9 Best Preacher Curl Alternatives (With Pictures)

The preacher curl is a staple in many training programs and is one of the best exercises to isolate the biceps. However, not everyone has access to a preacher curl station to perform the exercise.

Also, the preacher curl is not an optimal exercise to put the best stimulus on the biceps because it does not fully stretch the bicep muscles and you get inconsistent tension throughout the range of motion.

So if you want a similar or harder alternative to the preacher curl exercise, we’ll explain the best options below. 

The 9 best preacher curl alternatives are:

  • Standing Barbell Curl
  • Standing Dumbbell Curl
  • Standing Cable Curl
  • Zottman Curl
  • Concentration Curl
  • Seated Incline DB Curl
  • Spider Curl
  • Cable Preacher Curl
  • Arm Blaster Bomber Curl

In this article, I will go through exactly why these are good alternatives to the preacher curl, how to perform them, and key things you want to keep in mind.

I have also offered variations that include different pieces of equipment including but not limited to dumbbells, barbells, and machines. 

There will be plenty of variations that can be done either at home, outdoors, or in a gym. 

What Makes a Good Preacher Curl Alternative

A good preacher curl alternative will be able to satisfy the following criteria:

1. Activate the bicep muscle groups which is trained in the preacher curl

2. Isolate the muscle groups during execution

3. Train the bicep muscle through a longer range of motion

Let’s explore these criteria further.

Muscles Used In The Preacher Curl

The muscles used in the preacher curl are:

  • Biceps Brachii (Short Head)
  • Biceps Brachii (Long Head)
  • Brachialis

Depending on the angle of the preacher curl, the hardest point of the preacher curl may be different. 

For example, if the preacher station is inclined to 45 degrees, the hardest point of the preacher curl is near the bottom of the range of motion. If the preacher station is inclined vertically, the hardest point of the preacher curl is near the top of the range of motion.

The 45-degree incline is generally harder than the vertical incline. This is because when the muscle is lengthened to the maximum, it is a weaker position for the muscle to contract.

Isolate The Bicep Muscles

A good preacher curl alternative will be able to isolate the joint movement around the elbows only. 

Any relative movement of the upper arm will engage muscles around the shoulders such as the deltoids, chest muscles, and back muscles. 

A preacher curl has a flat pad for the arms to rest on so that the movement comes only through the elbows, which isolate the biceps.

Train The Biceps Through Longer Range Of Motion

A good preacher curl alternative will also be able to mimic the same bicep range of motion as the preacher curl or increase the range of motion.

This can be done by positioning the upper arm in a different position so as to stretch the biceps out more. This is because the biceps cross the shoulder joint and attach to the shoulder blades.

By training the biceps through a longer range of motion, you can increase the training stimulus for superior muscle mass gains.

Preacher Curl Alternatives: 9 Exercises

1. Standing Barbell Curl

The standing barbell curl is a great alternative to the preacher curl to overload both biceps together. The standing barbell curl uses a barbell just like the preacher curl, except that you are standing up and relying on your own torso to isolate your arms.

You can use the same shoulder-width grip that you normally would with the preacher curl, but the standing barbell curl is a little bit more challenging than the preacher curl. This is because it challenges your ability to keep the elbows still when you curl and it challenges your ability to stay balanced.

How To Do It

  • Stand upright with your feet at hip widths apart
  • Hold onto a straight barbell with your hands about shoulder widths apart
  • Dig your elbows into your torso and ensure they stay fixed into your torso
  • Take a deep breath in and brace
  • Curl the barbell as high as you can without moving your elbows away, and exhale
  • Inhale as you lower the barbell back down, and repeat the sequence

Pro-Tip

To avoid too much swinging, you can rely on a wall or something solid to lean on when you perform this exercise to stop yourself from swinging.

This exercise is best performed with 3 or more reps in reserve because if you push too hard, you might find yourself cheating some of the reps.  What this means is that you stop at the end of your set and say, “I could have done 3 more reps with good technique”. 

2. Standing Dumbbell Curl

The standing dumbbell curl is similar to the standing barbell curl and is a good alternative to the preacher curl. The advantage that the standing dumbbell curl has over the preacher curl is that by using dumbbells, you can ensure that your stronger bicep does not take over the other. 

You can also slightly adjust the angle of the dumbbell so that it is a little easier on your wrist as holding a straight barbell in a preacher curl or standing dumbbell curl can make your wrist a little uncomfortable.

