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Incline Dumbbell Curls vs Barbell Curls (For Biceps)

Finding the best exercises to build your arms can be challenging, as there are so many exercises to choose from.

Even if you find exercises you like, it can then be quite tricky to work out which ones are better than others.

Two arm exercises you might be trying to decide between are barbell curls and incline dumbbell curls.

In this article, we compare barbell curls and incline dumbbell curls in terms of the muscles they work, their difficulty level, accessibility, and variability.

By the end of it, you should have a much clearer idea as to which one is going to suit your training needs better.

Woman doing barbell curls in the gym

What’s The Difference Between Barbell Curls And Incline Dumbbell Curls?

The most obvious difference between barbell curls and incline dumbbell curls is that one uses a barbell (barbell curls) and one uses dumbbells (incline dumbbell curls).

Another difference is in the position you’re in when performing the exercises.

Barbell curls are usually done in a standing position whereas incline dumbbell curls are done while sitting on an incline bench.

Which Is Better For Building Biceps?

While both barbell curls and incline curls are focussed on your biceps, incline dumbbell curls tend to do a little better at keeping your biceps under tension for longer

Incline dumbbell curls place your shoulders in a very weak position meaning they can’t really contribute much to the exercise.

This places more stress on your biceps as they have to work harder to move the dumbbells without any assistance from your shoulders.

The harder your biceps have to work, the more they’re able to grow!

Which Is Better For Building Forearms?

There are much better exercises for building forearms than barbell curls and incline dumbbell curls.

That being said, of the two of them, barbell curls will work your forearms more than incline dumbbell curls.

This is because your forearm muscles work as stabilizing muscles to a greater extent in barbell curls compared to incline dumbbell curls.

As they aren’t the primary muscles being worked, you’re unlikely to see much growth in your forearms just from barbell curls, but they’ll be more beneficial than incline dumbbell curls.

Difficulty Level

Barbell Curls

Although the technique has some points that can make it challenging to nail down, barbell curls are a fairly easy exercise to perform.

Flexion of the elbow is the main movement which is a basic movement to master.

As you’re in a standing position with no support, it can be quite easy to bring in other muscle groups and to build a bit of momentum through swinging and arching your back.

This can be easily avoided though by ensuring you’re lifting a weight suitable for your current level of fitness and strength.

Incline Dumbell Curls

Incline dumbbell curls are quite a challenging biceps exercise.

The position of your arms during the movement extends them slightly behind you.

With the addition of your shoulders being in a weak position too, incline dumbbell curls place a lot of stress on your biceps. 

As your biceps have to do a lot of the work during incline dumbbell curls, they have a fairly high difficulty level.

The Verdict

Incline dumbbell curls are harder than barbell curls.

Barbell curls allow other muscles to assist in the movement such as your shoulders, back, and core.

As you’re sitting on an incline bench during incline dumbbell curls, your core and back muscles are unable to assist.

Your shoulders are also unable to assist much as they’re in a very weak position during the movement.

This puts a lot more stress on your biceps resulting in a more challenging exercise.

Ease of Access

Barbell Curls

Most gyms have several options when it comes to barbells and weight plates.

As these are all you need to perform barbell curls, the exercise has great ease of access.

Even if you train at home, barbells and weight plates are readily available to buy, making barbell curls an extremely accessible exercise. 

Incline Dumbbell Curls

While you can access dumbbells easily in either a gym environment or in a home gym, you’ll still need an incline bench to perform incline dumbbell curls.

This might not be too much of an issue, but it can cause problems if there aren’t many benches available in the area where you’re training.

Woman doing incline dumbbell curls in the gym

The Verdict

While dumbbells are readily available in pretty much all gyms, incline benches can be more limited in numbers meaning incline dumbbell curls are slightly less accessible than barbell curls.

Barbells and weight plates are commonly found in a range of sizes in gyms, so you should be able to find the right bar and weight for you to perform barbell curls effectively.


Barbell Curls

Barbell curls offer good levels of variability.

You can change your hand position from supinated (palms up) to pronated (palms down) to change your barbell curls into reverse barbell curls.

Reverse curls will work your forearms more than the standard curl.

Changing your hand position on the barbell can also target different heads of your bicep, depending on whether you want to build your bicep peak or your bicep thickness.

Using an EZ bar instead of a standard barbell is also a great way of adding additional stress to the working muscles in barbell curls.

Incline Dumbbell Curls

There are a few variations of incline dumbbell curls that you can perform.

One is by changing from the standard curl position to incline hammer curls.

These will bring your forearms into play a bit more and will offer a different challenge to your biceps.

You can also do alternate arm incline dumbbell curls.

When performing the exercise one arm at a time, you can put a lot of focus on making sure your technique is correct and the right muscles are working as they should.

The Verdict

The main reason why barbell curls offer slightly more variability than incline dumbbell curls is that they do not require an incline bench to perform them correctly.

While both exercises have multiple variations to their standard form, the need for a bench limits incline dumbbell curls a bit more than barbell curls.

Incline Dumbbell Curls vs Barbell Curls: Which Is Better?

If this article has taught you anything, it should be that both barbell curls and incline dumbbell curls are extremely good exercises to include in your workouts.

Barbell curls are the easier of the two to perform and have slightly better accessibility due to only needing a barbell and weight plates.

Incline dumbbell curls work your biceps a bit harder than barbell curls and offer some interesting variations to help build big strong arms.

There is certainly room for both of these exercises in your training program, but it may simply come down to which one you prefer as to which is better for you.


Barbell Curls Muscles Worked

Incline Dumbbell Curls Muscles Worked