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Published On: September 06, 2023
If you ask a random person on the street how to flex, chances are they will flex their arm to show their biceps. You've also likely heard popular, witty phrases like "every day is arm day," "curls for the girls," and "bi's for the guys."
Aside from a six-pack, the biceps may perhaps be the most desirable muscle gym-goers hope to develop. And when it comes to developing the biceps, the bicep curl is king. With several variations and different ways to complete it, the biggest debate in biceps training relates to equipment—is the straight bar or EZ curl bar better?
In this article, we will examine both types of equipment and help lifters determine which method, the curl bar vs straight bar, is best for them.
Table Of Contents
The EZ Bar is a type of curling bar with a W-shaped design to give users a more natural feel than a straight bar. While the straight bar was considered a versatile gym staple, it paved the way for the invention of more practical gym equipment.
Thus, the EZ Bar was invented and patented in 1950 by Lewis Dymeck, a weightlifter who sought to make his workouts more comfortable and efficient. Lewis noted the need for change after seeing other lifters struggle to maintain proper form with straight bar curls and experiencing wrist pain himself.
The EZ Bar uses a zig-zag or W-shaped design to give users a semi-supinated grip that feels natural, with straightened edges to load weights. The angled grip takes the stress off the elbows and wrists, which allows users to maintain proper form and place the focus on the biceps. EZ curl bars are perfect for arm isolation exercises, like bicep curls and tricep extensions.
Since EZ Bars vary in shape and size, they also vary in weight. Most loadable EZ Bars you'll find at the gym weigh between 10 to 35 pounds, with the standard bar weighing 10.5 pounds. Most gyms also have fixed-weight EZ Bars, ranging from 10 pounds to 110 or more, generally in ten-pound increments.
While the EZ Bar is a relatively new piece of equipment dating to the 1950s, the straight bar dates back to ancient times. The birth of the modern straight barbell we use today is unclear, as several men contributed over centuries. Kasper Berg created the first modern Olympic barbell in 1928, used in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic games.
The Olympic straight bar is perhaps the most essential piece of gym equipment, as it is used in the major Olympic lifts. The barbell looks exactly as it sounds - a straight metal bar with no bends and a spot for loadable weights at the ends.
Weighing in at 45 lbs for men and 35 lbs for women, it's used for countless exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, bent-over rows, barbell biceps curls, and triceps extensions. For the straight barbell curl, the user will grab the bar shoulder width apart with a supinated grip (palms facing upward) and curl the bar upward, activating the biceps and other support muscles.
The EZ bar was designed based on the straight bar, so there are several similarities with a few key differences between the two.
Primarily targets the biceps: Although you can use both bars in various ways to target other muscles, both primarily target the biceps brachii when referring to curls.
Similar movements across all lifts: Regardless of whether you're doing curls or another exercise, the bar and movement of the lift will remain roughly the same, except for the grip.
Loadable weight plates or preset: The straight bar and EZ bar are designed with sleeves to load weight onto each end. Most gyms also have preset weights ranging from 10 to 110 pounds for both bars.
Versatile: While the straight bar has far more options, both are versatile and can be used for various exercises. They can both exercise the biceps, triceps, forearms, and other muscle groups.
Shape of the bar: Perhaps the most apparent difference between the EZ bar and the barbell is the shape of the bar. The straight bar is straight, while the EZ bar has a zig-zag or W-shaped bar with angled handles and straightened ends.
Weight of the bar: An Olympic straight barbell is always 45 or 35 pounds, whereas EZ bars range from 10 to 35 pounds, with most standard bars weighing 10.5 pounds.
Grip: The straight bar biceps curl has users set up with a supinated grip, an underhanded grip where the palms face upwards. The EZ bar offers multiple angled grip options for a more neutral grip.
Muscle activation: Since the EZ bar has angled grip options, it can target certain arm muscles better. The straight bar is used for compound movements that can activate stabilizer muscles.
Range of motion: The angled grips of an EZ Bar allow for a greater range of motion than a straight bar.
