The preacher curl is a staple in almost every arm training program due to its ability to isolate the biceps for mountainous peak. However, preacher curl has its drawbacks and can be quite risky to perform with the wrong technique. Luckily, there are plenty of safer alternatives available that can deliver the same sleeve-ripping bicep gains.

Building an eye-catching set of arms takes precision and a solid mind-muscle connection. The preacher curl is best known for its ability to develop impressive bicep peak, due to its ability to provide complete bicep isolation and avoid cheat reps. 

In my long career as a professional personal trainer, I have included preacher curl in almost every strength training program because of the fact that it is a straightforward solution to hone in the biceps.

However, I have also encountered guys tearing up their biceps due while doing the preacher curls — fixed elbow positioning and wrong technique are something to be blamed for. 

Preacher curl has a high-risk profile, and it can cause severe damage if you are not doing it right. So what’s the solution to it? You should immediately stop if you feel a pinching pain or stress in your elbows while doing the preacher curl. It’s time to work on the exercise form or find a good alternative. 

In this article, we will talk about viable preacher curl alternatives, but before that, let’s get to know some basics.

What is Preacher Curl? 

Preacher curl biceps exercise

Preacher curl biceps exercise

Using too much body English (using elbow swings and hip drive) while bicep curls have been a common issue among novice lifters. Using body momentum blocks the development of a solid biceps peak. However, securing the elbow at the proper angle can prevent cheat reps. 

The preacher curl is a bicep curl variation performed by resting the elbows on an angled bench. You can either use the specialized preacher curl bench or set the incline bench at 60 degrees for the preacher curl. 

What’s so bad about preacher curl? Even after reaching full arm extension (end-range position), the weight still pulls the bicep down because of the angled bench — lengthening the biceps beyond its range of motion and putting extreme pressure on the elbows. 

Preacher curls are available in a wide range of variations, and they all have different risk profiles; let’s get to know them first.

  • Barbell preacher curls: High risk
    Barbell preacher curl has a high chance of tendon damage and joint impingement due to acute bicep extension.
  • Dumbbell preacher curls: Medium risk
    Feel far better and safer than the barbell variation. However, using heavy dumbbells can still be taxing.
  • EZ bar preacher curls: Low risk
    EZ bar preacher curl has a low-risk profile because of the neutral grip positioning. Neutral hand positioning provides better load tolerance.
  • Reverse preacher curls: Low risk
    Increased engagement of brachialis and brachioradialis allows you to absorb the stress and reduces the risk of injury.

For the sake of this article, we will be talking about the barbell preacher curl.

How to do it:

  1. Lean towards the angled pad of the preacher curl bench.
  2. Rest your armpits on the upper edge of the pad. Ensure the back of your arms is placed flat on the pad.
  3. Extend your arms to grab the loaded bar with a supinated grip, hands shoulder-width apart.
  4. Curl the weight up until your forearms get straight to the floor.
  5. Make sure your elbows are pointing forward, and your arms are parallel to each other.
  6. Slowly bring the barbell back to starting position.
  7. Repeat for the desired reps. 

Preacher Curl: Muscle Worked

To identify the best suitable alternative, it’s essential to understand muscle engagement. Let’s have a look at the muscle worked while preacher curl.

Biceps brachii:

 It is a large, thick muscle on the ventral (front) portion of the upper arm — primarily responsible for elbow flexion. The preacher curl is an isolation exercise known to target the biceps primarily. The biceps brachii comprises two muscles: A long head and a short head. 

The degree of short-head and long-head activation widely depends on the grip positioning and the equipment used (straight barbell, EZ curl bar, or dumbbell).

Brachialis and Brachioradialis: 

These are the elbow flexors that provide stability and support to the bicep curls. When you extend and flex your biceps, there is always some degree of brachialis and brachioradialis involvement.

Brachioradialis is a superficial muscle located on the radial side of the forearm; a prominent brachioradialis adds size to the forearms. Pronated grip bicep curls increase the engagement of the brachioradialis.

The brachialis is primarily an elbow flexor that originates from the distal anterior humerus and inserts onto the ulnar tuberosity — adding thickness to the biceps. 

Common Mistakes 

Honestly, preacher curls are not that bad, and I still program them in my client’s workouts. However, doing them wrong can mess up your elbow health. 

It’s essential to avoid common mistakes to get the best out of exercise and avoid injuries. Let’s have a look at the mistakes. 

1. Lifting heavy: 

It’s time to stop treating preacher curl like your regular barbell curls. Trying to hit PR with the preacher curl is the number one mistake many lifters commit, eventually left with regret. If you still want to review your curling strength, ‘Wall curls’ is the best choice. 

Biceps brachii is not a very big muscle group, and doesnt always need to train with heavy. 8-12 is the best rep range you should pursue. If you are not satisfied with the intensity, then include drop sets. 

Personal tip: select a weight that does not require a spotter. Focus on the mind-muscle connection and controlled tempo to get the best of your bang. 

