The biceps is one of those muscle groups that, together with the triceps, have a high profile, even though it may not exactly be the most important, or even the largest muscle on the human body. However, they’re great for ‘show’ purposes, irrespective of whether we’re talking about an actual bodybuilding competition, or just showing the big guns to that special someone you find irresistible. This is why today we’re bringing you all there is to know about the top rated biceps exercises on the Internet, as well as a couple of bicep workouts. You can either take the slow and steady approach to building bigger arm muscles, or blast your way through muscle definition in a couple of days. You can also get rid of that arm flab and reveal the splendor of those biceps right at home, without the need for any weights, dumbbells, or machines. Read on, to find out just how you can do that.
The top ten biceps exercises
In actuality, the biceps doesn’t do much else aside from helping you bend your elbow. Sure, this may come in handy in a wide range of day-to-day movements, such as writing, eating, lifting items, gesturing, and so on. However, there is also a lot to be said about the allure of a finely chiseled and sculpted muscle, which shows every tiny vein and bulge. That’s why we took to Bodybuilding.com and other popular fitness websites, to see just what are the most efficient workouts for this particular muscle group, as well as for its immediate neighbor, the tricep. Working out the bicep is a hotly debated topic, since it is a relatively small muscle, which is also rather difficult to isolate and train on its own. We’ve taken all the arguments into consideration, for your leisure. Without further ado, here are the best bicep exercises that we came across during our research.
1. The incline hammer curl
While some bodybuilding experts will tout the incline hammer curl as the single most efficient one, we were hard-pressed to call it the best bicep exercise out there. On the one hand, the inclined position of the workout bench puts more pressure than a neutral position on the long head of this muscle group and it also helps you get a good chest workout. Since this hammer curl is performed with a neutral grip on a pair of dumbbells, the exercise also does a lot to strengthen two important muscles of the arm: the brachioradialis and the brachialis. However, since you don’t do much else during the exercise per se, aside from ‘hammering’, this means the muscle’s long head isn’t getting that much of a workout as it could. The hammer literally eliminates some of the pressure from that segment of the muscle, which means it annuls whatever extra work the incline position will have it put in.
If you’re not entirely sure how all of the above works, you can go ahead and check it out for yourself. Leave one arm free, as you perform your regular superset of incline hammer curls and place its hand on your opposing biceps. Then, instead of having the palm of your left hand face upward, switch it over to your lateral. You will effectively feel that there is now a different type of pressure affecting your biceps. The takeaway here? Perhaps the hammer curl is not exactly the best exercise to benefit your biceps, even though using the bench in an inclined position is a great idea.
2. The incline curl of the inner biceps
So, if the hammer curl isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, then perhaps a different type of exercise on the inline bench will get your arms to look like Arnolds, right? Let’s have a look, then, at the incline inner-biceps curl. You’re still using dumbbells on an incline bench, but this time you’re working the inner segment of your muscle. If all this talk about different muscle segments has gotten you a bit confused, here’s a primer on biceps anatomy. This muscle group is, in fact, made up of two different muscle portions. In bodybuilder talk, they’re called heads and each of them is attached to another part of your body. For the purpose of this exercise, we’re only focusing on the long head, which is attached right above your shoulder joint. This means that the way you position your shoulder will greatly impact the exact segment of the muscle that’s getting a workout.
During the incline inner bicep curl, you’re positioning your humerus (i.e. your shoulder bone) behind the main frame of your body, which means the long head of the bicep is being stretched out to the fullest. If you want to make this exercise all the more difficult, but also effective, try inclining the bench as far as you can go. The closer the bench is to a fully horizontal position, the more of a workout your bicep long head is going to get.
3. The concentration curl, standing position
If you’ve ever performed a concentration curl before, then you know the arm is placed in front of your body. As the word ‘curl’ suggests, you’re cutting your muscle during this exercise, by rotating your shoulders. Now, those of you who’ve been paying attention to the above explanation already know that it’s not your biceps long head that’s getting bigger and stronger during this type of exercise, since concentration curls leave it relatively underused. By contrast, however, you stand a good chance of making your bicep look fuller and thicker. You are effectively improving the mass and strength of your bicep brachialis, as well as of your biceps short head.
