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December 13, 2021 8 min read

When it comes to building your arm and upper body strength, barbell curls are a favourite choice amongst many gym enthusiasts and bodybuilders. 

Barbell curls are a variation of bicep curls in which barbells are the preferred choice of weights.

Barbell curls are extremely common weight-training in basic gym boot-camp. If you are looking to get jacked, it is a perfect choice for strength conditioning and building your upper arm muscles.

Barbell curls are a great option for targeting the upper arm muscle groups and the brachialis and brachioradialis, which are the muscles of the lower arms.

These muscle groups, along with the biceps and triceps, are important in arm strength for bodybuilding and also in our everyday life. This intrinsic system of muscles controls arm movements as common as lifting things.

There are several ways to perform barbell curls, and these variations are important to target and isolate different parts of the arm muscles. Most of these variations differentiate with the method of gripping the bar and hand placements on the bar.

Curls with a barbell undergrip

What Are Barbell Curls?

Barbells are heavy equipment and are great for fat loss, building muscle strength, testing stamina, or simply gaining muscle strength. They are both great options for activating stabilizer muscles, general muscle activation, and mass gains in varying ranges of motion.

The barbell allows for muscle symmetry and faster mass gains because of its heavier weight. For this reason, many prefer to engage in barbell curls in order to activate the muscles faster and ensure rapid hypertrophy or growth of the arm muscles. 

There are different variations of the barbell curls. However, the wide grip barbell curl variation is one of the most popular and highly favored variations. The major difference between the standard barbell curl and the wide grip curl is in the position of the arm grip on the barbell.

While the standard barbell curl is done with the arm gripping the barbell at shoulder-width in a supinated grip, the wide grip variation is done with your hands gripping the barbell in a supinated group wider than shoulder-width.

It is common knowledge that many people do not believe that  holding the barbells in different grip positions creates different results.

Many people argue that the amount of muscle gain and the targeted muscles solely depend on the weight of the barbell. This is not the case, as the wide grip curl helps in the activation of the short head of the bicep.

What is the Wide Grip Curl?

A wide grip barbell curl is any barbell curl with a supinated or underhand grip wider than the shoulders. Like the regular grip and narrow grip curls, the wide grip curl targets the muscles of the forearms and biceps. Most importantly, it targets the inner or short head of the bicep muscles.The wide grip curl uses the pull force to engage the biceps and combines its ability to isolate the short head of the bicep muscle.

This is the most important reason for using the wide grip during barbell exercises. Seeing that the bicep brachii helps in the elbow's flexion and supination of the forearms, it makes sense that to grow your biceps, you require exercises that place your arms in the supine formation. The wide grip barbell curl is one of the few barbell exercises that aim to isolate the inner head or short head.

The Short Head of The Biceps

To understand why the wide grip curl is not simply a hype that dies in the gym, you need to understand the anatomy of the biceps. Biceps brachii literally translates to "two-headed arm muscle" in Latin. This muscle is located between the shoulder and the elbow, originating in the scapula and ending in the proximal forearm. The bicep is an intricate muscle group that comprises not one piece of beefy muscle but, in fact, two sections connected to one another.

The bicep is connected across three different joints that help to flex the elbows and the forearms. While the long head of the biceps connects to the bone of the lower arm and is essential in the prevention of the shifting of the head of the humerus, it is also involved in the abduction movement or moving of the arm away from the body. The short head of the bicep attaches to a bone and also helps with the abduction of the arm away from the body.

Apart from its medical terms, the short end of the bicep is a great way to show more muscle mass sculpture when flexing your arms. Most barbell and dumbbell curl variations focus more on building the long head of the biceps to provide a general look of mass muscle growth. If you are more into flexing your arms for an outstanding reveal of muscle, we recommend the wide grip curl as a better choice for you.

The short head is on the inner side of the bicep, thus earning it the name "inner head." It is located on the inner part of the upper arm, where it fuses with the long head to provide an appearance of thicker muscle mass. In layperson terms, the short head of the bicep is the small part of the bicep closest to your ribs. The building of this muscle will provide you with more well-defined musculature, thicker biceps, and essentially bigger arms.

While it makes sense to work on your short head as an added physical attribute, you are also doing your body a favor. The short head helps to provide the shoulder joint with stability, an important feature as the shoulders are a major part of our daily activities. It protects the joint and ensures that you have good posture. Since the short head of the bicep is a quite evasive muscle, it would take a lot of muscle isolation workouts to achieve the needed result.

However, there is no workout that is 100 percent isolation without. This is the reason wide grip barbell curls are the perfect exercise you need to add to your workout routine. While the wide grip exercise would not provide as good a peak workout as a regular barbell curl exercise, it shifts the weight to isolate your short head for thicker arms. For context, if you are seeking to target a better peak into your muscles, work on your long head and if you seek wider width, focus on short head exercises.