2. Wrong setup:

The way you sit on the preacher curl bench dictates the risk profile of the exercise. Elbows and chest should be glued to the bench, and your armpit should be touching the upper-edge of the bench. Adjust the seat height so that your whole triceps sits comfortably on the pad with full elbow extension.

3. Limited range of motion:

This is usually a side-effect of lifting too heavy. Just like any other isolation exercise, seek the full range of motion and chase the muscle pump. 

Going full range of motion will also strengthen the bicep flexors and optimize the muscle stretch for superior hypertrophy. 

What Makes a Great Preacher Curl Alternative?

Preacher curls are well known for isolating the biceps and preventing cheating. However, it’s okay if you want to end your long love affair with this arms day staple. There are plenty of substitutes that you can program into your arm training routine.

Perhaps it’s crucial to understand the criteria before you choose the alternative. Before you make a choice, make sure that the exercise offers the following benefits: 

  • A good alternative should be an excellent bicep isolation exercise.
  • Exercise should prevent excessive stress on elbow joints.
  • Allows progressive overload.

An exercise that meets all the criteria shall be considered a viable alternative. 

9 Preacher Curl Alternatives

There are plenty of ways to isolate the biceps efficiently. However, one should choose an exercise that suits the individual fitness level and the availability of equipment. 

We will include exercises requiring machines, barbells, dumbbells, cables, and bands, to make the selection process more refined. 

Make sure you check out the difficulty level before you program the exercise into your training routine. Hard means you should be training with lightweight and Easy means you can go heavy with it. 

Let’s have a look at some viable bent-over row alternatives. 

1. Preacher Curl Machine

The preacher curl machine is the closest alternative to the free-weight preacher curls that target the same muscle groups without taxing elbow joints. 

What makes the preacher curl machine different from the barbell preacher curl? It’s the range of motion! While the barbell keeps putting downward pressure on the elbows even after reaching full arm extension (due to the angled pad), preacher curl machines are designed with a definite range of motion — making it a safer alternative. 

The preacher curl machine also works incredibly well for pump training and to get the muscle fibers filled with nutrition-rich blood.

Difficulty Level: Easy

Equipment Needed

  • Preacher curl machine

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Lean towards the angled pad of the preacher curl bench.
  2. Rest your armpits on the upper edge of the pad. Ensure the back of your arms is placed flat on the pad.
  3. Extend your arms to grab the handlebar with a supinated grip.
  4. Make sure your elbows point forward and arms parallel to each other.
  5. Curl the weight up until your forearms are vertical to the floor.
  6. Slowly bring the bar down until your arms are fully extended.
  7. Perform for the recommended number of reps.


  • Safer alternative.
  • Easy to learn and beginner-friendly.
  • Easy to conduct the drop sets.

2. Concentration Curl

You can call it a close cousin on preacher curl. As the name suggests, concentration curl is all about concentrating on the lengthening and contraction of the muscle fibers. It is an isolation exercise that unilaterally trains for size and strength.

It’s one of my go-to exercises to emphasize the pump and mind-muscle connection. 

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Equipment Needed

  • Dumbbell
  • Sturdy bench

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Sit upright on a flat bench or a stool.
  2. Spread your legs so you can rest the elbow of your working arm on the inside of your thigh.
  3. Keep your wrist supinated.
  4. Curl the dumbbell to reach full flexion.
  5. Pause at the top before bringing the dumbbell back to starting position. 
  6. Perform for the recommended reps before switching sides.


  • Improves bicep peak and thickness.
  • Addresses the strength imbalances.
  • Allows stronger mind-muscle connection.

3. Strict Curls

The strict curl is also known as ‘Wall curls’. As the name suggests, a strict curl is all about not using the body’s momentum to assist you in moving the weight up. 

It is a great isolation exercise that eliminates any kind of body momentum and forces the biceps to do the lifting. This exercise is just like the standard bicep curl, with your glutes, upper back, and head glued against the wall — making it a devastatingly hard exercise to execute.

Strict curls are also being included in lifting competitions to test the pure curling strength of the lifter.

Difficulty Level: Hard

Equipment Needed

  • Straight bar, EZ curl bar, or pair of dumbbells
  • Sturdy wall

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Hold a bar with an underhand grip with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Stand with your glutes, upper back, and head touching against the wall with your feet about six inches away from the wall.
  3. While keeping the upper arms stationary, exhale and curl the bar up.
  4. Pause and slowly return to starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired reps.


  • Stellar exercise to hone in on your biceps.
  • Prevents cheat curls.
  • Enhances the quality of the lift. 

4. Seated Dumbbell Curls

Seated dumbbells curls are one of my favourit as it allows you to take your lower half out of the equation and isolate the peaks of your biceps.

Aside from eliminating the use of momentum, seated dumbbell curls still allow you to train with a heavier load, compared to other isolation exercises — making it an excellent arm builder! 

