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November 07, 2021 7 min read

Although this exercise has traditionally been less popular than the standard barbell bicep curl,  the barbell drag curl is a very effective exercise to develop massive biceps.

If you're looking to add extra mass to your biceps, you might want to consider including the barbell drag curl into your training routine.

Muscles Worked By The Barbell Drag Curl 

The primary muscle groups worked by the barbell drag curl is your biceps brachii.

The bicep muscle is made up of two heads, which are called the long head and the short head.

biceps muscle anatomy chart

Both heads work together as a cohesive unit during any pulling motion, such as when you perform a barbell drag curl.

The secondary muscle groups worked by the barbell drag curl include your brachialis, which is a muscle in your biceps that can be found beneath your biceps brachii. The range of motion of this movement also activates your brachioradialis, which is the most prominent muscle in your forearm. 

Although to a lesser degree, you will find that the barbell drag curl also works all of your abs as well as the muscles in your upper back and lower back. All of these muscles become activated to stabilize your body during the curling motion. This is why you might feel a full body burn after doing a few sets of this exercise.

Core Stability, Strength, and Mobility 

In addition to working the muscles we discussed above, you’ll find that barbell drag curls can be very good for training the  strength and stability of your core.

It is always a desirable outcome when you are able to improve the strength of your stomach muscles and develop your body into a more solid bodybuilding machine.

In terms of strength and mobility, a lot of people have been known to struggle with at least one of these issues: tight, overlifted pecs that pull the shoulders and upper back forward, a rigid thoracic spine that does not extend, a weak and unstable core, or inflexible hips, knees, and ankles.

Doing barbell drag curls can sometimes relieve some of these issues.

Mastering core strength and increasing your  strength and mobility will help you with any pain you might have in your lower back.

It is vital, though, to start with basic positioning and practice the correct form for this exercise. Never just throw a few plates on a bar and expect your body to be able to handle it, especially if you have experienced any of the above issues.

Barbell drag curls can make you a stronger, well-rounded athlete, but they can also cause serious injuries if you do the exercise carelessly and without learning the proper form.

Further Improving Your Core Strength

Your core has been considered the basis for all of your weightlifting strength by many experts in the field.

Your abdominals, obliques, and deep core muscles like the transverse abdominis are very important when it comes to barbell drag curls. This is because your core must be able to prevent you from falling forward or backward.

Barbell drag curls make your core work harder than usual, and the tension in your deep inner-core muscles will be very intense.

Benefits of the Barbell Drag Curl 

Growing your biceps muscles will generally improve your performance in other exercises at the gym such as the barbell row and the lat pulldown.

Here are a few other benefits you might expect:

1. Gains in strength and size: The barbell drag curl is an intense biceps exercise. At the top of each rep, your biceps are optimally targeted, which helps to strengthen the biceps muscle and increase the amount of hypertrophy in your bicep muscles, which leads to increased strength and size. 

2. Lower risk of injury: Many people struggle with shoulder pain or instability during regular bicep curls. This happens because the front deltoids try to provide stability during the standard curling motion. The barbell drag curl eliminates the need for any significant deltoid activation so that you can build stronger, bigger biceps without the risk of serious injury.

3. Better looking arms: This benefit is subjective, but many weightlifters care greatly about the appearance of their muscles. Depending on your goals, you can use the barbell drag curl to develop bigger, more toned, or more defined biceps. This exercise is simple to learn and it can really help you improve the overall appearance of your arms in quite a short time. 

How To Do The Barbell Drag Curl 

First try the lift with a light barbell.

A light barbell can sometimes make the lift feel easier because the light weight will help you get used to the movement and keep you balanced. If you have a personal trainer, you can work together to ensure that you are performing the movement correctly.

Like any other type of weight lifting exercise, it is vital to use the proper form when lifting to obtain the maximum amount of benefits from the exercise.

First, grab the barbell with a double underhand (also known as supinated) grip with your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart. Take a comfortable standing position with your back straight. Try to engage your core muscles as much as possible. 

Bring your elbows and shoulders back slightly and as you curl the barbell upwards, keep the pulling the bar close to your body. It should feel like you are dragging the barbell up the front of your body in a straight line rather than the curved arc of a traditional barbell bicep curl.

