Why You Should Work Your Chest With a Curl Bar — Plus 10 Exercises to Try

Curl bars are great alternatives to barbells, and holding one may feel better on your wrists.
Image Credit: Michael Edwards/iStock/GettyImages

If you're training at a full gym with lots of equipment, you may see a rack full of weights that resemble barbells except they're shorter with several bends in the middle. This is called a curl bar — also known as an EZ bar — and you can use it to train most muscles in your body.

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Some curl bars are empty, allowing you to load plates onto each end to create your desired weight. Other curl bars are set at fixed weights ranging from 20 to 100 pounds.

A nice benefit of curl bars is they can be more elbow- and wrist-friendly than traditional barbells. Many people find that holding a curl bar feels better on their wrists than holding a straight barbell,

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You can create a great chest workout with a curl bar. Here are a few reasons you might consider performing chest exercises with one:

  • The gym is crowded​. Barbells and bench press stations are a hot commodity at most gyms. You can substitute the EZ bar for a barbell without having to totally overhaul your workout (as long as you're not benching several hundred pounds).
  • You train at home​. An adjustable weight EZ bar is cheaper and takes up less space than barbells or bench press stations. You can make the best of the equipment you have available to work your chest muscles at home.
  • You want to mix things up.​ Sometimes you just want a little variety in your workouts. Occasionally using different pieces of equipment to perform familiar exercises is a great way to keep your workouts interesting. Curl bar workouts can be fresh, fun and effective.

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Best Practices for an Effective Curl Bar Chest Workout

Below, we share 10 different chest exercises with an EZ curl bar. Eight of them are different variations of bench pressing using one or two arms. The remaining two exercises are accessory movements that target your chest in different ways than the bench press variations do.

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It's not advisable to do all of these exercises in a single workout. You're likely to end up incredibly sore, which could keep you from staying consistent at the gym. Furthermore, it's important to leave a few exercises on the back burner so you can swap them in when your progress starts to stall.

Pick one to two of the pressing exercises to work on for at least 4 to 6 weeks before switching it up. Add in one or both of the accessory movements (pullovers and flyes) depending on your goals, injury history and how much time you have to train.

Be careful using a heavy EZ bar that's close to your barbell bench press personal record. Because you don't have a rack to help you set up for the lift, it's advisable to use a slightly lighter weight so you can safely get in and out of position. For example, if you your max bench press for 5 to 8 reps is 95 pounds, consider starting with just 5 to 60 pounds on the EZ bar.

An even better solution would be to recruit a training partner for your EZ bar chest workout. A partner can hand you the EZ bar when you're already in position and take it out of your hands when your set is complete. This will save you a lot of energy, allow you to use heavier weights and reduce the risk of injuries related to getting in and out of position.

If you're someone who can bench press much heavier weights than those you can load on an EZ bar, you still have options. Experiment with using higher rep sets and taking less rest or supersetting your EZ bar pressing with other chest, shoulder or triceps exercises to challenge yourself.

There are a few different workout structures you could use for your curl bar chest exercises:

  • Body part split:​ Combine chest exercises with either biceps, triceps, or shoulder exercises.
  • Push day:​ Combine chest exercises with other pushing movements for your upper and lower body.
  • Full-body workout:​ Include some exercises that target each muscle in your body.

Remember to include plenty of upper back and pulling exercises such as face pulls, pull aparts and rows throughout your training week. It's possible to overdo it on the chest training if you don't also train the opposing muscles on the back of your body.

10 Chest Exercises to Do With an EZ Curl Bar

1. Curl Bar Bench Press

The standard bench press is a classic exercise that trains your chest, triceps and shoulders. Most of the other curl bar exercises for your chest listed below are variations on this move using different body positions.

