We all want bigger arms but the thing about modern biceps workout programs is that they can be very played out. We like to think outside the box and tell you things that you haven’t heard before and give you some underrated tips that you can implement easily.
In this article, we are going to provide you with 13 best biceps workout exercises for anybody looking to get big biceps. We are going to take you through mistakes to avoid, the exact sets and reps, and how you can implement our exercises in your training. Let’s get started.
- 1 How to Train Your Biceps
- 2 Biceps Warm-Up
- 3 The Best Exercises for Building Your Biceps
- 3.1 Best Long Head Bicep Exercises for Huge Peaks
- 3.2 1. Incline Bench Dumbbell Hammer Curls
- 3.3 2. Regular Dumbbell Hammer Curls
- 3.4 3. Smith Machine Drag Curls
- 3.5 4. Incline Dumbbell Bicep Curls
- 3.6 5. Bayesian Curls
- 3.7 6. EZ-Bar Curl
- 3.8 Best Short Head Bicep Exercises
- 3.9 1. Dumbbell Spider Curls
- 3.10 2. Reversed Incline Barbell Curls
- 3.11 3. Preacher Curl
- 3.12 4. Wide-Grip Barbell Curls
- 3.13 5. Supinating Dumbbell Curl
- 3.14 6. Seated Alternating Curls
- 3.15 Best Brachialis Builder: Dumbbell Hammer Curls
- 4 Common Bicep Exercise Mistakes to Avoid
- 5 Key Rules For Building Bigger Biceps
- 6 Benefits of Biceps Workout
- 7 Anatomy of the Biceps Brachii
- 8 The Function of the Biceps Muscles
- 9 Proper Nutrition For Bicep Growth
- 10 Biceps Workout: FAQs
How to Train Your Biceps
Reps and Sets
What are you training for? Whether you’re training for strength or hypertrophy, the answer is different. If you’re training for strength, you should be seeking efficiency. Therefore you need to perform 5-6 reps and at least 10 sets a week.
If you’re trying to train for hypertrophy and increase the size of a muscle, you should be looking for inefficiency. The more you can do hard reps, the more stress you deliver to muscle fibers and therefore, help it feel more overload and adapt in response by growing bigger. In that case, generally, you need to perform 10-15 reps and at least 10 sets per week.
Total Volume and Frequency
One study found that training biceps 2-3 times per week caused greater muscle growth than training biceps once per week. But should you train your biceps muscles every day? It depends on your goal. If you want to build bigger biceps, perform 2-3 biceps workouts a week. It’s the optimal training volume for maximum bicep growth.
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If you’re trying to build big arms, make sure you’re focusing not only on your biceps but triceps and brachialis. However, if you just want to look fit, all you need to do is chin-ups. They will work perfectly for that.
Biceps have two heads: short head and long head. Many people often work either their short head or long head. Next time when you are working on your biceps design, make sure that your routine has exercises that will train both your long head and short head.
Use the following warm-up routine to warm up your muscles before upper body workouts to prevent injuries and also to make your biceps workouts more effective. Here is our 5-minute bicep warm-up:
- Head rotation;
- Neck circles;
- Shoulder rotation (arm circles back and forward);
- Elbow rotation;
- Wrist rotation;
- Upper body rotation or hip circles.
Now let’s get into the exercises.
The Best Exercises for Building Your Biceps
Best Long Head Bicep Exercises for Huge Peaks
The exercises that emphasize the long head over the short head are the best biceps peak exercises. Here is how to increase bicep peaks and improve the long head of the biceps.
1. Proper Exercise Selection
The long head of the biceps can be improved through proper exercise selection. Whereas the short head does not cross over the shoulder joint, the long head does. Therefore performing exercises where the upper arm is kept behind the body emphasizes the long head of the biceps in a position of stretch compared to the short head.
Incline dumbbell curls are one of the best bicep curl variations to do this. Your upper arm is held behind your body. It allows the long head to be active through the whole range of motion.
Some other exercises that apply a similar idea are cable curls. The arm is held behind the body throughout the exercise.
