Tone Your Upper Arms With 8 of The Best Bicep Exercises
by Evelyn Valdez·
When you hear the words "bigger arms" you may cheer or recoil, but there's no way you can underscore the importance your biceps have in your daily life.
Anytime we lift, push, or carry anything, we're using our biceps. Even many shoulder, tricep, and back exercises involve using your biceps. They also help us curl our arms up and down and turn them in and out. Besides, who doesn't want nice toned arms?
It goes without saying we need strong biceps if we want the rest of our arm and upper body muscles to fully develop. So how do we make that happen? By incorporating bicep exercises that go beyond the normal barbell curl!
What is a bicep?
Your bicep isn't just the one muscle you flex to impress other bodybuilders. It's made of several components that make up the front of your upper arm. In Latin, it's called the biceps brachii, meaning the "two-headed muscle of the arm." This is because it's split into two sections called the long head and short head.
3 tips for getting bigger biceps
In order to have a well-rounded strength training routine, you absolutely need bicep exercises. Your bicep is one of the most important muscles you have and you use it in more ways than you probably notice, so keep these tips in mind during your arm workout.
Pay attention to your grip
Your grip plays a lot into which muscle groups you use and how much muscle growth you'll see. A wider grip will use more of the biceps short head while a narrow grip emphasis's the long head.
There are three types of grips: pronated, neutral, and supinated. However, you don't normally hear these terms being casually thrown around in a gym. Most trainers will either tell you to grab them with an overhand grip (pronated) or an underhand grip (supinated). A neutral grip has the palms facing each other. It's most often used for bench press exercises and can help reduce strain on the shoulder joints.
Switch it up with resistance bands
Resistance bands are a key workout tool for promoting muscle growth. When you do a bicep curl, the muscle is only partly engaged due to your range of motion. Resistance bands offer greater tension the more you're able to stretch it as you curl it up to your shoulders. The greater the resistance, the more bicep muscle fibers you activate. You're also increasing your overall power and strength beyond what you could if you only used free weights.
Don't have any of your own? We have a Long and Short Resistance Bands in several strength levels, and you can buy two bands, and get the third one for free!
Workout all areas of the bicep
The great thing about most of these bicep exercises is that you're working out multiple muscle groups. Your shoulders, triceps, and upper and lower back are also being activated depending on the movement. If you aren't seeing much bicep growth, you might not be targeting your entire bicep muscle group. But have no fear because all the exercises we included work out one or more of these areas!
8 bicep exercises for toned upper arms
The best exercises don't have to be complicated or involve a bunch of equipment. Simple is always better. These exercises work for any fitness level and can be done for gym or at-home workouts. Now get ready for the best bicep workout of your life!
The good 'ole dumbbell bicep curl. A classic upper-body move that every strength training novice learns during their first week. The amount of weight you lift is important when doing bicep curls. Proper form is important for any exercise, but especially when involving free weights. Some bodybuilders who opt for heavier weights will often end up arching their back or swinging their arms incorrectly just to lift the dumbbell up.
- Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and keep a slight bend in your knee.
- Grab two dumbbells for each hand and hold them using an underhand grip.
- Your arms should start straight down at your sides. Check to see that your elbows are in line with your torso.
- Curl the weight up toward your shoulders using slow and controlled movements. Be sure not to lift from your elbow, but your bicep.
- Squeeze your biceps at the top of the move and slowly lower back down your arms to the starting position.
No, this doesn't involve using a hammer, but the movement is practically the same. Dumbbell hammer curls force the muscles from your brachii to your brachialis to turn on and work harder than with a regular bicep curl. Many bodybuilders also like using a cable rope as an alternative to dumbbells because the cable machine helps keep a steady and constant load on your biceps. Only start adding more weight when you know you can lift it correctly (and safely).
- Stand the same way you did during the bicep curl, but this time, have your palms facing inward towards your thighs while holding the dumbbells at your side.
- Keep your elbows close to your sides, almost like there's a band wrapped around you that is preventing your elbows from flailing out.
- Curl the dumbbells up, like you're lifting a hammer, and pause at the top before lowering your arms back down.
