It’s not too hard to get your push work in while you’re not in the gym — push-ups, chair dips, and squat varieties have probably been your best friends since your gym closed. But if you’re getting more and more worried about your beautiful biceps as time goes on, you’re not alone. It can be hard to figure out how to work your biceps without weights.
Rest assured, though: it is totally possible to maintain your arm gains while you’re not in the gym. Even if you don’t have actual lifting equipment, your biceps can get a hell of a workout. All you need is a little creativity and a sense of adventure.
Editor’s note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of advice and/or supervision from a medical professional. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. Speak with your physician if you have any concerns.
First things first: whether looking to maintain leg strength or arm thickness, you need to remember your protein intake. Without access to a gym, it’s easy to throw up your hands and say a sad, temporary goodbye to your blender and jug of protein powder. But don’t make your parting is such sweet sorrow speech yet. You’ll need to maintain your protein intake if you want to keep your muscle mass. In other words, as long as you’re continuing to work, you’ll need to make sure you’re feeding your muscles.
[Related: Here’s the ideal amount of protein to eat every day]
Cool cool, you say, but how am I supposed to work my biceps without equipment?
It might involve you raiding your pantry and linen closet, but there are a bunch of creative ways to get your pull on so you can get in your bicep training without any actual weights. Complete each move to failure three or four times to ensure you’re making the most out of minimal or no equipment.
Push-ups are great for a lot of things: chest, triceps, shoulders, core, and lats. But if you flip your hands around, your biceps can also get a lot from this classic bodyweight move.
Set up the same way you would for a regular push-up, except this time, turn your hands back so that your finger tips are pointing toward the wall behind you. If your regular push-up position tends to run narrow, you may need to widen your hands a little bit to get the position needed to comfortably sink into a bicep push-up. Proceed the same way you would with regular push-ups — start on your knees or reverse grip on a sturdy chair if you need to.
Resisted Leg Concentration Curl
This may sound (and look) hilarious, but do it when no one’s around — or when your roommates need entertainment. Sit on the edge of a chair and loop your right hand under your left thigh. Shift around so that your right elbow is sitting just inside your right inner thigh. Get a solid grasp of your thigh (braced against your wrist and forearm) and, well, do a concentration curl, but with the weight of your leg (and your own flexibility or lack thereof) as the resistance. Make sure your lower body is warmed up for this, especially if your hips and hamstrings tend to be tight.
[Related: Learn about these 4 arm exercises you’ve never tried before.]
Isometric Towel Curl
This is going to look like you’re not doing anything (as with most isometrics), but the time under tension — and the effort you put in — can be game changers here.
Step on the center a big towel or sheet right that is rolled up. Then form two grips (like you would have with cables or a resistance band), one for each hand. Curl the towel up until it can’t go any higher or until your arms hit 90 degrees (step out wider and gather more material under your feet to cut the slack if that happens). Hold that top position for as long and strong as you can. With full effort, it should prove harder than it looks.
Here is a variant of the isometric towel curl below that also uses the legs for added resistance from AustraliaWOW’s YouTube channel:
Negative Milk Jug Curls
Don’t have a milk jug to fill? No problem. A loaded backpack or a literal sack of potatoes will do just fine for this one. Whatever your weapon of choice, curl it with one hand and squeeze your bicep at the top. Slowly, with concentration, lower your hand for the eccentric portion of the curl, counting seven seconds before hitting bottom.
Repeat until you can’t hold your negatives anymore, and make sure to even it out on the other side.
Negative Towel Curls
Loop a hand towel through the top handle of a loaded backpack. Holding one side of the towel in each hand, curl the backpack up.
Just as above, contract your biceps at the top and perform eccentric negatives on the way down. The difference here is that you’re using both arms at once, but more importantly, that your backpack is swinging from the towel, thereby challenging your grip more while forcing your arms to steady a more unstable load.
[Related: BarBend Podcast — Jake Boly talks building muscle and strength at home.]
Okay, so this one needs a slight bit of gym equipment. But if you’ve got a pull-up bar to hang over your doorway, your biceps are in luck — flip your palms so they’re facing you, squeeze your glutes and quads (to protect your lower back and prevent kipping), and pull yourself into a slow, controlled chin-up. Go to failure, jumping up and focusing on moving down as slowly as you can (negatives) if you can’t yet complete a chin-up. Tree branches can also work well, here.
Palms Up Inverted Rows
Using TRX bands, two sheets secured with a knot and a closed door, or a sturdy table, set yourself up to perform an inverted row. The closer your feet are to the anchor and the more horizontal your body is, the more challenging the row will be. To place more emphasis on your biceps, perform these inverted rows with your palms facing up instead of facing each other (AKA, chin-up grip).
Go to failure, and your biceps will feel it in the morning.
Boxing (With Uppercut and Hook Emphasis)
Grab your boxing gloves (or not, because you don’t need them) and settle into a session of uppercuts and hooks. Always drawing the power from your hips, make sure your feet are rotating with each punch to open your hips and make sure you’re not torquing your knees and low back. Exhale on each punch and focus on uppercuts and hooks for maximum bicep engagement.
[Related: Here are 7 lessons that boxing class can teach powerlifters.]
Doorframe Bodyweight Curl
Straddle a doorframe between your feet, getting your body as close to the doorframe as you can. Then securely grasp the doorframe (not on the actual lock, clasp, or doorknob which will likely be more unsteady — always test your grip and the material) with the fingertips of one hand. Just like you would with a negative row, slowly lower your body down away from the doorframe. Then, with the focus on your bicep, pull yourself back up to the starting position.
Make sure to keep your hips square. This will challenge your biceps even more as only one arm is doing the work of pulling and stabilizing the body.
Pull Workouts With No Equipment
Don’t hold a funeral for the roundness of your biceps yet — just because you can’t get to the gym doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your favorite show muscle. You can get some seriously solid work in as long as you’re going to failure and keeping your form as sharp as on your best gym days.