Also, you can perform drag curls where your elbows are positioned behind your body and you lift the barbell as close as possible in front of your body.
2. Use a Narrow Grip
Another easy way to target the long head in your exercises is by regulating your grip width when doing bicep curls. Using a grip closer than shoulder width emphasizes the long head and increases its involvement relative to the short head of the bicep.
While performing the curl with a narrow grip, make sure your elbows don’t move forward in front of your body. This will emphasize the short head more.
3. Switch to Partial Reps
One study found that the long head was more active in the early part of the bicep curl and the short head was more active in the latter phase. To apply this, after performing the full range of motion bicep curls, you can start doing partial reps.
We mean your elbow joint comes up to 90-degree angle in order to further target the long head and favor its development over the short head.
4. Supination of Wrist
Another way to target the long head is by supinating your wrist. Both bicep heads are responsible for supinating the wrists. But the involvement of each head of the biceps depends on the degree to which you supinate the wrists.
As shown in the study, the short head is more active when the forearm is in a pronated grip or neutral position. On the other hand, the long head is more active when the forearm is in a supinated position.
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To sum up, here are key techniques that can help you emphasize the long head of the bicep:
- Use a close neutral or underhand grip;
- While curling, you want to hold your elbows back behind you or at your side.
1. Incline Bench Dumbbell Hammer Curls
The first exercise that we are going to show you is an incline bench dumbbell hammer curl. This is a fantastic exercise because it works your bicep in a different way than normal.
You’re going to get into this incline bench and lean back. The whole emphasis here is that your elbow is back behind the line of your body. If you’re curling the weight up and your elbow is coming forward, you’re defeating the purpose. So, you want it to stay back behind the line of your body.
Squeeze it up to the top and drop it back down. You can do it on both sides alternating or at the same time. But just make sure you’re keeping that elbow back throughout the entire biceps movement. By doing this you are going to be smashing the outer head of your bicep. It makes your biceps look big from the side and also helps to build a big peak.
2. Regular Dumbbell Hammer Curls
The next exercise is a regular dumbbell hammer curl. This is a challenging exercise for your bicep because you’re able to go heavy with it.
A lot of times people end up going too heavy with this and they end up swinging and not getting much out of the exercise.
You can go heavy with this because of the neutral grip with your wrist you’re not going to pronate with your palm facing down. And you’re not going to be surprised with your palm facing up. Both of these ways make it a little harder.
That neutral grip with your wrist makes it able for you to lift heavier weights with less tension on your joints.
Make sure that you focus on keeping your elbow in the same position throughout the entire exercise. A lot of people are going too heavy and they throw it up and then they’re using their back to throw back and get this wrist the elbow to come way forward.
You are going to curl a pair of dumbbells straight up and control the weight on the way back down. Do not just drop it down. The negative portion of this bicep fantastic exercise is as important as the way up. People always forget about it. You’re getting more tension on the bicep by putting extra emphasis on the negative.
3. Smith Machine Drag Curls
It’s a challenging exercise for the long head of the biceps because that elbow is going back behind the line of your body. It’s also great for that peak of your bicep.
You need a Smith machine for this one. You can also do these with dumbbells but performing them with the Smith machine forces you to do it the right way which is with your elbows coming back and you’re dragging it along the line of your body.
You’re going to grab this just outside of your hips. Let this go all the way down and from there, you want this basically touching your thighs. And you don’t want the weight coming in front of your body too much as you curl it up. You literally want it sliding up along your body as your elbows drive backwards really focusing on curling this weight.
You’re driving your elbows back while you curl this weight up. Control it on the way back down. Focus on getting as much bicep activation as possible.
4. Incline Dumbbell Bicep Curls
The long head is especially stimulated when the arm is behind the back due to where it originates on the scapula. A great option is the incline dumbbell curl. Besides putting the arm behind the torso, it locks the elbow in place to maximize your form.
Since the biceps are maximally stretched at the bottom of the incline dumbbell curl, you’re supplying tension to the muscle in the stretched position. This enhances muscle damage on the biceps which is one of the main mechanisms to stimulate hypertrophy.
