The Barbell Drag Curl 101 | Form, Benefits, and Variations!

By
Mike Kenler
January 4, 2021

Barbell Drag Curl

While less popular than the standard barbell bicep curl, the barbell drag curl is an extremely effective bicep exercise. 

If you want to improve your arm size, strength, and appearance, the barbell drag curl is for you. 

Muscles Worked By The Barbell Drag Curl

Primary Muscle Groups:

The barbell drag curl primarily works your biceps brachii. The bicep muscle is comprised of two “heads:” a long head and a short head. 

Both heads work together as a cohesive unit during lifting and pulling motions.

Secondary Muscle Groups:

The barbell drag curl secondarily works your brachialis, a muscle in your biceps that lies beneath your biceps brachii. It also activates your brachioradialis, the most prominent muscle in your forearm.

The barbell drag curl also works your abs and back muscles, as they activate to stabilize your body during the curling motion. 

Barbell Drag Curl Benefits

1. Strength And Size Gains

The barbell drag curl is an intense biceps exercise. 

At the top of each rep, your biceps are optimally targeted, which helps to strengthen the biceps muscle and increase biceps hypertrophy.

Growing your biceps muscles isn’t just for show—it will improve your performance in other exercises at the gym such as the barbell row and the lat pulldown

2. Reduced Risk Of Injury 

Many people struggle with shoulder pain or instability during regular bicep curls. This happens because the front deltoids activate to provide stability during the standard curling motion.

The barbell drag curl eliminates the need for any significant deltoid activation. Therefore, you can still build stronger, bigger biceps without risking injury to your shoulders.

3. Improved Aesthetics

Let’s face it — nearly everyone wants to have better looking arms. Depending on your goals, you can use the barbell drag curl to develop bigger, more toned, or more defined biceps.

This exercise is simple to learn and can help you improve the appearance of your arms in no time. 

How To Do The Barbell Drag Curl 

Equipment:

For this exercise, you will need a barbell and some weights.

Setup:

a) To begin, grab the barbell with a double underhand (supinated) grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

b) Assume a comfortable standing position with your back straight. Engage your core.

Action:

a) Bring your elbows and shoulders back slightly as you curl the barbell upwards. It should feel like you are "dragging" the barbell up your body.

b) Squeeze your biceps hard at the top and slowly return to the starting position.

c) Repeat for your desired number of reps.

Recommendation:

If you are new to the barbell drag curl, choose a light weight to begin and complete 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps.

If you are more comfortable with the form, grab some heavier weights and stick to the 6-8 rep range for 3-4 sets. 

Barbell Drag Curl Mistakes

1. Bringing Your Elbows Forward

The most common barbell drag curl mistake is bringing your elbows forward as you curl upwards. Unlike the standard bicep curl, your elbows should move up and back during the barbell drag curl motion.

Bringing your elbows forward will add unnecessary tension to your elbows and shoulders. Instead, keep your elbow back to keep the stress on your biceps.

2. Using Momentum

Far too often, weight lifters tend to swing their arms and use momentum to lift the barbell up. Truth be told, this usually happens when people try to load on too much weight.

To fix this mistake, take off some weight and focus on perfecting your form. Lifting lighter weight and focusing on your mind-muscle connection will actually increase your gains and reduce your chances of injury!

3. Rushing The Motion

Another common mistake made during the barbell drag curl is rushing the motion. In other words, people curl upwards in a controlled fashion and then let the barbell fall quickly to the bottom. 

Not only can this be unsafe, but this mistake steals major gains that can be made during the eccentric portion of the exercise motion.

Instead of rushing through the motion, curl the barbell up and down in a slow, controlled fashion. This tempo will increase your time under tension and maximize the benefits of the barbell drag curl.

Barbell Drag Curl Variations

1. Drag Curl Hold 

The hold variation of the barbell drag curl is a great way to increase your time under tension during the curling motion. 

Simply curl upwards and hold the barbell in this position for at least three seconds. Squeeze your biceps hard and return to the starting position. Repeat!

2. Dumbbell Drag Curl

If you don’t have access to a barbell, you can always do the drag curl from home with a pair of dumbbells.

Assume a comfortable stance in a standing position and grab a pair of dumbbells with a supinated grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

Keep the form the same as the barbell drag curl—you should still feel like you are "dragging" the weights up your body.

3. 1-Arm Kettlebell Drag Curl

You can also train your biceps unilaterally with the 1-arm kettlebell drag curl. You can use the 1-arm drag curl to correct muscle imbalances between your two arms, as well as increase your mind-muscle connection. 

Grab a kettlebell with your palm facing forward. Keep your core tight and perform a drag curl with the same form as the barbell variation. 

Barbell Drag Curl Alternatives

If you enjoyed the barbell drag curl, check out these alternative bicep exercises to improve your bicep training:

1. Supinated Dumbbell Curl

Assume a sturdy standing position. Grab a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing forward and tuck your elbows into your sides.

Contract your biceps to curl upwards. Squeeze your biceps hard at the top and then slowly release back to starting position. Repeat for your desired number of reps!

2. Standing Kettlebell Concentration Curl 

Assume a standing position with your feet wider than shoulder width apart. Grab the kettlebell with your right hand and your palm facing away from you.

Shift your weight to your right side and place your elbow on the inside of your thigh just above your knee for support.

Contract your bicep to curl the kettlebell upwards. Squeeze your bicep hard at the top of the rep and return to the starting position. 

Repeat for the desired number of reps and be sure to switch arms!

3. Reverse Resistance Band Curl

Begin by assuming a standing position on a resistance band with your feet close together. Grab the handles with an overhand grip and tuck your elbows into your sides.

Contract your biceps to curl upwards. Squeeze your biceps hard at the top and then slowly release back to the starting position.

Repeat for your desired number of reps.

Looking For An Intense Bicep Workout?

Follow along to this 5-minute barbell bicep workout!

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Mike Kenler
Director of Writing | Certified in Plant Based Nutrition at T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies