Preacher Curl Alternatives: 10 Home Substitutes Without Bench

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Preacher curls are great for isolating the biceps. A machine is normally the go-to exercise choice for this, however. In this article, we don’t give you a single preacher curl machine alternative but show you how to do preacher curls at home without a bench, preacher curl substitute exercise ideas with dumbbells, barbells, and resistance bands.

We also explore the criteria that turn a regular bicep curl into an exercise that mimics a preacher curl so you can innovate if you need to.

Let’s jump in!

Top 10 preacher curl substitute exercises

Here are the exercises that we think are the best preacher curl alternatives. Although they are all fairly similar, some of these substitutes for preacher curl will be better suited to you according to the equipment you have to hand.

Preacher curl alternativeBest alternative for
Resistance band preacher curls (elbows on knees)At home preacher curl with resistance bands
Prone bicep curlIf you have an adjustable bench
Bent over bicep curl EZ barBest machine preacher curl alternative
Single arm dumbbell isolation curlBest single arm preacher curl alternative
Barbell seated preacher curls with elbows on kneesAnother good machine preacher curl alternative
Dumbell seated preacher curls with elbows on kneesBarbell preacher curl alternative
Strict form barbell curlPreacher curl no bench (advanced)
Laying resistance band preacher curlsPreacher alternative at home with resistance bands
Seated concentration curlAnother good single arm preacher curl alternative
Preacher hammer curlsDumbbell preacher curl at home alternative

Criteria a preacher curls alternative should cover

Why is a preacher curl different from any other bicep curl? Although regular bicep curls are similar to preacher curl movements, there are a few points that differentiate the two exercises. It’s easier to find alternatives to preacher curls by understanding what the original exercise is designed to do and how the movement is performed.

Below is a list of criteria that a curl must have to give the same effect as a preacher curl. Some points on this list will apply to many other exercise movements, but I’ve included these, as I believe they are integral to effective resistance training.

  • The biceps must be isolated
  • Elbows must be forward of the torso throughout the movement
  • The elbow is the only active joint
  • Tension on the bicep must not be lost throughout the movement
  • A full range of motion without elbow lock-out should be utilized
  • The resistance level must be right

The biceps must be isolated

In the simplest terms, performing any biceps curl is simply moving a resistance by bending your elbows and bringing the weight up towards your upper body. Curls can be performed like this, but if the bicep is not isolated, other muscle groups can join in to help the biceps out. An example of this is the deltoids assisting the lift. For a curl to be a preacher curl, the bicep should work alone and not allow other muscle groups to join the party.

Another way to take from isolating the biceps is to use momentum to “swing the weight” to the top of the movement. A preacher curl does not allow for this as momentum will dilute the intensity of the exercise by again recruiting other muscle groups for help with the lift.

Elbows must be forward of the torso throughout the movement

Bicep curls can be performed with the elbows pinned into the sides of the body, but an important condition of a preacher curl is that the elbows should be in front of the torso. Ideally, the upper arms should be at least a 45-degree angle from the body, but this is an individual thing and genetic makeup may dictate a slightly different angle. This is one of the big differences when comparing preacher curl vs bicep curl.

The elbow is the only active joint

As mentioned in an earlier condition, the shoulder muscles can engage by slightly rotating or rolling with regular bicep curls, so with preacher curls, any other joint in the body should be stationary.

Tension on the bicep must not be lost throughout the movement

With many exercises, it’s important to keep tension in the working muscle. With preacher curls, this is important for maximum effectiveness, as it’s an isolation exercise.

At the top of the movement of a bicep curl, where the bicep is fully contracted, the tension is “on”, but it is possible to curl, or move the resistance past this point by raising the elbows and relaxing the bicep to allow the muscle to “rest”.

The same goes for the mid or start position of the exercise. It’s possible to rest and take tension off the biceps. With preacher curls, the tension should always be on.

Full range of motion without elbow lock-out should be utilized

To maximize the effectiveness of any resistance exercise, the working muscle group should have a full extension and a full contraction. To achieve this with preacher curl, we need to get a full contraction on the biceps when curling without taking the tension off, so no “half reps”.

We also need to achieve a full extension. This full range of movement makes the preacher curl one of the best bicep exercises for shaping and toning.

There is often confusion about a full extension, especially with preacher curls. Yes, we want to straighten our arms at the start/ mid position, but only to the point where our elbows are just about to lock out.

Lowering the weight to this point only, will give us the maximum range of movement but will cause much less stress on our tendons and ligaments and will also help to keep the tension on the muscle.

The resistance level must be right

As preacher curls are an isolation exercise and focus on the biceps, a modest amount of resistance is often enough to be effective when compared to regular bicep curls, and the biceps are a relatively small muscle group.

If the resistance is too heavy, the trainer may be forced to lose exercise form, just to move the resistance from point A to point B. This can entirely ruin the effectiveness of this isolation exercise. On the flip side of this, if the resistance level is too light, the biceps will not be working hard enough for any type of progression.

