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The Best Muscle Workouts


How to Build Your Biceps Without Ever Doing A Curl

Skip the Curls, These Trainer-Approved Moves Are Here to Bulk up Your Biceps Picture a man lifting weights. Did you…

By admint10m , in Arms , at July 16, 2021

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Skip the Curls, These Trainer-Approved Moves Are Here to Bulk up Your Biceps

Picture a man lifting weights. Did you imagine bicep curls? You may be surprised to learn that, despite stereotypes associated with pumping iron, bicep curls are not necessarily the best move for building strong arms. 

RELATED: Effective Arm Workouts for Men

“The two most popular exercises amongst men are the bicep curl and bench press. The majority of us want big arms and a big chest when we get a gym membership!” says Keith Hodges, founder of Mind In Muscle Coaching in Los Angeles. But here’s another surprising fact: Strengthening your biceps delivers benefits beyond flexing. 

“The biceps have functions other than giving men the look of having bigger arms – they also have functional and performance benefits. Being flexors of the elbows, the biceps assist when doing pulling movements (rows, pulldowns, and pull-ups), power cleans, snatches, and also assist as arm drivers during running, skiing, and jumping.” 


Why You Don’t Need to Do Curls to Build Biceps


Perhaps you’re looking to mix things up at the gym. Maybe you’ve plateaued. Whatever the case, you can build your biceps without ever doing a curl, and you might even get better results that way. 

“It’s easy to overtrain the biceps, which can prevent some men from actually achieving the arm size they want,” says Hodges. “It’s a small muscle made up of only two heads and anytime you are performing a pulling exercise such as a pull-up, pulldown, or a row (back exercises), you are also working your biceps.” 

According to him, most men don’t properly retract their scapula when performing those moves,  so they’re working their biceps a lot more than they think. And another common mistake is training biceps too often and not allowing at least 48 hours of recovery time between workouts. 

Overtraining issues aside, curls isolate your muscle, but functional movements that activate several muscle groups at once give you a better bang for your buck workout-wise. 

“Our bodies were designed to work as a unit, and the biceps don’t work in isolation. We work our biceps when we are performing back exercises, and the biceps have to work in conjunction with the triceps, shoulders, lats, and back for us to perform certain movements properly,” he says. 

Not convinced? Think about the movement of shooting a basketball or throwing a ball. Or, even better, mimic those movements slowly and pay attention to the muscles you’re using. 


RELATED: How Often Should You Be Doing Weight Training Per Week?


Best Moves to Build Biceps Without Curls


 Ready to strengthen your biceps with functional exercises that don’t involve curls? Hodges shared his favorite non-curl moves to help you elevate your workouts. Think overhead pulling exercises such as pull-ups, chin-ups, and close-grip pulldowns. 

As far as load, reps, and sets go, you’ll want to focus on increasing the amount of weight you use for each movement as you get stronger. “Focus on progressive overload, such as weighted pull-ups, which will force the biceps to grow to help support heavier loads,” says Hodges. 

For muscle growth (hypertrophy), he recommends performing:

  • Three to five sets
  •  Six to 12 slow and controlled reps (using 60 to 85 percent of your 1-rep max)

Or if you’re not a fan of counting reps, performing:

  • Each exercise for 20 to 70 seconds under tension (using 60 to 85 percent of your 1-rep max). 

Finally, to maximize each rep, choose a tempo that focuses on the eccentric (negative) and isometric (hold) portions of the movement. 

Man in a gym doing Supinated Grip Lat Pulldown, Supinated Grip Lat Pulldown text overlayGettyImages

The lat pulldown is a classic back-building move, but if you throw in a slight modification in the way you hold the bar, you’ll place more stress on your biceps – in a good way. 

  1. Start with your arms shoulder-width apart, holding the bar with your palms facing your body instead of facing away from you.
  2. Keep your torso upright and your shoulders back as you retract your shoulders downward.
  3. Pull the bar down towards your clavicles while exhaling.
  4. Inhale as you return to the starting position. 
Man doing chin up in a gym, chin up text overlayGettyImages

Can’t do chin-ups? Try assisted chin-ups using a resistance band (this is where you attach a resistance band to the bar and rest your knees on the band to provide your lower body with some support as you lift yourself up with your upper body). On the other hand, if you’re able to crank out 12 or more consecutive chin-ups, you can start adding weight into the mix through a weighted vest, ankle weights, or other tools. “It’s a great exercise to increase strength and develop the biceps and rear deltoids,” says Hodges. 

  1. Hang from a bar with your arms shoulder-width apart and a supinated grip (same grip as the move above, if you’re noticing a trend).
  2. Retract your shoulders and exhale as you pull your chest up towards the bar.
  3. Stabilize at the top, inhale, then return to the starting position. 
Man doing V bar pulldown in a gym, text overlay V bar of close grip pulldownGettyImages

“A narrow grip is believed to really engage the biceps,” according to Hodges. 

  1. For this pulldown variation, you’ll want to keep your torso upright, shoulders back, and retract your shoulders downward, just as you’d be doing during a classic lat pulldown, but with a closer grip.
  2. Exhale when you pull the bar or rope towards your chest and inhale as you return it to the top. 
Man doing barbell row, text overlay bent over barbell rowGettyImages

You might be familiar with barbell rows in terms of back workouts, and they’re also great for your biceps. Just make sure to also utilize a supinated grip for maximum benefits. 

  1. Start with your arms shoulder-width apart, holding the bar with your palms facing upwards, and hinge at the hips to support the load with less tension on your lower back.
  2. Keep your back straight, your core activated and your knees slightly bent to do this safely.
  3. Then, retract your shoulders as you pull the barbell towards your navel, exhaling when you pull and inhaling as you return the barbell to the starting position. 
Man doing Single-Arm Dumbbell Row, text overlay Single-Arm Dumbbell Row GettyImages

A neutral grip increases the tension on the brachialis muscle, a smaller muscle that acts as the primary flexor of your forearm and is deeper than the bicep. And single-arm dumbbell rows are great for tapping into that neutral grip while strengthening your arms and back. 

  1. To perform this move, put a dumbbell next to a sturdy bench. Place your left hand and knee on the bench, making sure your upper body is parallel to the ground.
  2. Grab the dumbbell with your right hand and retract your shoulder as you pull the weight towards your ribs and chest, keeping your elbow close to your body.
  3. Exhale as you pull, and inhale as you lower the weight.
  4. Once you’re done with your set, repeat on the other side.

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