a range of different bars and weight plates to choose from at your local gym.

Concentration Curls

Dumbbells are widely available in gyms so you tend to have a good variety to choose from. 

Concentration curls only require one dumbbell to perform so ease of access is high.

You do need a bench to sit on for concentration curls, but again, these are pretty common in gyms.

The Verdict

Barbell curls and concentration curls have great ease of access.

All the equipment needed for both exercises is what you would expect to find in all gyms, so finding what you need for each exercise shouldn’t be too hard.

As you need a bench for concentration curls, this can give barbell curls a slight advantage in ease of access.


Barbell Curls

Having a wider grip on the bar during barbell curls will put more focus on building your bicep peak, while close grip barbell curls focus more on building the width of your biceps.

You could also switch from a supinated (palms-up) grip to a pronated (palms-down) grip to bring in additional muscles to the exercise.

Barbell curls have a reasonable number of variations so they are quite a versatile exercise.

Concentration Curls

You can use a standing bent-over position for concentration curls instead of a sitting position. It’s worth keeping in mind though that this can increase the pressure placed on your lower back.

Using a weight plate or a kettlebell for concentration curls instead of a dumbbell can help you find the right variation for you too.

The Verdict

You’ll have a greater choice of variations with barbell curls than you will with concentration curls.

This is mainly because concentration curls are all about isolating your biceps so the exercise is quite restrictive.

While you can change your position and equipment used slightly, barbell curls have much greater levels of variability. 

Barbell Curls vs Concentration Curls: Which Is Better?

There’s no doubt that both of these exercises have earned a place in effective arm workouts.

The one you finally decide is better though will come down to what you’re trying to achieve and which one you prefer. 

Barbell curls offer an easier arm exercise than concentration curls and have more variability of the two.

Concentration curls isolate your biceps more so can help build bigger and stronger upper arm muscles and they also have good ease of access.

Both exercises are great arm builders so there could even be room for both in your workouts!


Barbell Curls Muscles Worked

Concentration Curls