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Nothing beats the pump you get from a great bicep workout. That’s why you’re known for wearing cut-offs everywhere and anywhere they’ll let you show off those sweet pythons.

But blasting out the same tired dumbbell curl variations can get monotonous, so it’s useful to make sure you’re switching the script every now and again to inspire new growth and keep the gains a-coming.

That’s why Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and Garage Gym Reviews’ very own Kate Meier is sharing her top picks for the best biceps exercises. These moves will provide some serious activation in all the right places, helping you push past plateaus and make good progress on your personal fitness goals.

Are you ready for the best biceps workout? 

Finish your pre-workout shake, get in your warm-up, and let’s get to work!

biceps highlighted on muscular system

What You Need to Know About the Biceps Muscle Anatomy

So, what are we referring to when we talk about our biceps?

We’re talking about that muscle group in your upper arm sitting smack dab in between the shoulder joint and elbow. The biceps muscle group specifically contains the coracobrachialis, the brachialis, and the biceps brachii.

“Functionally, you rely on your biceps for elbow flexion, the movement that involves curling our hands towards our shoulders, but that’s not all,” Kate explains. Your biceps also assist in supination of the forearm, or the motion that allows you to take your upward-facing palms and turn them downward, and shoulder flexion, supporting the deltoids whenever you raise your arm.

RELATED: A Back and Biceps Workout

How To Train The Biceps

Most biceps exercises, because of the biceps’ role elbow flexion, involve curling movements. The angle of the movement, however, will play an integral role regarding where the most activation occurs within the biceps muscle group.

That’s because the biceps brachii1, often the prime mover of biceps exercises, is further segmented into two heads: a long head and a short head. 

The two heads work in unison for many of the basic bicep movements, but the long head of the biceps also assists in pulling the arm away from the trunk, called abduction, and inward rotation. Likewise, the short head of the biceps performs the opposite movement, pulling the arm back towards the trunk. This is called adduction.

“Because the long and short heads of the biceps work in a slightly different way,” says Kate, “it’s important to use a variety of curl variations in your workout routine.”

RELATED: The Best Long Head Biceps Exercises

8 Bicep Exercises to Try For Bigger Peaks

So, we’ve covered the functions of the biceps, but what specifically can we do to build bigger biceps? Without further ado, we present the best exercises for building big biceps!

Move 1: Chin-Ups

Why it’s great: Chin-ups are the quintessential upper body blaster for bodybuilding, functional movement, improved strength, and more. Using only your own bodyweight, you get incredible activation in your biceps, forearms, deltoids, lats, core, and more. “If you can’t perform these yet, try using a resistance band for support,” Kate says.

How to do it: 

  1. Grab a pull-up bar using an underhand grip and relax your body into a dead hang.
  2. Pull yourself up until your chin goes over the bar. Driving your shoulder blades down and back as you pull, and squeeze your lats and biceps at the peak position.
  3. Slowly lower your body back into a dead hang.
  4. Repeat as needed.

RELATED: What Muscles Do Chin-Ups Work?

woman performing a banded chin up

Move 2: Barbell Curl

Why it’s great: No arm workout is complete without the classic barbell curl. This free weight staple is an isolation exercise, meaning it reserves all that tasty muscle activation for your biceps exclusively. Feel the burn!

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a loaded barbell held in front of your body using a supinated grip.
  2. Bend at the elbows to curl the barbell toward your chest, squeezing the biceps at the top of the movement.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat as needed.
close grip barbell curl

Move 3: EZ Bar Curl

Why it’s great: The EZ bar curl is mechanically very similar to the straight barbell curl. However, the unique shape of the EZ bar takes some of the pressure off your wrists, making it, as the name suggests, easier.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and an EZ bar held in front of your body with your palms facing up.
  2. Curl the barbell toward your chest by bending at the elbow. Keep your elbows pinned to your sides, and squeeze the biceps at the top of the movement.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat as needed.

RELATED: The Best Curl Bars

EZ Bar Curl

Move 4: Preacher Curl

Why it’s great: Preacher curls stabilize the elbow joint using a padded support, meaning there’s virtually no way to cheat the movement, and you very much isolate the biceps. You’ll need to rely solely on your biceps strength to move that weight.