Wrist comfort: The EZ Bar was invented because a weight lifter experienced wrist pain from the straight bar bicep curl. The grips of an EZ Bar place the wrists in a neutral position that reduces stress and the risk of injury on the straight bar.
Aside from the wrist support, the EZ Bar was created to work the arm muscles differently than the straight bar.
One of the primary ways researchers determine muscle activation is by measuring the electrical activity of muscles by performing an electromyography (EMG). Researchers use EMG to compare different exercises as they measure muscle function, activation patterns, and coordination of muscles. One study measured the EMG activity of the biceps brachii and brachioradialis (forearms) for the EZ barbell curl, straight bar curl, and dumbbell curls.
The results showed that EZ bar bicep curls had the highest EMG activity and best bicep activation. Therefore, the EZ Bar curl is most effective for activating the biceps and forearms, although the straight bar was a close second. (1) Therefore, we know the EZ bar bicep curl primarily works the short head of the biceps brachii. It also works the long head of the biceps, the forearms (brachioradialis, brachialis, forearm flexors), deltoids, wrist extensor, and wrist flexion muscles.
The EZ bar can also be used in several exercises that target the triceps, such as the EZ bar tricep extension, more commonly referred to as skull crushers. Skull crushers work all three heads of the triceps (medial, lateral, and long head), but you can specifically target the long head using an EZ bar.
The straight bar is commonly used for compound movements because it can be loaded heavily for bilateral exercises, training legs, upper body, and stabilizer muscles to help maintain stability and balance. That means it can be used to work almost every muscle in your body.
The straight barbell bicep curl, however, works the same muscles as EZ bar curls, with the short head of the biceps taking the primary load. Other muscles worked include the long head of the biceps, the forearms, the deltoids, wrist extensor muscles, and wrist flexion muscles. While the EMG study showed the EZ bar curl produces the highest EMG activity, the straight bar was an extremely close second and ahead of dumbbell curls on the biceps brachii and brachioradialis.
Some people perform skull crushers with a straight bar because they target all three heads of the triceps plus shoulder stabilizer muscles. However, many people, including myself, find this uncomfortable, causing stress on the wrists and elbows.
For most exercises, deciding which bar to use boils down to personal preference and comfort level. The straight barbell can be used for all Olympic lifts and other compound movements, whereas the EZ bar is better for targeting specific muscles.
Exercises with both bars:
Bicep Curls: While the movement is exactly the same, the key difference is the hand position. The EZ Bar places the wrists in a neutral position to relieve stress and pain.
Reverse Bicep Curls: The only difference from a regular biceps curl is you reverse your hand position into a pronated overhand grip, where your palms face your body. For this exercise, the EZ Bar is more comfortable and places less stress on the wrists. Ideally, your hands should be shoulder-width apart, with your hands on the downward slopes of the EZ bar.
Skull Crushers: Like curls, skull crushers are more comfortable using an EZ bar, but it comes down to personal preference.
Close Grip Bench Press: Using an EZ bar to superset skull crushers with close grip bench presses is one of the popular tricep workouts. The straight barbell might be the better option if you are going heavy on a close-grip bench.
Upright Row Or Bent Over Row: The EZ bar upright row is more comfortable for many people, but once again, the choice of bar comes down to personal preference.
Exercises with Straight bar:
Exercises with EZ Bar:
This list clearly shows the lack of versatility of the EZ bar compared to the straight bar. Ideally, you should incorporate both bars, especially for the common exercises, to maximize growth. To help you out, check out our article Hammer Curl vs Bicep Curl: Muscles Worked and Differences.
There are benefits to both types of bars, so both should have a place in your workouts.
The curved design and angled grips of an EZ curl bar allow a greater range of motion because your hands can travel closer to your body. The angled bar also allows for a more neutral grip, reducing stress on the elbows and wrists, making it key for people with injuries or mobility issues. Finally, studies show the EZ curling bar provides better biceps brachii and brachioradialis activation than dumbbells or straight bars.
