The biceps take up only 25% of your upper arm, yet in terms of the cultural impact, the biceps are the biggest muscles located on your body. Don’t let anyone tell you differently- big biceps matter! The Biceps Brachii (their proper name) are made up of two heads, the long head, and the short head. Another muscle that is similar to the biceps is the Brachialis, which runs alongside them. Even though the brachialis muscle is sometimes an afterthought to many people, if you focus and train the brachialis, your arms can appear much wider. This is due to their place that they are inserted in the arm.
The best biceps training workouts do not destroy the muscles with hundreds of reps; it forces you to perform low rep sets using a heavier weight. This is because they are mostly made up of Type II muscle fibers (fast twitch), these will respond best to big weights. This contrasts with Type I muscle fibers, which are also known as slow twitch. They don’t produce as much force and can be suitable for sustained exercise. To put this in perspective, compare a long distance runner to a sprinter. Which type do you think each athlete works more? That being said, a powerful muscle that can handle the heavier weights, is usually a bigger muscle. When’s the last time you’ve seen a big guy who wasn’t decently strong? Probably not too often!
However, biceps still can and will respond to higher volume (more reps) and experience hypertrophy. With more reps, you will most likely experience that sought-after burn or pump that everyone wants. This is because there is more time under tension for the muscle, and the burn that you are feeling is the build-up of blood and lactic acid in the muscle. You just don’t need to be too excessive with the reps; up to 15 per set is fine for a lot of people.
The best way to perform these exercises is not all in one go as this will prevent you from being able to go heavy enough. Fatigue management is an important consideration, so dividing these into your different sessions will be beneficial to you. Add these exercises to your current workout program and start seeing some real results for your biceps. There are a lot of variations for you to choose from, most of them dumbbell or bar curls, which will always keep your muscles “guessing” what you’re going to do next.
Exercise One: Barbell Curls
Let’s start off with the simplest arm exercise, the standing barbell bicep curl. This is one of the most basic methods for getting big biceps, and other than dumbbells, this is often where people first start their biceps training. There are a couple of variations to this exercise that you can do. Bringing your arms out wider will target the short head of the Biceps whilst closer hand placement will target the long head. You can choose to either use a straight bar or an EZ curl bar. Both are effective, but many people love the EZ curl bar because it is supposed to be more comfortable for the wrists. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of personal preference.
Stand upright with your arms fully extended down with your hands around mid-thigh. Hold the bar using an underhand grip, keeping both hands very slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Take a deep breath and curl the barbell up until it is in line with your shoulders, keeping your elbows tucked in by your side throughout. Pause, and then lower the barbell back down to your waist.
If you find that you are rocking your torso back and forth to help lift the weight (by using momentum to your advantage), then you can rest your back against a wall to prevent this. It is a good idea because it will isolate the biceps even more. Just make sure you lower the weight to compensate! Adding momentum to the lift recruits excess muscle into the picture, which actually isn’t ideal when trying to really isolate the biceps. The usual culprits that can take over in this exercise are the shoulders and the back. Save the multi-muscle lifts for compound exercises!
Exercise Two: Seated Dumbbell Curls
An excellent biceps exercise that will also target the Brachialis and Brachioradialis muscles. Dumbbells also allow you to have completely evenly developed arms (provided you do the same exact work for each side) because each arm is required do work on its own. For instance, on a barbell curl, you might not notice that one arm might be slightly stronger than the other, and pick up the slack for it. Imbalances like these can be more apparent in other exercises like the dumbbell bench press.
For this exercise, sit on the edge of a workout bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Extend your arms so that they are straight, then one arm at a time curl the weight up until your hand is in line with your shoulder. You need to really squeeze at the top of the movement to get the most out of it.
To increase the difficulty of this exercise, you can use an incline bench. Whilst you sit on the end of the bench for the regular version, you lie right back on this one (at a 45-degree angle) with your arms straight down by your side. This will increase the range of motion quite a bit, and therefore the difficulty. The longer range of motion will also result in increased elbow flexion. This is a good thing since you want full mobility with your elbows. Having them constantly locked would be very uncomfortable. Your elbows are like your knees; you want them to be healthy.
Exercise Three: Preacher Curls
This is an amazing exercise for targeting and isolating the biceps. This will require a preacher bench, which is a piece of equipment that looks similar to a podium, where a preacher can speak at. This particular exercise gained popularity during bodybuilding’s golden age; The most famous bodybuilders loved it, so you might too!
Rest your arms on the pad with the bar in your hands. Make sure your arm is fully extended, and your arms are flush with the pad. Take a deep breath, and curl the weight all the way up until it is in line with your forehead. Lower it all the way down until your arms are fully extended again.
