If you lift weights, it’s a safe bet that you have at least a passing interest in the size of your biceps. Go on, admit it, you even throw up the occasional biceps pose when you think no one is looking!
The biceps are arguably the most well-known muscle in the human body. Ask even a child to show you a muscle, and they’ll probably raise their arms and start flexing like a bodybuilder.
In this article, we will reveal the 12 best biceps exercises. You may know some of them, but some of these exercises are unique. Use them to add some much-needed variety to your arm workouts. After all, studies tell us that exercise variety is every bit as important as sets, reps, and loads for building muscle and strength (1).
Basic biceps anatomy
While you don’t need a degree in anatomy to build bigger, stronger biceps, knowing a little more about this muscle will help explain why some exercises are better than others for sculpting impressive guns.
The full name of the biceps is biceps brachii. This means two-headed arm muscle and refers to the fact that the biceps are made up of two distinct parts, which anatomists call heads (2).
The biceps has two origins, which means it has to uppermost attachment sites. The short head originates on the scapula or shoulder blade, while the long head originates just above the shoulder joint. These two attachments merge to form a single muscle belly, which inserts on to the radius, which is the larger of your two forearm bones.
The biceps are a biarticular muscle which means it crosses two joints – the shoulder and the elbow. Because of this, it affects both of these joints, although it’s effect on the shoulder is relatively weak.
The biceps have three main functions:
- Flexion of the elbow – bending your arm
- Supination of the forearm – turning your palm upwards
- Flexion of the shoulder – raising your arm forward
The 12 best exercises for your biceps
You don’t need to include all these exercises in your next arm workout, but you should choose 2-4 of them and then use different ones in your next phase of biceps training. Remember, exercise variety is crucial for building muscle size and strength. Use these exercises to build your best arms ever!
1- Barbell curls
Arguably the most popular biceps exercise around, use this move to build mass and strength in equal measure.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent for balance.
- Hold a barbell with an underhand, shoulder-width grip.
- Pin your arms into your sides and do not them move outward.
- Bend your arms and curl the weight up to your shoulders.
- Lower the weight and repeat.
Try your best not to use your legs or back to lift the weight. Instead, keep your body upright and your core tight to ensure that your arms do all the work.
2- Alternating dumbbell curls
Using dumbbells means you can supinate or turn your forearms as you curl the weight up. This involves the second function of the biceps and could help trigger greater muscle growth.
- Sit or stand with a dumbbell in each hand, arms by your sides. Your thumbs should point forwards.
- Bend your elbows and curl the weights up to your shoulders. As your arms break 90-degrees, rotate your wrists so that your palms are uppermost.
- Lower the weights, unwinding your wrists as you do so.
You can do this exercise lifting both dumbbells together, or using an alternating arm action as preferred.
3- Preacher curls
Also known as Scott curls and named after old-time bodybuilder Larry Scott who was famed for his massive biceps, this exercise isolates your arms and stops you from cheating.
- Lean over and place the back of your upper arms against the sloping surface of the preacher bench. Extend your arms and grab the barbell.
- Without lifting your upper arms off the bench, bend your elbows and curl the weight up until your forearms are vertical.
- Lower the weight back down, stopping just short of full arm extension.
This exercise can also be done using a single dumbbell, an EZ bar, or by placing the preacher curl bench in front of a low cable machine.
4- Cable curls
Cable curls are a great alternative to free weights. They tend to keep your biceps under tension throughout the whole range of motion. In contrast, free weight biceps exercises have “dead spots’ where the tension on your muscles vanishes.
- Attach a straight or EZ bar to a low cable machine.
- Grab the handle, stand up, and tuck your upper arms into your ribs. Bend your knees slightly for balance and stability.
- Without leaning forward or back, bend your arms and curl the weight up to your shoulders.
- Extend your arms and repeat.
You can also do this exercise with one arm at a time using a D-shaped handle.
5- Cable crossover curls
Cable crossover curl exercise mimics doing a double overhead biceps pose – just like a bodybuilder. Most cable crossover machines are in front of mirrors, so this exercise is an excellent way to check your biceps building progress.
- Stand in the center of a cable crossover machine.
- Reach out and up and grab the uppermost handles.
- Bend your arms and curl your hands in toward your head.
- Extend your arms and repeat.
This exercise is all but cheat-proof. Use light to moderate weights and go for a great pump.
6- Concentration curls
Very few exercises isolate your biceps as effectively as concentration curls. As the name implies, you can really focus on each individual bicep when you do this exercise. This can help strengthen your mind-muscle connection, which is crucial for building bigger muscles (3).
- Sit on an exercise bench with a dumbbell in one hand.
- Lean forward and place your upper arm against the inside of your thigh. Let the weight hang down toward the floor.
- Keeping your arm against your inner thigh, bend your elbow and curl the weight up to your shoulder.
- Lower the arm and repeat.
Use your non-working arm to provide assistance so you can squeeze out a couple of extra reps once you reach failure. This is a form of self-spotting.
7- Crossbody dumbbell curls
Crossbody dumbbell curls work your biceps and forearms at the same time. They also train your biceps from a very unusual angle, which may help increase muscle growth.
- Stand and hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Bend one arm and curl the weight across the front of your body and up to your opposite shoulder.
- Lower the weight and then do an identical rep with your other arm.
- Keep alternating arms for the duration of your set.
This exercise is an excellent alternative to regular and alternating dumbbell curls. Use it in place of this exercise to add variety to your arm workout.
8- Drag curls
This interesting curling exercise was a favorite of Hollywood bodybuilding coach Vince Gironda, who was very famous in the 1970s and 1980s.
- Stand and hold a barbell with a shoulder-width, underhand grip.
- Bend your arms and curl your bar up the front of your body until it reaches your lower chest. Keep the bar as close to your torso as possible. Pull your elbows back as you raise the weight.
- Lower the weight and repeat.
This exercise is much harder than regular biceps curls. Use a lighter than usual weight to make sure you can do it without cheating.
9- Spider curls
This exercise is similar to preacher curls but, instead of preventing you from moving your upper arms, it holds your entire upper body still.
- Set an exercise bench to about 45-degrees.
- Lie face down on the bench and let your arms hang down toward the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Bend your arms and curl the weights up toward your shoulders.
- Extend your arms slowly and repeat.
You can also do this exercise using a barbell or EZ bar.
10- Reverse curls
Reverse curls don’t just work your biceps, they also work your forearms and a muscle located directly under your biceps; the brachioradialis. This muscle helps lift your biceps up, making your arms look bigger.
- Grip and hold a barbell with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Tuck your upper arms into your sides and keep them there for the duration of your set.
- Bend your arms and curl the weight up to your shoulders. Keep your wrists straight.
- Lower the weight and repeat.
You can also do this exercise with a low cable, dumbbells, or using a preacher curl bench.
11- Cheat curls
Cheating is generally a bad idea when you want to increase muscle size and build strength, but, in this instance, it could actually help!
- Grip and hold a barbell or EZ curl bar with an underhand grip.
- Use your legs and back to help you curl the weight up to your shoulders.
- Lower the weight slowly and under control. Focus on lowering it with perfect form.
- Reset and repeat.
This curl variation allows you to use more weight than usual. Make sure you increase your weights by about 10% to make the most of the extra assistance provided by your legs and back.
12- Zottman curls
Zottman curls combine two exercises together to create a brilliant biceps building exercise. This move is good for both your biceps and forearms.
- Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, arms by your sides. Your palms should be facing your legs.
- Bend your arms and curl the weights up to your shoulders.
- At the top of the movement, rotate your wrists so that your palms are facing downward.
- Lower the weights while keeping your palms facing the floor.
- Turn your hands back to face your legs and then do another rep.
You can also do this exercise using an alternating arm action.
Variety is the spice of life, or so the old saying goes. And that’s especially true about biceps training. The more exercises you know, the more varied your arm-building workouts will be. Keep your training fresh, fun, and interesting with these awesome biceps exercises.
More Biceps Training Tips
Learn more about the bicep exercises and step up your biceps training even more. Check out the following articles.
- Fonseca, Rodrigo M.; Roschel, Hamilton; Tricoli, Valmor; de Souza, Eduardo O.; Wilson, Jacob M.; Laurentino, Gilberto C.; Aihara, André Y.; de Souza Leão, Alberto R.; Ugrinowitsch, Carlos (2014-11). “Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 28 (11): 3085–3092. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000539. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 24832974. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24832974
- “Biceps muscle | anatomy”. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/biceps-muscle
- Calatayud, Joaquin; Vinstrup, Jonas; Jakobsen, Markus D.; Sundstrup, Emil; Colado, Juan Carlos; Andersen, Lars L. (2017-07). “Mind-muscle connection training principle: influence of muscle strength and training experience during a pushing movement”. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 117 (7): 1445–1452. doi:10.1007/s00421-017-3637-6. ISSN 1439-6327. PMID 28500415. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28500415