A common error we often see is people initiating the movement from the shoulder joint. The elbow has to start from a fully extended position while moving only the forearm for the initial part of the movement. It is only after this that the elbow can come forward slightly to fully contract the biceps.
Keep in mind both heads of the biceps will be active here due to the exercise focusing on elbow flexion. But the element of shoulder extension places emphasis on the long head.
5. Bayesian Curls
As we discussed, the long head of the biceps is more active when the shoulder is extended. The Bayesian curl is essentially a unilateral cable curl where the shoulder is in the extended position. The best part about using a cable machine instead of a dumbbell is that the cable variation provides a more complete resistance curve and places the biceps under constant tension.
Like the incline dumbbell curl, it’s important to start from a fully extended elbow position and to allow your elbows to drift behind your body. Remember the greater the degree of shoulder extension you are in, the more emphasis you place on the long head.
6. EZ-Bar Curl
The next exercise is standing barbell curls. It’s a perfect exercise for the biceps because you’re able to go a little bit heavier because you’re using a barbell. By the way, the EZ bar is a little more comfortable on your wrists.
There are two different ways that you can do the EZ bar curl: using your outer grip or your inner grip. The main difference between these is going to be how it hits the bicep.
If you go with the outer grip, your wrists are going to be outside of your shoulder and this is going to be good for targeting that short head of your bicep. It is going to be good for thickness.
With your inner grip which is going to be curling it up in your wrist inside your shoulder, it’s going to be good for that outer head of your bicep meaning the long head.
How to Perform
You are going to be in a nice controlled position. You want your elbows in that same spot the whole time. You’re going to curl the weight up, squeeze at the top, and back down in a nice controlled manner. Make sure you’re controlling your form.
Best Short Head Bicep Exercises
Here are key techniques that can help you emphasize the short head of the bicep:
- Use a wide supinated or underhand grip;
- While curling, you want to hold your elbows in front of your body.
1. Dumbbell Spider Curls
The short head of the biceps has two main functions: elbow flexion and supination of the forearm. It’s most active when in a degree of shoulder flexion. Not only does the spider curl start with the arm in a degree of shoulder flexion, but it also allows for a larger degree of supination to occur at the forearm.
Another great thing about this exercise is that it’s very difficult to cheat. It forces you to keep the tension on the target muscle.
Hold the dumbbell right at the edge with your thumb and index finger touching the bottom of the dumbbell. This will force your hand into a larger degree of pronation meaning you’ll have to actively supinate which will lead to higher activation in the short head of the biceps.
2. Reversed Incline Barbell Curls
The next exercise that we got is a reverse curl on an incline bench. You’re going to face down and do some incline bench hanging curls. Your arms are hanging off the end of the bench. These curls are keeping your arms out in front of your body. You’re going to be hitting that inner short head a lot better because your arms are in front of your body.
You’re going to grab the weights and have them in front of your body. You’re going to keep your elbows in the same spot. You’re not dropping your elbows back when you curl up. You’re going to curl forward and up squeezing at the top and back down.
Make sure you’re performing the entire range of motion. Control the negative.
3. Preacher Curl
The next bicep exercise is going to be a dumbbell preacher curl. You can do it on a preacher bench with a barbell. However, performing these with dumbbells provides you with free ranges of motion.
The preacher curl not only starts you off in a degree of shoulder flexion, but it also allows you to get the biceps into a very short position at the top of the concentric.
How to Perform
What you’re going to do is get into a nice position. Be careful when you get down to the bottom. Make sure you’re not letting your shoulders come forward. Keep them back in a nice strong position.
You want that full extension and then from there if you want to go supinated the whole time you can and then curling it up and supinating at the top. Squeeze and go back down in a nice controlled motion.
Make sure that you keep your shoulders back and down the whole time and focus on the mind-muscle connection with that bicep.
4. Wide-Grip Barbell Curls
Similar to a barbell bench press versus a dumbbell press, it’s going to be much easier to load the barbell variation than the dumbbell version. For example, imagine trying to progressively overload with dumbbells. Your only option might be to go from 25 pounds to 30 pounds. That’s a 20% increase in weight for each arm.
