10 Top Preacher Curl Alternatives (Extensive Guide)

Preacher Curl Alternatives

I’m sure you’ve heard many personal trainers preach the effectiveness of preacher curls. Why wouldn’t they? It’s a great movement that isolates the biceps better than many alternatives. For excellent bicep strength and size, that’s a workout staple you should perform regularly. But what if you can’t? What if your gym or home gym simply lacks the station to do a proper preacher curl? Or what if you simply need to switch things up but still hit those biceps effectively? Luckily, there are a number of alternatives to keep things spicy!

The best preacher curl alternatives include the standing barbell curl, standing dumbbell curl, standing cable curl, Zottman curl, concentration curl, seated incline bicep curl, spider curl, drag curl, goblet squat curl, and stability ball preacher curl. Though the movement and form may be different than a preacher curl, these alternatives are excellent to incorporate into your bicep regimen.

Let’s dive in and find out more about preacher curls and bicep-building workouts now!

What Muscles Does a Preacher Curl Work?

Preacher curls isolate the biceps in a big way. Unlike standard bicep curls which also bring in surrounding supporting muscles, the preacher curl really targets the bicep. The most featured muscles include:

  • Biceps brachii, short head
  • Biceps brachii, long head
  • Brachialis

The reason for this is because you’re bracing your arms against a pad. By holding your body stable using an anchor point, you’re relying completely on the bicep to move the weight. Unlike standing or seated alternatives which will involve other muscles, this one is all bicep, baby!

Some may argue that this makes it a less effective exercise due to the lack of versatility or full-body focus. Of course, compound movements will perform more work per rep. That said, it’s always useful to get isolation-type exercises like the preacher curl to really dig into a specific target muscle.

Only with movements like the preacher curl can you really get better, faster, more targeted results in a shorter time span.

How Do You Make Preacher Curls Without a Machine?

Preacher curls rely on your ability to brace the body with the specialized station and pad. That said, you could substitute this for just about any anchor point available.

Instead of a machine or station, you can perform preacher curls with a bench, a stability ball, or even your own leg! As long as you can dig your arm into a surface to prevent the arm from floating around or the elbow traveling, you can perform a preacher curl.

Without the anchor point, it’s not truly a preacher curl. Instead, it’s just a standard bicep curl. If that’s your best option, don’t sweat it! Regular bicep curls are still super effective, versatile, and integral to a great arm workout! You’ll still get great results if you put in the work!

How Do You Make a Preacher Curl at Home?

The most important thing to keep in mind when trying to preacher curl at home is that you must brace your body with something. If you have an adjustable workout bench, setting it at an angle so you may drape your arm over the top works.

In dire circumstances when no equipment is available, all you need is a seat. The concentration curl is a great substitute in these scenarios. Since it requires you to sit and use your inner thigh to stabilize the elbow, it targets the bicep similar to the preacher curl.

To be perfectly technical though, you are not doing a preacher curl unless you have your arm braced against an anchor point. That’s what puts you in that iconic preacher position and hits the biceps brachii and brachialis best.

Are Bicep Curls and Preacher Curls the Same?

Technically speaking, no they are not the same. Bicep curls and preacher curls are very similar, but there are key distinctions that make them different.

A bicep curl does not utilize a pad or other anchor to brace your body. Instead of fully focusing on the bicep, we must use our own stability muscles to keep the arm steady. In this regard, your whole body does more work versus a preacher curl. However, that also means your bicep gets less attention, which is not ideal when we’re specifically working to build our biceps.

Through the use of an anchor point, the preacher curl therefore hits the biceps harder. When trying to truly hone in on that specific muscle, you could almost do no better than a preacher curl. Even if you do sets of bicep curls regularly, your regimen will benefit immensely from adding in preacher curls too.

The movements are quite similar though. Both are curling movements that hit the biceps. Therefore, it’s fair to say that the preacher curl is a type of bicep curl. 

Bicep curls and preacher curls are both great exercises for bicep building, but they are not the same.

Preacher Curl Alternatives

There are many alternatives to the preacher curl. Try out some of the following if you want to switch things up during your next session!

1) Standing Barbell Curl

The standing barbell curl is a quintessential “gym bro” lift. There’s a reason for that. It’s one of the best ways to hit those biceps and get gains that would make Arnie proud.

Like the preacher curl, it hits the biceps. Unlike the preacher curl, you’ll have to keep your elbows stationery and balance yourself to avoid tipping forward from the weight.

Here’s how to do the standing barbell curl with good form.