You can also perform this exercise with dumbbells, curling the weights together or individually. In the next step, we will learn about bicep hammer curls, which you can also perform on a preacher bench.
Exercise Four: Hammer Curls
Not only are hammer curls a fantastic exercise for your biceps, but they are also great exercises for your forearms. They work the Brachialis, and Brachioradialis almost as much as they work the Biceps Brachii. You will need to use a slightly lighter weight compared to regular bicep curls, as the Brachialis and Brachioradialis muscles are going to limit you. This is because they are smaller muscles than the biceps brachii.
To start doing bicep hammer curls, grab a pair of dumbbells, but instead of holding them like you would normally (palms facing outwards in an underhand grip) you hold them like you would hold a hammer or a dart Your palms will be facing in towards each other, and you will keep them in this position as you raise them up to the finishing position. This again will look similar to when you are about to swing a hammer or throw a dart at a dartboard. You also might want to think about tucking your elbows into your sides, if you feel like you are swinging your arm rather than curling it.
Exercise Five: Reverse Bicep Curl
Another fantastic fitness exercise for the forearms as well as the biceps, the reverse bicep curl targets even more of the muscles in the forearm. These muscles are very underrated as arm muscles, but nobody wants to have a huge set of Biceps and Triceps but puny forearms. You may also start to look disproportionate if you fail to give your forearms the respect that they deserve.
Grab a barbell and hold in an overhand grip so that your palms are facing your body (rather than out). Have the bar resting at mid-thigh level with your arms fully extended. Now all you need to do is curl the bar upwards whilst keeping your elbows tucked in. Unusual for an arm exercise, the more difficult part of the reverse bicep curl is lowering the weight back down (as the biceps are used less, and the weaker forearm muscles take on the load). This means that you are required to lower the weight slowly and with control to get the most out of the exercise.
Exercise Six: Chin-Ups
Chin-ups are a brilliant bicep workout and are criminally underrated. They work the biceps through the full range of motion and will put sufficient load on them to promote growth. The chin-up also works the Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major, and Brachialis. The “lats” and the Teres Major make up a significant portion of the back, specifically the ones that run from under the armpit to the mid-to-lower sections.
Grab a pull-up bar with an underhand grip with your hands slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart. Take a deep breath, and pull yourself up so that your shoulders are in line with the bar. Pause, and then lower yourself back down to the starting position. The grip position in this exercise is what separates itself from the traditional pull-up. Pull-ups will still work the biceps to a degree, but it has more emphasis on the back muscles because it often takes an overhand and wider grip stance. Between the two, chin ups are sometimes considered more difficult because of the grip position.
Exercise 7: Cross-Body Hammer Curl
There really isn’t a truly dedicated brachialis workout out there, as it still gets worked in other exercises, but the cross-body hammer curl comes pretty close to totally isolating it! This will still work out your Brachii still, but because of how the dumbbells are positioned, you can really add some emphasis to the brachialis muscles.
What you need to do in this top brachialis exercise is stand up straight with the dumbbells at your sides. Your palms should be facing inwards, towards your body. Keep your elbows tucked in at your side. Curl the dumbbell, except unlike the regular hammer curl, you will have your forearm glide along your torso and move towards your pectoral muscles. This is similar to the concentration curl, except this one has you standing up, whereas concentration curls have you sitting down. With concentration curls, you can also rest your elbows on your legs.
Biceps Workout Finisher: Run-The-Rack Biceps Curl
This is a fantastic arms workout for finishing the biceps at the end of a workout. Grab a heavy barbell, for this example, we’ll say 35kg. Perform as many reps as possible with it, until you can’t lift your arms anymore. Then drop the weight to 30kg and immediately start curling again, drop to 25kg and so on until you are lifting a 10kg barbell and struggling. As you can see, this method gets its name because you are literally going down the barbell rack, doing as much as you can with the weight that you can handle. This is basically a form of doing a drop-set, and it is a great way to burn out your muscles at the end of your biceps training.
This is probably one of the best bicep workout finishers there is, and can be performed with dumbbells using standard, hammer, or reverse bicep curl variations. Having variation in your biceps training will prevent things from getting stale. You can constantly be switching things up to keep your workouts interesting. Putting in the work should yield big biceps, but keep in mind that the biceps are a smaller muscle than the triceps, so if you want bigger arms overall, make sure you give your triceps just as much love and attention. But you probably already know that, right? Adding inches to your arms takes time, and they might appear to gain slower than your other muscles. However, if you put in the time and dedication, they will come to you.