Dumbbell vs Barbell Curl (Which is Better & Why)

The barbell curl and dumbbell curl are both my favorite bicep exercises. They help me build sturdy and sizable biceps.

However, they are different from one another. I’ve shared an ultimate comparison between dumbbell vs barbell curl that will help you decide which you should prioritize more.

This article is especially helpful for those who follow push/pull/legs (PPL) or full body split. Because during this split, choosing the right exercise or combination of exercises helps maximize strength and size. However, if you follow a traditional muscle group split, you can do both exercises on the same day.

Okay, let’s start.

Dumbbell vs Barbell Curl: The Ultimate Comparision

Dumbbell Curls Vs Barbell Curls
Dumbbell Curls vs Barbell Curls

I’ll compare these exercises based on the following criteria:

  1. Personal Enjoyment
  2. Variations
  3. Range of Motion
  4. Tension Potential
  5. Unilateral Option
  6. Customization
  7. Overload Potential
  8. Ease of use/Convenience

Personal Enjoyment

Working out is not always about gaining muscle mass or getting stronger. It is also about enjoying the exercises you do. So, you should do those exercises which you enjoy the most, whether it’s dumbbell or barbell curl.


To hit both the short and long head of the biceps, you need to do varieties of exercises. And when it comes to variations, dumbbells are always ahead of barbells. For example, dumbbells allow you to perform Zottoman curl, hammer curl, and alternate curl, whereas you can do limited exercises with a barbell. So here, the clear winner is Dumbbell.

Range of Motion

The full range of motion is useful for training small muscles like the biceps because it helps put stress where it is required. Both dumbbells and barbells are free-weight exercise equipment and provide a better range of motion so you can target your biceps effectively. So, in that case, the winner is both.

Tension Potential

Barbell curls activate and engage more bicep muscles and help you build strength and size. An EMG study published in 2018 demonstrated that EZ bar curls highly activated biceps branchii and brachioradialis than dumbbell curls. Therefore, you can prioritize the EZ bar bicep curl over the dumbbell curl.

Unilateral Option

The dumbbell allows you to perform unilateral exercises, meaning you can use one arm at a time. Unilateral exercises help work more on your weaker side and improve muscle and strength imbalance.

On the other hand, your stronger arm takes control over your weaker arm during the barbell curl. For example, if your right arm is more sturdy than the left one, then your right one will dominate, and the weaker one will get less work. And this causes one bicep to grow and the other to stay underdeveloped.

So if you want to focus more on your inferior arm, consider using dumbbells.


You can customize any dumbbell bicep curl you want. For instance, you can twist your wrist to perform twisting curls, you can sit on the floor to perform concentration curls, and lie on the bench to perform incline dumbbell curls. While barbells do not provide you with many options to customize your biceps curls. So if you customize your bicep curls a lot, you should prefer using the dumbbells.

Overload Potential

The barbell allows you to lift a maximum load (weight) compared to the dumbbell, which helps maximize strength and hypertrophy. You can also use heavier dumbbells, but for progressive overload, the barbell curl is slightly better than the dumbbell curl.

Ease of use/Convenience

Dumbbells are more convenient and easy to use than barbells. Nowadays, dumbbells come with a adjustable option that helps you adjust the weight depending on exercise and fitness level. Moreover, dumbbells allow you to perform more exercises at home than barbells.

Which one is best for you?

Dumbbells are overall good equipment to train your biceps, especially if you work out at home. However, both dumbbell and barbell curls are useful and help you achieve better burly biceps. But which one works the best for you depends on how your body responds to a certain exercise. That’s why you should try both and then prioritize the one that works best for you.

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Murshid Akram
I'm an online personal trainer, fitness blogger, and fitness enthusiast. I love researching and writing about exercise and nutrition. I share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you achieve your desired fitness goal.

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