Barbell Biceps Curls: EZ Curl Bar vs Straight Bar

QUESTION: Do you think it’s better to do biceps curls using the EZ curl bar or the regular straight bar? I’ve heard people say the straight bar hits your biceps a lot better but the EZ curl bar is safer for your wrists and elbows. Which do you recommend and why?

ANSWER: Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, let me start this answer off with what I like to call a quick “misunderstanding-preventer.”

As I mentioned in my triceps guide a couple of weeks ago, the majority of your biceps/triceps growth will come as a result of getting stronger at compound exercises like various chest presses, shoulder presses, rows and pull-ups/lat pull-downs, which is why this type of stuff should always get your primary focus.

However, as I also mentioned in that same triceps guide, compounds alone will not produce the best results possible in terms of building muscular arms. For this reason, I highly recommend that everyone trying to build muscle (with the possible exception of beginners) put a smaller, secondary focus on direct arm isolation work like triceps extensions and biceps curls.

We’re all clear on that? Potential misunderstandings prevented? Cool. Now let’s answer the question…

EZ Curl Bar vs Straight Barbell: PROS And CONS

EZ Curl Bar
For the 12 people who have never seen one before, this is an EZ curl bar.

The person who asked this question kinda has it right:

  • Doing barbell curls with a straight bar will likely provide better biceps activation to some extent since you’re curling in full supination (palms facing up). Bonus: you can do it in the squat rack!!
  • With the EZ curl bar, you’re in more of a semi-supinated position between supinated (palms up) and neutral (palms facing each other) which likely brings the brachioradialis into the movement a tiny bit more (and thus the biceps a tiny bit less).

On the other hand…

  • That slight angle of the EZ curl bar will put your wrists, forearms and elbows in a more comfortable, natural and safe position, thus reducing the risk of common injuries that many people develop over time from curling with a straight bar (most commonly medial epicondylitis aka golfer’s elbow aka pain at the inner part of your elbow aka a super annoying injury I’ve personally dealt with in the past aka a nice way for me to overuse ‘aka’).

So basically, one exercise might hit your biceps slightly more but increase your risk of injury, and the other might hit your biceps slightly less but decrease your risk of injury.

How lovely.

And that brings us to the next question that needs answering…

Which Difference Is More Significant?

Meaning, is the difference in biceps activation more significant than the difference in safety and injury prevention?

I would lean towards no.

So let’s say we magically created 100 people who are the same height, weight and age with the same genetics and body type, and put them on the same intelligently designed diet and workout program with the sole difference being that 50 of them only did biceps curls with a straight bar, and the other 50 only did biceps curls with an EZ curl bar.

If we then monitored everything over some long period of time (years) and compared their results afterwards, I really don’t think you’d see much in the way of a noticeable difference in terms of biceps growth and overall size. In fact, I truly doubt you’d see any meaningful difference whatsoever.

But What About The Other Way Around?

Meaning, is the difference in safety and injury prevention more significant than the difference in biceps activation?

I would lean towards yes.

So using that same imaginary group of 100 people from a minute ago, I DO think you’ll see that more of the group who did straight bar curls would end up developing some form of wrist, forearm and/or elbow injury at some point than the group who did all of their curls with an EZ curl bar.

In which case it’s more likely that the straight bar group would have had to make some “oh-no-I-have-an-injury” style changes to their workout over this period of time (like reducing the amount of weight being lifted, completely avoiding affected exercises like curls, rows, pull-ups/pull-downs in the short term or long term, taking time off to let things heal, etc.).

Which means indirectly, the healthy people from the EZ curl bar group could potentially end up with better biceps results than the injured people from the straight bar group.

They might even potentially end up with better overall results in general, since more than just biceps training could be affected. This is one of the many things that suck about being injured and why you should do everything you can to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Yes, even if it means a very minor reduction in the amount of activation of the muscle you’re trying to train (which is likely to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things anyway). Safety and injury prevention will always play a bigger role in your success or lack thereof.

So Then, Which Is Better?

I actually have a good perspective on this one, as I exclusively did all of my barbell curling with an EZ curl bar during my first few years of training, but then switched exclusively to the straight bar (after hearing it was “better” for the biceps than the EZ bar) during the next bunch of years after that.

And at some point during those straight bar years, I developed an injury (that darn medial epicondylitis I mentioned before).

Now granted, it’s impossible to say that straight bar curls were the one and only cause of this injury. It was most likely a combination of factors, with another being heavy chin-ups which also happen to involve that same supinated grip a straight barbell curl involves (this is not a coincidence… this fully supinated/underhand grip is a well known cause of wrist, forearm and elbow pain).

However, if I had to make a list of those factors ranked in terms of which I think played the largest role in causing this injury, years of curling with a straight bar would probably be #1 on that list.