  1. Stand upright with your feet hip’s width apart. Your grip should be supinated and approximately shoulder’s width apart. Dig your elbows into your torso and aim to keep them from moving during the motion.
  2. Curl the barbell toward your chest without letting your elbows float away. Squeeze the bicep at the top of the movement.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

A lot of us have a tendency to hold our breath when lifting weights. Be mindful of your breath during the movement and don’t hold your breath. You could cause injury this way. Instead, take a deep breath before the movement, exhale as you curl the barbell up, and inhale again as you lower it down.

2) Standing Dumbbell Curl

Just like the standing barbell curl, this alternative uses dumbbells to engage even more muscles. Whereas a barbell requires both arms to stabilize and keep things steady, dumbbells are two isolated weights. You’ll need to pull in smaller stabilization muscles to keep the dumbbells moving in a straight path.

Here’s how to perform standing dumbbell curls properly.

  1. Stand upright with your feet hip’s width apart. Your grip should be supinated and approximately shoulder’s width apart. Dig your elbows into your torso and aim to keep them from moving during the motion.
  2. Curl the dumbbells toward your chest without letting your elbows float away. Squeeze the bicep at the top of the movement.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

What’s great about dumbbells is that you may lift both simultaneously or alternate arms. Alternating arms could be done by doing one then the other or by doing full sets with one arm before focusing on the other.

Dumbbells give you a lot of versatility and help you work each bicep individually while also engaging stabilization muscles. Overall, dumbbell curls are one of the best things for building bicep strength and size. Period.

3) Standing Cable Curl

If your gym has a cable machine, all you need is an anchor point and any of many attachments to get going on this one. The standing cable curl is very similar to the other aforementioned movements. The main difference, of course, is that it uses the cable machine as resistance instead of free weight.

Here’s how to do a standing cable curl with good form.

  1. Fasten the attachment of your choice to the cable machine. It should be anchored at the base of the machine so that the cable extends diagonally toward you.
  2. Keeping your elbows pinned, curl the attachment to your body while exhaling. Squeeze at the top of the movement.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

The cable machine applies resistance in a unique way versus the free weights. For one, the tension remains consistent from start to finish. In addition, the attachment can be swapped. You may elect to use any of the following:

  • Long straight bar
  • Short straight bar
  • Curved bar
  • Rope attachment

Each will engage the biceps in a slightly different fashion. Rotating between different attachments encourages muscle confusion and can help with breaking through plateaus.

4) Zottman Curl

The Zottman curl is named after 19th century strongman George Zottman who at one time was considered the strongest man in the world. If he advocates using this variation, who the heck are you to question?

Joking aside, this is a great alternative to the preacher curl. For one, your muscles are under tension for a longer duration. In addition, the rotating of your grip mid-movement engages the forearms in a bigger way.

Overall, it’s a great preacher curl alternative that helps build strong biceps and forearms. Here is how to perform the Zottman curl correctly.

  1. Stand with your feet hip’s width apart with a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Your grip should start with the palms facing you. Keep your elbows pinned to your torso and avoid allowing them to flare or move during the motion.
  2. Curl the dumbbells to your body until you cannot move farther without moving the elbow. The movement should be slow and controlled rather than explosive.
  3. Slowly rotate your grip until your palms are facing downward.
  4. Lower the dumbbells back to the bottom of the movement.
  5. Slowly rotate your grip back to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

What’s great about this movement is the seemingly dramatic amount of time each rep takes. We often love getting into the gym and blasting through reps to be in and out in record time. However, this is a shortcut, and there are no shortcuts in fitness! 

By slowing down and holding tension for a longer time, you get more work done. And more work means more results!

5) Concentration Curl

You could get great results performing alternating bicep curls when trying to isolate. Taking that concept one step further, you get the concentration curl. Now instead of hitting one arm at a time in one set, you truly isolate by doing a full set with one before moving to the next.

It’s an overall exceptional way of isolating the bicep for great gains. All you need is a single dumbbell and a seat. Here’s how to do the concentration curl correctly.

  1. Grab a dumbbell and sit on a chair, seat, or bench. Lean forward and spread your legs so you may dig your elbow into your inner thigh. Since the preacher curl uses a pad to stabilize the movement, you’re substituting your leg instead. Fully extend your arm with your elbow in place.
  2. Curl the weight to your body without adjusting your torso’s angle.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.
  4. Repeat set for your other arm.

Try to avoid too much rotation on this movement. Twisting too much takes away tension and lessens the effect of the movement. Be sure to hold a tight wrist from start to finish, and don’t forget to breathe!

6) Seated Incline Bicep Curl

If you don’t have a preacher curl station but you do have some dumbbells and an adjustable bench, then you can sub seated incline bicep curls instead. The positioning on the seated incline bicep curl causes the bicep to lengthen. Thus, you hit the muscle harder than when performing a regular preacher curl.

