Preacher Curl Alternatives

Best Bicep Exercises to Substitute for Preacher Curls

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: March 24, 2024

The preacher curl is one of the most popular arm exercises. And you’ve probably seen bodybuilders doing it at the gym or on social media.

But you may not have access to a preacher curl bench at your gym. Or you might be looking for a preacher curl alternative just to add variety to your training.

Unfortunately, other articles on this topic only provide a generic list of bicep exercises without any consideration of the mechanics and muscle activation involved in the preacher curl.

In this article, I explain different ways to replicate the effectiveness of preacher curls. And I show you the best preacher curl alternatives that activate your biceps in a similar way.

Preacher Curl Alternative

What Is a Preacher Curl?

A preacher curl is a bicep curl variation involving a specialized bench that holds your upper arms at a set angle during the exercise. While performing this exercise, you sit on a bench with the back of your upper arms resting on the pad.

Benefits of Preacher Curls

The most significant benefit of the preacher curl is that it holds your arms in place and eliminates unnecessary body movements. Moreover, the strict form of the preacher curl helps you isolate and develop your biceps.

In addition, the preacher curl is a versatile exercise you can perform with a bar, dumbbells, or cables. And some gyms even have preacher curl machines.

However, the downside is that you generally need a preacher curl bench, which you may not have in a small gym or home gym. Also, some people may find their biceps hurt at the bottom of the movement.

Pros

  • Forces you to use strict form.
  • It isolates the biceps.
  • Can perform multiple variations.

Cons

  • Requires a preacher bench.
  • It can put high stress on the biceps.

Preacher Curl Muscles Worked

Before we get into preacher curl alternative exercises, it’s essential to understand the muscles worked. That way, you’ll know which exercises work your arms similarly.

As mentioned, the preacher curl primarily targets the biceps muscle on the front of your upper arm. But the biceps consist of two parts: the short and long heads.

The bicep’s short head is on the inner part, while the long head is on the outer part. Generally, preacher curls emphasize the short head of your inner bicep.

Muscles Worked By Preacher Curl and Alternatives

How to Replicate Preacher Curls

The reason preacher curls target the short head of the bicep has to do with a few different biomechanical factors. Mainly, these factors include hand, forearm, and upper arm position.

Hand Position

Supination is when your palm faces up, and pronation is when your palm faces down. The more pronated your hand, the more you work the long head. While the more supinated your hand, the more you work the short head.

Preacher curls typically use an underhand or supinated grip, working the short head.

Forearm Position

When your forearm is angled across your body, you accentuate the long head. And when your forearm is angled away from your body, you accentuate the short head.

Preacher curls generally place your forearms in a neutral position or straight ahead. However, grip width can change your forearm angle slightly.

Upper Arm Position

Lastly, keeping your elbows behind your body targets the long head. Whereas having your elbows in front of your body targets the short head.

One of the defining characteristics of preacher curls is that they angle your upper arms forward. So we should emulate this with alternative exercises to work the same muscles.

Preacher Curl Alternative Arm Position

14 Preacher Curl Alternative Exercises

Now you know what a preacher curl is and how it works your biceps. So it’s time to jump into some alternative exercises.

This list is broken up by equipment so you can easily find a replacement exercise that works with your gym setup.

Preacher Curl Alternative with Barbell

First, let’s look at preacher curl substitutes you can do with a barbell. These exercises could use a straight bar or EZ curl bar.

1. Standing Barbell Curl (Elbows Forward)

Barbell curls are one of the best bicep exercises you should regularly include in your arm workouts.

Most of the time, this exercise is performed with your elbows directly at your sides. But when used as a preacher curl replacement, you should think about moving your elbows forward slightly as you lift the bar.

In addition, using a wider grip helps you get a little more short head bicep activation as you would during the preacher curl. In the video below, I show you the grip and minimal forward movement necessary to achieve this.

My YouTube channel has dozens of videos showing you how to do a variety of bodybuilding exercises. You’ll learn how to target and build specific muscle groups in 90 seconds or less. Click HERE to subscribe, or click on the button below!

2. Barbell Wall Curl

If you struggle with keeping your elbows forward during the barbell curl, you can also perform this exercise while standing with your back to the wall.

With this variation, your elbows can’t move back, and you must keep them in line with your body or slightly forward. Again, the idea is to use strict form and increase short head activation like the preacher curl.

3. Arm Blaster Curl

Another option for locking your arms in place during a bicep curl is a simple tool called an arm blaster. This is a curved piece of metal with a strap hanging around your neck.

The metal brace goes behind your upper arms during standing barbell curls and holds them in place like a preacher bench. And it places your arms slightly forward throughout the movement.

In this way, arm blaster curls are pretty similar to preacher curls.

Arm Blaster Preacher Curl Alternative

4. Spider Curl

Spider curls are a variation where you lean forward against an incline bench and let your arms hang straight in front of you. Then you curl the weight while keeping your upper arms perpendicular to the floor.

