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Drag Curls vs Barbell Curls (Which Is Best For Biceps?)

Barbell curls are a very popular and well-known arm exercise.

Drag curls aren’t as common, but are still a very effective arm-building exercise.

If you’re keen to keep your arm workouts interesting, varied, and exciting, you probably have looked at adding in new exercises.

Knowing whether you should add barbell curls or drag curls to your training routine can be a difficult decision to make. Especially if you’re unsure which is the better exercise.

In this article, we compare barbell curls and drag curls to see if one really is better than the other.

Woman doing a barbell curl

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

There are some similarities between barbell curls and drag curls, such as the equipment needed and some of the working muscles in each exercise.

However, the main difference comes in the movement required.

Barbell curls use flexion of the elbow to create the movement, whereas drag curls have more of a pulling motion. 

Which Is Better For Building Biceps?

Both exercises are great for building your biceps.

The advantage that drag curls have over barbell curls is the ability to move more weight during the exercise.

During barbell curls, the weight is “lifted” from the lowest position to the highest position in the movement.

In drag curls, the weight is “pulled” (or dragged) up your body to the top end of the exercise.

This means you can move more weight with your biceps using drag curls than you can barbell curls.

As you can overload your biceps more during drag curls, there’s a good argument that they’re slightly better at building biceps than barbell curls.

Which Is Better For Building Forearms?

Neither of these exercises alone will build your forearms.

However, your forearm muscles will certainly activate to some degree during both.

Barbell curls work your forearms more simply because the weight is being moved from a further distance away from your body.

Drag curls keep the weight closer to you so less stabilisation from your forearms is required.

Difficulty Level

Barbell Curls

Barbell curls have a low difficulty level as they only require flexion of your elbow to generate the movement.

As this is pretty easy for most people to achieve, barbell curls aren’t particularly difficult to perform.

That being said, the technique and the amount of weight being lifted can make them a challenging addition to your workouts.

Barbell curls have an easy physiological movement, but still challenge the working muscles enough for them to grow and develop.

Drag Curls

Drag curls, like barbell curls, are a pretty easy exercise to perform from a physiological standpoint.

The movement itself is a little more complex, but is still relatively simple for most people to do correctly.

When it comes to the technique and the weight being lifted though, drag curls can put a lot of stress on your biceps which can make them quite a challenging exercise.

The movement of drag curls is pretty easy to master, but the stress it places on your biceps can take some getting used to.

The Verdict

Drag curls have a slightly higher difficulty level than barbell curls.

This is mainly because of the increased stress drag curls place on your biceps.

While barbell curls put a lot of focus on your biceps too, drag curls do a better job of overloading them making them have to work harder to perform the exercise.

Man doing a drag curl

Ease of Access

Barbell Curls

Pretty much every gym you go to will have at least a few barbells and weight plates.

As these are all that you need to do barbell curls, they have great ease of access.

Even if you train at home, barbells and weight plates are readily available so you shouldn’t have any issue finding the required equipment for a home gym either.

Drag Curls

Drag curls only require a barbell and some weight plates.

This makes them a very accessible exercise as these are very basic pieces of gym equipment.

As you’ll likely have a good selection of barbells and weight plates to choose from in a gym environment, you should always be able to perform drag curls without having to wait around too long for equipment to become available.

The Verdict

Both barbell curls and drag curls have great ease of access.

As long as you have access to a barbell and some appropriate weight plates, you’ll be able to do both exercises with no issues.


Barbell Curls

Barbell curls are a very versatile exercise as there are multiple variations you can do.

Simply moving your hand position on the bar during the exercise changes how it benefits your muscles.

A narrow grip on the bar will help build the thickness of your biceps while a wide grip will help build a bigger bicep peak.

You also have the option of using an EZ bar instead of a standard barbell.

Drag Curls

A simple way to vary drag curls is to use dumbbells instead of a barbell.

The movement will still be the same but using dumbbells can make sure your arms are both doing equal amounts of the work.

You could also use an EZ bar for drag curls too.

The Verdict

Both of these exercises have multiple variations that you can do.

With no clear winner when it comes to variability, you can see why barbell curls and drag curls are both very effective exercises.

Drag Curls vs Barbell Curls: Which Is Better?

With similar difficulty levels, ease of access, and variability, barbell curls and drag curls are both fantastic exercises to incorporate into your training program.

Drag curls may be a little bit harder in terms of the stress they place on your biceps, and barbell curls might have a couple more advanced variations.

But it’s really difficult to say that either one of these exercises is better than the other.

If you only want to do one of them in your arm workouts, the biggest deciding factor will likely be your personal preference as there is no clear winner in this one!


Barbell Curls Muscles Worked

Drag Curls Muscles Worked