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Barbell Curl vs Dumbbell Curl – Which is Best for You?

What if you had a tough choice to make?

What if you could only use one or the other, which would you choose; barbell curl vs dumbbell curl?

Maybe you have limited funds, or a tiny workout space, or maybe you and a few friends need to settle the matter and find out which is best.

Whatever your reason, we are going to discuss barbell curl vs dumbbell curls and relay the pros and cons of each.

We can not promise there will be a clear winner between the two, but you will become more savvy to the differences between the two. That means YOU win, right?

What is the difference between barbell curl vs dumbbell curl?

barbell training

Dumbbell Curl

Let’s consider the curl. If you are right handed, it is likely that your right side is stronger than the left. If you use a barbell, your right arm may take 60% or more of the weight and the strength between arms becomes imbalanced.

With dumbbells, this imbalance can be corrected, because you can use weights in isolation, lifting the same amount of weight with each arm.


  • Relatively natural unrestricted movement , can rotate wrist, more freedom of motion
  • Far better range of motion, no restricted by the bar
  • Dumbbells can help fix muscular imbalances
  • Dumbbells work more stabilizing or secondary muscles than the barbell. Excellent for overall fitness, conditioning, control and balance.


  • Unilateral or iso-lateral, one side at a time only

Notes on the dumbbell:

Ultra heavy dumbbells are often times not the best choice, for the same reason they are a good choice at more reasonable weights- they can injury the stabilizing, core, postural, deep stabilizing muscles.

While dumbbells at lower weights help strengthen these muscles, lifting super heavy with dumbbells can damage those muscles.

Think of it this way:

Let’s say you were trying to build immunity to a poison. Would you start with a small dose or a lethal dose?

The answer is obvious.

The small dose will cause just a small amount of damage (theoretically) and your body will react, and hopefully become stronger as you continue. Taking a large dose before you have built up to it is fatal.

While we do NOT recommend trying to build a tolerance to poison, we DO recommend strengthening the core, stabilizing muscles before progressing to heavy weights.

Barbell Curl

The barbell curl is not without its own merits, however.


  • Progression is easier, increments on the barbell are smaller, usually 2.5lbs, so you can move up faster and easier.
  • Setup is slightly easier
  • Possibly safer
  • Bilateral, both arms are moving together to lift one movement
  • Barbell is more practical for power lifting and very heavy lifting.


  • More limited range of motion because of the bar
  • Can cause wrist pain because of the somewhat unnatural position of the wrist during barbell curls.

Note on Barbells:

There exists a bar that is easier on the wrists. It is called an easy curl bar and is so named because it puts less stress on the wrists, NOT because it is easier to lift. This bar is bent to allow a more ergonomically correct position for the wrist during the barbell curl.

Guy lifting dumbbells

Proper vs Improper form

Proper Form Dumbbell Bicep Curls

This video demonstrates proper form and offers tips on how to perform the bicep curl with dumbbells.

The reason we really like this video is because Joost also shows BAD form to illustrate the difference and explains why the bad form is so detrimental. He explains why you should not perform a dumbbell curl with weights you are not able to handle.

What NOT to do

Start watching this video from about 9 minutes in. Both fellas are sporting bad form, kipping the dumbbell, moving their entire body, swinging their arms and basically demonstrating why it is not effective to do a dumbbell curl with heavy weights.

Bicep Curls Gone Bad – what NOT to do on bicept dumbell curls

Jeff Cavaliere offers us another great video, showing good form vs bad form, as well as explains when and why the shoulder muscles get involved.

The contribution of the shoulders should only happen AFTER the weight is at least halfway up. Otherwise, the delts are too involved in the lift, and the biceps are not strengthening as much as they would be if the curl was done properly.

Bonus: Check the video at 4 minutes in for a slow-mo demo of bad form on the bicep curl.

How to Do a Barbell Curl | Arm Workout

This guy is legit, he demonstrates a perfect barbell curl, with no swinging no hip movement. He discusses proper form and timing, and it is a short video, good for beginners.

BARBELL CURLS | Biceps | How-To Exercise Tutorial

Brandon demonstrates proper form for the bicep curl, and explains how spacing on the bar changes how much stress is placed on each bicep head.

He offers solid tips to focus the exercise on the biceps and minimize shoulder flexion.

How To Do Bicep Curls: 5 Tips For Perfect Bicep Curl Form

This video shows good form for Barbell, dumbbell and cable curls. Sean makes several good points, including the fact that the amount of weight you lift is not the most important factor when building biceps.

When building biceps, it’s the about of resistance that the bicep muscle receives that builds the biceps.

This seems obvious, but bad form, which is common when performing bicep curls, places the resistance on other muscle groups, and of the biceps. Totally counterproductive.

So barbell curl vs dumbbell curl, which is best?

In general, dumbbells, at least at lower weights, are ideal for strengthening both the biceps and support and stabilization muscles.

Barbells are good for lifting heavy weight and progressing weight-wise.

But it is not always that simple!

Which Biceps Curl is Best For Your Biceps?

Here we have Jeff, again, explaining which exercise to use to address certain issues. He covers how to lift if you have wrist pain, and how that is different from what you should do if the pain is in your elbow or shoulder.

He recommends barbell curls for some issues, and dumbbells for others.

An excellent video, we highly recommend watching.

Let us know in the comments what YOU prefer barbell curl vs dumbbell curl, and why you prefer it.