Preacher Curl Alternatives: How to Target the Same Muscles

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
March 18, 2022

A favorite among bodybuilders and gym goers wishing to pack mass onto their biceps brachii, the preacher curl is a closed kinetic chain isolation exercise usually performed with the use of an EZ bar curl or dumbbell so as to induce a highly targeted training stimulus in the shape of an accessory exercise.

The preacher curl is not always suitable for every workout routine or individual, however, and therefore finding an alternative exercise that addresses the problems and concerns involved in the preacher curl can allow the exerciser to achieve the same effects without performing the preacher curl itself.

Luckily, quite a few alternative exercises and variations of the curl can replace the preacher curl, with little to no extra work or equipment necessary, such as the ordinary bicep curl or the concentration curl.

Why Should the Preacher Curl be Substituted in a Training Routine?

The preacher curl is considered an exercise best used by individuals with at least a moderate level of experience in weighted resistance training due to the risk of injury involved if it is performed with the improper form or too intense a level of resistance.

barbell preacher curl

This is because of the angle of tension and torque placed throughout the forearms and shoulders as the preacher curl is performed, posing a rather high chance of developing tendon damage and joint impingement if too much weight or improper form is utilized by the exerciser.

While this can generally be avoided by lowering the weight and correcting one’s form, many exercisers may instead decide that the risk is not worth the reward and choose to perform a similar exercise without the same drawbacks as the preacher curl.

What Muscles are Trained by the Preacher Curl and its Alternatives?

The preacher curl is an isolation exercise that primarily trains the biceps brachii, and as such any potential alternative exercises must also activate the same muscle group in an intensity or manner similar to the preacher curl as well.

preacher curl benefits

This may come in the form of a compound exercise that activates the biceps brachii in a secondary capacity, or, more effectively, a similar isolation exercise that also only targets the biceps - though both compound and isolation type alternatives to the preacher curl are capable of inducing similar levels of hypertrophy and conditioning.

By addition, the preacher curl also activates the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles located along the outer side of the arm, both of which are responsible for elbow flexion and thus trained throughout the entirety of the exercise.

What To Look Out for in a Preacher Curl Alternative Exercise

The particular characteristics required of a preacher curl exercise are rather broad in comparison to the requirements found in substituting other exercises - primarily that of highly targeted and moderate to intense biceps brachii activation, a characteristic of many biceps isolation exercises.

However, this is not the only thing an exerciser should look out for when choosing to alternate the preacher curl with another exercise, as such factors like similarity in equipment used and angle of resistance must also be considered.

Ideally, a suitable alternative to the preacher curl will share its characteristic biceps brachii training stimulus and angle while also imparting a moderate to high level of activation, hopefully without activating other muscle groups to any significant degree.

Variations of the Preacher Curl

If choosing to alternate the preacher curl with a suitable variation as opposed to an entirely different exercise, the coach or exerciser must ensure that the variation exercise used fits the reasoning behind why the preacher curl is being substituted out in the first place.

If the exerciser has a history of elbow, wrist or shoulder injuries and wishes to avoid worsening the symptoms any further, it is likely a better choice to avoid any variation of the preacher curl entirely - all the more so for heavier or more complex variations of said exercise.

EZ Bar Preacher Curl

Technically just an ordinary preacher curl with an EZ barbell in place of a dumbbell or ordinary barbell, the EZ bar preacher curl is worthy of mention as an entirely different variation of the preacher curl due to the significant change in mechanics involved with the proper use of an EZ barbell.

ez bar preacher curl

This is due to the altered position in which the exerciser’s wrists and hands will remain in throughout the exercise, significantly reducing the chance of injury and strain on the joints of the elbows, wrists as well as that of the shoulders.

The EZ bar preacher curl may be used as a potential alternative variation to the traditional preacher curl for situations where the exerciser is beginning to see warning signs of such conditions like tendonitis or joint impingement, all of which are frequently found in particularly heavy preacher curl sets.

Preacher Hammer Curls

Not quite a variation of the preacher curl but also not an entirely different exercise, preacher hammer curls exist somewhere between that of an ordinary preacher curl and that of the brachioradialis focused hammer curl exercise.

The preacher hammer curl is usually performed through the use of a preacher curl stand and a pair of dumbbells, as performing a hammer curl with a barbell not specifically made for such a purpose is rather cumbersome and difficult.

dumbbell preacher hammer curls

The preacher hammer curl differs from the traditional preacher curl both in terms of safety and in targeted muscle activation and the subsequent muscle activation pattern itself - with the biceps brachii still being activated to some extent, though less so in comparison to the brachioradialis and brachialis muscles.

The risk of wrist injuries is also considerably lower than what would be found in the traditional preacher curl due to the neutral position of the hammer curl’s grip, though the risk of elbow and shoulder damage is within the same range.

Preacher Curl Machine

A resistance machine built specifically for allowing the exerciser to perform a preacher curl with all the benefits that come with the use of resistance exercise machines, the preacher curl machine is a somewhat safer and slightly more effective variation of the ordinary preacher curl with the primary difference being in the type of equipment used.

lever preacher curl machine

Unlike ordinary free weight resistance exercises, the preacher curl machine provides a constant time under tension by constantly applying an even amount of resistance to the exerciser, even at the top and bottom of the repetition.

However, this advantage over the ordinary preacher curl may be tempered somewhat due to the shape and angle of most preacher curl machines, making performing the exercise on the machine awkward for certain individuals and their particular biomechanics - though some of said machines are adjustable, remedying this problem. 

