Next to washboard abs, biceps are among the most popular muscles to tone and develop due to their high visibility. When someone tells you to flex, they expect to see a full on gun show.
â€œYour biceps are major, highly visible muscles,â€ explains Brian Willett at Demand Media. â€œThe training that you do for your biceps will have a significant impact on the appearance of your arms. . .working your biceps can help contribute to a tighter, more defined, and more toned look for your arms.â€
However, to get that tight, defined look youâ€™ve always wanted, it takes more than a couple of dumbbells and some bicep curls.Â Just as it takes a wide range of motion to sculpt a six pack, it takes a variety of exercises to build bigger, better, stronger biceps.
Hereâ€™s a full-bicep workout routine to get you started, no matter your expertise level.
Standing Barbell Curl
This is the most basic of all bicep exercises. When performed correctly, it works major muscle groups in the arm while promoting bigger biceps.
Begin with hands and feet about shoulder width apart. Palms should be facing upward. Make sure the upper arms are vertical and tucked to your sides as you lift the barbell to your chest. A little space between your chest and your arms is fine, but make sure your upper arms arenâ€™t flared out to the side.
Pull the abs into the spine while keeping the back straight. Press your shoulders down away from your ears.Â Bend your elbows, and bring the weight slowly up to your chest. Do not let your shoulders rise toward your ears as you bring the weight upward.
As you bring the weight up to its high point, squeeze the barbell tightly for an extra pump, flexing the biceps for a solid two-count, before lowering the weight back to starting position. Aim for 8 to 12 repetitions (to muscle failure).
Wide-Grip Standing Barbell Curl
This variation follows the same basic motion as standing barbell curls, but with the hands placed further apart on the barbell. This isolates the short head of the biceps.
Close-Grip Standing Barbell Curl
Placing hands closer together focuses on the long head of the biceps.
The most common mistake people make with standing bicep curls is that they swing their back into a big arch. With extra swinging, the exercise fails to isolate the biceps and causes other muscles to get involved. Â It also places added stress on the back and increases risk of injury.
To avoid this mistake, do barbell curls while standing against a wall, or simply use a lighter weight while watching yourself in the mirror.
Standing Dumbbell Bicep Curl
Much like the barbell curl, the dumbbell curl works multiple muscle groups in the arm while isolating the biceps.
Stand with feet close together, and with hips, knees, and ankles slightly bent. Hold each dumbbell so your palms are facing toward your thighs.
Tuck in abs toward back and minimize trunk movement. Keep right shoulder steady by pressing right upper arm into your rib cage.
As you inhale, simultaneously bend your right elbow and rotate your right palm upward as you curl the dumbbell toward your right shoulder. Maintain steady, constant tension in you bicep and do not rest dumbbell on your shoulder.
Reverse directions as you exhale, immobilizing your left shoulder and pressing your left upper arm into your rib cage. Lengthen your right arm and rotate the dumbbell so your palm is facing your thigh once more.
Repeat the same movement with your left bicep. Be sure to focus on exhaling during the upward phase and inhaling during the downward phase.
Dumbbell Alternate Bicep Curl
Rather than working on each arm separately, the alternating bicep curl movement alternates between the right and left arm, one full repetition with each arm.Â Be sure to keep one arm stationary while you curl the other, fully concentrating on one arm at a time to take full advantage of the muscle contraction.
Seated Dumbbell Curls
Seated dumbbell curls include the same arm movement as the standing barbell curls, but the abdominal muscles play a smaller role. Â Seated barbell curls minimize cheating, as itâ€™s easier to swing the back into an arch while standing.
Inclined Seated Curls
Much like the seated dumbbell curls, inclined seated curls works the biceps and major arm muscles. The exercise involves titling the bench at an angle between 45 and 60 degrees instead of 90, allowing for a wider range of motion.
Lying Supine Dumbbell Curl
To do this curl, lie down on a flat bench face up while holding a dumbbell in each arm on top of your thighs.Â Lift dumbbells to the sides, arms extended and palms facing thighs. Like regular bicep curls, keep arms close to torso and elbows tucked in. Slowly lower arms as far down toward the floor as you can go.
As you exhale, slowly curl the weights while simultaneously rotating the wrists until biceps are fully contracted. Squeeze hard at the top of the position, then return back to starting position.
Upper arms and elbows should remain stationary during movement. Be sure to use a weight that you can control the movement.
Lying supine utilizes the same movement as standing, but it features a greater range of motion.