A good gauge of resistance level is that if you are at failure or 80% of failure on the last few reps of your planned set without losing exercise form, this is a good resistance level for you. It may take a bit of trial and error to get the resistance level right, but it’s worth it.

Here’s our best preacher curl alternatives list:

Best preacher curl alternative

The best preacher curl alternatives we suggest are listed here, accompanied by illustrations and a brief description of how to perform the exercise.

The list is in no particular order, as every exercise (if performed correctly), will be effective. Choose your alternatives based on the equipment you have access to.

Here are 10 good alternatives to preacher curls:

1. Resistance band preacher curls with elbows on knees (best preacher curl alternative for home workouts)

Resistance band preacher curls with elbows on knees
Resistance band preacher curls with elbows on knees

The resistance band preacher curl with elbows on knees is better than preacher curl lying down using an exercise band as it offers more stability to the upper arms, making it harder to lose form.

Although this is the best alternative to preacher curl for home workouts, this position may be difficult for some trainers, so there are other alternatives below.

This resistance band preacher curl alternative is best for home workouts that aim to isolate the bicep with intense arm workouts:

  • Use a door anchor to attach a resistance band to the bottom of a door
  • Squat down and hinge at your hips so that your elbows are resting just in front of your knees
  • Ensure you keep a flat back and head in a neutral position
  • Take the ends of the exercise band in your fists or use handles if you have them
  • Your palms should face up towards your head
  • Straighten your arms in front of you but keep a slight bend in the elbows
  • As you exhale, contract your biceps by bending your elbows
  • Once at the top of the movement, as you inhale, return to the start position

2. Lying resistance band preacher curls alternative

Lying resistance band preacher curls
Lying resistance band preacher curls

The lying resistance band preacher curls is a great alternative to regular preacher curls if you are working out from home and cannot perform, or find the variation with elbows on knees from a squatting position difficult.

This exercise is an excellent way to do a preacher curl at home and it can be performed to target both biceps together or can be performed in a single arm variation.

The lying resistance band preacher curl alternative is best for beginners or trainers who find holding a static, Low squat difficult.

  • Use a door anchor to attach a resistance band to the bottom of a door
  • Lie flat on your back with your feet either flat against the door or legs bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Take the ends of the exercise band in your fists or use handles if you have them
  • Your palms should face up towards your head
  • Raise your upper arms off the floor and straighten your arms in front of you
  • Your arms should be at about a 45-degree angle to your lower body
  • As you exhale, contract your biceps by bending your elbows
  • Once at the top of movement, as you inhale, return to the start position

3. Bent over bicep curl, EZ bar preacher curl alternative (most similar to preacher curl machine)

Bent over bicep curl with EZ bar
Bent over bicep curl with EZ bar

The bent over bicep curl EZ bar exercise is most similar to the traditional preacher curl machine, so this is a great alternative exercise if you do not have access to a preacher bench. The EZ bar puts your hand positioning at an angle to target both heads of the biceps and the forward positioning of the body mimics that of the preacher curl machine.

The bent over bicep curl EZ bar exercise is best for intermediate or advanced level trainers looking for an alternative to the traditional preacher bench or preacher curl machine.

  • Select an EZ bar with a resistance level that’s right for you
  • Grip the bar close to the middle so your palms are at an angle (Your thumb at the top, facing slightly away from your midline, and your little finger closer to your midline)
  • Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly
  • Hinge at the hips keeping your back flat so the bar hangs down in front of you
  • As you exhale, contract your biceps bringing the EZ bar up towards your head
  • Once at the top of the movement, as you inhale, return to the start position

4. Single arm dumbbell isolation curl (Preacher curl alternative with dumbbells)

Single arm dumbbell isolation curl
Single arm dumbbell isolation curl

Single arm dumbbell isolation curl is best for beginners and is an excellent exercise choice when using dumbbells. The bench offers stability to enable great isolation and supports the perfect exercise form.

  • Set up an incline bench (the angle will vary based on your height)
  • Stand behind the bench with your back flat
  • Take the dumbbell in one hand and place your rear, upper arm flat on the backrest with your armpit pushed into the top of the bench
  • Rest your free hand on your thigh
  • As you exhale, contract your bicep to bring the dumbbell up towards your head
  • Once at the top of the movement, as you inhale, return to the start position

5. Seated curl with elbows on knees (a good barbell preacher curl alternative)

Seated curl with elbows on knees
Seated curl with elbows on knees

The seated curl with elbows on knees is the best alternative to preacher curls with a straight bar. The seated position and placement of the elbows on the knees hold the upper arms in the correct position. Because of this locked, solid position, it’s easier to focus the biceps without having to concentrate on keeping the upper arms in front of the body. It’s important to note that with this type of exercise that the back is kept flat throughout the movement.

