Last updated on February 21st, 2023 at 09:04 am
There are few better exercises for the biceps than curls.
However, there are quite a few variations to help you pump up your guns.
That being said, would you be better off performing bicep curls seated or standing?
Seated bicep curls are typically better than standing if you wish to isolate the bicep muscle. When performing standing bicep curls the core is activated, more specifically the glutes and erector spinae muscles, which work to offset the weight that you are curling. This brings the Central Nervous System more into play. However, when seated these muscles don’t have as much work to do.
Seated Bicep Curls Are Better For Isolation
So, as you can see seated bicep curls are generally better for isolating the actual bicep muscle.
Now don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean you can’t produce a fantastic set of guns with standing curls.
However, there are typically less non-relevant muscles “at work” while you’re seated.
Basically, whenever you perform standing bicep curls your core, your legs, and your Central Nervous System have a much larger part to play.
This may initially seem a little excessive.
I mean you don’t actually “feel” these muscles working, but they definitely have a role to play.
Whenever you stand up and hold a weight in front of you, your glutes and erector spinae muscles will be activated.
As silly as it sounds, if they weren’t you’d simply fall forwards and flat onto your face.
Various muscles of the abdominal wall and the obliques are also activated to provide more stability.
Let’s not forget that as you’re on your feet your quads, hamstrings, adductors, and calves will also be stimulated.
And due to all this muscle activity your Central Nervous System is also called upon.
Admittedly, it may not feel as though all this muscle activity is going on during standing bicep curls, but trust me it is.
In effect, if your workout is more athletic, mobility, or conditioning-based, then standing bicep curls are the way to go.
However, if you’re looking for more isolation of the bicep muscle, i.e. you are solely concerned with adding strength and size to your biceps, then seated bicep curls are what you should be doing.
There’s More Chance of “Cheating” With Standing Bicep Curls
You’d think with all that muscle activity going on with standing bicep curls that would be enough.
However, irrespective of whether you’re using a barbell or dumbbells there’s more likelihood of “cheating” with standing curls.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have definitely seen some insanely, funny “cheat seated curls” in my time.
This typically involves someone sitting themselves down on a bench, while they rest their back on a sharp incline.
They then grab a pair of dumbbells that potentially equal their own weight, possibly more.
You know what I mean, a weight you’d be more akin to performing one-arm rows with.
And then some type of strange contortion of the body that involves bending at the waist, leaning in the direction of the weight you’re about to curl.
This is then followed by their butt coming off the seat, a shoulder drop, and then using just about other every body part except the biceps to hoist the weight up.
Okay, I exaggerate, but my point, cheating is still possible while performing seating bicep curls.
With that being said, you will typically use far more momentum when curling a weight while standing.
While you’re standing and struggling to curl the weight upwards there is a tendency to throw in some body English just to get past the sticking point.
This may involve bringing the hips into the equation, leaning to one side and using shoulder momentum, or simply throwing the weight up as opposed to curling it.
As I say, cheating can still occur while you’re seated, but it’s far less likely.
This is generally why most of us use less weight in the seated bicep curl.
Basically, we have less opportunity to use momentum or other body parts to lift the weight.
So, once again, if you’re really trying to target the biceps you may be better off taking a seat.
Is Your Goal to Get Bigger Biceps?
I’m now going to be somewhat hypocritical.
This can actually be a bit of a catch-22 situation.
You would think the better you can isolate your biceps, the more they’re likely to grow.
And this is of course true.
So, you think that doing seated bicep curls is the correct way to train in order to stimulate growth.
However, I’ll reiterate that you will typically curl more weight from a standing position.
Okay yes, I’ve spoken of the other muscles that come into play.
Plus, there’s more chance that you’re going to cheat and use momentum to get the weight up when you’re standing.
With that being said, I would never say there is just ONE best way to bicep curl.
And therefore completely ignore the other.
For me, if you want to pack on strength and size in your biceps, a combination of both seated and standing curls is what you should be doing.
My Favourite Bicep Curl Variations
I have my personal favourites, exercises that I like performing, ones that activate the biceps, and force them to grow.
From a standing position I favour the barbell bicep curl.
This really allows me to curl the most weight and will typically be the heaviest curl I’m going to do.
I’ll add to this that I absolutely love rope cable hammer curls.
However, I’ll generally go for a higher volume of reps with this exercise.
When it comes to seated bicep curls there’s two exercises that trump the rest in my mind.
Firstly, seated incline dumbbell bicep curls.
And this is then followed by concentration curls.
If I’m being completely honest, the two seated curl variations will feel as though they’re working your biceps much harder.
The seated incline curl will stretch the bicep out fully at the bottom.
Whereas, concentration curls completely take away the use of momentum and thoroughly pinpoint the biceps.
Basically, these two seated curls will really give you that “burn” that you typically desire when training biceps.
However, this is not to say that the two standing curl variations are completely useless.
They play a massive role in building strength, size, and flooding the biceps with blood.
I’ll also add that the preacher curl station at my regular gym is the seated variety.
However, I know that this can also be a standing station at many gyms.
But, preacher curls are another exercise I really enjoy doing to hit the biceps.
The Official Bicep Curl Study
Interestingly, the American Council on Exercise conducted a study to ascertain the most efficient exercise to stimulate maximum bicep growth.
They concluded that preacher curls yielded 69% bicep activity.
This actually surprised me as I often feel that preacher curls completely isolate the biceps when performed correctly.
But, I stand corrected.
EZ-bar bicep curls yield 71% bicep activity with a narrow grip, and 75% with a wide grip.
Once again, somewhat surprising, as I often feel the biceps are being worked harder with a narrow grip.
However, the exercise that yielded the most bicep activity, and therefore would stimulate the most growth, was concentration curls.
In fact, concentration curls yield a whopping 97% of bicep activity.
And the main reason for this is because you’re able to completely isolate the bicep during the movement.
If you’re looking to completely isolate the biceps during curls then the seated variety will generally be the better option. Standing bicep curls use a wide variety of other stabilizing muscles including, the glutes, erector spinae, etc. Your legs, abdominal wall and obliques also come into to play, as does the Central Nervous System. There is also more opportunity to use momentum to lift the weight when performing standing bicep curls.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.