Squeeze and contract your biceps hard at the top without shrugging your shoulders and then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat the movement for your desired number of reps.

If you are new to the barbell drag curl, start with 3 or 4 sets of 10-12 to reps.

As you become more comfortable with the proper form of the exercise, select some heavier weights and stick to the 6 to 8 rep range for 3 or 4 sets.

Barbell Drag Curl Mistakes

In their zeal for muscle growth to become bigger and stronger, far too many lifters rush into a new exercise without learning how to do it with the proper form.

Here are some things to avoid as you are getting started with barbell drag curls:

  • Pushing your elbows forward:  The most common barbell drag curl mistake is pushing your elbows forward as you curl upwards. Unlike the standard bicep curl, your elbows should move up and back during the barbell drag curl motion. Pushing your elbows forward will add too much unnecessary tension to your elbows and your shoulders. Instead, keep your elbows back to place the stress on your biceps. 
  • Using momentum:  Many weightlifters swing their arms and use momentum to try and lift heavier barbells, but it is far better to reduce the weight and focus on perfecting your form. Lifting lighter weights and focusing on your mind-muscle connection will actually increase your gains and reduce your chances of injury in the long run. 
  • Rushing the motion:  Another common mistake made during the barbell drag curl is rushing the motion. Many people curl upwards in a controlled way but then let the barbell fall quickly to the bottom. This can be very unsafe, and it also lessens the major gains that can be made from the eccentric part of the exercise. Instead of rushing through the motion, curl the barbell up and down in a slow and controlled way. This tempo will increase your time under tension and maximize the benefits. 

Barbell Drag Curl Variations 

For all of these variations, be sure to keep your core tight and perform a regular curl with the same form for each variation. Again, this really maximizes the benefits of doing the exercise and it helps you see real results faster.

1. Drag Curl Hold 

The hold variation is an ideal way to increase your time under tension. Simply curl your arm upwards and hold the barbell in this position for at least three seconds. Squeeze and contract your biceps hard, then return to the starting position and repeat.

2. Dumbbell Drag Curl 

If you don’t have access to a barbell, you can also do the drag curl from home with a pair of dumbbells or an EZ curl bar. Assume a comfortable stance in a standing position and grab a pair of dumbbells with a supinated grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

Keep the form the same as you would using a barbell. You should still feel like you are pulling the weights up your body. 

3. One-Arm Kettlebell Drag Curl 

You can also train your biceps unilaterally with this variation known as the one-arm kettlebell drag curl. You can use the one-arm drag curl to correct any muscle imbalances between your two arms, as well as increase your mind-muscle connection and the strength of your upper arms. Simply pick up a kettlebell with your palm facing forward and perform the curl as described above.

Barbell Drag Curl Alternatives 

If you have enjoyed learning a little more about the mechanics of the barbell drag curl, you might also want to check out these alternative bicep exercises to take your bicep training to the next level.

1. Supinated Dumbbell Curl


Get in a sturdy standing position for this dumbbell bicep curl. Pick up a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing forward and tuck your elbows into your sides. Contract your biceps to curl upwards. Squeeze your biceps hard at the top and then slowly release back to the original starting position. Repeat for the number of repetitions that you select.

2. Standing Kettlebell Concentration Curl 

Assume a standing position with your feet wider than shoulder width apart. Grab the kettlebell with your right hand and your palm facing away from you. Shift your weight to your right side and place your elbow on the inside of your thigh just above your knee for support. Contract your bicep to curl the kettlebell upwards.

Squeeze your bicep hard at the top of the rep and return to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps and always remember to do the exercise with both arms.

3. Reverse Resistance Band Curl 

Begin by assuming a standing position on a resistance band with your feet quite close together. Grab the handles with an overhand grip and tuck your elbows into your sides. Contract your biceps to curl upwards. Squeeze your biceps hard at the top and then slowly release back to the starting position. Repeat for your desired number of reps.

Improving Arm Strength Is Always Beneficial

Having stronger arms is actually a very important factor as you get older. It is really satisfying to be aware of your body enough to recognize your own strength and be able to move heavy objects without too much risk of injury. 

Along with  dips and push-ups, barbell drag curls are really good for upper body strength, and doing these types of exercises regularly can help make your day to day tasks more manageable and lead to improved overall health.