Incline dumbbell curl
If you want to give yourself a little extra challenge, incline dumbbell curls should definitely be part of your routine. Doing a bicep curl on an incline switches up your range of motion and puts more emphasis on working out the biceps brachii. This move requires a bit more effort and strength from you, so don't start out using heavy weights.
- Find an incline bench and set it to a 45-degree angle. Make sure you're sitting upright with your back flat against the bench.
- Roll your shoulders back and down so your shoulders are set and let your arms hang down by your sides.
- Bend at the elbow and bring the dumbbells to your shoulders as close as you can. If you find it's too difficult, either drop down the amount of weight you're lifting or fix the incline on the bench.
- Slowly lower the weight back down and continue the rest of your set.
A reverse curl offers a slight variation to a normal bicep curl by having your palms facing down instead of up towards you. The overhand grip improves muscle activation and targets the biceps brachii and brachialis.
- Grab the dumbbells or a straight bar with an overhand grip and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Curl the weight up towards your shoulders. Keep your wrists sturdy so you aren't bending them back to try and lift the weight closer.
- Lower your arms back down to the starting position.
Bent-over barbell row
While bent-over barbell rows are great for your biceps, they're also beneficial for the rest of your body. This move targets your upper and lower back, hamstrings, and shoulder blades. It's reminiscent of a deadlift, but instead of putting the weight back down, you'll continue holding it while pulling it toward your chest.
- Set your body up for how you would do a deadlift. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and keep your knees slightly bent. When you hinge at the hips to pick up the barbell, make sure you maintain a straight spine.
- Grab either straight or EZ bar overhanded and have your hands slightly wider than your shoulders.
- Pull the bar close to your belly button and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Don't let your shoulders lift up. Reduce the weight if your elbows are flaring out or your chest is drooping down.
- Lower the bar with slow and controlled movements, but don't bring it to the floor. Repeat the same movements until you've finished your set.
Isolated single-arm curls
Keeping your arms in the air for this long will definitely turn on those bicep muscles and fire up your shoulders. With this move, you can either alternate between both arms or complete all your reps on one arm before switching to the next. Regardless of which you choose, you should always have both arms extended out when doing single-arm curls, even if you're only exercising one at a time.
- Stand straight and extend your arms out so your body is shaped like a T. Tighten your core to help you stay strong and stable.
- Hold dumbbells in both of your hands using an underhand grip and have your palms facing up toward the sky.
- Curl one arm to a 90-degree angle and squeeze your bicep muscle.
- Lower your arm back down so it's still parallel with the ground and perform the move on the opposite arm.
Do you know why we call these Zottman curls? This exercise was named for the late weightlifter George Zottman who worked as a milk delivery man before becoming a professional strongman. He set numerous bodybuilding records and was able to perform his namesake move using 50-pound dumbbells! The move he invented focuses on the bicep and forearms, so you're getting double the benefit for your arms.
- Use an underhand grip to grab the weights and keep your arms extended down at your sides.
- Curl your arms up like you would for a normal bicep curl. At the top of the move, rotate your hands so your palms face down like they do with an overhand grip.
- Lower your arms back down and start in the same position as the beginning with an underhand grip.
Pull-ups work out your biceps, upper back, abs, and shoulders. Oftentimes, your own bodyweight offers the best resistance when strength training. It's a great way for beginning weightlifters to get a feel for the various exercises before adding additional weight. You're still building muscle, but you're also allowing yourself to concentrate more on your form rather than how much you can lift.
- Use the pull-up bars on an assisted pull-up machine or a regular cable machine. Grab the overhanded and keep your grip narrower than your shoulders. If you use a cable machine, your body should stay straight the entire time.
- Pull yourself up and try getting your head past the bar. Lower yourself back down to a starting position and repeat as desired.
These bicep exercises are guaranteed to bring the pump!
You don't need to work out like Arnold Schwarzenegger to build up those biceps. These also aren't the only bicep exercises you can do. All of these offer some level of variation and can easily be rotated in or out of your current upper body routine.