Can You Do Curls In The Squat Rack?

Written by Daniel Mesa
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bicep curls in rack

In recent times, curling in the squat rack has become an internet meme and the universal symbol for a gym bro.

But is doing your curls in the squat rack really a cardinal gym sin? Let’s break it down

Curls vs Squats

To understand the crux of this debate, you have to understand the way these exercises are viewed and who they are done by.

Squats are usually viewed as the ultimate exercise due to the weight and technical ability involved. Squats are NOT an easy exercise by any means. Lifters will easily spend years perfecting their form and working hard to add numbers to their squats.

Meanwhile, bicep curls are viewed as more arm fluff training for bodybuilders who just want to look good naked.

Hopefully, you have now started to see the clear divide

  • Squat = Manly powerlifter exercise

  • Curl = Nonsense isolation bodybuilding exercise

It’s Not Called A Curl Rack For A Reason

To start off, I think there is some merit to the idea that squat racks should be used primarily for heavy compound movements.

If you are a strong squatter, your only option to squat heavy is with a squat rack. You can’t exactly toss 400 pounds up in there onto your back and then proceed to do a good set.

Meanwhile, gym bros can perform curls literally anywhere else in the gym. I do not care how strong you are. If you are gonna do straight bar curls with some weight, you are more than strong enough to deadlift the weight to get in position. Very few dudes can even do straight bar curls with a plate on each side.

Not to mention, that the squat is so valued because there is really no other movement like it. Sure you can do a leg press or leg extension, but your legs will get nowhere near the same level of activation.

Meanwhile, there are dozens of variations of bicep curls. Any commercial gym is bound to have a bicep machine and some dumbbells that will work your bicep just as well as a straight bar curl will.

In Defense Of The Gym Bros

squat rack curl

In defense of the gym bros, I will admit that I curl in a power rack from time to time. Here are some very simple reasons why I think you should as well:

Squat Racks Are Not Even Used For Squats

As a squat advocate, it pains me to say it, but almost no one does squats in the squat rack anymore. Go to the commercial gym and you will see a good portion of the people in the squat rack are doing isolation work anyway.

There is nowhere else to curl

I do not know about your gym, but at mine, there is hardly any space as it is. Assuming I find a bar and some space, I now also have to lug the weight plates to that location as well. It is just a big hassle that I try to avoid.

It Is Comfy

It may sound soft, but being able to set the bar down at waist height between sets, is just really convenient. Not to mention, the weight plates are also easily accessible.

I Am Quick

Listen, straight bar curls are also a very quick and easy exercise to plow through. Between setting up and doing my sets, I will usually be in and out within 5 minutes.

Curls Are A Valid Exercise

I get that curls may not be as manly or hardcore as squats but they are very useful for building great bicep development.

Squat Rack Etiquette

If you are ready to join me on the dark side and start doing curls in the squat rack, there are some unwritten rules you should be aware of.

Generally, I agree that people who actually want to squat in the squat rack should get to use it ahead of the guy who wants to just curl. This is why I tend to only do bicep curls in the squat rack if there is another open squat rack available.

The reason for this is just the sheer fact that you can’t do squats without the rack. Although annoying and less convenient, bicep curls can be done anywhere in the gym. Meanwhile, you need the rack if you want to get the bar into position.

So if you are curling in the squat rack and a guy is waiting, go ahead and try to wrap your sets up and finish up elsewhere.

You Do Not NEED Any Singular Exercise

I understand that some exercises provide tremendous value, but I think part of the reason this silly debate has gotten so out of hand comes down to the fact that certain gym elitists sadly try to push the idea that you need to do certain exercises.

Hear me out, I do squats. In fact, it is probably one of my better lifts. But just because I like squats and think they have value does not mean I think everyone else needs to be doing them. I think as long as you are working your legs in some way, you are doing just fine.

People in the gym community need to be aware that not everyone shares the same goals as them or has the same ability.

This may shock some of you, but not everyone wants to have tree trunks for legs or be able to squat a cow just to say they can. Not to mention, that the squat is very physically demanding exercise. You need to have tremendous hip and ankle mobility that lots of people just do not have.

On the other hand, just because bicep curls are not a compound, powerlifter movement does not mean they have no value.

Heavy straight bar curls are a tremendous exercise that leads to great bicep development. I personally know plenty of guys with huge arms that attribute most of their bicep development to heavy biceps curls.

However, I would like to again clarify that you also do not NEED to do bicep curls as well. Maybe curling hurts your rest or you just find it plain boring. Whatever the reason, do whatever exercises you like.

bicep curl meme

Wrap Up

I have provided my two cents on the topic here but the truth is I think people take it way too seriously. Bicep curls are a valid exercise with tremendous value as are squats.

The weight room is a place to have fun and build some muscle, there is really no need to join gym elitists in judging others for how they choose to train.


Can you shoulder press in a squat rack?

On this one there is no debate. Shoulder presses require a squat rack if you want to do them with the most weight possible. Go ahead and do them in the squat rack if you want to.

Can you do curls with an Olympic bar?

Yes, you can. By using an Olympic bar, you can use more weight when you do your curls. The only concern is that the use of a straight bar causes wrist pain for some people.

Is curling the barbell good?

Yes, barbell curls lead to great arm development. If you can 90 pounds or more for reps, you are going to have huge arms.

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