Essentially, this exercise is like preacher curls, where your elbows stay in front of your torso. However, there is more load at the top of the movement due to the body angle, which can help relieve strain on the joint and tendon.

Preacher Curl Alternative with Dumbbells

Now I will show you some preacher curl alternatives using dumbbells.

5. Dumbbell Curls (Elbows Forward)

Dumbbell curls are a free-weight exercise similar to barbell curls, except each arm works independently. This arm separation enables you to replicate the preacher curl in multiple ways.

First, you can position your elbows slightly in front of your body as you curl the dumbbell. Also, try to supinate your wrist as your reach the top of the range of motion.

Finally, you can even angle your forearm out slightly to target the short head even more.

Preacher Curl Alternative with Dumbbells

6. Incline Dumbbell Preacher Curl

You can also replicate the preacher curl using an incline bench and a single dumbbell. You may even hear this exercise called the incline dumbbell preacher curl.

First, set the incline bench at a 55-65 degree angle. Then make sure you can reach over and place the back of your upper arm on the top of the bench.

Now hold a dumbbell in one hand and perform a single-arm preacher curl. You can also angle your body away from the working arm to activate the short head even more.

Dumbbell Preacher Curl Alternative

Related: See My List of Short Head Bicep Exercises

7. Dumbbell Spider Curl

The dumbbell spider curl is like the barbell version, except each arm works independently, making it even more challenging.

In addition, dumbbell spider curls give you more freedom to rotate your wrists and angle your forearms to work specific parts of your biceps.

8. Dumbbell Concentration Curl

The dumbbell concentration curl is another classic bicep exercise performed with one arm at a time. Typically it is done while seated on a bench or bent over.

The body position of the concentration curl places your upper arm in front of your body, as in a preacher curl. And I recommend curling the weight more toward the front of your body than across your body to work the short head more.

Preacher Curl Alternative with Cable

In this section, you will find preacher curl alternative exercises you can do on a cable apparatus.

9. Cable Curl (Elbows Forward)

The cable curl is meant to replicate the standing barbell or dumbbell curl. But the pulley position slightly changes the angle of applied force.

For example, stepping back from the low pulley results in your arms being more in front of your body. And this is a good way to replicate the preacher curl arm position.

Cable Preacher Curl Alternative

10. Incline Cable Preacher Curl

This exercise involves using an incline bench to stabilize the back of your arm while performing a single-arm cable curl. Again, this enables you to replicate the preacher curl without using a preacher bench.

11. Cable Hercules Curl

The Hercules curl is an exercise where you stand between two cables at about shoulder height. Then, holding a handle in each hand, you curl the cable towards your head.

One advantage of the Hercules curl is that it externally rotates both arms, which we know targets the short head of the biceps like preacher curls.

Cable Hercules Curl

12. Cable Concentration Curl

One of my favorite exercises for the short head of the biceps is the cable concentration curl. The reason is that the movement really isolates the bicep, and the cable keeps tension on the muscle through the whole range of motion.

As with the dumbbell version, try curling the weight towards the front instead of across your body. This arm angle enables you to target the inner bicep with pinpoint precision.

Alternatively, you can sit on the floor and use your knee to support your upper arm, as shown below.

Preacher Curl Alternative Concentration Curl

Other Preacher Curl Alternatives

Lastly, here are a couple more exercises you can substitute for preacher curls.

13. Overhead Curls

In many exercises, you replicate the preacher curl by positioning your upper arms in front of your body. But you can isolate the inner bicep even more by performing curls with your arms completely overhead.

One of the easiest ways to do this is using the lat pulldown cable station. But you can also perform this variation using a high pulley while sitting on the floor, as shown below.

Preacher Curl Alternative With Cable

14. Seated Cable Curls

Another way to target the short head is by doing curls on the cable low row station. Your upper arms should stay in front of your body as you curl the handles toward your forehead.

You can do this exercise with your arms unsupported if you’d like. Or you can scoot forward so your legs are bent and use your knees to support your elbows like a preacher curl.

workouts mobile

Custom Nutrition & Workout Plan

Get a personalized meal plan built to fit your body and lifestyle. Including a custom workout routine designed around your fitness goals.

With your custom plan, you will finally be able to burn fat, build muscle, and transform your body. All this for just $19.99!

Click here to choose your plan.

More Bicep Exercises & Workouts

In this article, you learned the best preacher curl alternative exercises for targeting your inner bicep. But if you want to add peak and width to your biceps, you can’t forget about training the long head and brachialis on your outer bicep.

So here are some additional articles with more exercises and workout ideas for building bigger biceps.

Average Arm Size & Bicep Calculator

Simple Bicep Stretches to Warm Up Your Arms

Top 9 Barbell Bicep Exercises

Hammer Curls vs Bicep Curls Muscles Worked

21 Cable Arm Exercises for Biceps & Triceps

Complete Dumbbell Back & Bicep Workout

19 Bicep Peak Exercises to Fix Flat Arms

With this information, you’re well on your way to building massive arms. And if you found this article helpful, take a look at some of my other great content below!

Share with your community and get the conversation started!

Go to Top