  • Select a barbell that’s right for you
  • Sit on a flat bench and hinge at the hips so your elbows are resting just in front of your knees
  • Keep your back flat and feet flat on the floor
  • With your palms facing forward, as you exhale, contract your biceps bringing them towards your head
  • Once at the top of the movement, as you inhale, return to the start position

6. Prone bicep curl (a great dumbbell preacher curl alternative)

Prone bicep curl
Prone bicep curl

The prone bicep preacher curl is another great dumbbell preacher curl alternative and is best if you have an adjustable, incline bench.

Due to the differing heights and genetics of a trainer, the angle of the bench will vary from trainer to trainer. If you plan on giving this one a go and are uncomfortable with the position, try lowering the angle on the bench or lowering your body position on the bench.

  • Set up a bench at an incline and select a set of dumbbells that work for you
  • Lean on the backrest of the bench with your torso and make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor
  • Let the dumbbells hang down in front of you with your palms facing forward
  • Make sure to keep a slight bend in the elbows
  • As you exhale, contract your biceps, bringing the dumbbells up towards your head
  • Once at the top of the movement, as you inhale, return to the start position
  • Note that your upper arms stay in the start position throughout the movement

7. Seated dumbell preacher curls with elbows on knees

Seated dumbell preacher curls with elbows on knees
Seated dumbell preacher curls with elbows on knees

Seated preacher curls with dumbbells are a good alternative to preacher curl as the body position can be more comfortable than the prone preacher curl alternative for some trainers.

The stability given by the “elbows on knees position” makes this a solid option for preacher curls with dumbbells.

  • Select a set of dumbbells that are right for you
  • Sit on a flat bench and hinge at the hips so your elbows are resting just in front of your knees
  • Keep your back flat and feet flat on the floor
  • With your palms facing forward, as you exhale, contract your biceps bringing them towards your head
  • Once at the top of the movement, as you inhale, return to the start position

8. Strict form barbell curl (preacher curl alternative without bench)

Strict form barbell curl
Strict form barbell curl

Strict form barbell curls are probably the hardest to master as it requires exercise form to be perfect as there is no support for the elbows. Holding the upper arm in position in order to isolate the bicep can be tricky. But if this is your only option and you are able to maintain the start position, it’s good enough!

  • Select a barbell that’s right for you
  • Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, back flat, and have a slight bend in your knees
  • Grip the barbell so your palms are facing to your front with about a shoulder-width distance grip
  • Keep your arms straight with a slight bend at the elbows
  • Raise your straight arms up slightly so they are at about a 45-degree angle away from your torso
  • This is the position that your upper arm will stay throughout the movement
  • As you exhale, contract your biceps to bring the bar towards your head
  • Once at maximum contraction, return to the start position as you inhale

Note:

Some trainers like to stand with their back flat to a wall to perform the strict form barbell curl to eliminate any chance of momentum assisting with the exercise.

9. Dumbell concentration curl (single arm preacher curl alternative)

Dumbell concentration curl
Dumbell concentration curl

The concentration curl takes all of the criteria for a preacher curl into consideration but focuses on single arm movements. This position can be more comfortable for some trainers as the seating position can put less strain on the lower back as the free hand is used for support.

  • Select a dumbbell that is right for you
  • Sit on a flat bench and hinge at the hips so your elbow is resting on the inside of you knee
  • Keep your back flat and feet flat on the floor
  • Place your free hand on your thigh for stability
  • With your palm in line with your bicep, as you exhale, contract your bicep bringing the dumbbell towards your head
  • Once at the top of the movement, as you inhale, return to the start position

10. Hammer preacher curl (bicep exercise for peak)

Hammer preacher curl
Hammer preacher curl

Hammer preacher curls are a hybrid exercise used to isolate the biceps with a focus on the long head. This helps with the “peak of the bicep”. Hammer curls in general also put a greater focus on the forearm muscles when compared to the regular palm position of the other bicep exercises.

Hammer preacher curl should be used alongside other bicep exercises if a trainer aims to have a rounded bicep workout.

  • Select a set of dumbbells that are right for you
  • Sit on a flat bench and hinge at the hips so your elbows are resting just in front of your knees
  • Keep your back flat and feet flat on the floor
  • With your palms facing inwards, as you exhale, contract your biceps bringing them towards your head
  • Once at the top of the movement, as you inhale, return to the start position

Which of the preacher curls alternative exercises is a good choice for you?

Choosing a good preacher curls alternative exercise for yourself depends on a few things. First, you need to consider what equipment you have access to. Do you have a bench, dumbbells or barbells, etc?
The next thing to consider is the exercise position.

As you can see, there are several ways to perform preacher curl alternatives in a variety of body positions. You should consider the body position of a prospective preacher curl and maybe test it out.

If you have pain in your back for instance from holding the position, this will be a problem and you should probably move on to another choice.

It’s always a good idea however, if you do have problems like this analyze why you have it, it may be that your position is slightly wrong or it may be a weakness that needs strengthening.

Ultimately, a preacher curl is a preacher curl, if you have the right arm positioning and are isolating the bicep group with a challenging workload and keeping good exercise form, you are golden!

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