Dumbbell curls and preacher curls are extremely popular (and effective) upper arm exercises.
They have earned a reputation for being awesome at building big, strong biceps.
With many gym-goers aiming for those elusive bulging biceps, finding the best exercises to help build your arms is a priority for many people.
That’s why we have put this article together – to help you decide which exercise is better, dumbbell curls or preacher curls.
In it, we compare the two exercises in terms of the muscles targeted by each one, the difficulty level, ease of access, and variability.
By the end of this post, you should have a much better understanding if one is better suited to you and your fitness goals or if they are both equally as relevant for you.
What’s The Difference Between Dumbbell Curls And Preacher Curls?
The most obvious difference between dumbbell curls and preacher curls is in the position you’re in for each one.
Dumbbell curls are usually performed in a standing position whereas preacher curls are performed on a preacher bench.
It’s also worth noting that the point at which your muscles are under most stress is different in dumbbell curls and preacher curls.
The hardest point of dumbbell curls is when your arms are flexed at around 90 degrees.
Preacher curls are most challenging when your arms are almost fully extended at the lowest part of the movement.
This can make a difference in how much weight you can lift and how challenging you find each exercise.
Dumbbell Curls vs Preacher Curls: For Biceps
Both dumbbell curls and preacher curls are great exercises for building biceps.
Preacher curls isolate your biceps more than dumbbell curls which makes a difference in how hard they have to work throughout the movement.
Dumbbell curls are better for overloading your biceps though as you’re able to lift more weight.
This is mainly because, as your biceps aren’t isolated, other muscles can assist in the movement.
If you look at the two exercises logically, preacher curls will be better at building biceps as they make them work in isolation throughout the exercise.
This means that, although you can’t lift as much weight, your biceps will be working hard to move the weight as no other muscles can assist.
Dumbbell curls certainly help build biceps but preacher curls are solely focused on your biceps without letting other muscles activate and help.
Dumbbell Curls vs Preacher Curls: For Forearms
Although neither dumbbell curls nor preacher curls are focused on building forearms, dumbbell curls are the better of the two for forearm activation.
This is because preacher curls do a very good job of isolating your biceps throughout the exercise which prevents other muscles (including your forearms) from activating and assisting in the lift.
As your biceps aren’t isolated in dumbbell curls, your forearms (and other muscle groups) play more of a role in the exercise.
When it comes to the movement involved in dumbbell curls, flexion of the elbow is a simple thing to do for most people.
The technique required can be challenging to get exactly right to begin with.
But providing you’re lifting an appropriate weight for your fitness levels, dumbbell curls have a low difficulty level.
Preacher curls have a low level of difficulty based on the complexity of the movement involved.
While preacher curls can be quite challenging as your biceps are almost fully isolated, the movement itself doesn’t present too many issues.
Both exercises have a reasonably low level of difficulty.
Preacher curls are slightly harder as more stress is placed on a smaller number of muscles, but the movement of both exercises is a basic one that most people will find easy to master.
Ease of Access
Dumbbells are extremely common in pretty much all gyms.
There tend to be multiple sets of dumbbells that come in various weights, so it’s likely you’ll be able to find dumbbells that meet your fitness levels.
No other equipment is required for dumbbell curls so they have a very high level of accessibility.
Preacher curls require a preacher bench to perform them correctly.
This isn’t necessarily an issue as a lot of gyms will have at least one preacher bench available to use.
The problem is that they can’t always be accessed exactly when you want them.
This can be because someone else is using it or your gym simply may not have one.
If you train at home, a preacher bench might not be something you can afford or have space for.
If you train in a gym that has a preacher bench, then both dumbbell curls and preacher curls have very similar levels of ease of access.
However, if you prefer training at home, preacher curls lose a lot of accessibility, and dumbbell curls become much easier to access and perform.
There aren’t many exercises as versatile and adaptable as dumbbell curls.
In fact, they form the base of many other forms of bicep curls.
You can switch to reverse dumbbell curls, hammer curls, zottman curls, and other curl variations.
You could also use a barbell or EZ bar instead of dumbbells to challenge your muscles in different ways.
Despite being called dumbbell curls, you could actually use other weighted equipment such as kettlebells and weight plates for similar benefits.
The main issue preacher curls face with variability is their reliance on a preacher bench.
There are certainly variations you can perform such as using dumbbells instead of a barbell, or you could even use kettlebells or weight plates too.
However, you’re somewhat restricted in how much you can adapt preacher curls as you still need to use a preacher bench.
Dumbbell curls offer quite a bit more variability compared to preacher curls.
As dumbbell curls can be performed pretty much anywhere, as long as you have access to dumbbells, they have great variability and adaptability.
Preacher curls need a preacher bench in order to perform them correctly.
This obviously restricts variability quite a bit which is why dumbbell curls win this one!
Dumbbell Curls vs Preacher Curls: Which Is Better?
Both dumbbell curls and preacher curls are very good bicep-building exercises.
It’s difficult to definitively say that one is better than the other but there are definitely some areas where one has more benefits compared to the other.
If you want an exercise that isolates your biceps, is reasonably easy to do (in terms of the movement and setup) and has a few variations, then preacher curls could work well for you.
If you want an arm exercise that brings in a few more muscle groups, has great ease of access, and offers a range of variations, then dumbbell curls are the one for you.
It may also simply come down to your personal preference as to which one you add to your arm workouts.
That’s all for this article, but perhaps you’re interested in preacher curls vs barbell curls?
Hope this helped!
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.