If you are someone who’s just starting out in the gym, you will discover that building strong, defined biceps is the hallmark of a well trained physique.
The term biceps brachii is a Latin phrase meaning “two-headed [muscle] of the arm”, in reference to the fact that the muscle consists of two bundles of muscle, each with its own origin, sharing a common insertion point near the elbow joint.
It can be strengthened through weight training.
Seasoned workout “veterans” all over the world continuously strive to improve their bicep strength and size by using a variety of both compound and isolated bicep exercises. I am here to guide you through some of the best exercises to target your biceps, so let’s get this “Gun Show” started; here are the top 10!
1. Seated Dumbbell Curls
This is one of the most basic bicep and exercises and among the first that anyone should learn how to incorporate into their weight training routine.
Sit on the edge of your flat bench with your arms at your sides and a dumbbell in
each hand. Keep your back straight and with your palms facing forward, curl both arms lifting the dumbbells towards your shoulders. If you choose to, you can simply alternate arms instead of lifting both at the same time for a more targeted bicep curl. Perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
Fit Tip- Avoid swinging the weight up and do not lean back or forward as you lower the weights
2. Hammer Curls
Hammer curls are great especially if you have wrist, hand or elbow injuries.
It is respectively called the “Hammer Curl” because you hold the dumbbells the way you would hold a hammer, except that your wrist remains straight throughout the rep. This two-arm dumbbell curl performed with your palms facing each other. Begin my standing with your feet shoulder width apart with a dumbbell in each hand. Your arms should be extended down at your sides and palms facing each other. Curl both arms up and lift the dumbbells toward your shoulders. Remember to keep your upper arms and torso still as you curl.
Perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
Fit Tip-don’t lift with your palms facing down; the proper way is for your palms to face each other
3. Preacher Curl
The preacher curl will totally isolate your upper arms and take your biceps to new levels of development as this is one of the most efficient exercises for exclusive bicep isolation. Start by sitting on a preacher bench with the back of your upper arms lying flat on the pad, palms of your hands facing up. Grip the barbell with an underhand grip. Lower the barbell until your elbows are almost straight and you feel a good stretch in the biceps. Moving only your forearms, use your bicep strength to curl the barbell up, hold this position for a second, then slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position. Perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
Fit Tip – Using an EZ bar is generally more comfortable on the wrists compared to using a straight barbell.
4. Bicep Cable Curls
Although cable workouts have been linked to both compound and isolated movements, they are more beneficial in isolating muscle groups. Begin by attaching a straight bar attachment to a low pulley cable. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and grab the bar with an underhand grip. Let the bar hang in front of you at arms length and make sure to keep your elbows close to your torso at all times.
Moving only your forearms, use your bicep strength to curl the bar up to shoulder level. Hold this position for a second and then slowly lower the bar to the starting position. Perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
Fit Tip – do not let the weight plates touch during the exercise, keep the tension on the bicep muscles. For variety you can use different bars attached to the low pulley (i.e. rope, ez bar, straight bar, etc.) to work the muscles at different angles.
5. Resistance Band Bicep Curls
Resistance bands are a great alternative when you don’t have access to a gym. They also can add variety to a workout and increase coordination because the tension felt while performing these exercises help to stabilize the body. Begin by standing with the middle of the band under your feet and holding an end in each hand. Start with the arms straight by your sides and the band held taught. Bend the arms at the elbows to lift the hands towards the shoulders. Slowly return to the starting position. Perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
Fit Tip- Try isolating each arm as you curl the bicep for a more challenging workout
6. Concentration Bicep Curls
Concentration curls, as the name implies, takes concentration to get your form right! This is a great exercise to put at the end of your biceps workout to really get a good “pump”!
Sit or kneel and hold a dumbbell in the right hand. Bending forward, keep your abs engaged and prop your right elbow against the inside of the right thigh. Contract the bicep and curl the hand towards the shoulder without moving the elbow. Lower all the way down. Perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
Fit Tip- Keep a very slight bend in the elbow to keep tension in the biceps.
You probably rememember this old school favorite from gym class. Try incorporating these into your workout; they do wonders for bicep strength!
The pull-up builds grip strength in its entirety because the fingers, hands and forearms are all used. Begin by gripping a pull-up bar while keeping your arms straight and simply hang off the bar. Pull your chest up toward the bar by bending your arms. This should be a smooth motion; try not to jerk any muscles as you pull up. Perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Fit Tip- Pull-ups and chin-ups are one of the hallmarks of an advanced strength athlete; Keep your body vertical and try not to rock or sway back and forth.
This is one of my favorite bicep exercises! Standing upright with your back and head straight, grasp a bar at shoulder width and slowly raise the bar halfway until it is parallel with the floor. Perform 7 reps. Next (without stopping) bring the bar all the way up on the descent stop half way until the bar is parallel with the floor. Perform seven reps. Lastly (without stopping), do 7 full barbell curls from top to bottom. This is guaranteed to give you a “pump” Perform 2-3 sets of “21” reps.
Fit Tip- A spotter can stand in front of you while you perform this exercise; they are great for motivation and can help you through the last few reps!
9. Isolated Cable Curls
When done properly, this exercise can promote growth!
Start by facing a low pulley with a straight bar attached to it. Grasp the bar with a shoulder width grip and arms extended down. Keep your upper arm rigid and curl the bar up until your hands are in front of your shoulders. Reverse the movement to lower the bar. Perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
Fit Tip- This is a very isolated exercise so be sure to keep your elbows in.
10. Cable Curl with Rope
Attach a rope handle to a low pulley. With your hands at your thigh level and palms facing in, raise the weight. Make sure to keep your elbows tight to your body and slowly rotate wrists so that they face your body as you bring the weight up. Lower weight back to original position and repeat. Perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps.
Fit Tip- Keep your back straight and simply focus on letting your biceps do the work!
Now that you have learned some of the top targeted bicep exercises, it’s time to get your workout routine together! One of the most essential pieces of advice that can be given to anyone starting out in the gym is that you DON’T want to over train your muscles! When you over –train, your body will “lock up” and not allow you to burn the fat off that you need too, because it will reach a state of “shock”, thus holding onto the fat.
Ideally when you structure a workout regime you want to target different muscle groups every day of the week so make sure that your workout routine or schedule covers every muscle group. For instance, Thursdays may be the day that you train your back and biceps; therefore you will want to choose 3-5 exercises that target your back and 3-5 exercises that target your biceps (as listed above).
Perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps at a challenging weight where the last few are the hardest to complete! As your fitness level improves over time, make sure to switch up the weight. Here is a sample workout schedule that I follow:
Monday Legs & Abs
Tuesday Shoulders & Triceps
Wednesday Cardio & Abs
Thursday Back & Biceps
Friday Chest & Abs
Start every workout with a warm up. Warm up simply by walking in place, then moving side to side, and then picking up the intensity to say maybe jumping jacks, and then running in place. Aim for a warm up for at least for 5 minutes.