Furthermore, alternating the dumbbell curls improves muscle imbalances and superior mind-muscle connection. 

Difficulty Level: Easy

Equipment Needed

  • Pair of dumbbell
  • Bench

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Sit on a bench with dumbbells in both hands and feet planted firmly on the floor.
  2. Let your arms hang fully extended to the sides, with a supinated grip.
  3. Keep your core tight with the chest up.
  4. Contract the bicep muscles and bend your elbows to curl the weight up.
  5. Pause and slowly return the dumbbells to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired reps.


  • It allows you to train heavier.
  • Great for building bicep peaks. 
  • Enforces better form and enhances mind-muscle connection.

5. Inclined Dumbbell Curls

Double down your bicep peak with the incline dumbbell curls. This curling variation works explicitly on the long head bicep — which is responsible for that towering peak. 

The exercise is performed by lying down on the incline bench (60- degrees) and curling the dumbbell ups. 

Difficulty Level: Hard

Equipment Needed

  • Pair of dumbbells
  • Incline bench

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Set up the incline bench at about 60 degree incline.
  2. Grasp a pair of dumbbells and lie down on the bench with your back firmly pressed against the bench. 
  3. Arms should be fully extended and hanging freely toward the floor.
  4. Flex at your elbows and curl the dumbbells up to your shoulder level.
  5. Slowly return to starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired reps.


  • Enables you to hone in the long head bicep.
  • Build a bicep peak.

6. Spider Curl

Spider curl is what your preacher curl should look like — It brings the elbows in front and unlocks the full range of motion for maximum growth. 

Spider curl looks like the opposite of incline dumbbell curl, as it is performed lying on an incline bench — but in a pronated position. Spider curls primarily target the short head bicep, a muscle responsible for the thickness. 

Difficulty Level: Hard

Equipment Needed

  • Pair of dumbbell
  • Incline bench

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Set up the bench at 45 degree incline.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie down on the bench with your chest pressed against the padded surface of the bench.
  3. Arms should be fully extended, and hanging towards the floor.
  4. Flex at your elbows and curl the dumbbells as far as you can.
  5. Pause and slowly return to starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired reps.


  • Develop thicker and fuller biceps.
  • Excellent isolation exercise.

7. Band High Curl

Don’t have access to weights? Don’t worry, band high curl will have you harvest all preacher curl benefits. Band high curl is an excellent exercise to boost hypertrophy.

The variable resistance of the band provides superior muscle contraction. 

Difficulty Level: Easy

Equipment Needed

  • Resistance band

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Anchor the band to the high point.
  2. Face your left side to the anchor point and band with a neutral grip, palms facing upward.
  3. Take a few steps to the right until you can comfortably extend your left arm.
  4. Perform a curl and squeeze your biceps for a movement before returning to starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired reps before switching hands.


  • Perfect for home workouts.
  • Easy to learn and beginner-friendly.
  • Prevents muscle imbalances.

8. Seated Cable Curl

It might look like a preacher curl replica, but this variation allows you to lift heavier weights, and it’s more joint-friendly as it doesn’t overextend the elbow joints at the bottom. Avoid using momentum by swinging your torso back and forth. 

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Equipment Needed

  • Seated cable machine

Step-by-Step Instruction 

  • Sit on the seated cable row machine and place your feet on the foot platform.
  • Bend your knees slightly and keep your torso in an upright position.
  • Grab the bar with a supinated grip.
  • Place your elbows on your knees with your elbows pointing forward.
  • Curl the bar towards your chin.
  • Pause at the top.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for recommended reps.


  • Placing your elbows on your knees results in better biceps isolation.
  • Seated cable curls target your short biceps head and help build thicker guns.

9. Chin-up

Chin-up is a compound exercise, but it still got the potential to annihilate the bicep muscles like no other isolation exercise. 

Equipment Needed

  • Chin-up bar

Step-by-Step Instruction

  1. Grasp the pull-up bar with an underhand grip at shoulder-width apart.
  2. Retract your scapula and pull yourself towards the ceiling until your chin is over the bar.
  3. Hold the contraction for a second before lowering yourself to the starting position.
  4. Perform as many reps as possible.


  • Enhances bicep strength and size.
  • Improves the overall pulling strength. 

Wrapping Up

The bicep is a mirror muscle, perhaps making it the most satisfying body part to strength train. Some people might claim that it’s okay to cheat while bicep curls. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger himself was a big proponent of ‘cheat curls’. 

Cheat curls are fun because it allows you to go heavier or squeeze out more reps. However, it’s important to pay enough emphasis on the isolation movements when the target is to bring hardness and muscle separation.

Do I still recommend the preacher curl? Yes, of course. For me, a preacher curl is still a go-to solution for growing the bicep peak. Preached curls are safe if you follow the proper technique. However, you should immediately switch to the safer alternative if you are not comfortable with the exercise.