Now granted again, a lot of people will read this and think “it took years for straight bar curls to become a problem for you, so why should I care about that now? I’ll worry about it then, assuming it ever ends up being a problem for me which it might not ever be.”

This is 100% true.

But, as someone who has been there and done that with straight bar curling, and as someone who has heard from a lot of other people who have been there and done that with straight bar curling, all I can tell you is that my recommendation would be to completely avoid it.

Instead, stick with the EZ curl bar and/or various dumbbell curls (in terms of injury prevention, dumbbells are probably the best option of all).

Simply put, the potential CONS of straight bar curls (injury) easily outweigh any potential PROS (the “better” biceps activation it provides, which is likely to be so insignificant it won’t actually matter in the first place).

What’s Next?

If you liked this article, you’ll also like: How To Get Bigger Arms: The Best Bicep And Tricep Workout Routine

81 thoughts on “Barbell Biceps Curls: EZ Curl Bar vs Straight Bar”

81 Comments

  1. You are actually such a top guy! Great info and seem really down to earth!! All the time and effort you put in is much appreciated, many thanks, Jay

  2. I’m a “been there done that” with the straight bar, and totally agree. At 53 years old, it takes longer now than when I was younger to recover from injuries. So, I do everything I can to keep from getting injured. I enjoy working out and I now believe it is that it is a privilege to be able to workout, therefore I have to protect it! Thanks for your wisdom and insight!

  3. Hi jay
    I am 52 years old and have been training for 20 years. I still love training but im finding it hard to keep pushing myself to the max as I get alot of joint pain. Also I can no longer do squats and deadlifts as I get lower back pain. Can I still build or maintain muscle using lighter weights and can you recommend a routine? I have been training the last month just doing body weight exercises like pullups dips and press ups and the joint pain is easing off. Also I have been cycling for my legs and doing front and back extensions which seems to have relieved the back pain. I hope you have time to read this and I look forward to your answer thankyou.

    • This is the kind of thing that would have to be individualized to your needs based on exactly what your issues are, so there’s really no generic routine for ya.

      Mostly just a matter of avoiding what hurts, solving underlying problems that may be causing the pain (if possible), sticking with what doesn’t hurt, using an intelligently designed overall program, deloading regularly, etc.

    • Hi jay thanks for your answer, do you think that muscle can be built using lighter weights and more reps?

  4. thanks, I’ve been using the ez curl and I’m glad I did. I’m 59 years old and as Jexx said the body starts getting the old age aches and pains. Tendonitis in my shoulder has severely limited my weight lifting and I am still trying to figure out what I can do and what I cannot do. Thinking about hitting up a physical therapist to help me figger it out but they are not big on body building. Even though I am limited in my weight lifting I still appreciate your articles and pass them on to my buddies at the gym.

  5. Jay, i bought your book It’s great, but the problem is i don’t know what routine to do because you listed? Can i get your help on this?
    My goal is aesthetics of course and im willing to workout 3-4x a week. I go to college and may be fairly busy.

    • Are you a beginner? If so, do the beginner routine.

      If you’re past the beginner stage, you really can’t go wrong with any of the other programs. Pick your favorite based on your available schedule and personal preferences.

  6. Yea, at 57 years old avoiding injury is a key. Too many times having pain and had to lay off for 6 weeks at a time. Never did straight bar curls because it didn’t seem natural and really didn’t like the curl bar either. The straight bar seem to stress my shoulders and the curl bar stressed my elbows. Always done seated dumbell curls.

    Been doing standing cable curls over the last couple of years. As long as I keep my elbows close to my body and finish to the center of my chest (I alter, but no wider then the inside of my shoulder), no wrist, elbow or should pain. I could achieve the same with dumbells except sometimes I cheat…that one random cheat seems to bite me I’m injured for weeks.

  7. In your upper body A workout on your muscle building routine, can i switch lat pull-downs with chin-ups?

  8. I am 52 years old and working out for past 3 decades. Even today i work out for 2-3 days in week with Squat, Dead lifts, Bench press and the like. I do not suffer from any injuries or pain. On going through the feed back section I am fortunate enough to be in this state.

    Basic exercises are the best. Do the basic 3 and do others to compliment them. Listen to your body when your work out , listen to your mind when you plan. A combination of both does wonders for any body. Love to write more and experiment with new workouts from you whenever needed.

  9. I really enjoy using your programs and advices and in a way it was your internet site that actually got me to put regular weight lifting into my sport-recreation routine, because I learned that wight training are primary big natural compound moves that are actuality quite pleasant to do, once you get started and not some boring hours of weird unnatural isolation moments on some torture devices.

    I have one question. When you deadlift, should you make reps quickly one after another, or should you, take a breath after each, reset your form, your grip… take a few seconds (1-3) before next rep. Probably a second more or less is not a big deal, but harder the weights are becoming, more important this question is, because I am not sure, should I lift just as much weight as I can lift in quick consecutive reps, or should I take more and more time between the reps as weight will get heavier.

