For some men, having biceps that literally tear and stretch their t-shirts is an indicator of peak physical fitness. Unlike the chest and the back, your biceps muscles are one of the main areas of the body that will spend most of the time on show. So naturally, you’re going to want them to look as big and seductive as possible.
That, of course, requires dedicating some serious hours to the gym and lifting weights. You can’t just get by in life building natural muscle from everyday menial tasks like brushing your teeth, throwing a ball, or anything else you can think of doing with your dominant arm, after all.
Fortunately today, with so many fitness experts and high-profile celebrities needing to stay in shape – hello Chris Hemsworth’s superhuman arms – there is literally an entire world of knowledge when it comes to effective bicep workouts. It’s not uncommon for gym goers to dedicate an entire session to just the arms, and while the triceps will receive some attention, it’s the bicep workouts that are going to take up the majority of the time.
But as with anything in fitness, there is most definitely a right and a wrong way to do things. Perform bicep exercises correctly, and you’ll see some serious muscle growth in no time at all. However, fail to adhere to proper form and technique, and you could well end up tearing the muscle or just not seeing any muscle growth at all.
Fortunately for you, we’ve put together this definitive list of the best bicep workouts for you to add into your gym program. They make use of various pieces of equipment that should be commonplace in any gym, meaning your quest for bigger arms can finally have an end goal.
But first, time for a biology session.
What Are The Biceps?
This probably doesn’t need much explaining, as we’re sure all of you know what the biceps are. The biceps – or biceps brachii – is the large muscle group at the front of your upper arm. Split into two parts – long head and short head – the biceps slot in between the shoulder and the elbow, and both heads actually stem from the scapula. The biceps work across three joints, but their main function is to flex the elbow, in turn supinating (moving) the forearm.
Best Bicep Workouts
You may think you already know some of the best bicep workouts to be performed, and that may certainly be true. Some others, however, may not have realised that the biceps are split into two parts, and so wonder why their arms still aren’t busting out of their tops. You need to train both muscle heads equally in order to see some serious growth.
Otherwise known as “my first bicep workout”, the bicep curl is the quintessential bicep workout that we’ve likely all performed at some point in time. Whether it be with free weights, groceries, some books or the cat, bicep curls are a surefire way to pack on some muscle.
The most effective way to perform bicep curls is to stand upright with your elbows close to your body and with your hands shoulder-width apart. Taking a dumbbell in each hand, alternate curling each arm at the elbow joint, ensuring you don’t arch your back or swing your arms to complete the rep, and exhaling your breath as you curl, too. When you can’t complete a full rep, it’s time to put the weight down and rest, before completing another set.
Too often guys will swing their arms to help give some extra momentum to complete the rep, but this takes tension away from the bicep muscle itself, thereby doing practically nothing for your gains. If you’re finding you do have to swing your arms to curl the dumbbells fully, you should consider dropping the weight. It’s far better to complete proper, full reps with a lighter weight, than to perform them incorrectly using heavy weight. Leave your ego at the door.
Another common mistake people make is curling their arms far too quickly. With any lift or muscle movement, tempo is key. Moving slowly provides much greater benefits to the muscle group being worked, because it forces that group to hold the load for longer.
Perform 8-12 reps for each arm for 3-4 sets.
Incline Dumbbell Curl
The incline dumbbell curl is another bicep workout classic and is a great one for torching the longer head of the biceps muscle. Introducing an incline – you’ll need an incline bench – sees your arms having to work against a greater deficit than when you’re standing, meaning they need to work harder.
You’ll likely find that you’re not able to lift the same weight with an incline dumbbell curl as when you’re bicep curling standing – whether it’s using dumbbells or performing a barbell curl – which is totally normal. Drop the weight, and you’ll be able to perform the incline dumbbell curl far more effectively.
Set your bench to a 45-degree angle and, as with the standing bicep curls, keep your elbows close to your body. With a dumbbell in each hand, you can opt to either curl both arms at the same time, or alternate. Whichever option you choose, make sure to keep the tempo slow and ensure you fully straighten your arms back to the starting position before completing another curl.
Perform 8-12 reps for 3-4 sets.
So often a test of a man’s strength, the chin-up is an exercise you should really be adding to your workout program. Plus, not only does it work your biceps, but you get the added benefit of working other major upper body muscle groups such as the shoulders and your upper back.
Standing facing a chin-up bar or handles, have your palms facing towards you – otherwise known as an underhand grip or supinated grip – and your arms shoulder width apart. Ensure your arms are at full length and pull yourself up. Sounds easy, but it can be easy to do it wrong. Imagine forcing your elbows into the ground and you should find you’ll be putting the most work on the biceps.
For chin-ups, you want to aim to perform as many reps as possible, but a good benchmark is 10 for 3-4 sets.
Dumbbell Hammer Curl
As we said earlier, you need to work all areas of the biceps muscle if you want your arms to look thick. Enter, the hammer curl. Performed in the exact same way as a bicep curl, the hammer curl simply sees you rotating the dumbbell onto its side, so you’re holding it in a natural grip.
Alternate lifting the dumbbells in the same way as bicep curls – slowly, elbows close to the body and bending at the elbow joint – and you’ll work the section of muscle on the side of the biceps. This will eventually see the arm grow outwards and the ladies swoon. The hammer curl can be performed as a superset with either regular bicep curls or even tricep extensions.
Perform 8-12 reps for each arm, for 3-4 sets.
Another variation of the bicep curl is the concentration curl, which requires you to, well, concentrate…or at least, look like you are. The concentration curl is a seated movement, because you need to rest your elbow on your knee – and subsequently end up looking like August Rodin’s The Thinker statue. This helps to isolate the biceps muscles, causing it to receive greater levels of tension, and in turn, causing it to become stronger – plus, they’ll give you serious bicep peaks.
To perform the concentration curl, sit on a bench and rest whichever arm you choose on the leg of the same side and let the weight hang down naturally. Then, as with other bicep curl variations, curl the weight up at the elbow, keeping the tempo (and your breathing) slow and controlled. Repeat for the alternate arm.
Perform 8-12 reps for each arm, for 3-4 sets.
EZ Bar Curl
A lot of guys may flock to the regular barbell curl to perform some bicep exercises, but the EZ bar is where it’s at. Similar to a barbell, but with kinks in it, otherwise known as an undulating handle (if your gym doesn’t have EZ bars for some reason, then a barbell is still perfectly fine to use). An EZ bar makes it easier to lift heavier loads and can stimulate greater muscle activation in the biceps muscle. Which is what you want.
To perform the EZ bar curl, hold it with palms facing up – or with an underhand grip – and with your arms straight down in front of you. Curl the bar from the elbow joint, lifting slowly and keeping your breathing under control. You want to curl until your hands reach your shoulders and squeeze the biceps at the top of the moment. You can hold here for a couple of seconds, while still squeezing, before lowering the bar back down slowly.
Perform 10-12 reps.
The Zottman Curl is one of those bicep exercises that probably gets overlooked far too much. It’s an absolute weapon of a movement and one you should definitely be including in your program because it works all three major parts of the biceps muscle (along with your forearm). Despite it’s confusing sounding name, it’s an incredibly simple movement to master, too.
Standing in the same starting position as a regular bicep curl – arms shoulder width apart and palms facing up – lift the dumbbells in the same way, i.e. curling at the elbow joint and lifting slowly. When you reach the top of the movement, rotate the dumbbells around so that your palms are facing down. Then, lower the dumbbells in the same slow manner until your arms are straight. It’s important you keep the downward movement slow too, as doing so will ensure your forearms receive some tension too, which will ultimately give you stronger, bulkier arms.
Bicep Cable Curl
Moving away from free weights and on to cables, the bicep cable curl is another great variation to add into your routine. A cable machine is particularly effective because they provide constant tension to whichever muscle group you’re working. You can also employ the use of various attachments to help work other areas of the biceps, such as attaching a rope to perform cable hammer curls.
To perform the bicep cable curl, make sure you’re using the bar attachment and have it set so that it is by your feet. In a similar fashion to the other bicep curl movements, keep your elbows close to your body and curl the bar upwards, keeping the tempo slow and controlled. Hold and squeeze the biceps at the top of the movement, before slowly lowering back to the starting position. You may the bicep cable curl slightly harder than a regular barbell curl, and this is because of the aforementioned extra tension.
Reverse EZ Bar/Barbell Curl
If you really want to improve your grip strength while helping to increase your overall arm size, you need to add some reverse curls into your program. In doing so, this improved grip and strength will allow you to lift heavier weights when performing regular bicep exercises. You can perform reverse curls using either an EZ bar or a straight barbell, but remember, you won’t be able to lift the same as when you’re performing a regular curl movement.
To perform reverse curls, stand with your arms shoulder width apart and grab the bar with an overhand grip (if you’re using an EZ bar, grip the downward-sloping parts). Then, curl in a similar way to regular bicep curls. Keep your elbows close to your body and curl your arms upwards, slowly, until your hands reach your shoulders. Hold and squeeze at the top of the movement before lowering back down to the starting position.
The preacher curl is another excellent biceps exercise that is well worth adding into your routine, because it pretty much guarantees bigger biceps. Make no mistake, this isn’t a replacement exercise for some of the other must-do biceps exercises on this list, but it’s one that complements them massively.
Unfortunately, you can’t really perform preacher curls without a preacher bench, so you’re going to have to get yourself a gym membership if you don’t have one already. A preacher bench sees your arms angled and isolated at around 45-degrees.
You then have the option of choosing your piece of equipment to perform your bicep curls. You can use dumbbells, an EZ bar or a barbell. As with the incline dumbbell curl, you’ll want to start off with a lighter weight than you’d expect, because of how the bench isolates your arms – you have less leverage and your biceps muscles become the real star of the show.
To perform, sit at the preacher bench so that your armpits are touching the top and holding the weight using an underhand grip. Curl the bar or dumbbells up slowly until your hands reach your shoulders, and then slowly return them to the starting position.
It’s important to keep the rest of your body still and solid during the movement. Some people may find they stand up slightly to help provide some extra momentum, but this does away with all your hard work.