How to do it:

  1. Adjust the preacher bench to your specifications and have a seat. You may use one dumbbell, two dumbbells, a barbell, or an EZ bar for this one.
  2. Hang your arm(s) over the pad, nearly extending the elbow fully.
  3. Curl the weight(s) to your shoulders(s).
  4. Squeeze your biceps, then slowly return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat as needed.
preacher curl

Move 5: Hammer Curl

Why it’s great: The dumbbell hammer curl takes your classic dumbbell biceps curl and alters the angle to increase activation of the long head of the biceps and the nearby brachialis in your forearm. This change in positioning usually allows you to lift heavier weight than you are able to manage with the standard curl. (You can also do hammer curls with a resistance band.)

How to do it:

  1. Hold two dumbbells at your sides using a neutral grip.
  2. Curl them to your shoulders, squeezing the biceps at the top.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat as needed.
A gif of a dumbbell hammer curl

Move 6: Incline Curl

Why it’s great: Performing an incline dumbbell curl increases the range of motion, which in turn increases the amount of work your biceps are doing. This simple tweak in position inspires gains in both strength and muscle mass.

How to do it:

  1. Adjust an incline bench so it’s between 30 and 45 degrees. Sit down, holding a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms out to the sides and elbows tucked into the body.
  2. Curl the dumbbells to your shoulders, squeezing your biceps at the top.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat as needed.

RELATED: The Best Dumbbells

A gif of an incline dumbbell curl

Move 7: Wide Grip Curl

Why it’s great: Taking a wider grip on your barbell increases the activation in the short head of the biceps. “It’s good to incorporate curl variations that activate both the long and short head of the biceps for balanced growth throughout the whole muscle group,” Kate says.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a loaded barbell held in front of your body using an underhand grip. You want a wide grip, slightly outside the knurlings.
  2. Bend at the elbows to curl the barbell to your chest, squeezing the biceps at the top.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat as needed.
wide grip curl

Move 8: Concentration Curl

Why it’s great: Like the preacher curl, concentration curls take away your ability to cheat the movement, making them one of the overall best exercises for your biceps. In fact, a 2014 study completed by the American Council of Exercise2 ranked it as the best exercise for your biceps.

How to do it:

  1. Sit down on a flat weight bench.
  2. Grab a dumbbell with your right hand, lean forward, and allow your right arm to extend toward the floor in between your thighs. Use your right thigh, close to the knee, to stabilize the elbow so it doesn’t move as you curl.
  3. Once in this position, curl the dumbbell to your right shoulder. Be sure not to let your right elbow lose contact with your thigh. Your torso should remain stationary.
  4. Return to the starting position, complete the desired number of reps, then switch sides.
concentration curl

How to Structure the Best Bicep Workout

Now that we know what exercises will give us the best pump, how do we structure it into a cohesive workout that supports our fitness goals?

According to a 2021 study published in Sports (Basel)3, that all depends on what you’re looking to accomplish. Researchers determined that “heavy load training optimizes increases maximal strength, moderate load training optimizes increases muscle hypertrophy, and low-load training optimizes increases local muscular endurance.”

What’s that mean in plain English?

“You want to lift heavy if you’re trying to build strength,” says Kate. “We’re talking five sets max of between five and eight reps, and these reps should be very difficult!”

For hypertrophy, or building muscle size, keep the weight, number of sets, and number of reps right down the middle. Moderate weight that you can comfortably move for between eight and 12 reps ought to do the trick, and you’ll want to complete between three and five sets.

For muscular endurance, you’ll want to go really light so you can move that weight up and down for twenty reps or more. Luckily, you only need to do two or three sets of these mega-sets to reap the rewards of your hard work.

RELATED: How Many Reps To Build Muscle

Three Best Biceps Workouts to Try

Now that you know what exercises to include in your biceps workout, it’s time to take those guns to the firing range. Here are three workouts designed to help you accomplish three different fitness goals.

Best Biceps Workout for Muscle Growth

This workout hits all three heads of the biceps, and should have your shirt feeling tight. Make sure to struggle on the last rep of each set—this will create micro-tears in your muscle tissue that will repair itself, only bigger (assuming you eat enough protein and get enough sleep). This means you need to find a weight that’s easy for the first five reps, but difficult for the last two (don’t cheat yourself).

