Massive Biceps Gains with Preacher Curls

If you’ve been training biceps but haven’t programmed preacher curls into your workouts, you’ve been leaving gains on the table.

Whether you’re a bodybuilder; elite athlete, or weekend warrior, preacher curl is an exercise that will guarantee added performance benefits to your training goals.

Or if you’re just interested in having huge arms like Larry Scott, then this exercise is for you!

You might be wondering:

  • How often should I perform preacher curls?
  • Are preacher curls with dumbbells better than with barbells?
  • Can I do preacher curls at home?

In this article, I’m going to break down my top preacher curls tips to help you make the most of this exercise and take your arm training to the next level.

Bodybuilder Larry Scott

Preacher Curls 101

A good understanding of how your biceps work is critical to maximizing your preacher curls gains.

All too often, I see biceps exercises poorly executed in the gym leaving gains on the table, workout after workout.

Your biceps main job is to flex the elbow i.e. to lift your forearm upwards and control it back downwards. Of course, it also plays a role in forearm supination and shoulder flexion.

But those roles are secondary to elbow flexion, particularly as relates to the shoulder, where the biceps role is to stabilize the anterior shoulder during shoulder flexion.

The biceps principal role is to flex the arm. The most effective of exercises to perfectly mimic this action are preacher curls. To execute this exercise correctly, the shoulder joint and upper arm are completely fixed in position leaving zero room for motion.

This means that the preacher curl perfectly isolates the biceps muscle from the bottom to the top of the range. And performing your reps with an isolated biceps throughout range ensures biceps tension and fatigue, the key drivers of muscle growth.

So in case you haven’t guessed yet, this arm exercise is an essential workout for the biceps.

What about preacher curls for athletes?

You might be surprised to read, that the case for athletes incorporating this exercise into their programs is overwhelming.

When we look at common injuries to athletes in racquet or club sports e.g. tennis & golf, biceps tendon overload is a common complaint. Both golf elbow & tennis elbow describe conditions where biceps tendons are overloaded and incur inflammation as a result. Tendon injuries, while not career-threatening, are notoriously difficult to rehabilitate, and complete recovery can vary from three to six months in total.

Biceps tendon injuries can leave an athlete with unresolved, frustrating pain symptoms. Therefore programming the right exercises to prevent these injuries from occurring in the first place is the way to do it.

Preacher curls are an excellent addition to any strength program for racquet sport athletes due to the progressive and specific load experienced by the biceps during the movement, causing positive muscle-tendon adaptations to the biceps muscles.

These adaptations including size and strength are protective of the biceps, particularly strength gains (more strength = more load-bearing ability). A British Journal of Sports Medicine review demonstrated that strength training was the most effective injury reduction strategy when compared to stretching.

Therefore, to help protect against biceps tendon injuries, preacher curls, and preacher curls with dumbbells or any other variant are a welcome addition for athletes.

Other athletes that may also gain from preacher curls include throwers in cricket, baseball, or Lacrosse. Throwing actions require huge amounts of control & strength to decelerate the arm once a throw is complete, necessitating bulletproof biceps strength.

Man doing preacher curls at the gym
Young man doing bicep curls on a preacher bench at the gym

How to do preacher curls

  1. Sit it into the preacher curl bench so that your underarms fit seamlessly onto the top of the bench, with the upper arm resting on it. During your reps, you’ll want to keep this position and ensure that you don’t make any of the following mistakes:
    • Partially standing up
    • Allowing your underarms or upper arm to disconnect from the bench
    • Letting your upper body slide forward as reps increase
    • Assisting the lift with your legs (usually a combination of the errors above)
    • Fully-extending your arms at the bottom
    • Curling up too high and removing tension from the biceps
  2. In your preacher curls machine, you’ll find an E-Z bar or preacher curls dumbbell at the bottom. Grab it. Once you’re seated in position, it’s OK at the beginning only to slightly stand up to take the bar/dumbbell.
  3. Now, this next bit is the important part, so make sure to read carefully. Your biceps work most effectively in the mid-range right after you begin to curl, and before reaching the top of the curl near your shoulder.
  4. At the very bottom of a curl i.e. 0-30°, there’s very little bicep work performed. And at the very top of a curl, there’s also very little work performed. So you have to perform your preacher curls in the middle of these two extremes where the arm has a slight bend at the bottom. Never close to your shoulder at the top.

You should feel massive tension through every portion of each rep. And then towards the end, your arm will burn with fatigue.

This is what you need to make preacher curls work for you. Don’t get caught out with the errors I listed earlier. Usually, athletes cheat preacher curls by partially standing up, not working through the range, or removing their upper body from the bench.

But this performed in this mid-range, with the correct load, will maximize your biceps gains for a few reasons:

  • You’ll work your biceps from the first rep in each set
  • Muscle tension per rep guarantees muscle growth
  • The bigger your biceps gets, the stronger it’ll become
  • The stronger your biceps, the more strain it can withhold allowing you to perform higher volumes of training over time
  • And the stronger your biceps, the less likely it is to injure

So from a performance perspective, this is an exercise that you, as an athlete or weekend warrior have to perform.

Still not convinced?

Now bodybuilding may or may not be your thing, but the legendary bodybuilder Larry Scott, who won the inaugural Mr. Olympia in 1965, and attributed his freakish biceps size entirely to preacher curls.

Of course, a good diet, daily training, and recovery helped him along the way. But it’s worth noting that back then when bodybuilding was becoming a thing, the most successful original bodybuilders noticed that preacher curls contributed massively to their success.

So if aesthetics is what you’re training for, or you’re on the fence about hammer curls vs preacher curls, you can be sure that this arm exercise will do the job and help you achieve massive gains.

Woman performing preacher curls on bench

In summary …

Preacher curls can be considered a vital component of any arms training program. This exercise is for everyone: athletes, bodybuilders, or anyone looking to enhance upper body aesthetics. Make sure to program preacher curls from now on, and use my top tips here to take your arms to the next level.

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Mike Julom, ACE CPT

Mike is an ACE Certified PT and a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. He is an avid lover of all sports. Basketball, tennis, athletics, volleyball, soccer, squash, golf, table tennis, even darts, you name it! He's a very active CrossFit athlete and has been WOD'ing for over 7 years. With such an intense fitness regime, Mike has learned to take care of his body physically, nutritionally, and spiritually. Mike founded ThisIsWhyImFit as a way to share his vast knowledge of exercises, diets, and general fitness advice.

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