To make the most of this exercise, perform it one arm at a time. Position the palm of your free hand on your opposing leg, for better support of your whole body mass. Use a supine grip and perform enough reps until you reach failure. Then, push yourself for 5 or even 10 more reps by putting in a few hammer concentration curls, in standing position.
4. The barbell/EZ Bar Curl
For the purpose of this exercise, we actually recommend steering clear of using a traditional barbell. EZ bars, though less known to weightlifting novices, are far more efficient for the biceps, not to mention they’re easier to use. This is because you’re standing in a far more comfortable position than the one required for straight bar curls. Additionally, this type of curl will place more pressure on the other muscles that help flex your elbows – it won’t be your brachii pulling all the load, as in most of the other bicep exercises on this list. In fact, several bodybuilding experts explain that the fastest way to sculpting your biceps is via the EZ bar.
5. The standing barbell curl – wide grip version
For this exercise, position yourself in standing position, with your legs roughly shoulder-width apart, but your hands gripping the bar at a wider distance than usual. This, in turn, will determine you to perform outer rotations through your shoulder, which will get your humerus moving in ways that engage your bicep short head more than the long one.
A word of caution regarding barbell curls: if you’re ignoring proper form and reclining toward the back as you perform them, you won’t be getting too much out of them. As such, stick to form and don’t aim for a higher number of reps; if you want to truly push yourself in lifting weights for the sake of the upper part of your body, try forced reps, with the aid of a workout partner – or, better yet, use chains, bands, and any other type of external aid.
6. The dumbbell bicep curl
You’ve seen them touted just about everywhere, as the top recommendation from fitness enthusiasts, as well as from bodybuilding pros. But does the dumbbell bicep curl really do that much for your biceps? The short answer is yes, it does. The longer version is that this move allows you a lot of freedom, when it comes to the rotational movement of the wrist, which basically determines how much of a workout your arm muscles are getting. So, how do you make this traditional move as effective as possible for your elbow flexors? That’s simple: add as much rotation of the wrist as you can take and also strive to keep your palms in supine position for as long as possible. Don’t push yourself to the point of exhaustion right away: typically, with the appropriate weight dumbbells, you should put in 8 to 12 curls per arm in one set.
7. Overhead cable curls
For maximum efficiency, try to grip the cable with your elbow lifted as far high into the air as you possibly can. This way, your brachialis segment of the elbow flexors will be getting as much of a workout as you can afford. These overhead curls target the brachialis, while relatively disregarding the brachii of the biceps, but, on the plus side, they also help you practice one of the most often encountered poses in bodybuilding competitions: the front double biceps pose. For even more effort and pressure onto your brachialis, try doing this move one arm at a time; if you do choose to go down this route, then press your arm directly upward and perform the curl behind your head.
8. The barbell curl
Never mind the fact that this is one of the most common and traditional exercises, included in workouts since, like, forever – irrespective of the muscle group you’re looking to work out. The barbell curl does work, especially if you throw in the right amount of wrist rotating. The ampler this rotation, the more your biceps gets a workout as your palms are facing down (i.e. during the supine portion of the motion).
If you loathe barbell curls because they feel uncomfortable, don’t worry – you’re not alone on this one. Our best tip for people who find it discomforting to use this type of weight is for them to experiment as much as possible with their grip width. Not only will this help accommodate them with the barbell itself, but it will also put pressure on different segments of the biceps. As previously explained, a wide grip acts on the short head, while a narrower one will put the upper part of the bicep to work.
9. The hammer curl
We’ve talked about the efficiency of the hammer movement before in this article, but here comes a wholly different type of hammer curl. Instead of performing this one on an incline bench, you can do it standing, or, for top results, try on a preacher bench for size. Using this type of gym equipment will make the exercise work much like a concentration curl. In other words, you’ll be recruiting as many of your elbow muscles into the exercise and you’ll also be sticking as closely as possible to the proper form for a hammer curl. To put it in plain English, it will be far more difficult for you to cheat your way to a higher number of reps.
