For gym newcomers, the weight room is pandemonium. There are large humans grunting and sweating. There is loud, largely awful Top 40 music blasting. There are teenagers peacocking in front of mirrors. But, for many would-be gym goers, standing tall among the pack of gym-induced anxieties is a simpler conundrum: they have no idea what half the stuff in there does.
Each category of machine and equipment has subcategories of machine and equipment, but barbells may be the most confusing. There are more types than we’ll get into, but it is the EZ bar—sometimes called a Curl bar—that’s driven a wedge in the weightlifting community. Here’s what you need to know about one of the most ubiquitous and debated pieces of commercial gym equipment.
What Is an EZ Bar?
An EZ bar, which is occasionally called a curl bar, is a barbell that has swapped the usual flat bar grip for one that’s W-shaped. EZ bars are also almost always shorter than a traditional barbell because they’re largely used for curls and tricep exercises rather than heavy load, compound movements.
But why the angled grip instead of the standard flat grip? The shape of the grip is meant to lessen the strain many people feel in their wrists and elbows whole curling a flat bar. Note that not everyone will feel pain when curling a flat bar, but as most gym goers have minimal wrist or elbow mobility, it is fairly common.
How Much Does an EZ Bar Weigh?
Though there are many variations on the traditional barbell, nearly all of the ones you’ll find in a commercial gym are 45 pounds. You’ll find no such consistency among EZ bars.
EZ bars at most gyms will range from 12 to 30 pounds, though most are on the lower end of that scale. They’re lighter because they’re significantly shorter than a traditional 7-foot barbells and because the exercises EZ bars are used for demand lesser loads than the old-fashioned barbell.
If you’re tracking weightlifting progress at the gym, it’s wise to ask a gym employee for the exact weight of the EZ bars you have available to you.
How to Use an EZ Bar
There are dozens of workouts you could use the shortened, angle-grip EZ bar for, but two exercises reign supreme. Here’s how to do the EZ bar curl (biceps) and the EZ bar skull crusher (triceps).
EZ bar curl
Load the bar with appropriate and equal weight on either side. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart behind the bar and pick it up with a supinated grip—wrists turned over.
With the bar held at your waist, make sure your elbows are tucked and stable, and curl the bar in a slow, controlled manner—avoid leaning way back and swinging the bar up above your chest.
EZ bar skull crusher
With your back flat on a bench, hold a loaded EZ bar with a supinated grip—wrists facing the ground—straight above your chest. Your hands should be gripping the bar on the inside of the angled grip. This is the starting position.
From here, slowly lower the bar toward your forehead. Halt the bar just before your head—don’t actually crush your skull, please—and push the bar back to the starting position. Your elbows should remain pointed out, and your back firmly on the bench, for the duration of the movement.
Should You Use an EZ Bar?
As alluded to earlier, there is debate surrounding the EZ bar’s effectiveness. And while there is more nuance, it generally boils down to a mix of research and assumption.
Most research indicates supinated grip curls (with your wrists twisted and facing the ceiling) are optimal for bicep muscle growth. A flat bar keeps your grip fully supinated through the whole curl, while an EZ bar affords a semi-supinated grip. The logic goes that this semi-supinated grip allows for the body to recruit non-bicep muscle groups—shoulders, some back—and therefore not isolating the bicep.
But, as mentioned, curling a flat bar can often cause real pain in the wrists and elbows, so the question becomes one of pain tolerance and risk management: are you willing to lose reps, sets, or risk injury because of pain unrelated to muscle fatigue? The answer, we hope, is no. If you experience no pain while curling a flat bar, use a flat bar. If you do experience pain while curling a flat bar, opt for an EZ bar. At the end of the day, workout optimization takes a backseat to safety and longterm health.