  • Hammer curl, 3 sets of 7-9 reps.
  • Incline curl: 3 sets of 7-9 reps
  • Wide-grip curl: 3 sets of 7-9 reps
  • Chin-up, 3 sets of As Many Reps as Possible

If you’re able to do 10 chin-ups at the end of this workout, you didn’t lift heavy enough. Your biceps should feel roasted by the time you grab onto that pull-up bar.

Best Biceps Workout For Strength

For this strength biceps workout, we’re going to prioritize heavy weight. Challenge yourself and pick a weight that’s around 85-90 % of your 1-rep max for each move.

  • Barbell curl, 2 sets of 3-5 reps
  • Hammer curl, 2 sets of 3-5 reps
  • Chin-ups, 2 sets of As Many Reps as Possible

If possible, switch the regular chin-ups for weighted chin-ups by either attaching a weight plate belt or resistance bands to add extra tension.

Best Biceps Workout for People Short on Time

This workout is a tri-set, meaning we’re going to do each move one right after the other. Aim to complete at least five circuits, with 2-3 minutes of rest in between each.

  • Barbell curl, 12 reps
  • Hammer curl, 12 reps
  • Chin-ups, As Many Reps As Possible
Man doing bicep curls with a dumbbell

FAQs: Best Bicep Workout

What is the best way to target biceps? 

“Based on what we know of how the biceps work,” says Kate Meier, certified personal trainer, “the best way to target the biceps is by performing exercises that involve elbow flexion and forearm supination.”

Our exercises above provide ample activation to the biceps. Other exercises you could incorporate to get further activation include the cable curl, reverse curl, spider curl, and Zottman curl, to name a few.

Direct biceps training isn’t the only way to do it though. Because of the synergistic relationship between the back and biceps, some back exercises, like the bent-over row and lat pulldown, will provide activation in the biceps brachii too.

Are dumbbells or barbells better for training biceps? 

As with all things fitness, there’s no easy answer. Both dumbbells and the best barbells are excellent when it comes to biceps training.

For example, dumbbells offer advantages such as:

– Increased range of motion
– Increased muscle activation
– Ability to perform unilateral exercises

On the other hand, barbells offer:

– Increased stability
– Ability to lift heavier weight

All things considered, there’s no clear winner. We recommend rotating between dumbbell workouts and barbell workouts for the most comprehensive results, but really you should be just fine if you’re only able to use one over the other in your regular training.

RELATED: Barbells Vs. Dumbbells: The Best Option For A Home Gym

How can I bulk up my biceps?

Here are a few things you should do if you’re looking to bulk up your biceps:

– Target the biceps using isolation exercises
– Lift heavy weight and gradually increase the weight over time
– Get adequate rest in between biceps training sessions
– Eat a well-balanced diet to support muscle growth

Remember, there’s only so much you can do in the gym. 

Getting great results is about doing many things right, not just one, so a great workout isn’t going to cut it! Supplement your success by eating right and getting enough rest, too!

How long does it take for biceps to grow?

Guarantees in the fitness world tend to be flimsy, and that’s not because no one knows the recipe for success. It’s because everyone is different and success hinges on so many different factors.

That said, you should notice improvements in biceps size, strength, and endurance, if you follow our above advice, practice proper nutrition, and prioritize muscle recovery, after a few weeks of hard work and dedication.

Consistency is key. Even if you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere or don’t think you see any improvements, don’t give up!

How do you hit all three bicep heads?

The only way to hit all three biceps heads is by incorporating exercises into your routine that target those muscles.

References

1. Tiwana MS, Charlick M, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Biceps Muscle. [Updated 2022 Aug 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-

2. Young, M.S., S., Porcari, Ph.D., J. P., Camic, Ph.D., C., Kovacs, Ph.D., A.; Foster, Ph.D., C. Ace Study Reveals Best Biceps Exercises. ACE. ProSource™: August 2014

3. Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Van Every DW, Plotkin DL. Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports (Basel). 2021;9(2):32. Published 2021 Feb 22. doi:10.3390/sports9020032

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