  10. Hey there Jay.Great article and great website in general.Your site has really helped me,since i am an ectomoprh as well 😀
    But,I have one question.I have heard that you need to train small muscle groups like biceps only in higher reps(8-15) and strength hypertrophy will come.
    Is this bullshit?
    Should i train small muscle groups in the 5-8 reps scheme?(My goal is strenght and secondary hypertrophy)
    Thanks! 🙂

    • They could technically be done in any rep range, though I personally would stick with 8-15 for most isolation exercises (often 10-15).

      The new book I’m finishing up actually covers this topic and explains why. Stay tuned.

  11. Hello.
    1.Is direct biceps training really necessary? After all the rows and pull-ups, when I come to do a curl, my biceps is so pumped that I think that I am wasting my time, I had no strength left, even when using a light weight on curls.
    Interesting is that the same doesn’t happens for triceps when I train chest. Bench presses/DIPS don’t get my triceps tired as back work do for my biceps.
    2. Please, can you write an article about how to train the forearms?
    Thank you.

  12. Doesn’t your intermediate routine have more volume and frequency than your beginner routine, so isn’t technically better for beginners? It trains the muscles directly 2x a week, while your beginner routine directly trains the muscles 1.5x a week.

  13. Hi Jay, thanks for the info. I’ve been working out with your intermediate routine for about 6 months now. There are two days where I do bicep curls, one with dumbbells and the other with a bar. I usually use an EZ curl bar but I experience sharp pain in my right forearm. It feels like it’s the bone but people tell me that it’s because of my grips. My forearms are either not strong enough or I’m not gripping tight enough is what they tell me. But I wanna ask you what your thoughts are on that. It’s usually only the right one but sometimes I feel it on the left one too. I’m a right handed guy btw if it tells you anything. And if what people are telling me is true, should I work on my forearm? Should I do any isolation exercise for it? I strictly follow your routine without adding or taking out anything.
    Thanks,
    GG

    • I’m pretty knowledgeable about a handful of forearm injuries, but it’s impossible for me to even guess until you’ve been examined by a doctor and had your injury properly diagnosed.

      • I don’t know if I would call it an injury because it only hurts when I do curls with bars. Dumbbells don’t hurt, neither do pull ups or pull downs with under hand grips. Should I just do dumbbell curls or is it vital to do curls with bars half the time like it’s in the intermediate routine?

        • It’s mostly vital to do what doesn’t cause pain. So if any exercise causes pain, don’t do that exercise. And better yet, figure out the reason for that pain and correct it.

  14. Beginner question: I’m transitioning from a bulk over to a cut and would like your advice on how to structure my routine. Still doing your beginner workout (3 day full body split) and seeing great results in the mirror w/ progressive overload every trip to the weight room. Do I stay with the exact same routine in a deficit? I’ve thoroughly read your article on how to lose fat while maintaining muscle, so I’m privy to how to proceed in general. However, as a beginner, I question how recovery time, performance, etc. will be affected by the deficit. Should I reduce intensity of your beginner routine, or continue the same??

  15. Found about your site today. Awesome content (like this article).
    I got a non-fitness related suggestion.

    Either move the comment box above the comments, or probably the even better, as well as simpler solution, add just a button above the first comment (right below the article), with an anchor to the comment box below.

    This should increase the amount of comments, as people don’t have to scroll all the way down, to write a comment, esp. since a few of your articles have 200+ comments.

    Besides that, keep up the great work!

    • Thanks dude!

      I think I may have very briefly had the comment box above the comments at some point, but I put it back at the bottom to prevent people from asking questions that someone already asked in the comments. Having the comments first forces people to (hopefully) read them before posting something.

  16. Jay,

    How do you feel about rear delt training man? I noticed specific work isn’t included in your routine, but have personally benefitted from it and was just wondering why you don’t recommend it.

    Cheers

    • Rear delt work is actually included in some of my programs. I don’t include it in all of them by default because I tend to view it more as accessory prehab/rehab work rather than an actual part of the workout itself.

  17. Im a college student who doesnt have access to a gym when i go home for summer, so im am not working out for roughly 3.5 months. If i was an intermediate before, should i do the beginner routine to catch up or keep doing the intermediate routine once school starts again?

  18. Hey Jay! I’ve been pressured into avoiding isolation exercises for a long time now and after reading your last 2 articles, I’m excited about finally adding a couple of isolation exercises for my arms. I love the results I’ve gotten from only doing close grip chin ups (while leaning back) and parrarell bar dips (while leaning forward), but my arms could be bigger.

    When it comes to lower body, I’m quite satisfied with only doing High Bar Full Back Squats and Barbell Glute Bridges.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge! You rock!