Here’s how to perform the seated incline bicep curl with proper form.

  1. Adjust the bench to create a 45 to 60-degree angle. Sit down with your head and back against the pad while the arms dangle, holding dumbbells.
  2. Curl the dumbbells upward toward the body without moving your elbow’s positioning. This will feel awkward at first due to the unique angle.
  3. Pause before slowly returning to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

Make sure you fully extend your arms at the bottom of the movement. Getting a full range of motion is paramount to getting great gains and results. Since this movement is advanced, keep it light and slow at first. You can always scale later on.

7) Spider Curl

This alternative may be performed with a set of dumbbells, a barbell, the cable machine, or resistance bands. It involves your choice of resistance or weight and an adjustable bench set to an incline.

Why it’s called a “spider curl”, one can only speculate. It may be the way your arms dangle off the bench like, you know, a spider. But we’re not 100% on that.

Regardless, here’s how to get a set of these done with good form.

  1. Adjust the bench to create a 45-degree angle. Lie prone on the bench with your arms dangling towards the ground. Grab the dumbbells, barbell, or whatever you choose to use and get ready.
  2. Curl the weight toward your body. Keep the elbows still as you curl. Squeeze at the top of the movement.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

When getting into position, keep your face above the top of the pad and your chest pinned to the back pad. It may be tricky getting the weight in your hands to start the set. Having a partner always helps. Otherwise, you may need to get creative.

8) Drag Curl

Look fast and you may not realize that this is any different from a standing bicep curl. However, the drag curl differs due to the elbow placement. By bringing the elbows back, it engages the bicep brachii differently than the preacher curl. What’s the result of that? Bigger bicep peaks! Who can be mad at that?

Here’s how to do the drag curl with good form.

  1. Standing with your feet hip’s width apart, grab two dumbbells or a barbell with a supinated grip.
  2. Curl the weight while bringing the elbows back. Once you cannot curl any farther, squeeze your biceps.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

It might feel odd at first moving the elbows back during the curl, but the placement is paramount. Without this movement, you’re basically doing a regular barbell curl. That’s fine and all, but in the interest of muscle confusion it’s important to switch things up regularly.

9) Goblet Squat Curl

Let’s say you’re looking to get in some good work at the gym, but you’re short on time. In these situations, it’s best to have some compound movements that hit the whole body. 

That’s where something like the goblet squat curl comes into play. You get the benefit of a goblet squat combined with a bicep curl using the kettlebell. You hit your biceps, quads, hamstrings, and more in one simple movement.

Here’s how to do the goblet squat curl with good form.

  1. Stand with your feet hip’s width apart. Hold a kettlebell to your chest.
  2. Hinge at your hips and squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Hold tension throughout the movement. Do not lose tension at the bottom of the motion and enter a crouch.
  3. Extend your arms to the floor while holding the kettlebell and curl it back to your chest.
  4. Pushing from your heels, stand. Repeat as needed.

Be sure not to go too heavy at first on this movement. While it may seem easy enough to hold a moderate to heavy kettlebell for the squat portion, the curl will truly challenge you. Keep the weight light at first while getting comfortable with the form and scale later.

10) Stability Ball Preacher Curl

Okay, so maybe you’re not looking to totally dispense of the preacher curl. Maybe it’s just that someone else is on the station. Or maybe it’s that you’re at home and you’re not about to buy a preacher curl station for just this one thing.

That’s where the stability ball preacher curl comes in. Every home gym should have a stability ball. It’s an excellent piece of equipment, relatively inexpensive, and infinitely versatile. You may not have known, but this makes a great place to perform preacher curls in a pinch.

Here’s how to do preacher curls using a stability ball.

  1. Place the stability ball before you on the floor and kneel behind it. Drape your arms, while holding dumbbells, over the top of the ball and bring it into your chest.
  2. Curl the weights toward your body.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Repeat as needed.

As with any exercise involving the stability ball, you get the added bonus of keeping the ball stationary. This activates smaller muscle groups that surround the bicep in your arm. You’ll also need to hold tension in your core to keep everything from sliding around.

Just make sure not to go too heavy on the weight for these. The last thing you need is to push your limits with a ball in the mix when suddenly it rolls away. Always exercise caution.

Related Guides

Choosing Nutrition Team

Here at Choosing Nutrition, our goal is to help people with making smarter food choices. Whether you're wondering about vegan, keto, paleo, or other diets, we'll help you determine which options fit your nutritional lifestyle. Our staff is composed of registered dieticians, nutritionists, and health-conscious individuals.

Recent Posts