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Curling in the Squat Rack is... Fine, Actually (The Benefits of the Olympic Straight Bar Curl)

Updated: Mar 6, 2023

Wait, hear me out!

I've spent a lot of my time being a nerd, living life on the internet. Far from "terminally online" but; I do know what "AFAB" means, which qualifies me as some kind of expert, I think.

The "Curling in the Squat Rack" meme is something that seemed to develop from terminally online spaces such as Reddit communities, and if you are siloed in these spaces, you'd probably think this is some kind of norm that somehow jumped species into the host that is our natural world sprouted like cordyceps.

Like much internet culture - it's very hard to disentangle how much is serious adherence to the discourse on display, how much of it is ironic (with however many potential layers), and how much of it is just plain old meme-ing for fun.

A lot of this exists as some nebulous gallimaufry that is hard to actually disentangle.

The reality is that most well-adjusted human beings don't actually care (though, admittedly, "well-adjusted human beings" are in smaller and smaller supply these days). Of course, this can be context dependent. If you're in a Power Lifting gym, that culture might be a bit more strict, but in most commercial gyms - people don't care.

That doesn't mean that there aren't some important things to discuss relating to this issue, however.

This particular post isn't about the meme itself, as much as it's about the meme/norm often denying less assertive people one of the most important bodybuilding exercises out there - the Olympic Straight Bar Curl.


Pictured: Lee Priest training his biceps to increase your flight zone on Leg Day

Many people don't seem to know this, but Olympic Straight Bar Curl, is the ULTIMATE compound Biceps building movement that not a lot of people do.

I think it's because 1; they don't understand how beneficial the Olympic Straight Bar actually is for building the muscles, and more likely, 2; never even experienced an Olympic Straight Bar Curl because they've internalized silly internet memes from the early 2010's.

This needs to change.

Body Builder Lee Priest agrees, I think (:18 seconds in)

Straight Bar Curls are generally considered superior to EZ Bar Curls, though, everything has it's place (I personally tend to do EZ Bar Curls more these days because they're easier on the wrists, which I have issues with).

But using an Olympic Barbell allows one to take things to another level. Not only does an Olympic Bar allow one to lift more weight, it allows one to adjust grip width as well, due to being much longer.

"Biceps" means "Two Heads" in Latin (Biceps Brachii). There's both the "short" head, which is the inner-most head, and the "long" head, which is the outer most part of the muscle.

This person clearly never curled in the squat rack

If you want bigger arms, both of these portions of the biceps need adequate stimulation.

Due to the nature of the Olympic Straight Bar, the Olympic Straight Bar Curl more evenly distributes its force in terms of weight across both heads of the biceps more evenly than an EZ bar or dumbbell variation.

Not only that, but the Olympic Straight Bar allows access to potentially heavier loads, for both Strength and Hypertrophic gains - you're just not going to get the same kind of Biceps development with something like an Ez Bar or Dumbbell Curl. The former typically has a weight and ergonomic limit, and the latter is limited by strength and form compromises (very few people can strictly curl more than 50lbs dumbbells).

The Olympic Straight Bar Curl also forces you to get your core muscles involved MUCH more - super important for those looking to address issues with posture.

At heavier loads, the nature of the lift forces you to activate your abdominals, upper back, lats, and deltoids to counter-act the load wanting to bring your body forwards into a lean when it's more parallel to the ground, directly in front of you, during both the concentric and eccentric phases of the lift.

You're also giving your forearms a much needed workout, which is often neglected by lifters.

You're just getting an overall stricter lift, more compound lift, that stretches the biceps more at the bottom position (where muscle fibers tear and growth happens) due to getting fuller supination in a larger range of motion, while also forcing you to activate much of your upper body for stabilization.

This multivariate compound nature of the OSBC makes it not only one of the best lifts for your biceps muscles - it makes it one of the best lifts in weight lifting, period, IMO.

I essentially consider it the Squat of the biceps muscles, and if you're missing out on performing this exercise on a regular basis due to potential social stigma - you're needlessly compromising your time in the gym.

Touché, Meme-ster.


Now, let me be clear: This by no means is to suggest that you should be inconsiderate.

After all, social norms often lag behind insights.

If someone needs to Olympic Bar Squat or Deadlift; there's often fewer places in a gym to do those specific exercises than an Olympic Straight Bar Curl, and the Squat Rack is often the designated area for those lifts.

But, also keep in mind, that you ALSO have fitness goals that are no less important than anyone else's in that gym.

If you're lifting heavier loads during an Olympic Straight Bar Curl; the Squat Rack is ideal for efficiently helping you get the bar into the starting position of the lift, in a similar way it is for a Squat, a Standing Overhead Shoulder Press, or even heavier Shrugs (for some strange reason, none of these exercises draw the same kind of meme-ified ire as Curls, specifically. Something to investigate at another time, I suppose)

If the gym is busy and you'll be more than a few minutes in your set; see if you can prioritize getting an Olympic Bar from a Flat Bench, or Military Press, first. You may have to Deadlift the weight from the ground, first, or rest the bar on the Bench, between sets.

Also, if you know that you want to Olympic Straight Bar Curl in the Squat Rack - try to prioritize slower gym times in your area if you can.

Though, if your gym consistently looks like this: you might want to check your phone for recent CDC updates.

You also don't need a Squat Rack at all if you're not going heavy.

But, by all means, do NOT compromise your goals due to this silly social norm. IMO, anyone looking to grow their biceps optimally should be doing Olympic Straight Bar Curls, and just like a Squat or Deadlift - the Squat Rack is often times the best area to do this amazing exercise in your local gym.


- Kye

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Kimosabae Grant is a World Fitness Association Certified Personal Trainer, with almost 10 years in the industry.

Also really loves fighting games. Need personalized program or coaching?

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