The main difference between a French curl bar and a straight bar, is the obvious shape; one is bent and one is, well, straight. The way you position your hands on the bar itself when performing exercises is a difference, too. The weight of the bars also differs; with a curl bar being roughly between 25-30lbs as the standard straight bar is 45lbs. This is mainly because the curl bar is shorter in length compared to the straight bar. When it comes to the positioning of your hands, you can only have an overhand or underhand grip with your wrists straight when gripping a straight bar. On the other hand, curl bars allow your wrists to be slightly turned outwards (supinated) or inwards (pronated) when using an underhand or overhand grip. The curl bar has a better hand position, naturally, for exercises that require you to bend more at the elbows.
Below are 5 exercises that you can try when using a curl bar.
French Curl Bar Exercises
✓ Upright Rows
The angled position of this bar allows you to pull the desired weight up higher, which allows you to get more trapezius activation during this exercise. To begin this exercise, set up your weight and grab onto the bar with a narrow, overhand grip. Stand up straight, spine neutral, shoulders back. Pull the weight up as high as you can while staying in proper form, bringing your elbows up to ear level. Hold this position at the top, and squeeze your traps and shoulders. Slowly bring the weight back down to starting position. This is one repetition.
✓ Preacher Curls
The preacher curl allows you to further isolate the bicep muscle without using your back to compensate the movement during its exercise. Set the weight on the bar lower than what you would normally use for a traditional standing barbell curl. Sit at the preacher bench, armpits resting up against the pad, and bring your elbows over the pad. Roll your shoulders back so that the weight can be pulled up properly and easily. Using control, curl the bar up to the top of the pads, squeezing at the peak of the motion. Slowly return the weight back to the starting position. Technique and form is crucial for this exercise.
These are not the same 100s that are commonly referred to in a pilates class. However, it is exactly what it sounds like, you’re going to grab onto the bar and perform 100 strict repetitions of curls. This high volume training technique isn’t something that I would recommend doing on a weekly basis, maybe once a month. It’s good to try this challenge as a way to challenge the muscles, incorporating different muscle fibers, and increase muscle endurance and strength. Begin by loading up the bar with about 40% of what you would normally use to perform 8 repetitions. You’re going to perform 3 sets; 1×50, 1×30, and 1×20 as your muscles will reach fatigue. It’s important to maintain a steady tempo and don’t force yourself to bring the weight up by suffering your form.
✓ Overhead Triceps Extension
Using the curl bar is beneficial for this exercise, because it allows you to extend your hands as you keep your elbows close to your head. Stand up with the bar in your hands, palms down. Hold the first “grooves” of the bar accordingly. Perform a reverse curl to properly bring the weight up to chin level and press the weight up overhead. Making sure that your elbows are close by your head, move your forearms back and use your elbows to hinge the weight, and lower it behind your head. Your upper arms and forearms should not move throughout the exercise, keeping proper alignment.
✓ Close-grip Curls
This motion is the same as a basic curl, but just with a closer grip. Begin the exercise by standing upright, spine straight, core engaged. Keeping your elbows closer to your torso, bring the weight up while being consciously aware to keep your upper arms still. Continue until you reach full contraction of the muscle, and the weight is about shoulder level. Hold and squeeze to fully activate the muscle! Slowly lower the weight back down to the starting position. This is one repetition.
Take Home Message
These exercises are common, but using the curl bar allows different variation to the placement of your hands. Doing so allows you to isolate your muscles to a different level. It’s good to alternate curl bars and straight bars in your workout routine to keep challenging your muscles from different angles!