How To Do It

  • Stand upright with your feet at hip widths apart
  • Hold onto a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing forward
  • Dig your elbows into your obliques so you can isolate your upper arm
  • Take a deep breath in and brace
  • Curl the dumbbells as high as you can without moving your elbows away from your torso, and breathe out
  • Inhale as you lower the barbell back down, and repeat the sequence

Pro-Tip

You can increase the range of motion through your biceps slightly if you start with your palms facing inwards towards your body and then rotate your hands as you curl so that your palms face the sky.

Your bicep helps your forearm and hand rotate outwards so this action adds to activating your biceps.

You also do not want to go too heavy as the discrepancy between your stronger and weaker arm will be apparent if one fatigue sooner during a set.

Related Article: Is It Better To Do Bicep Curls One At A Time?

3. Standing Cable Curl

A standing cable curl is a great alternative to the preacher curl. The advantage that the standing cable curl has to the preacher curl is the ability to maintain consistent tension on the biceps as the direction that the resistance is pulling is diagonally away.

There can be variations within the standing cable curl as you can use different handle attachments for the standing cable curl. 

You can use a straight bar handle if you want an easier execution. You can also use a rope handle if you want to make it a bit harder on your biceps by allowing your hands and forearms to rotate more.  To make it more similar to the preacher curl though, use an EZ bar attachment.

How To Do It

  • While standing 1 or 2 feet away from a cable column, hold onto a cable machine handle
  • Put your elbows pinned into your obliques and keep them fixed, allow a slight lean away from the cable column
  • Take a deep breath in and brace
  • Curl the cable handle upwards without bringing the elbows away from the torso
  • Slowly return the cable handle downwards until your elbows are fully extended

Pro-Tip

To avoid too much rocking backward and forwards, you should try to slow down and control the ascent when you are curling. Being too aggressive with curling the cable up and sometimes result in you tipping forward. 

Related Article: Is It Better To Do Bicep Curls Fast Or Slow?

4. Zottman Curl

The Zottman curl is an advanced alternative to the preacher curl. It is similar to the dumbbell curl except that there is more time under tension and additional rotation through the forearms. You can only use dumbbells for this variation.

The Zottman curl starts off like a dumbbell curl when the dumbbells are initially curled up, but there is a momentary hold at the top where the forearms rotate so that the palms now face downwards before it is lowered.

This additional rotation leads to an increase in time under tension as well as an increase in the stimulus on the bicep and forearm muscles.

How To Do It

  • Stand up with your feet close together and hold onto a pair of dumbbells
  • Keep your elbows tightly packed close to your torso
  • Start with your palms facing forward when you curl the dumbbells upwards
  • Stop before you feel like your elbows will move away from your torso
  • Hold the top position and rotate your forearms so that your palms face downwards
  • Lower the dumbbell to the bottom until your elbows are fully extended
  • Rotate the forearms in the opposite way so that your palms face forward again, then repeat the cycle for the desired number of reps

Pro-Tip

This exercise is very difficult to do with higher loads so keep the weights light and aim for higher reps with at least 10+ reps. 

You may also want to slow down more than usual on the descent as this “reverse grip” is a weak position for your biceps so you may find that you have a strong tendency to drop the weight fast.

Related Article: Is It Better To Do Bicep Curls Standing Or Sitting?

5. Concentration Curl

The concentration curl is a great single-arm replacement to the preacher curl and applies a very similar approach to isolating the biceps. This is a very popular exercise among bodybuilders and is made famous by bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The contraction curl will require a single dumbbell and a sturdy seat or bench press.

How To Do It

  • Sit on a bench so that your knees are roughly on the same level as your hips
  • Lean forward with your back straight and dig your elbow on one side of your inner thigh while holding onto a dumbbell
  • Starting with your arm straight and the dumbbell hanging but off the floor, ensure your hands are facing away from the leg that your arm is digging into
  • Curl the weight as high as you can in a controlled manner without changing posture
  • Once you reach a maximum range of motion, return the dumbbell slowly back down until your arms straighten
  • Once you have completed the desired amount of reps, changing side to work the other bicep

Pro-Tip

Put the hand of your resting arm on top of your thigh on the same side. A good cue is to think about leading with the pinky when you curl the weight, this helps you maximize bicep activation and avoid rotating your forearms too much, which takes tension away.

Related Article: How To Even Out Biceps If One Is Bigger Than The Other

6. Seated Incline Bicep Curl

The seated incline bicep curl is an advanced alternative to the preacher curl. The reason why it is more advanced is that your arms are stretched back in a position where your bicep is lengthened more. This bicep exercise becomes longer in range of motion and more difficult than compared to a preacher curl.

This variation is normally performed with dumbbells but can easily be made harder with a cable. The reason why the cable version is harder is that it can pull against the bicep harder at the bottom range of motion of the exercise.