JW Player placeholder image
Body Part Chest, Arms and Shoulders
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin seated on the end of an exercise bench with an EZ bar sitting in your lap. Place your hands on the angled positions that are closest to the ends of the bar.
  2. Bring the EZ bar up to chest height. Keep the bar close to your body as you carefully lie backward onto the bench. If you have a training partner, you can have them hand the bar to you while you're already lying on your back.
  3. Initiate the movement by pressing the EZ bar up and away from your body. Press until your elbows are straight. Hold on tight and keep your wrists vertical so the bar doesn't roll around in your hands as you press.
  4. Finish the movement by lowering the EZ bar back down to your chest in a controlled manner. Be sure to touch the bar to the bottom of your sternum on each rep. Keep your forearms vertical so your elbows stay beneath your wrists.
  5. When you are finished with the set, keep the bar close to your chest as you sit upright. You can then return the bar to your lap and place it on the floor. If you have a training partner, have them remove the bar from your hands and place it on the ground.

2. Curl Bar Close-Grip Bench Press

The close grip bench press utilizes the middle grip on the EZ bar to change which muscles are worked. Using the inner grip recruits much more help from the triceps than using the outer grip.

JW Player placeholder image
Body Part Arms and Chest
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin seated on the end of an exercise bench with an EZ bar sitting in your lap. Place your hands on the angled positions that are closest to the middle of the bar.
  2. Bring the EZ bar up to chest height. Keep the bar close to your body as you carefully lie backward onto the bench. If you have a training partner, you can have them hand the bar to you while you're already lying on your back.
  3. Initiate the movement by pressing the EZ bar up and away from your body. Press until your elbows are straight. Hold on tight and keep your wrists vertical so the bar doesn't roll around in your hands as you press.
  4. Finish the movement by lowering the EZ bar back down to your chest in a controlled manner. Be sure to touch the bar to the bottom of your sternum on each rep. Your elbows will be slightly outside your wrists as you lower the bar.
  5. When you are finished with the set, keep the bar close to your chest as you sit upright. You can then return the bar to your lap and place it on the floor. If you have a training partner, have them remove the bar from your hands and place it on the ground.

3. Curl Bar Single-Arm Bench Press

Single-arm bench presses are perfect for when you want increase the difficulty of a chest workout without needing heavier weights. Training just one side of your body at a time requires more assistance from your core and places greater stress on the pressing side.

Using a curl bar for single-arm bench press is especially challenging because you need a strong grip to keep the bar in position.

Warning

You might want to skip this exercise if you have a history of wrist pain.

JW Player placeholder image
Body Part Chest, Arms and Shoulders
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin seated on the end of an exercise bench with an EZ bar standing upright on the floor next to you on one side of your body.
  2. First, grab the middle of the bar with the side that will be pressing. Then, place your second hand on top of that hand so you can safely pick the bar up off the floor.
  3. Carefully lie back onto the bench while maneuvering the bar to one side of your body. If you have a training partner, you can have them hand the bar to you while you're already lying on your back.
  4. Once the bar feels secure, release your second hand and raise it above your chest. Make a fist with that hand and keep it there for the entire set.
  5. Initiate the movement by pressing the EZ bar up and away from your body. Press until your elbow is straight. Hold on tight and keep your wrist vertical so the bar doesn't roll around in your hand as you press.
  6. Finish the movement by lowering the EZ bar back down to your chest in a controlled manner. Lower the bar until your hand is just above your chest. Keep your forearm vertical so your elbow stays beneath your wrist.
  7. When you're finished with the set, lower the bar back to your chest with both hands. You can then carefully place the bar on the ground next to you. If you have a training partner, have them remove the bar from your hands and place it on the ground.

4. Curl Bar Incline Bench Press

The incline bench press hits the upper portion of your chest as well as the front of your shoulders more than the flat bench press. Choose this option if you want to strengthen those areas of if you're looking to mix up your workouts.

The incline bench is also a helpful option for anyone who can't comfortably get up and down from the floor or lie flat on their back.

JW Player placeholder image
Body Part Chest and Shoulders
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin seated on the end of an incline exercise bench with an EZ bar sitting in your lap. Place your hands on the angled positions that are closest to the ends of the bar.
  2. Bring the EZ bar up to chest height. Keep the bar close to your body as you carefully lie backward onto the incline bench. If you have a training partner, you can have them hand the bar to you while you're already sitting back in the incline position.
  3. Initiate the movement by pressing the EZ bar up and away from your body. Press until your elbows are straight. Hold on tight and keep your wrists vertical so the bar doesn't roll around in your hands as you press.
  4. Finish the movement by lowering the EZ bar back down to your chest in a controlled manner. Be sure to touch the bar to your mid-chest on each rep. Keep your forearms vertical so your elbows stay beneath your wrists.
  5. When you're finished with the set, keep the bar close to your chest as you sit upright. You can then return the bar to your lap and place it on the floor. If you have a training partner, have them remove the bar from your hands and place it on the ground.