  19. hi Jay,

    is it fine to replace the direct biceps and triceps training by adding one additional set in the each of primary and secondary compound movements with significantly lesser weight (may be 70-80 % of the max weight used on a given day) in your 4 day upper and lower body split. OR Is it that the additional set of 1st primary compound movement (say bench press or rowing in upper body A workout) will affect the secondary compound movement (inclined dumbell press and lat pull down in this case?

    what about the breathing in romanian deadlift as asked by Zan in upper comments. For heavy weights (eg 300 punds) the grip tend to give up by sixth or seventh rep even with straps. Versa Gripps are still not available in my place (India) If i order from net it costs around 100 dollars

  20. If you had to pick a side, would you say your own beginner routine is more for Team Looks or Team Performance?

  21. You say that for the intermediate trainee, twice a week is optimal for each bodypart. How do you feel about people who say 3x a week is more (such as jason blaha, dont know if you know who that is) optimal due to more muscle protein synthesis?

  22. How would i incorporate rear delt training into “The Muscle Building Workout Routine”?
    How many reps, sets and how often?

  23. Hi Jay,
    I bought your book and im loving it so far, and a question popped up. Will i get the same results doing the 2 day workout routine as the other routines. It’s not that im too busy, im just curious if the gains are the same i guess?

    • With all else being equal, and assuming the goal is to build muscle, I think most people will do best on a 3 or 4 day program. The 2 day routine will definitely work quite well, but it’s something I’d save for when a person is unable to train any more than that.

  24. 1) First off thank you for your articles..they are great…I have several doubts I am a beginner…I have some amount of belly fat and lower chest fat..for 2 months I have been doing weight training and there has been improvement with my upper chest but I can’t seen to get rid of the lower chest fat(at same proportion to my upper pecs)…I do flat bench press 4 sets of 8-10 reps, decline/incline bench 3 sets 10 reps, followed by chest flyes and presses each 3 sets of 10 reps,,.pls suggest what can I do about it…should I continue with the above or shud I make amends to it..pls help

    2)about my belly fat issue..yes it has reduced considerably but I want to completely reduce it…but the way I train is for gaining mass i.e in the 8-12 rep range..so for muscle building I need to have more food, but for fat reduction I need calorie deficit..pls help..shud I stop weight training and focus on cardio and reduce my weight and become slim and then build muscle or do I continue both cardio and weight training( 20 min of cardio 3x a week)..pls help

  25. Hey, what did you do once you developed your injury? I’ve had serious forearm pain for a few months, maybe two, and I do attribute it to EZ and barbell curls. They both cause sharp pain both during the lift and after when I release the grip. My whole forearm isn’t sore, just one specific spot. When I go to push open a door or really anything of force with that hand, the forearm hurts. So, I’m injured. Did you take time completely off? Did you go to a doctor? Thank you!

  26. I mix up drag curls with barbell curls. Yes the straight bar clearly bothers me at times like the guru suggested. Drag curls really burn my biceps. I also think hitting biceps and triceps more than once a week is too much for the average Joe. Pullups and other exercises does it enough like the guru said. Great learning tool here.

  27. Outstanding article! I don’t usually comment on posts, but felt compelled to in this case. I especially appreciate the detail you went into on the significance of the benefits versus risks. Thank you so much for such a great posting. Keep up the great work!

  28. Your website is actually one of the most honest and informative I’ve come across. No gimmicks, no bullshit, just solid lifting advice.

    I wholeheartedly agree with your opinion on this one. If you’re a younger lifter/beginner you get away with doing straight bar arm work all the time, but when you get older (aka 25+) sooner or later you’ll experience all the little pains and injuries you used to think you’d never experience – and even laugh about. For me it’s EZ bars and ropes all the way. Also I like to do neutral grip arm work (db hammer curls,db lying extensions) more often, which are easier on your joints.

    Keep it up!

  29. Hey man,

    I just read this and wanted to move on but i thought i should appreciate your content!

    This was 100% helpful. I do straight bar curls and have developed a pain in my wrist which i didn’t know why!

    Thanks heaps man! I hope you do more of these posts and help people out coz your a legend!!

  30. Nice article man!
    For last four months I am suffering from right wrist ligament injury I got it from straight barbell reverse curl! I just increased little weight to the bar and got into this mess! Now 80% of pain was gone in my outer wrist. But I didn’t enter into gym for four months due to orthopaedic advice! I learned my lesson and I’ll switch to ez barbell for curls! Is it okay to start my workout now or should I wait after 100% recovery? Need input.

  31. Excellent article. Complete​ly agree. I introduced the straight bar and plenty of close grip chin ups to improve bicep strength and growth. About a month or two after that, got injured. Messed up one of my wrists for months. That effects so many other workouts, and lots of time lost. Just not worth it.

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