With the barbell curl, however, you can simply go from 65 pounds to 70 pounds a less than four percent increase on each side.
For most gyms, it’s more likely to have smaller increments in weight with plates than it is for dumbbells. In fact, if you have micro plates, this progression could be even more gradual. This is why we recommend you make the barbell curl the focal point of your biceps training and then move on to higher-rep biceps exercises.
5. Supinating Dumbbell Curl
Unlike barbell curls, dumbbell bicep exercises allow a freer range of motion. Besides allowing more natural comfortable and easy-to-do movement, they also allow more variation in how you curl.
We recommend you curl the dumbbell and then supinate or twist outwards almost as if you’re trying to touch your pinkies to your shoulders. Studies show that this allows greater muscle activation in the biceps.
And if you feel your forearms give up, try curling with both arms at the same time rather than alternating.
6. Seated Alternating Curls
What you’re going to do is start in a neutral grip. Then you are going to supinate your wrist as you curl the dumbbell up. This means you are going to take your palm and they are going to end up facing up. This is going to be good for getting a nice strong contraction.
Your bicep shortens a little bit more by just turning your palm up. That helps get a peak muscle contraction.
Also, you perform this exercise sitting so that you’re not able to use any kind of momentum such as bouncing with your knees. Doing seated curls is a great way to get rid of any kind of cheating.
You are going to sit down and have your elbows in that same spot the whole time. You are going to bring this weight up with a neutral grip and then as you get just past your knee, you are going to start to bring your palm to face up and back down. Focus on squeezing it up at the top.
Best Brachialis Builder: Dumbbell Hammer Curls
Lastly, let’s talk about brachialis. When it comes to brachialis, there’s one thing that really helps it grow – load. The brachialis being the strongest elbow flexor is best targeted with heavy loads using some form of a neutral grip curl which brings us to the next exercise.
The dumbbell hammer curl is a simple and easy way to overload exercise. And if you ever reach failure with standard dumbbell curls, you know you can always bang out a few more reps of hammer curls to finish. This is due to the brachialis being stronger than the biceps themselves.
For this exercise, avoid shrugging your shoulders to get the weight up. Instead, keep the shoulders back and down. This will ensure that the brachialis is bearing most of the load while also helping to avoid injury.
There you have the 13 effective biceps exercises for bigger arms. We don’t expect you to incorporate all of these into your workout program at once. We do recommend you cycle some of them as needed to achieve maximum biceps development.
Common Bicep Exercise Mistakes to Avoid
Let’s discuss a few mistakes that you should avoid while training your biceps.
1. Tilting the Wrist
The first one, we’ve often heard many people in the gym saying that your wrist should tilt inwards. People are misunderstanding that if you keep the wrist inward, your forearm muscle gets activated and gets pumped whereas the biceps can’t take in the full load. You need to keep your wrist in the neutral position, not inside or tilt outwards.
2. Lifting the Elbow Too Much
The second mistake that you should avoid is lifting the elbow too much. Let’s understand this. What most people do when they curl is when they lift the bar they lift their elbows too much. Don’t do this. What happens when you do this is that your front deltoids are involved and you are not targeting your biceps muscle that well. Your elbow will lift when you squeeze your biceps but lifting too much is the wrong way to do it.
3. Wrong Shoulder Placement
The next mistake is lifting the shoulder while performing the exercise. When you work your biceps, you need to retract your shoulder and lift your chest, then only you will perform your set with a proper form.
4. The Range of Motion
A lot of people keep a lot of weight that they can’t perform the full range of motion, which does not help them grow their biceps. You need to choose the appropriate weight so that your range of motion is full. This means you should not lower the bar down until and unless your muscle is not squeezed.
5. Lack of Weights
The most common mistake is not loading the biceps heavily enough. The biceps are a very strong muscle and they can be trained to lift some heavy weight. Don’t skip on heavy loading for those biceps.
However, it’s also important to pick movements that are safe and comfortable on the elbows and shoulders. Make sure you choose perfect exercises that you can progress on comfortably over time.