Despite the grip options, the straight bar has greater versatility due to the vast number of compound exercises you can perform. You can use a straight bar to work out the entire body, whereas the EZ bar is generally only used for arms. With respect to curls, straight barbell curls have the hands in a supinated position, which helps place a greater load directly on the biceps rather than involving the forearms.
The entire reason the EZ bar was created was the stress that straight bars place on wrists during curls and skullcrushers, especially with heavier weights. Other exercises that use a straight bar, such as a squat, lunge, overhead press, or deadlift, involve more stabilizing muscles and require balance, so there is a higher risk of injury.
While the EZ bar is much better for reducing injury risk to the wrists, there are disadvantages to both types of bars. Since the stress is removed from the wrists during curls, it's redirected into other muscles, including the forearms, elbows, and shoulders. This could potentially lead to injuries in those muscles, especially with heavier weights because they can't handle the stress.
Constantly relying on the EZ bar could weaken your grip strength and balance over time. In contrast, curling with a straight bar reduces your range of motion because the body gets in the way.
A high-quality, durable barbell is an essential home gym staple, so we found the best products for both bar types.
The best EZ curl bar for your home gym is the Bells of Steel Industrial EZ Curl Bar.
Bells of Steel is a Canadian-based fitness equipment manufacturer that produces some of the highest quality products in the world. This bar is shorter than your average curl bar and has several grips to hit all the angles. It has a 28 mm shaft with rust-resistant black cerakote finish and premium titanium-plated sleeves that make it sleek and durable.
Weighing 20 pounds with a max capacity of 700 pounds and is only 47.2" long, it easily fits in any corner. With free shipping, a lifetime warranty, and a price comparable to inferior products online, this EZ bar is a no-brainer for any at-home gym.
A durable straight barbell is one of the staples of any gym, as it can be used for all the major compound lifts. The best straight barbell for your home gym is the Force USA Pro Series Barbell.
Force USA was founded in the early 2000s to create innovative gym equipment at affordable prices. They are regarded as one of the top equipment manufacturers with safe, high-quality products. The Pro Series Barbell is a standard commercial-grade barbell with all the standard measurements, including 45 pounds of weight, 86.6 inches in length, 28.5 mm grip diameter, and 190,000 PSI tensile strength to withstand the most intense powerlifting sessions.
Perfect for any gym or home, it has bright zinc sleeves for easy weight loading and bronze brushings for durability, making it extremely reliable. Force USA offers free shipping, a lifetime warranty, and payment plan options to help make this bar affordable.
These are some of the most commonly asked questions about the EZ curl bar vs. a straight bar.
Unlike a straight bar, EZ bars vary in weight. The standard EZ Bar is 10.5 pounds, but they can range from 10-35 pounds. To learn more, check out our article, EZ Curl Bar Weight and Size Chart.
Research shows that straight bar curls induce higher muscle activation in the biceps and forearms than dumbbell curls.
Straight barbells put more pressure on the wrists and elbows, whereas the EZ bar puts the hands in a more natural position.
Although it is possible to deadlift with a curl bar, it is better to use a straight bar due to the heavier, more durable bar.
No, you should not squat with a curl bar because it is dangerous. The bar is too small to fit safely across the shoulders. However, a cambered bar is a unique type of bar designed for squatting.
The straight curling bar and EZ bar are two essential staples for building muscle with home gym equipment.
As the straight barbell has been used for centuries and is the standard for gyms across the world, it has several advantages, including performing compound movements that work the entire body. In contrast, the EZ bar provides lifters with a more natural way to perform isolation exercises. EZ bars have a unique angled bar that gives users several grip options that help reduce stress on the elbows and wrists.
Studies show that EZ bars are slightly better at muscle activation than straight bars and dumbbells for the biceps curl, but they are incredibly close. Both bars are valuable and have advantages to help promote muscle growth, so the decision comes down to personal preference.
Marcolin, Giuseppe, et al. “Differences in Electromyographic Activity of Biceps Brachii and Brachioradialis While Performing Three Variants of Curl.” PeerJ, vol. 6, 13 July 2018, p. e5165, https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.5165.
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February 20, 2024
February 20, 2024
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