How to Do Wide Grip Barbell Curls


Doing the wide grip barbell curl is as easy as doing the standard barbell curl exercise and even easier than doing close grip curls. To understand the essence of the exercise, simply stretch your arms forward, pretending to pick an imaginary barbell with an underhand grip. Tense your muscles and fold your arms. When done properly, even without weights, you should feel a contraction in your upper hand, which is really the activation of your bicep short head.

That is exactly what the wide grip barbell curls are all about. The trick is to keep your hand supinated and folded towards you laterally. Even though this strength-training exercise is a good choice for novices, it is important to have the arm strength to lift the barbell without injuries. As a precaution, you should start with other arm and upper-body strengthening exercises until you are ready. 

To do the barbell curls:

  1. Start with using weights you can lift comfortably as opposed to a size that you are not used to.
  2. Load the weights into a standard gym straight barbell. With the barbell loaded in front of you, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slightly bend your knees while keeping your back straight and your spine neutral.
  3. Tense your abs and engage your core. Grip the barbell with your palms facing upwards with your arms a few inches wider than shoulder-width or wider than your hips. Fully extend your arms downwards.
  4. With the barbell in your hands, stand tall without changing form. Keep your shoulders straight, your head and neck in a neutral position. 
  5. Keep your chin tucked. To assume this position, pretend you are holding an egg underneath your chin.
  6. For more balance, plant your feet firmly to the floor and disperse your body weight on your feet. Getting the proper form is important, as you will hold that form through your reps.
  7. Keep your arms outstretched in front of you while maintaining a shoulder-width grip, with your shoulders bent slightly. Engage your core and shoulders.
  8. Activate your biceps by squeezing them as you bend your elbows, bringing the barbell towards you. Do this until your lower arm meets your biceps and the barbell ends up close to your chin.
  9. Hold this position of maximum contraction for a second and then straighten your elbows back out to the starting position. This is one rep.

Tips to Hold Form During Wide Grip Barbell Curls

When doing the wide grip barbell curls, a lot could go wrong, but half of it is not holding the proper form during your repetitions.

  • Positioning your elbows wrongly is a very common mistake. Your elbow position should not change even slightly during the exercise. Do not just them or attempt to reposition them to ease the tension in your arms. The tension is exactly what you need to isolate and engage your short head bicep muscle. The key to this is to lift a weight that you are comfortable with.
  • Swinging with momentum is a no-no. You should approach from a deadlift and not swing the barbell by driving your hips forward. This would engage the wrong muscle groups, and your short head muscle would be severely lagging.
  • Do not go too fast. This is a common mistake that could lead to muscle strain or worse.
  • Remember, your forearms are doing the lifting. Keep the rest of your body still. If this is a challenge for you, you can practice several sets while standing with your back against the wall. This would teach you to get the hang of standing still but doesn't hinder your results as long as you maintain proper form and do not slouch.
  • When suffering from pre-existing injuries, start with light weights if you need to engage yourself at all. If you suffer discomfort in your shoulder or elbow joints, this might be a telltale sign you are over-exerting yourself. Try to switch the barbell weights for something that weighs even less.
  • Start with fewer reps and increase the number of reps as you go. 
  • Get into warm-ups that include bicep exercises. This is a great way to get your muscles ready and avoid injuries. Simply start with lightweight or  bodyweight exercises for your arms—afterward, progress to easier bicep curls like the preacher curls.

Benefits of Wide Grip Barbell Curls

Apart from the obvious advantage of thicker-looking biceps, wide grip barbell curls are a great way to increase general upper-body strength. This makes it a brilliant choice of exercise to train for other weightlifting exercises. Although it majorly targets the biceps, brachialis, no exercise is an isolation exercise.

This simply means that while your arms are engaged, so are your pecs, abs, lower back, and essentially, activates all core muscles to varying extents. This goes a long way in how well you perform at other weight exercises like bench presses and deadlifts. 

Research goes on to show that wide grip allows to  lift more load than the standard or narrow barbell grip.Wide grip barbell curls can be practised by anyone regardless of their fitness level. All you have to do is start with a reasonable amount of weight. Do not work yourself too hard.

As an additional advantage, wide grip barbell curls help with grip strength. It does this by activating a grip muscle called the brachioradialis muscle, which helps to flex the forearm at the elbow.

Other Variations of the Wide Grip Barbell Curls


If you are willing to be a more adventurous lifter, there are several variations of the wide grip barbell curl you might like. One of the most common variations is the EZ bar curl. The EZ bar, although very different from the straight bar, is a very good trade for the barbell, as its ergonomic design helps to challenge and activate the biceps and triceps. They are easier to raise, put muscles through similar range of motion, but do not engage the forearms as much. 

You can also choose to do the wide grip barbell curl while seated or even use a pulley. These are low-impact and a great idea for people with pre-existing injuries. The wide grip barbell curls are a great way to achieve bigger biceps and better arm strength.

Incorporating this exercise with other barbell arm exercises into your workout plans is a great way to achieve your upper body strength goals.

Coupled with our  ULTIMATE SHRED STACK, you are on your way to getting ripped in no time.