Common mistakes include lifting with the shoulders or swinging with the trunk. This puts unnecessary stress on shoulder joints, deltoid muscles, and bicep tendons.
Many also make the mistake of curling weights too heavy to maintain proper form, or simply performing the exercise too much. This results in bicep tendinitis.
The preacher curl really focuses on isolating the biceps while adding fullness to the lower portion of the muscle. It requires a preacher bench in order to perform correctly.
To begin, hold the barbell with palms facing upward. Lock elbows firmly in place in an extended position on the bench. Slowly curl the barbell up, aiming to touch the shoulder of the arm being worked. Then, slowly lower to starting position, making sure arms are fully extended before beginning next curl.
Be sure abdominal muscles are tight and back is straight. Keep elbows loose during exercise.
One Arm Dumbbell Preacher Curl
You may perform the same movement but with individual dumbbells rather than barbells. This enables you to focus on each arm separately. Â This is especially useful if one bicep is weaker than the other.
Machine Preacher Curl
Preacher curl machines are available that make it nearly impossible to cheat. Â Rather than using a barbell or dumbbell, the machine uses handles attached to adjustable weights. This forces you to keep both arms stable and locked in place.
Many athletes do not let the arms lower far enough before moving on to the next curl, allowing the arms to hang down only partially. This makes it easier to bring the weight back up again but it does not work the muscles fully.Â Itâ€™s better to use a lighter weight which you can fully control the movement than to cheat with a heavier one.
Another common mistake is lifting the butt off the seat while bringing the arms down. Your biceps should be doing all the work. If you are unable to lower the handles and bring them back up again without lifting the butt off the seat, then you should be using lighter weights.
Double-check that the seat is adjusted properly to your height. If the seat is too high, you will lean into the preacher curls, stealing the work away from your biceps.
Concentration curls work the biceps while keeping the upper arm stable.
To perform correctly, sit on a chair or bench with knees placed somewhat wider than shoulder-width apart.Â Feet should be flat on the floor.
Lean slightly forward, but keep back as straight as possible.
Let your right arm hang straight down from the shoulder with the elbow slightly bent. The arm should be touching the inside of your right leg directly above the knee.
Brace your arm against your leg as you raise the elbow to the front of the shoulder.Â Then, lower dumbbell until arm is fully extended.Â Palms should be facing up and each contraction should be carefully controlled.
Starting position should be standing, with shoulder-width apart. Bend knees slightly while keeping back straight and shoulders relaxed. Contract abdominal muscles to support your back.
To perform hammer curls, keep elbows fixed at your sides with palms facing each other. Curl the dumbbells up, the same way you would for a regular dumbbell curl.
Ideally, the flat of the dumbbell, should come close to touching the shoulder of the lifting arm at the top of the rep. Â Keep upper arms vertical with elbows locked in place. Do not rotate wrists as you lift the weight. The movement should mimic a hammerâ€™s swing.
Pull-Ups and Chin-Ups
Pull-ups and chin-ups force your arms to lift your own body-weight. It is the best strength training you can do for your entire upper body, though youâ€™ll definitely see some improvement in those biceps.
If youâ€™re a beginner, even a single pull up or chin-up can have a significant impact on your muscle growth.
The two exercises feature similar movements, but pull-ups feature the palms facing away from the body while chin-ups have the palms facing you. Chin-ups work the biceps more while pull-ups involve more back muscles.
In order to perform this exercise, youâ€™ll need a pull-up bar.
Start each rep from a dead hang with straight elbows, then pull the body upward until your chin clears the bar. Breathe in at the bottom of each rep before pulling yourself up. Keep eyes focused upward toward the bar youâ€™re pulling yourself up to.
Keep legs bent and feet crossed. Hips should be in line with the torso.
Tip. Put the bar close to your fingers, rather than the palm of your hand to minimize callus formation.
Many beginners pull their shoulders forward as they lift upward. This puts extra strain on shoulders and back. Itâ€™s better to lead with your chest up and keep shoulders back.
Additionally, itâ€™s better to start each rep from a dead hang.Â Partially lowering the body may make it easier to pull yourself back up but it cheats you of a great workout.
Important Tips to Remember
These bicep workouts will have you sculpting bigger, better muscles in no time. However, keep in mind that focusing only on your biceps isnâ€™t the best method for training your muscles. If your triceps or shoulders or back are weak, then your body will be more resistant to bulking up your biceps.
Itâ€™s best to incorporate a well-rounded approach to improving your physical performance and strength.
 â€œWillett, Brian. â€œWhy are Bicep Curls Important?â€ The Nest. Available from: