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Barbell Curls vs Pull-Ups: Which Exercise Is Better?

Adding some variety to your training can help keep you motivated, help you to enjoy your workouts even more, and it can also help your muscles continue to be challenged and grow.

Knowing which exercises to include in your workouts can be challenging considering there are so many out there to choose from.

In this article, we compare two very popular exercises – barbell curls and pull-ups.

We look at how hard each one is to do, how easy it is to find the equipment you need for them, and how much variation each one can bring to your workout.

By the end of it, you should have a better understanding of whether barbell curls are better than pull-ups, pull-ups are better than barbell curls, or if they’re both equally good additions to your training plan.

What’s The Difference Between Barbell Curls And Pull-Ups?

Barbell curls and pull-ups are very different exercises – particularly in appearance and movement.

Barbell curls are a very simple movement where a barbell is lifted by flexing your elbows.

Pull-ups require you to pull your entire body up and lower it back down on a pull-up bar.

There are some similarities between the two exercises, but they look extremely different.

Which Is Better For Building Biceps?

Both barbell curls and pull-ups are effective exercises to include in your arm workouts to help build your biceps.

Barbell curls do a better job at keeping the focus on your arm muscles, whereas pull-ups bring your back and shoulder muscles into play much more.

That being said, both are very good bicep-building exercises.

Which Is Better For Building Forearms?

Barbell curls and pull-ups both do a fairly good job of activating your forearm muscles.

In barbell curls, your forearms work as stabilizing muscles. So, although they don’t do a huge amount of work, they’re placed under a little bit of stress. 

In pull-ups, your forearms come into play through your grip.

As you have to have a strong grip on the pull-up bar, your forearm muscles activate.

Neither barbell curls nor pull-ups isolate your forearms but they both place them under stress in some way, which can help build your forearms in the long term.

Difficulty Level

Barbell Curls

With the exception of the technique (which can be challenging to get exactly right), barbell curls are a pretty easy exercise to perform.

The entire movement comes from flexion of the elbow.

As this is a basic physiological movement, most people can do it without too much issue. 


Pull-ups are a hard exercise and you’ll need to already have lots of upper body strength to perform them correctly.

The main reason why pull-ups are so difficult is that you have to lift your entire body weight with just your upper body muscles.

Unless you have a strong foundation of upper body strength in the first place, pull-ups will likely be too challenging for you to do correctly. 

The Verdict

Pull-Ups are a lot harder than barbell curls.

Barbell curls only require elbow flexion to lift a weight set by you on a barbell.

Pull-ups require your upper body to lift your entire body weight with only your grip supporting you on the pull-up bar.

Ease of Access

Barbell Curls

To be able to do barbell curls, all you need is a barbell and the appropriate weight plates. 

In pretty much all gyms, you’ll likely be able to find a range of barbells and an even bigger range of weight plates to choose from.

As you tend to have a lot of choices with the very basic gym equipment needed for barbell curls, they are a very accessible exercise.


Pull-ups only require a pull-up bar to perform them correctly.

The weight you’re lifting is simply your bodyweight, so if you have access to a pull-up bar, you can do pull-ups very easily.

The only limiting factor to ease of access to pull-ups is how popular the pull-up bar is at the gym where you’re training.

If there is only one bar and it is being used a lot, you may not be able to do pull-ups as often as you might like.

That being said, whether you train at home or in a gym, as long as there is a pull-up bar available, the exercise has great ease of access.

The Verdict

Barbell curls and pull-ups have good ease of access.

Minimal equipment is needed for each one and it’s all commonly readily available in most gyms.

As pull-ups require less equipment (just a pull-up bar), you may argue that they have slightly more ease of access.


Barbell Curls

Barbell curls are a pretty versatile exercise with quite a few variations you can add to your training program.

Using an EZ bar instead of a standard barbell can challenge your arm muscles in a different way and is a very easy way of varying your barbell curls.

Simply changing the width of your grip on the bar can also change the impact barbell curls have on your biceps.

For example, a wide grip puts more focus on the short head of your biceps which adds width to your arms, whereas close grip barbell curls target the long head more which helps build your bicep peak.


There are multiple variations to pull-ups that can be performed depending on your fitness level and overall upper body strength.

Like with barbell curls, changing to a wider or narrower grip can change the target muscles of the exercise.

You can also perform assisted pull-ups by using a specific machine that some gyms have, or by using resistance bands to help you lift your body up.

Assisted pull-ups can be a great way of building the muscles required to perform full pull-ups.

The Verdict

Both barbell curls and pull-ups have good levels of variability.

There are multiple variations of each exercise that can help build muscles in your upper body. 

Some variations of barbell curls require additional equipment (EZ bar), whereas all pull-up variations can be done on a standard pull-up bar, so this can make a difference depending on the equipment you have available to you.

Do Barbell Curls Help Pull-Ups?

During pull-ups, you need good levels of grip strength and arm strength.

Both of these can be built through barbell curls.

While the amount of stress on specific muscles may be different, barbell curls can actually help your pull-ups by building strength in the muscles required to perform them.

Barbell Curls vs Pull-Ups: Which Is Better?

Barbell curls are an easier exercise to perform and put more focus on your arm muscles (your biceps in particular). 

Pull-ups are a much more challenging exercise that offers similar levels of accessibility and variability as barbell curls.

Both barbell curls and pull-ups are great additions to your workouts, and ultimately, they can both be used to help build strength, size, and overall fitness.


Barbell Curls Muscles Worked

Pull-Ups Muscles Worked