5. Curl Bar Decline Bench Press

Decline bench pressing targets the lower portion of your chest. You can create a decline bench by raising one end of a flat bench up on weight plates or steps as shown in the video below. Alternatively, you could use a decline sit up bench where you place your knees over a pad and hook your feet into position.

Tip

Setting up for a decline bench press using a curl bar can be a little precarious. It's best to save this move for days when you have a trainer partner or spotter to help you out.

JW Player placeholder image
Body Part Chest
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin seated on the end of a decline exercise bench with an EZ bar sitting in your lap. Place your hands on the angled positions that are closest to the ends of the bar.
  2. Bring the EZ bar up to chest height. Keep the bar close to your body as you carefully lie backward onto the decline bench. If you have a training partner, you can have them hand the bar to you while you're already lying on your back.
  3. Initiate the movement by pressing the EZ bar up and away from your body. Press until your elbows are straight. Hold on tight and keep your wrists vertical so the bar doesn't roll around in your hands as you press.
  4. Finish the movement by lowering the EZ bar back down to your chest in a controlled manner. Be sure to touch the bar to the bottom of your sternum on each rep. Keep your forearms vertical so your elbows stay beneath your wrists.
  5. When you are finished with the set, keep the bar close to your chest as you sit upright. You can then return the bar to your lap and place it on the floor. If you have a training partner, have them remove the bar from your hands and place it on the ground.

6. Curl Bar Floor Press

Floor pressing can be more shoulder-friendly than bench pressing because you use a shorter range of motion. Choose the curl bar floor press if regular bench pressing tends to bother your shoulders. You could also choose a floor press if you're at the gym during busy hours and all the exercise benches are taken.

JW Player placeholder image
Body Part Chest and Shoulders
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin sitting upright on the floor with an EZ bar on the ground in front of or next to you. Carefully place the bar on your legs. Place your hands on the angled positions that are closest to the ends of the bar.
  2. Bring the EZ bar up to chest height. Keep the bar close to your body as you carefully lie backward onto the floor. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. If you have a training partner, you can have them hand the bar to you while you're already lying on your back.
  3. Initiate the movement by pressing the EZ bar up and away from your body. Press until your elbows are straight. Hold on tight and keep your wrists vertical so the bar doesn't roll around in your hands as you press.
  4. Finish the movement by lowering the EZ bar back down to your chest in a controlled manner. Keep lowering the bar until your upper arms are flat on the floor. Keep your forearms vertical so your elbows stay beneath your wrists.
  5. When you are finished with the set, keep the bar close to your chest as you sit upright. You can then carefully place it on the floor. If you have a training partner, have them remove the bar from your hands and place it on the ground.

7. Curl Bar Glute Bridge Floor Press

Adding a glute bridge makes the basic curl bar floor press more challenging. Holding a glute bridge throughout your set helps target your core, glutes and hamstrings as well as you chest and upper-body muscles.

JW Player placeholder image
Body Part Chest, Arms, Abs, Butt and Legs
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin sitting upright on the floor with an EZ bar on the ground in front of or next to you. Carefully place the bar on your legs. Place your hands on the angled positions that are closest to the ends of the bar.
  2. Bring the EZ bar up to chest height. Keep the bar close to your body as you carefully lie backwards onto the floor. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. If you have a training partner, you can have them hand the bar to you while you're already lying on your back.
  3. Drive your heels into the floor, squeeze your butt and lift your hips off the floor until there is a straight line running from your shoulders to your hips to your knees. You will hold this bridge position for the entire set.
  4. Initiate the movement by pressing the EZ bar up and away from your body. Press until your elbows are straight. Hold on tight and keep your wrists vertical so the bar doesn't roll around in your hands as you press.
  5. Finish the movement by lowering the EZ bar back down to your chest in a controlled manner. Keep lowering the bar until your upper arms are flat on the floor. Keep your forearms vertical so your elbows stay beneath your wrists.
  6. When you're finished with the set, relax your hips to the ground. Keep the bar close to your chest as you sit upright. You can then carefully place it on the floor. If you have a training partner, have them remove the bar from your hands and place it on the ground.