Possible Alternative Exercises to the Preacher Curl

Also being a biceps brachii isolation exercise itself, it stands to reason that the preacher curl is best substituted with an alternative exercise of a similar nature - that being, .targeted biceps brachii isolation stimulus at a low to moderate intensity so as to avoid incurring unnecessary injuries or strains.

When choosing any of the following biceps brachii isolation exercises as a replacement for the preacher curl in one’s workout routine, it is important for the exerciser to identify why precisely they are substituting the preacher curl in the first place.

Such motivations behind this substitution wilp preclude the use of some of the following alternative exercises, such as the concentration curl in individuals with a history of biceps tears, or the use of a bicep curl with a straight barbell for those with certain wrist and elbow joint issues.

Thus, it is important for the exerciser to first consult with a physician or athletic coach so as to understand what sort of requirements are needed for a potential preacher curl alternative exercise.

Bicep Curl

Perhaps one of the most commonly known resistance exercises throughout the world, the bicep curl is a classic among isolation exercises and considered one of the best possible mass builders for the biceps brachii.

dumbbell bicep curl

While the preacher curl is seen as having a somewhat more efficient range of motion and therefore a more effective level of training stimulus, the biceps curl performed with proper form and an appropriate level of resistance can instill just as significant an amount of muscular hypertrophy and strength conditioning.

Generally, due to the larger range of motion involved in the biceps curl, the exerciser may find that a slightly lower volume of repetitions than they would normally perform with the preacher curl is more than suitable.

Concentration Curl

Considered a close cousin to the preacher curl with the primary difference between the two being in the specific angle of resistance as well as what equipment is used, the concentration curl should be first among the list of possible substitutes to the preacher curl for the majority of exercisers.

Due to the difference in the angle of resistance involved, the concentration curl places a somewhat larger emphasis on the “peak” or short head of the biceps brachii, with the top of the repetition generally being considered the most intense portion of the exercise.

dumbbell concentration curl

However, despite this advantage in terms of muscular activation and induced hypertrophy, the concentration curl presents the drawback of requiring more time and energy to perform properly, as it is normally done in a bilateral fashion and as such only one arm is worked out at a time.

This is in opposition to the barbell or unilateral movement that is native to the preacher curl, which not only saves time but also allows for smaller increments of weight changes to occur - allowing for more effective progressive overload over a period of time.

Despite this, the concentration curl is still one of the best possible alternatives to the preacher curl, especially when matching the volume of repetitions and intensity of resistance as well.

Cable Curl

A biceps isolation exercise that makes use of a cable machine to reduce the incidence of injury and provide constant time under tension to the muscles, the cable curl may act as a possible alternative to the preacher curl within the context of an exercise routine that simply requires a low to moderate level of biceps brachii activation to occur.

cable one arm curl

One benefit to the cable curl that makes it more suitable as an alternative than other curl exercises in the adjustable nature of most cable machines, allowing the exerciser to find their ideal angle of resistance in accordance to their particular biomechanics - something that many struggle with when using a preacher curl stand instead.

When choosing to substitute the preacher curl with the cable curl, it is best to utilize a lower level of resistance and somewhat higher volume of repetitions due to the constant time under tension involved in the exercise.

Zottman Curl

One of the lesser known variations of the standard curl exercise, the zottman curl targets not only the biceps brachii but also the various smaller muscles located along the forearms, all of which are in addition to the brachioradialis and the brachialis muscles along the outer portion of the entire arm.

dumbbell seated zottman curl

As such, the zottman curl is not necessarily considered an isolation exercise, but due to the fact that its primary mover muscle is only the biceps brachii, it is also not quite a compound exercise either.

The zottman curl provides a level of biceps brachii activation intensity that can surpass even the preacher curl itself, though this is at the expense of the forearms and other small muscle groups in the arms becoming fatigued over the course of several sets, something that the preacher curl avoids with its highly targeted muscular activation.

As such, though the zottman curl should be performed with a similar volume of repetitions in mind, it is important for the exerciser to either place said zottman curls along the end of their workout session so as to avoid fatiguing themselves prematurely, or to modify their workout program accordingly.

References

1. Marcolin G, Panizzolo FA, Petrone N, Moro T, Grigoletto D, Piccolo D, Paoli A. Differences in electromyographic activity of biceps brachii and brachioradialis while performing three variants of curl. PeerJ. 2018 Jul 13;6:e5165. doi: 10.7717/peerj.5165. PMID: 30013836; PMCID: PMC6047503.

2. Melrose, Don PhD, CSCS*D Exercise Technique, Strength and Conditioning Journal: February 2014 - Volume 36 - Issue 1 - p 92-93 doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e318297a092

3. Kostek, Mark T.; Knortz, Karen Kinesiology Corner, National Strength Coaches Association Journal: December 1980 - Volume 2 - Issue 6 - p 55-55

4. Nunes, João P., Jeferson L. Jacinto, Alex S. Ribeiro, Jerry L. Mayhew, Masatoshi Nakamura, Danila M.G. Capel, Leidiane R. Santos, Leandro Santos, Edilson S. Cyrino, and Andreo F. Aguiar. 2020. "Placing Greater Torque at Shorter or Longer Muscle Lengths? Effects of Cable vs. Barbell Preacher Curl Training on Muscular Strength and Hypertrophy in Young Adults" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17, no. 16: 5859. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17165859

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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