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December 17, 2021 6 min read

When you flex your arm, that peak of the bicep can either make or break a good gym selfie. The good news is, the conventional dumbbell bicep curl isn't the only move that can help build that muscle.

Close grip barbell curls are similar to biceps curls, but they require a tighter grip and supinated wrists.

This variation of barbell curls will allow you to target the outer head of the bicep specifically and is a key movement for building muscle mass and defining the arms. The outer head of the bicep is responsible for building that bicep peak that not only looks good but can produce benefits other than aesthetics.

What Difference Does the Close Grip Make?

When the barbell is held with a closer-than-shoulder-width grip, the arms are turned further inward, which is known as an internal rotation. The more internal rotation you have, the more engaged the outer head of the bicep muscle is, which comprises the bicep's peak.

When you hold the barbell with a wider grip, the arms are turned more outward at the shoulder joint, also known as external rotation. The wider the grip, the greater the external rotation, and the more involved the inner head of the bicep is.

It is important to switch up the variation of your arm exercises so that you target all parts of your biceps and forearms. Changing up your grip position will allow you to isolate and target specific parts of your muscle. By doing so, you can balance your bicep mass to achieve your desired look.

Muscles Worked by the Close Grip Barbell Curl

If building mass is your goal, the close grip barbell curl is where it's at. Since this is an isolation exercise, it allows you to work the bicep and only the bicep, which studies suggest may help increase hypertrophy.

Biceps Brachii

The biceps are made up of two heads known as the "short head" and "long head". Together, they help flex the elbow and rotate the forearm. The close grip barbell curl heavily targets the bicep brachii, the long head of the bicep muscle, which comprises the hump or peak of the bicep.

It is highly effective in giving the upper arms that muscular look that many bodybuilders seek to increase but targets the forearm flexors as well. Barbell curls allow lifters to overload their biceps with more resistance than free weights, making them an excellent muscle-building exercise.

Benefits of Close Grip Barbell Curls

Building a bicep peak may be impressive, but other benefits come along with performing the close grip barbell curl.

Bicep Curl

Larger Bicep Peak

Close grip barbell curls can help increase the peak of the bicep which allows for broader, larger, more defined-looking arms. Studies suggest that the bicep brachii is worked more intensely when the grip is more narrow.

If a larger bicep peak is what you're after, this exercise is unmatched.

Improved Pulling Strength

Lifts that involve pulling, like deadlifts, pull-ups, and row variations require bicep strength to help with the pull. Building your bicep strength can help translate to other lifts by improving your pulling strength.

Outside of the gym, you may not notice how often you use pulling strength. Whenever you open a door or pick up a bag of groceries, you're using your pulling strength, and improving it can help improve your quality of life.

Improved Grip Strength

Grip strength can be improved by this movement because the brachioradialis muscle in the forearm is activated, which helps with executing other exercises such as pull-ups, deadlifts, and bench presses.

Having a strong grip is important, especially when you're lifting heavy or for long periods of time, but studies suggest it can improve overall health.

Lift Heavier

The conventional biceps curl you see most often in the gym is typically performed using dumbbells. Although there are benefits to dumbbell curls, using a barbell can help you pull heavier weights, which can help increase upper body strength. Keep in mind, since you are using a close grip, the weight will most likely be lighter than a wider grip.

All Fitness Levels Friendly

This movement is perfect for people who already have solid muscle mass as a foundation and are looking to grow and define these muscles. However, it is also a solid choice for beginners because using the barbell requires pressing your elbows into your torso which focuses the motion on the biceps and minimizes cheating with improper forms. Close grip barbell curls take a lot of the concentration out of the equation due to the concentrated nature.

How to Do Close Grip Barbell Curls

Just like any other exercise, it is important to perform close grip barbell curls with the proper form and appropriate amount of weight. You should aim for a weight you can lift for 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions with the right technique throughout the exercise.

1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a slight bend in your knees.

2. Grasp the barbell with an underhand grip and palms facing forward. Keep your elbows close to your torso throughout the movement, and keep your hands under your shoulders.

3. Curl the barbell upward in a semicircular motion as you exhale. Bring the barbell up toward your chin. Hold it for a second as you feel the biceps contract. Do not swing the bar.

4. Inhale and return the barbell back down to the starting position and get ready for your next repetition.

Common Mistakes

The bicep curl is one of those exercises that you see performed incorrectly a lot. Avoid these common mistakes to get the most out of your arm day.

Flared Elbows

Bracing your elbows tight at your torso will ensure your shoulders are not lifting the weight. It is important to brace your core during this movement and make sure your torso and elbows are not moving. If this is too difficult, you may need to decrease the weight.

Swinging the Weight

Swinging the weight can put your biceps in a more vulnerable position due to the ballistic movements, and it can also become less efficient relying on momentum. Be cautious to perform this movement slowly and with control, while resisting the urge to swing the weight up. Keep your body as straight and steady as possible throughout the entire movement.

Not Enough Range of Motion

This can sometimes be caused by inexperience or too much weight. Getting a full range of motion can help your ability to engage the most muscle fibers. Not enough range of motion may look like not fully extending the elbow at the bottom or the weight isn't coming up far enough. You can fix this by lightening the weight and/or using a mirror or personal trainer.

Close Grip Barbell Curl Variations

Alternating your bicep exercises is key to maximizing your overall bicep gains by targeting different muscles. There are plenty of variations to implement into your next arm workout and check just a few of them below.

Preacher Curl

Preacher Curl

Popular in bodybuilding, the preacher curl uses a bench to help isolate the biceps. This can be a great variation if you catch yourself "cheating" on the conventional bicep curl because it removes the ability to swing or use any kind of momentum. Seated or standing, place your triceps on a preacher bench. Engaging your back and arms, flex the elbow to bring the weight up, and extend to the starting position.

Concentration Curl

You may look like a total bro doing the concentration curl, but it's worth it to be able to isolate and concentrate solely on your bicep muscle. You'll need to be seated for this one with your knees wide. Without hunching your shoulders, hinge at your hips until your right elbow is in the middle of your right thigh. Flex the elbow to curl the weight to the right shoulder. Slowly extend and repeat reps on the other side.

Hammer Curl

Often confused with the bicep curl, the hammer curl requires a neutral grip and activates the long head of the bicep. The hammer curl can help to increase muscle mass and overall strength in the arms. Keep your elbows glued to your sides with your palms facing each other. As you curl the weights, do not supinate your wrists. Keep them in a neutral position. Slowly extend all the way back down.

Time to Flex

The close grip barbell curl can allow you to isolate the outer head of the bicep, which increases the size of the peak. For weightlifters and bodybuilders of all fitness levels, this is often a common goal. The close grip can allow even those new to weightlifting to stabilize themselves with the proper form and limit the risk that other muscles take over in the movement.

Before performing this movement, it can be helpful to develop your upper body muscles with compound movements. Performing barbell curls with a close grip can be a wonderful bicep finisher to end your arm days with for a great burn-out.

Close grip barbell curls can add noticeable size and shape to your arms.

The underhand grip involved in this motion can help lifters with other exercises too, notably, the reverse grip chin-ups and reverse grip barbell-rows. Knowing the effect that hand and grip placement have on your bicep muscles can help give your routine a boost.

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