How to Build Big Arms with Preacher Curls – Technique, Benefits and Tips

This extensive guide will teach you how to build big, strong arms and biceps using Preacher Curls.

What are Preacher Curls?

Preacher Curls are an effective barbell bicep curl exercise that are performed sitting down on a Preacher bench machine.

Muscles Worked by Preacher Curls

Preacher Curls mainly work the biceps (the biceps branchii).

The biceps branchii are split into two heads on the front of the arms.

This is why it is essential to hit your arms from multiple angles, grips and widths in order to maximise your gains.

Why are they Called Preacher Curls?

The exercise is called Preacher Curls because the overall form resembles a preacher leaning over a pulpit to preach to the congregation.

Benefits of the Preacher Curl

The Preacher Curl brings many benefits to your fitness and aesthetics that may be missed by the traditional bicep curl.

1. Build Solid Bicep Muscle Mass

The Preacher Curl is an excellent way to add size and definition to your biceps.

Man with EZ Bar
Build stronger arms ©Jeff Tumale

2. Concentration on the Negative Portion of the Rep

When it comes to training for muscle growth (hypertrophy) the negative portion of every lift is vitally important. Preacher Curls emphasise the negative part of the range of motion.

When you want muscle mass you need to maximise time under tension. The Preacher Curl forces you to slowly lower the weight and this leads to great gains.

Training Tip: Once you have completely fatigued at the end of a set and cannot curl the bar back up, get a spotter to assist you then control the descent as slowly as you can. This way you get even more time under tension and take your training past old limits.

3. You can’t Cheat

How many times have we all seen guys in the gym swinging their bicep curls wildly, using their back and momentum to lift weights that are simply too heavy?

With the Preacher Curl it is such a good isolation exercise that it is impossible to cheat.

You cannot recruit any momentum or rely on any muscles that should not be used.

How to do the Preacher Curl

First you will need to set the seat on the machine to a size that works for you.

Grab the EZ bar in both hands then sit down on the machine.

If you are training with a friend, then you can also get them to hand you the weight once you are settled and sat down.

  • Hold the inner, close grip part of the EZ bar with your palms facing upwards (supinated grip)
  • Brace your chest and triceps against the padding of the machine. Adopt a stable stance with your feet
  • Inhale and tense your grip, glutes and core
  • Squeeze your biceps as tightly as you can and curl the bar upwards
  • Once the bar is at shoulder height pause and contract your biceps again
  • Slowly lower the EZ bar to the starting position and exhale
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps

Preacher Curl Technique Tips

Take the time to build a strong mind muscle connection with your biceps. Try to feel them as much as possible during the movement.

This will improve your ability to understand and coordinate your body. A strong mind muscle connection is a huge advantage for any athlete.

Standing Preacher Curls and Seated Preacher Curls

The two main versions of P Curls are the standing and seated versions.

Standing Preacher Curls
Pushing hard ©Sven Mieke

Some Curl machines do not have a seat and are higher. Simply perform the exercise with the same technique but make sure to pay close attention to bracing your core in order to stabilise your body.

Preacher Curl Variations

The following Preacher Curl variations will allow you to attack your biceps and arms in slightly different ways and maximise your strength and muscle mass.

Loading weights for Preacher Curls
Loading up ©Philip Myrtorp

Behind The Back Cable Curl

The Behind the Back Cable Curl uses a cable machine to build the arms.

Fix the pulley to the lowest setting. Face away from the machine. Now curl the weight (with one hand at a time) as you would with a regular bicep curl.

This is an effective exercise that provides strong tension on the biceps at all times.

Preacher Hammer Curl 

The Preacher Hammer Curl alters the angle of the wrist (into a neutral position) and uses dumbbells instead of the EZ bar.

This works the forearms and wrist as well as the biceps. Putting the Hammer Curl into an isolated context makes it even harder with no room for cheating. Important parts of building more muscle.

Scott Curl

This is almost identical to the Preacher Curl, however you start with your upper arm perpendicular to the ground, instead of around 45 degrees as in the case of the Preacher Curl.

It was popularised by bodybuilder Larry Scott, which is where it earned its title.

Dumbbell Preacher Curl

This method uses the same form as outlined above in the article, however the load is switched from an EZ bar to dumbbells instead.

This is a great variation to show you where your muscular weaknesses lie.

They also allow for a greater range of motion and muscle contraction.

Single Arm Preacher Curl

This allows the lifter to completely focus on one arm at a time, improve the mind muscle connection and, again, address any strength imbalances.

Kettlebell Preacher Curl

A more uncommon bicep exercise, the Kettlebell Curl is a highly effective addition to any upper body training regimen.

Adopt the same technique as with the dumbbell preacher curls.

This is an advanced exercise because of the shifting centre of gravity within each kettlebell. You must curl the weight and stabilise it at the same time.  

Resistance Band Preacher Curl

Resistance Band P Curls make a great variation to ensure your training is challenging and fun.

This version of the exercise provides a completely different stimulus for the biceps.

How to Do Preacher Curls at Home

If you can’t work out in the gym then you can adapt P Curls for training at home.

Any heavy household item can be used as a substitute. Try filling a plastic jug with water until it is the right weight for your requirements.

The backs of sofas can operate well as a makeshift Preacher Curl Bench.

Preacher Curls Alternatives

The following exercise all work well as Preacher Curls alternatives.

  • Sitting Dumbbell Curls
  • Inclined Dumbbell Curls
  • Wall Curls
  • Concentration Curl
  • Spider Curl
  • Controlled Eccentrics
  • Floor Curls

FAQs

Scroll through to learn more about P Curls.

Man with EZ Bar
Gains ©Anastase Maragos

How Much Does a Preacher Curl Bar Weigh?

A generic EZ Preacher Curl bar weighs around 18-22lbs. This translates to 8-10kg.

Why are Preacher Curls Bad?

Preacher Curls are not bad. However, if they are performed incorrectly, with weights that are too heavy for the respective lifter then they can cause wrist injuries.

They are a great way to build the inner bicep, but not as effective for constructing the peak.

What’s the Difference Between Preacher Curls and Barbell Curls?

The Barbell Bicep Curl is the primary exercise for building mass and strength.

P Curls use a narrower grip, a different angle for the grip and are usually performed seated.

Both should have a place in your arm training.

What is the Point of Preacher Curls?

Preacher Curls build the inner biceps, concentrate time and attention on the negative portion of biceps training, maximise time under tension, isolate the muscles, prevent cheating and aid wrist, forearm, grip and arm strength in general.

Are Preacher Curls Good for You?

Yes, P Curls are an excellent way to build bigger and stronger biceps.

Are Preacher Curls Better than Bicep Curls?

No, Preacher Curls are not better than Bicep Curls, both are effective in their respective ways and the benefits that they bring.

P Curls provide a better stretch than standing Curls

P Curls cannot be cheated.

P Curls emphasise the inner head of the biceps due to the flexed shoulder position.

Are Preacher Curls Bad for Shoulders?

No, P Curls are not bad for the shoulders when the athlete warms up properly, uses an appropriate amount of weight and sticks to good form at all times.

Why do my Curls Hurt my Wrists?

If an athlete loads up the weight too quickly then it can lead to wrist pain. You must allow your wrists time to develop, strengthen themselves and adapt to the movement.

Which Bicep Head is the Peak?

The biceps consist of two heads. These are the:

The outer head creates the peak.

Generally speaking:

  • Bicep exercises with a narrow grip will target the inner head
  • Bicep exercises with a wide grip will target the outer head and build the peak

Expand your Training Knowledge

Learn more with these articles on the Sumo Deadlift, Zercher Squat and Rack Pulls.