Seated vs. Standing Bicep Curls: Which One Reigns Supreme?

Spread the love

Last updated on January 25th, 2024 at 11:18 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.

A Woman Performing Seated Bicep Curls

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.

Then again, to completely negate “cheating” the best option is lying biceps curls.

Is Your Goal to Get Bigger Biceps?

A Flexed Bicep

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

A Muscular Man Performing Bicep Curls and the tezt:

"Don't just curl the weight up, feel it on the way down too. That's where the real growth happens." - Arnold Schwarzenegger

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

A Muscular Man Tensing His Biceps and the text:

Exercises That Stimulate Maximum Biceps Growth

Preacher Curls = 69%
EZ-Bar Curls = 71-75%
Concentration Curls = 97%

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Barbell Curls Better Than Dumbbell Curls?

A Woman's Athletic Torso Performing Dumbbell Biceps Curls

Both barbells and dumbbells offer unique benefits and drawbacks when it comes to curls:

Barbells:

Pros:

Uniform Weight Distribution: Engages both biceps equally, promoting balanced development.

Progressive Overload: Easier to add weight plates as you get stronger, accelerating gains.

Stability and Control: The barbell rests on your thighs, providing support and minimizing momentum cheating.

Cons:

Limited Range of Motion: Barbell path restricts full bicep stretch and contraction compared to dumbbells.

Less Core Engagement: Primarily targets biceps, with minimal core activation compared to dumbbells.

Awkward Grip: Fixed barbell width might not suit everyone’s hand size or anatomy, compromising form.

Dumbbells:

Pros:

Independent Movement: Each arm works independently, allowing you to correct imbalances and strengthen weaker sides.

Greater Range of Motion: Freer movement allows for a deeper bicep stretch and more complete contraction.

Increased Core Engagement: Balancing two dumbbells forces core activation for stability and posture improvement.

Cons:

Uneven Weight Distribution: Slight imbalances in strength can lead to one arm doing more work than the other.

Harder to Progressively Overload: Dumbbells in most gyms will typically increase in weight by around 5lbs, which could be quite a jump for each arm. 

Requires More Coordination: Balancing and controlling two dumbbells simultaneously can be challenging for beginners

Ultimately, the “better” choice depends on your goals and preferences. 

Barbell curls are great for balanced bicep growth and progressive overload, while dumbbells offer a greater range of motion, core engagement, and individual arm focus. 

Experiment with both and see what feels best for your biceps.

How Often Should I Do Bicep Curls?

The frequency of your biceps training largely depends on your goals.

However, I will assume that you are looking to specialize in your biceps training.

That being the case, aim for 2-3 bicep workouts per week, with at least 48 hours of rest between sessions for optimal muscle recovery and growth. 

This allows your biceps to repair and rebuild in time for your next biceps training session.

Remember, consistency is key – even a single well-executed bicep session per week is better than sporadic bursts of training.

What Are the Best Exercises for Building Big Biceps?

A Muscular Man Adding Weights to a Barbell With the Text:

"Heavy compound exercises like chin-ups and rows are essential for building big biceps. Don't rely on just curls." - Mie Mentzer

You need some variety in your training for optimal biceps growth.

Therefore, it’s best to focus on more exercises and training techniques than simply knocking out 3 sets of 10 reps of biceps curls:

Compound Exercises: Pull-ups, chin-ups, rows – these back-focused exercises engage multiple muscle groups, including the biceps, for serious strength and size gains.

Isolation Exercises: Preacher curls, concentration curls, hammer curls – target specific bicep areas for sculpting and definition.

Progressive Overload: Gradually increase weight, reps, or sets over time to keep challenging your muscles and forcing them to adapt and grow.

Remember, the best exercises are the ones you do consistently and with proper form.

How Can I Prevent Bicep Injuries?

Bicep curls are generally safe, but improper form and overtraining can lead to tears, strains, and other issues. Here’s how to keep your biceps happy and healthy:

Warm Up: Get your blood flowing and muscles loose with light cardio and dynamic stretches before diving into curls.

Mind Your Form: Use controlled movements, focus on bicep activation, and avoid using momentum or swinging weights.

Listen to Your Body: Don’t push through pain – if something feels off, stop the exercise and take a break.

Rest and Recover: Give your biceps adequate rest between workouts to repair and rebuild.

Remember, preventing injuries is always better than recovering from them. So prioritize proper form, listen to your body, and rest when needed. Your biceps will thank you for it!

Final Thoughts

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.

Want to pack on muscle all over? Then check out my favourite 12-week muscle-building workout, Massthetic Muscle.

Leave a Comment