6. Lack of Intensity
Most people assume that because the biceps are smaller, muscle exercises like curls are lighter and easier than bigger compound lifts like squats and deadlifts. And as a result, they train their biceps with minimal intensity.
While exercises like curls are easier to recover from than squats and deadlifts, you can apply the same level of intensity and effort to your curls that are required for heavy deadlifts.
Try applying the same level of intensity to bicep training as you do to heavy squats, deadlifts, presses, and other compounds. The effectiveness of an exercise is not necessarily by how hard the exercise is to perform but rather how hard you perform that movement.
7. Not Prioritizing Bicep Exercises
Most people train a bunch of exercises in the gym. After being there for close to an hour, they throw in a few light sets of curls in an already fatigued state. But remember whatever you train first in the session gets the most attention and will likely grow the most from your training.
That’s why prioritizing a muscle comes down to training at a time when it can get the most attention. The key to bringing up any muscle group in general and biceps specifically is to prioritize them. Train them first in the training session when they’re fresh or train them on their own day.
You can even train the biceps with triceps or another small muscle group when you can dedicate a full session to them. If you’re giving them their own time to dedicate full attention, intensity, and level of effort, you’ll slowly see that the exact exercise you choose will now become less important than the way you perform those exercises.
Key Rules For Building Bigger Biceps
Here are some tips to make your bicep training even more effective.
1. Start With a Warm-Up
Always start with a warm-up to prevent injury and get your blood pumping. A few minutes of cardio or light weights can do the trick. Make sure to have fun, enjoy the process, and let working out be a form of self-care and self-love.
2. Use Progressive Overload
Remember to increase the weights gradually as your muscles get stronger. This ensures continuous progress without plateauing.
The biceps are fast-twitch dominant which means they will respond to training under heavier weights. So, don’t be afraid to load your exercises if you can. There’s also a strong body of literature to show that increased load is directly correlated to increased muscle activation in a given area.
3. Use Variability in Your Biceps Training
To challenge your major muscles in new ways and prevent boredom, you need to mix up your exercises. Variety is the key to continuous growth and development.
4. Don’t Forget to Rest and Recover
Giving your muscles enough time to rejuvenate between workouts is crucial for avoiding injury and maximizing your progress.
5. Work Out Your Biceps 2-3 Times per Week
It’s recommended to work out your biceps 2-3 times per week depending on your fitness goals. Remember a well-rounded workout routine that targets different muscle groups is essential for achieving your overall fitness goals.
6. Train Through a Full Range of Motion
Luckily, a lot of exercises can be performed with both dumbbells and a barbell. Regardless of which variation you choose to perform, it’s important to use a full range of motion. Several studies suggest that it has significant benefits.
For example, one study compared men doing biceps curls with a full range of motion versus curling with a partial range of motion. They found that the full range of motion group gained significantly more muscle and strength than the partial range of motion group.
Building bigger arms is simple. It doesn’t require an endless amount of exercises in the gym but it does require you to put in some hard training and to do so consistently for a long period of time. Remember dedication and consistency are the keys to achieving those dream arms.
Arm growth doesn’t happen overnight. But if you understand and apply a few basic principles, over time you can make dramatic changes to your small arms.
Benefits of Biceps Workout
Your biceps are not just for show. They serve a crucial purpose in your everyday life. Whether it’s lifting heavy objects, carrying groceries, or even just picking up your kids, your biceps are the muscles responsible for these easy-to-do movements. Neglecting them can lead to weakness and potential injury.
Imagine struggling to lift a heavy suitcase or feeling weak while carrying groceries. That’s why it’s essential to incorporate upper body exercises into your workout routine. Not only will it help you develop well-defined arms that make heads turn, but it will also improve your overall strength and conditioning.
Having well-defined biceps can do wonders for your self-confidence. It’s not just about looking good. It’s about feeling good.
Including basic bicep exercises in your training program can also enhance your grip strength and assist with other exercises like pull-ups. So, don’t neglect your biceps any longer, make them a priority and reap the incredible benefits.