8. Curl Bar Single-Arm Floor Press

The single-arm floor press is identical to the single-arm bench press, except you use a smaller range of motion. Choose this option for the same reasons you may choose a floor press over a bench press: The floor press may feel better on your shoulders, you don't have access to an exercise bench or you want to mix up your training.

JW Player placeholder image
Body Part Chest and Shoulders
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin seated on the floor with EZ bar standing upright on the floor next to you on one side of your body. First, grab the middle of the bar with the side that will be pressing. Then, place your second hand on top of that hand so you can safely pick the bar up off the floor.
  2. Carefully lie on your back while maneuvering the bar to one side of your body. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. If you have a training partner, you can have them hand the bar to you while you're already lying on your back.
  3. Once the bar feels secure, release your second hand and raise it above your chest. Make a fist with that hand and keep it there for the entire set.
  4. Initiate the movement by pressing the EZ bar up and away from your body. Press until your elbow is straight. Hold on tight and keep your wrist vertical so the bar doesn't roll around in your hand as you press.
  5. Finish the movement by lowering the EZ bar back down to your chest in a controlled manner. Keep lowering the bar until your upper arm is flat on the floor. Keep your forearm vertical so your elbow stays beneath your wrist.
  6. When you're finished with the set, lower the bar back to your chest with both hands. You can then carefully place the bar on the ground next to you. If you have a training partner, have them remove the bar from your hands and place it on the ground.

9. Curl Bar Pullover

Pullovers target your chest muscles as well as the muscles of your upper and mid back, including your lats.

Tip

Start with a lighter weight than you would use on pressing exercises.

JW Player placeholder image
Body Part Back and Chest
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin seated in the middle of an exercise bench with an EZ bar sitting in your lap. You want to be far enough back on the bench that when you lie back, your head is at the very end of the bench. Place your hands on the angled positions that are closest to the ends of the bar.
  2. Bring the EZ bar up to chest height. Keep the bar close to your body as you carefully lie backward onto the bench. If you have a training partner, you can have them hand the bar to you while you're already lying on your back.
  3. Initiate the movement by slowly pulling the EZ bar back over your head. Keep your elbows slightly bent. Lower the bar until you feel a big stretch in your chest and back. Do not go so far that your hips come off the bench.
  4. Finish the movement by pulling the bar back over your head to the middle of your chest. Continue to keep your elbow slightly bent.
  5. When you're finished with the set, keep the bar close to your chest as you sit upright. You can then return the bar to your lap and place it on the floor. If you have a training partner, have them remove the bar from your hands and place it on the ground.

10. Curl Bar Single-Arm Fly

Flyes are an accessory exercise that target your chest muscles using a loaded stretch.

Tip

Start with a lighter weight than you would use on pressing exercises. Some people cannot perform flyes without experiencing shoulder pain. If this is you, skip this move and focus on the other exercises listed above.

JW Player placeholder image
Body Part Chest
Goal Build Muscle
  1. Begin seated on a bench with EZ standing upright on the floor next to you on one side of your body. First, grab the middle of the bar with the side that will be doing the fly. Then, place your second hand on top of that hand so you can safely pick the bar up off the floor.
  2. Carefully lie on your back while maneuvering the bar to one side of your body. If you have a training partner, you can have them hand the bar to you while you're already lying on your back.
  3. Press the bar above your chest with both hands. Once the bar feels secure, release your second hand and raise it above your chest. Make a fist with that hand and keep it there for the entire set.
  4. Initiate the movement by slowly lowering the bar sideways and out toward the floor. Keep your elbow slightly bent and the palm of your hand facing in toward the middle of your body. Lower the bar until you feel a big stretch in your chest.
  5. Finish the movement by bringing the bar back over the middle of your chest. Continue to keep your elbow slightly bent.
  6. When you're finished with the set, lower the bar back to your chest with both hands. You can then carefully place the bar on the ground next to you. If you have a training partner, have them remove the bar from your hands and place it on the ground.

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