How To Do It

  • Set up an incline bench press to about 45 to 60 degrees
  • Sit down and keep your head back with your arms vertical, while holding onto a pair of dumbbells
  • While keeping your upper arms stationary, make sure your palms are facing forward or slightly away from yourself
  • Maintain a vertical upper arm, and curl the dumbbells until you reach a point before you feel like lifting your elbows up
  • Hold for a momentary pause before returning the dumbbells back down, then repeat for the number of prescribed repetitions.

Pro-Tip

This is an advanced variation so it is worth paying attention to technique and not going too heavy initially so you do not pull your bicep muscle. 

To make the most out of the reps, it is worth paying extra attention to consciously extending your elbows at the bottom to maximize the range of motion. It is very easy to cheat and short-change yourself by cutting the range of motion short.

The lower the incline, the more the bicep stretches but not everyone has the mobility for this exercise variation just yet. Start with an angle that is closer to 60 degrees or more vertical first.

Related Article: 15 Best Landmine Press Alternatives

7. Spider Curl

A spider curl is a good regressive alternative to the preacher curl, meaning it’s less advanced than the preacher curl. The reason why the spider curl is an easier exercise than the preacher curl is that the most difficult portion of the range of motion is near the middle, which is also where the bicep is most likely to be its strongest.

You will need to have an incline bench press, with a choice of dumbbell, barbell, cable machine, or resistance band to perform this. 

How To Do It

  • Set up a free weight bench to about 45-degree incline
  • Lay prone on the bench press facing downwards towards the ground
  • Hold onto a pair of dumbbells or a barbell with your palms facing away and vertical arms
  • While keeping your upper arm vertical, curl your weight up and stop before you raise your elbows
  • Lower the weight in a controlled manner until your arms fully extend to the bottom, then repeat for the desired number of reps

Pro-Tip

To help isolate the biceps the most, clench your arms into the bench to keep your upper arm and shoulders as stationary as possible when executing the exercise.

You want to ideally keep your head above the bench press and have your chest flat on top of the bench pad as well.

8. Cable Preacher Curl

The cable preacher curl would be an advanced progression to the preacher curl. With this alternative, you substitute the barbell for a cable machine with ideally a straight bar handle. 

Alternatively, you can use a rope handle or a single-arm handle, if you want to turn this into a single-arm variation.

The use of a cable machine means that rather than tension decreasing at the top of the preacher curl, you maintain consistent resistance throughout the range of motion. This makes each repetition harder and thus increases the hypertrophy stimulus per rep.

How To Do It

  • Set up a preacher curl station in front of a cable column or dual adjustable pulley machine
  • Attach a straight bar handle or other desired handle to the cable machine and set it so that the cable stems from the bottom of the cable column
  • Hold onto the straight bar handle and sit on the preacher curl station
  • Curl the handle up without letting your elbows leave the preacher curl pad
  • Return the handle back down until your arms fully straighten then repeat the cycle to complete the desired number of reps

Pro-Tip

You should actively dig your elbows down into the preacher curl pad so as not to engage the deltoid muscle to compensate.

You can even progress and make this cable preacher curl variation harder by using a resistance band instead. This means that the resistance will increase as you curl the band upwards.

Related Article: 13 Best Lat Pulldown Alternatives (Dumbbell, At Home, Cable)

9. Arm Blaster Bomber Curl

The arm blaster bomber curl is a really fun substitute to the preacher curl and is a great way to isolate the bicep muscles. You will need a specific item called an Arm Blaster. You can perform this preacher curl alternative with dumbbells or barbells. 

The Arm Blaster piece of kit will help you isolate the biceps by preventing you front digging your elbows backward to assist the movement of the curl.

How To Do It

  • Adjust the strap of the Arm Blaster so that your elbows just about reach below the bottom of the Arm Blaster piece
  • Put the Arm Blaster on, stand with your feet about hip widths apart and grab onto a pair of dumbbells or a barbell
  • Make sure that your palms are facing forward, take a deep breath in and brace
  • Curl the weight up as high as you can without letting your triceps leave the Arm Blaster
  • Slowly return the weight back down until your arms relax at the bottom, then repeat for the desired number of reps

Pro-Tip

In order to make this exercise as comfortable as possible, it is important to make sure you brace your core well so that the Arm Blaster does not dig into your stomach too much. 

You also want to make sure that you do not go too heavy with this. It will punish you if you try to go too heavy on this exercise as it will be uncomfortable for your abs if you try to swing a heavy load.

Other Bicep Training Resources


About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach

Norman Cheung

Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com