1. It Develops a Long Head of the Biceps
As shown in several studies from the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the long head of the biceps acts as a dynamic stabilizer of the glenohumeral joint.
That means that neglecting this development may compromise shoulder stability and lead to problems in the long run specifically for those who lift weights regularly. So, as you can see, development of the long head is essential.
2. It Increases Bicep Peaks
Building a well-shaped biceps peak seems to be a priority for many bodybuilders. Many people say that it all comes down to genetics but this is partially true.
Athletes with longer muscle bellies can build arms that appear fuller but with a less pronounced peak, whereas lifters with shorter muscle bellies can develop a more prominent biceps peak. Regardless of whether you have long or short bicep insertions, you can still wonderfully improve your biceps by understanding its anatomy.
3. It Develops a Short Head of the Biceps
The short head of the biceps is located on the medial side and makes your biceps look wider. You can target the short head by using a wide grip in bicep exercises such as preacher curls.
Anatomy of the Biceps Brachii
The biceps are a muscle group located in the upper arm and as the name suggests it is divided into two heads:
- a short head located on the inside of the arm closer to the body;
- and a long head which sits on the outside of the arm further away from the body.
Both heads originate in the scapula and both heads converge to insert into the forearm.
When talking about the arm anatomy, a muscle known as the brachialis is often overlooked. The brachialis is vital when it comes to thickness from the front. And it is normally invisible and well-developed in most professional bodybuilders. The brachialis sits lateral to the bicep muscles between them and the triceps.
Now that you know what muscle groups we’re looking to target, what exactly do they do?
The Function of the Biceps Muscles
The main function of the biceps is elbow flexion essentially bringing your lower arm towards your shoulder as both heads attach to the scapula. There is also an element of shoulder flexion particularly from the long head of the biceps. The short head also aids in supination, rotation of the forearm and hand to turn your palm upward.
When it comes to elbow flexion, this is where the brachialis comes into play. The brachialis is the strongest of all the elbow flexors.
This functional anatomy is vital when it comes to knowing how to train your biceps and brachialis effectively. Now that you understand the anatomy and biomechanics, we are going to provide you with the best biceps workout you should be doing for massive arms.
Proper Nutrition For Bicep Growth
We need to understand what the role of nutrition is for muscle growth and how this differs from the role of training. Essentially nutrition plays a supportive role in the muscle growth process.
Nutrition can provide a more anabolic environment to build muscle. This can result in a faster rate of muscle growth over time if we implement the correct strategies. However, it should be understood that nutrition doesn’t stimulate muscle growth. That is the role of training.
Resistance training is what provides the trigger for muscle growth to occur in the first place. So, without a good stimulus no nutritional intervention will have any anabolic effects.
The first nutritional consideration for muscle growth is our total daily calorie intake. More specifically we are referring to how many calories we consume versus how many calories we expend. This balance of calories determines our change in body weight over time. We are referring to total body weight, we aren’t specifically referring to muscle or fat.
Regarding calories, there are three energy balance states that we can be in at any given time:
- A calorie surplus. This is when we eat more calories than we expend resulting in weight gain over time.
- Maintenance calories. This is when we eat the same amount of calories as what we expand resulting in no change in body weight over time.
- A calorie deficit. This is when we eat fewer calories than we expend, resulting in weight loss over time.
Muscle growth can be achieved in any of these energy balance states. However, not all of these states are equally effective at promoting muscle growth. The best way to maximize our rate of muscle growth is via a calorie surplus.
Our Diet Tips to Bulk Up Fast
- Get used to calorie surplus;
- Frequent meals;
- Don’t skip meals on off days;
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- Consume supplements;
- Drink enough water;
- Track your progress.
Biceps Workout: FAQs
What is the best biceps workout?
Incline dumbbell curls, preacher curls and EZ-bar curls are probably the most effective basic bicep exercises.
How many reps for biceps?
If you are training for strength, do 5-8 reps. However, if your goal is hypertrophy, it is recommended that you complete the 8-12 rep range with good form.
Are 3 exercises enough for biceps?
It’s enough for beginners to perform 3-4 different bicep exercises with 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps for building muscle mass.