10. The Zottman curl
Some may beg to differ, but, in our opinion, this exercise will do more for your bicep than any P90X circuit or Extreme Workout compound exercise. This exercise plays with the position of your palms and alternates it during the negative and the positive portion of the movement, respectively. This way, it give your entire biceps a workout: you’re supposed to keep your palms facing upward as you lift the barbell and position them faced downward during the lowering part. On the way up, it’s your biceps brachii that sustain the weight, while during the negative part of the curl, it’s the brachioradialis and brachialis that are getting properly exerted.
The Zottman curl has the amazing advantage of working all the muscles that flex your elbows at one. To really shoot for the perfect form of performing it, try rotating your wrist during the curl itself, not at the lowest point of the movement. Why? Because a part of your elbow muscles also help keep your palms supine. By rotating your wrists throughout the positive movement, you’re giving them even more work to do, as you curl.
The best bicep workout ever
No matter what type of workout you put in, be it HIIT, compound exercises, lifting, or other types of intense physical activity, you’re probably already doing something to make your arms stronger, bigger, and more bulked up in terms of mass. It’s next to impossible to ignore your arms, especially if weightlifting is your thing. However, there’s a lot of pressure to see results from workouts that are especially dedicated to the arms; perhaps the only other muscle group that gets similar treatment is the chest. So, what do you do if all your curls and hammers aren’t helping your peaks develop or your pumps get stronger?
A novice would tell you that all you need to do is try harder, combine sets of numerous reps with supersets, focus on your negative movements more, and so on. But, chances are that, if you’re like most weightlifters, it’s neither the dedication, nor the motivation that you’re missing, in order to get a better perspective on training arms techniques. What you probably lack is a few tips and tricks, plus a couple of minor adjustments to your bicep routine, here and there. And that’s what precisely what this bicep workout is here to do: help you fine tune and adjust, in order to make the most of your arm training efforts.
So here’s what you can expect from our four-week bicep training workout:
· High intensity. We’ve designed this workout so as to give your elbow flexing muscles a true run for their money. You can read on about intensity and how to adjust it, further down in the article. Also, bear in mind that you should only put in the highest intensity exercise variants at the very end of your daily sets of repetitions. Otherwise, you risk exhaustion and collapsing far too soon during the program.
· Targeting and isolation. Each week of the four that the program consists of targets a particular subgroup of your bicep muscles.
· Brand-new exercises. If you’ve been training for a while now, you’re probably familiar with most of the exercises we’re using here, but we’ve also included some descriptions and pointers for the less common and more innovative exercises on our list. Feel free to watch video presentations for them on YouTube, or to download the workout cheat sheet in .pdf form.
Tips and tricks for the 4-week bicep workout plan
· Choose the right kind of weights
At first, you might be tempted to spring for excessively heavy dumbbells and barbell plates. Don’t. That’s a rookie mistake in the world of weightlifting, if there ever was one. The point is to feel comfortable enough with the weights you’ve chosen, as to be able to put in the recommended number of reps.
· Constantly challenge yourself
As we were telling you above, you can amp up the difficulty level of your workout for the final round(s) of reps, by tampering with the intensity level at which you’re training. Here are some effective intensity techniques, which will help you make the most of the workout, keep your flexors challenged, and boost your mass-building effort:
- Try performing partial reps, during the segment of the motion that you choose. You can do a few partial reps at either the top, the middle, or the bottom of the movement.
- Force your final reps. It’s entirely common to feel like you’re about to collapse, right before the final 2 or 3 reps. To avoid this and keep pushing, have a workout partner or trainer assist you. They should pick up your weights, but only by using as much force as is necessary to lift them and help you move past the point at which you feel stuck.
- Go lighter. Start out with heavy weights, put in the recommended number of repetitions in the set, then drop some of the plates on the barbell, or pick up lighter dumbbells. Put in some more reps, to the point where you feel like you’re about to collapse. Go even lighter for more reps, then drive your body to total exhaustion.
