A common goal of gym goers is to get bigger arm muscles. Biceps play a major role in upper body aesthetics. And curls are the most popular way to grow them.
Many versions of curls exist. They are a simple, versatile, and trusted exercise. But which curl reigns supreme: preacher curls or regular bicep curls? Is there even a difference? In this article, you’ll find out exactly what a preacher curl is, what the benefits are and how to do it.
What Is A Preacher Curl?
It is a relatively new exercise. It gained momentum in the 1960s, around the time the Mr. Olympia competition emerged.
Vince Gironda, the ‘Iron Guru’ developed the preacher curl. He put it to use with his protégé Larry Scott. Larry was the first winner of Mr. Olympia. He was the envy of many men with his impressive biceps and forearms.
It has since become a popular version of the bicep curl. Like regular curls, they target your biceps and forearms. Unlike regular curls, this version is done with a preacher bench. Any well-equipped gym should stock this piece of equipment.
This type of curl is done with your arms resting on a padded, angled surface. They can be done with your choice of dumbbells, a barbell or an EZ bar. Though some gyms have a machine that comes complete with a bar, specific to this biceps exercise.
They can be done with both arms at the same time or one at a time.
Benefits of Preacher Curl Exercise
Below you will find a list of the benefits of this exercise. Ultimately, this is what sets this style of bicep curl apart from the others.
Having your arms resting on a stable surface means there is no room for swinging. No momentum is generated to curl the weight upwards. The preacher curl provides the opportunity for greatest control over the movement.
When doing a regular standing curl, some of this control is lost through hip and torso movement. So, you’ll lift more in a regular curl. But does that mean much if it is at the sacrifice of control?
The added control the preacher curl provides means that more load is placed on your biceps and forearms. The position of your arms in this exercise does not allow for other muscles to be recruited for help. Your biceps work in isolation.
This is a great feature of the preacher curl for those whose primary goal is developing strength. Is it “harder” than the regular bicep curl because of this? In short, yes.
3. Negative Movement Focus
One of the standout benefits of this type of curl is the focus on negative movement. Negative movement refers to the lengthening of muscles under load. This can be observed in the eccentric phase of an exercise.
The stability of the preacher bench allows you to emphasize the eccentric phase of the exercise. Releasing out of the curl can and should be done slowly. This enhances growth and strength through your biceps.
The preacher curl is a comfortable exercise to perform. You can’t look past that fact. There’s nothing worse than doing an exercise that feels unnatural and creates pain (and not the good kind).
This exercise feels natural. You get to sit down too, which is always a plus in my eyes! And whilst you’re dealing with load, each arm is resting on a padded and stable surface. So, you can settle right!
How to Do Preacher Curls
As with any exercise, failure to nail the technique is a biggie. To reap the benefits associated with preacher curls, you need to get them right. Here’s how:
- Adjust the height of the bench so that your underarms are in line with the top of the angled arm support.
- Sit in the preacher curl bench/machine with your feet planted on the ground.
- Hold your weight of choice with an underhand grip.
- Starting position is with your upper arms resting on the bench – they should be extended.
- Keeping them resting on the bench, curl the weight upwards towards you.
- The top of the movement should be when your forearms are vertical. Your palms should then be facing you. Your biceps should be contracted.
- Hold here for a second.
- Return to starting position over 3 to 4 seconds.
Sets and Reps
The sets and reps you do should be in line with your training goals. Preacher curls lend themselves to lighter weight. This is because of the isolated, ‘cheat-free’ nature of this exercise. So, you can get away with using a higher repetition range over less sets.
I like to do my preacher curls for 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions at maximum weight. Advanced strength lifters can work in the 8 to 10 repetition range.
Preacher Curl Variations
There are a few ways to do preacher curls. As previously mentioned, you can do them with both arms. You can also make use of a unilateral approach – using one arm at a time. You can do dumbbell preacher curls or barbell preacher curls.
But you can spice up the exercise even further than this!
Overhand Preacher Curls
This variation of the preacher curl will place significant load on your forearms. For extra oomph, make use of a thumb-less grip. An EZ bar is the best choice of weight for this exercise. The technique is like the standard preacher curl, except for your grip.
Hold the bar with an overhand (thumb-less) grip. Begin with your arms fully extended. Your upper arms should be resting on the preacher bench. Curl the bar up towards you, finishing with your forearms vertical. Your palms will be facing away from you, unlike the standard version.
If you like a solid forearm pump – this exercise is for you!
Also read: The Reverse Curl: A Well-Rounded Approach to Better Arms
Zottman Preacher Curl
You guessed it… this is a Zottman curl, using a preacher curl bench.
The standard preacher curl places a lot of load on your biceps. The overhand preacher curl places most of the load on your forearms. This variation places equal focus on your biceps and forearms. And it is the rotating grip that is responsible for this.
Use dumbbells for this exercise. The preacher bench set up is the same, but you’ll start with your forearms in the ‘top’ position. Have a dumbbell in each hand with your forearms vertical and upper part of each arm resting on the platform. Your palms will be facing away from you at this stage.
Extend through the elbows, lowering the dumbbells downwards until your arms are straight. Your bicep muscles should be extended. Then rotate your hands so your palms are facing up. Curl the weight towards you, into starting position. Rotate your hands once again before performing your next rep.
Your forearms will work on the way down. Your biceps will work on the way up!
The preacher curl is an arm exercise that presents many advantages. It targets your biceps and your forearms and is efficient in building strength and size. Are preacher curls better than regular curls? Should you replace regular bicep curls with preacher curls?
Well, no… to both questions.
Preacher curls (and their variations) have their perks. But they are different rather than better. For all-round bicep and forearm progress, do preacher curls and regular bicep curls in your upper body workout.