Best Exercises for Bigger Biceps
Curls are the fundamental biceps-builder, but they can become monotonous and downright boring. Hence why most of the people you see doing curls at the gym don’t have much progress to show for it. They’re doing the same variation with the same weight for the same amount of reps, week after week.
In order to elicit muscle adaptation and build a bigger set of guns, try implementing the following considerations and exercises into your program.
Training Considerations for Building Bigger Biceps
- The ceiling of loading potential is low. Curls are a single joint movement involving flexion and extension of the elbow. That said, you can’t handle as much resistance compared to compound lifts. Rather than feeding into the idea that you have to curl heaver weights every week, you can continue to see gains in your biceps using the following strategies.
- Use variety. Different rep ranges, grips, tempo, and tools will help stimulate hypertrophy.
- Frequency is important. Instead of hitting biceps once a week, try adding another day to your split.
- Intensity is important. Get after it. When you feel like you can’t do one more rep, do two. That said, stay true to your form as much as you can.
- Intent is important. To really see noticeable gains, dial in on your biceps and move the weight with intent every rep of every set. As C.T Fletcher says, “I command you to grow!”.
Best Exercises for Bigger Biceps
I know what you’re thinking and you’re right, chin-ups aren’t really a “biceps exercise”, let alone a curl. And if you’re doing them right, you should feel it more in your lats and forearms anyway. All things considered, you can focus your intent on your biceps instead as you pull yourself up and squeeze the heck out of ‘em during the eccentric (lowering) phase.
Chin-ups are one of the tried and true ways to increase your relative strength (how efficiently you can move your body through space in relation to your weight). And while it can be easy to cheat your way through dumbbell curls by swinging the weight up, it’s much harder to do so during chin-ups.
Note: No, “kipping” chin-ups will do nothing for your biceps. You’ll just look like a tool.
- Barbell Curl
You can’t go wrong here. If you want bigger arms and you haven’t started with these, stop reading right now and go grab a barbell.
- Overcoming Isometric Barbell Curl
It’s universally forbidden to curl in the squat rack, with two exceptions to the rule.
- If you’re curling more weight than the other guy is squatting.
- If you’re doing 3D curls.
Credit goes to Joe DeFranco for this gem. This is probably my favourite way to do curls and I’m sure it’ll be one of yours as well.
The overcoming isometric curl (aka 3D curl) combines all three types of muscle contractions into one exercise: concentric, eccentric, and isometric. Put lightly, it burns the hell out of your biceps.
To do it, set up a couple spotter arms or safety pins on the squat rack at about sternum-height. Grab a barbell and curl it up against (underneath) the spotter arms so it’s placed firmly against them. Curl the barbell up against the arms as hard as you can for an 8-10 sec contraction (at this point you should really feel your biceps and core fire up). After the initial hold, take a step away from the rack and perform 10-15 barbell curls. You’re welcome.
- Barbell Curl with Positional Isometrics
Positional isometrics are when you add segmented pauses throughout an exercise’s entire range of motion. You can read my full article on the subject HERE.
Other than the obvious fact that you’re increasing your biceps’ total time under tension using isometrics, it’s also a really effective way to minimize the most common technique flaw during curls: swinging.
You’ve seen it before. The egotistical maniac flailing his arms in front of the dumbbell rack using weights he has no business lifting. Granted, when you’re really going for it and reaching the end of a tough set, a little body English doesn’t hurt. But when your entire set consists of swinging heavy weights to impress your gym crush (who couldn’t care less, mind you), you’re neglecting the most important part of biceps curls: your biceps.
Positional isometric curls are harder to “cheat”, thus making your biceps the prime mover of the exercise.
- Prone Inclined Dumbbell Curl
Credit goes to John Meadows here. Keep the dumbbells pressed together and squeeze the hell out of your biceps. You get a great peak contraction at the top of the curl. As with the positional isometric variation, the prone position doesn’t allow much wiggle room for cheating, which is always great for isolating the biceps.
- Inclined Hammer Curl
If you have pre-existing shoulder/pec pain, you might want to shy away from this one for now. To do the inclined curl, have your arms extended with your biceps fully stretched. You can use a supinated or neutral grip here, as long as you feel the contraction where it matters: your biceps.
- Kettlebell Rope Curl
Other than just looking cool, the benefits here stretch beyond just building bigger biceps. The inconsistency of the weight challenges your core while the rope handle trains your grip strength. A 3-in-1 curl variation if you ask me.
- Tilted Barbell Curl
A common theme you’ve probably noticed is to eliminate cheating as much as possible in order to obtain maximal muscle contraction. Here, stick your butt against the wall and glute it there. With your torso tilted forward slightly, stretch your biceps with your arms fully extended and perform curls. Stay leaned over throughout your set to reduce assistance from your torso and hips.
Tip: Flex your triceps at the bottom of each rep as you lockout your arms for elbow stabilization and a greater contraction in the opposing muscles (the biceps).