· Rest for more reps
Here’s how resting can actually help you put in an even greater number of reps than recommended. Select a pair of heavy weights, but one which you can lift for, say 7 or 8 reps. Pause after 5 or 6 repetitions, take a 15 to 20 second break, then put in 7 or 8 reps more. Continue like this and try to squeeze in as many reps as your body can handle, before collapsing.
Introducing the most effective bicep exercises out there
You’re probably familiar with classic movements like the barbell or the dumbbell curl, but what about incline cable curls, or four-part wall curls? In this part of the article, we’ll be explaining some of the more complex or unusual exercises included in this 4-week bicep workout.
The incline cable curl
This exercise is particularly good for improving your peak movement, but also for relieving pressure off your shoulder muscles. This comes in very handy if you’ve been working out like crazy. Many beginner weightlifters make the mistake of overexerting their shoulders, to the point where they can no longer continue the workout. You’re going to need an incline bench, with a low-pulley cable behind it, complete with D handles. In such a setup, you’ll be exercising one arm at a time. Alternatively, you can also use the FreeMotion, which is essentially a gym station with crossover cables – and you can work out both your arms at the same time. This piece of equipment is actually great for beginners!Grab a hold of the D-handles, with your back pressed against the bench and your elbows pressed into your sides, then lean straight ahead from your waist.
Your arms should now be positioned behind the rest of your body. Curl the cable handles ahead, keep your biceps taught, then slowly release them, to resume the initial position. Some lifters report too much tension in their deltoids – if this is the case with you, then you should make sure your elbows are properly positioned. Experiment with the cable height and incline that’s best suited for your own body.
The lying cable curl
Those of you looking for an exercise that will plough through all of your bicep muscle subgroups need look no further than the lying cable curl. In order to perform it, you’re going to need a cable row at which you can sit – most gyms have it. Position a bar on the station, then grip it, with your arms about shoulder-width apart. Don’t push like crazy. Instead, gradually lower your body and, as you lie back, make sure your arms are extended straight ahead of you, while your knees have a slight bend and your feet are firmly planted into the footrest of the station. Dig your elbows into your laterals and keep them there throughout the duration of the movement, then, with a curling motion, bring the bar into your chest. At the top of the movement, give your deltoids as much of a squeeze as you can, then slowly resume to the initial stance of this exercise.
This exercise is highly intensive in terms of effort, so it will probably get you tired sooner than you may have imagined at the onset. To keep from collapsing early on during the set of reps, keep your knees bent, so that you’re only curling through the positive part of the exercise. The best part about this exercise is that it allows you to isolate the elbow flexors, while also avoiding the back-and-forth swing that accompanies exercises performed on other stations. As with all curls that involve a bar or a full barbell, you can experiment with different types of grip widths, for maximum effect on either your long head, or your short head.
The kneeling incline cable curl
For this exercise, you’re going to need a bench whose back position you can adjust, a set of cables, and the straight bar of a barbell. Position the backrest of the bench almost upright, but not entirely, then kneel on the bench, with your face to the cables. Make sure you’re getting all the support you need for your chest, by leaning against the upper part of the bench. Hold out your arms straight ahead, grab a hold of the bar with your arms no wider than shoulder-width and make sure the cable is tautly extended. Don’t flex your elbows, but bring the bar in toward you with a curling movement of the arms. Slowly reverse that movement for a full rep – you’ve just performed an exercise that’s part preacher curl, part high cable curl.
The great part about this exercise is that it focuses on your short head, which is located on the inner part of your bicep. If your biceps don’t look as massive, or as well developed as you’d like them to, then you should probably blame your lack of focus on the short head of your elbow muscles. Another great thing about this exercise is that it will help you maintain proper form throughout, thanks to the presence of the incline bench. By keeping the arms at an angle, you won’t be focusing on the long head of the biceps, as most exercises do, but applying just enough pressure onto the inner part of the muscle.
The four-part wall curl
This exercise is possibly the best one out there for targeting the long head of the bicep specifically; it’s also highly effective when it comes to building strength and endurance. For the initial position, you need to recline against a wall or pole, sturdy enough to hold your bodyweight. Your feet should be placed about 3 feet in front, while your arms should be hanging straight down from the shoulders. With a pair of dumbbells in hand and your gaze directed straight ahead, curl the weights all the way up to your shoulders, but don’t allow your elbows to move in front of your body. Perform a set of 25 reps in this position, then bring your feet slightly back, to about 6 inches. Do 50 more repetitions, then bring your feet a further 6 inches back. After you’ve put in 25 more reps, bring your feet directly underneath your body and do 25 more.
The advantage to the four-part wall curl is that the presence of back support does away with any chances at cheating. It targets the long head of the biceps, but the fact that it involves no fewer than 100 reps should also determine you to opt for a lighter set of weights than normal. Since you start out in an inclined position, your bicep peak will be very much targeted throughout this exercise.
The four-week bicep workout
Without further ado, here’s the workout itself, with the different muscle subgroups it focuses on during each week:
· WEEK 1
This week focuses on building the mass of your entire elbow muscle complex.
- 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps of seated barbell curls, on the decline bench
- 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps of the straight bar preacher curl
- 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps of the incline dumbbell curl
- 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps of the hammer curl
· WEEK 2
On week 2, you’ll be intensively focusing on exercising the long head of your bicep.
- 5 sets of 6 to 15 reps of the close grip barbell curl
- 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps of the incline cable curl
- 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps of the seated dumbbell curl, with alternating reps for each arm
- 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps of the reverse curl
· WEEK 3
On the third week of your biceps program, you’ll mostly be working out your inner bicep, also known as the short head.
- 5 sets of 15 reps of the kneeling incline cable curl
- 4 sets of 12 reps of the standing one-arm dumbbell preacher curl
- 3 sets of 12 reps of the wide-grip barbell curl
- 2 sets of 15 reps of the hammer cable curl
· WEEK 4
On the fourth and final week of the program, you’ll be focusing on each subgroup of the biceps in turn, in a type of routine that exercises separation focus.
- 5 sets of 15 to 20 reps of the lying cable curl
- 4 sets of 15 reps of the preacher curl
- 4 sets of 15 to 20 reps of the Zottman curl
- 1 set of 100 reps of the four-part wall curl
Intense two-day bicep workout plan
If four week plans are not your thing, when it comes to working out your biceps, then perhaps you’d fare better with a two-day plan that really amps up the effort. The advantage to opting for such a solution is that it’s very easy to integrate into a circuit training type program, in which you’re working legs and glutes one day, delts and pecs the next, abs on the third day, and so on. The reason why this workout blast type program works is because it relies on numerous high intensity exercises. These will have you pushing your biceps to the point of exhaustion far more often than in a longer program. This is also the reason for which this kind of bicep training routine works far better for people who want to see results quickly, rather than fine tune and adjust a long-standing program.
The workout plan you’ll find below is based on two main principles:
a) In order to increase your bicep size, you’re going to need to increase the weight you can lift; and
b) For bigger, more bulging elbow muscles, you’re going to have to put in more and more repetitions.
The above shouldn’t be interpreted as simply ‘add more weight, do more reps’ for bigger bicep. In fact, this compound workout produces results because it’s been devised to have you alternate between higher and lower sets of repetitions, while also fluctuating the weight size you lift. It also involves pumps: sets of 10 repetitions, with very short rest periods. The bodybuilders involved in devising this workout vouch for the fact that 4 to 6 weeks, with 2 days of training per week, will bring you the desired results, in terms of chiseling, strengthening, and increasing the circumference of your biceps. Just remember to use lighter weights for exercises that call for a higher number of reps and, conversely, heavier ones for sets with a lower number of repetitions.
· DAY 1
- 4 sets of 12 EZ Bar curl reps; 90 seconds rest, then 4 sets of 6 reps; 2 minute rest, then 4 sets of 12 reps; 90 seconds rest, then 4 sets of 6 reps.
- 4 sets of 12 seated hammer curl reps; 90 seconds rest, then 4 sets of 8 reps; 2 minute rest, then 4 sets of 12 reps; 90 seconds rest, then 4 sets of 8 reps.
- 4 sets of 10 reps of cable straight bar curls, followed by a 2-minute rest; then 4 sets of 5 reps; 4 more sets of 10 reps, a 2-minute rest; the final 4 sets of 5 reps.
- 2 sets of 10 single arm dumbbell preacher curl reps, one minute rest, then 2 more sets of 10 reps.
· DAY 2
- 4 sets of 12 cable straight bar curls reps; 90 seconds rest, then 4 sets of 6 reps; 2 minute rest, then 4 sets of 12 reps; 90 seconds rest, then 4 sets of 6 reps.
- 4 sets of 12 single arms dumbbell preacher curl reps; 90 seconds rest, then 4 sets of 8 reps; 2 minute rest, then 4 sets of 12 reps; 90 seconds rest, then 4 sets of 8 reps.
- 4 sets of 10 reps of EZ-bar curls, followed by a 2-minute rest; then 4 sets of 5 reps; 4 more sets of 10 reps, a 2-minute rest; the final 4 sets of 5 reps.
- 2 sets of 10 seated hammer curl reps, one minute rest, then 2 more sets of 10 reps.
5 great bicep exercises without weights
But what if you’re not vying for Kai Cutler-sized biceps? What if you’re a woman, looking for bicep exercises for women, that will simply help her tone her arms and strengthen her elbows? What if you do want bicep exercise for men, don’t have the time to go to a gym and try on all those gym stations, with cables, pulleys, and various types of handles? In all of the above scenarios, you can try any one of the amazingly efficient killer biceps exercises without weights below. They’re more affordable and make it easier for people with a busy lifestyle to gain strength in their arms.
Of course, there are some downsides to not using weights, when it comes to strengthening your elbow flexors. This is why we’ve laid out a cheat sheet of tips and tricks to use when you’re not exercising your biceps with the aid of weights.
- Harness muscle resistance by shooting for a circuit training type workout for your biceps. This means reducing the rest time between sets as much as possible, or even cutting it out altogether.
- At the top of each movement, try to hold the muscular contraction for several seconds – this will effectively help your muscles work harder. As your muscles become more and more toned, increase this hold time. This technique is actually promoted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who swears by its efficiency in building size
- Whenever you find a few seconds to spare during your usual day, even if you don’t have the time for complex routines, flex your muscles and hold that pose for as long as you can. You will be effectively creating isotension in your muscles, which, in the long run, will help build bicep muscle mass.
The five most effective biceps exercises without weights are the following:
1. The pushup
Pushups need to introduction, in terms of proper form for performing them. Just a quick hint: if working out your bicep muscles is your ultimate goal, then you should definitely experiment with different distances between your hands, for added difficulty.
2. The standing pushup
You can either begin by standing on your arms, or you can ease yourself into this exercise, by placing your feet up on a chair and your arms onto the ground. If you need help maintaining your balance, try the standing pushup against a wall. Once you’ve reached handstand position, bend your arms at the elbows, then push your body back up – just like you would do in a regular pushup.
3. The half-moon rotation
Begin in standing position, with your feet at shoulder-width distance. Raise your arms to a parallel position with the floor and your palms in supine stance. Draw a circle in the air to bring your palm facing upward, then draw a circle in reverse, to bring the palm face down again.
4. The inverted row
You’re going to need something to grab a hold of, right above your head, for the purpose of this exercise. This can either be a workout bar, or a solid table, which can hold your weight. Pull your entire bodyweight up with your arms, then maintain the topmost position of the exercise for a couple of seconds. Slowly lower your body back down to the initial position for a full repetition.
5. The bicep curl without weights
Typically, this exercise is performed with dumbbells, but you can also use any other type of heavy object, or even resistance bands. The tension created by these elastic bands will actually make the exercise more difficult to complete. Begin standing, with your arms casually hanging at your sides. Lift them up in a curling movement, with your arms bent at the elbows. Make sure to breathe in for the positive part of the movement and exhale as you bring your arms back down.