Eight Best Dumbbell Exercises for Your Biceps

Here are dumbbell exercises to work into your bicep routine.

The biceps figure into most moves in the weight room and everyday life and yet advocates of core training and functional movement suggest time spent isolating the biceps could be better spent on movements that target more areas of the body at once.

The core crowd has a point, though there’s nothing like a rigorous biceps-focused workout to produce the sleeve-bursting guns you want. When it comes to isolating the biceps, dumbbells do a better job than machines, barbells, and even chin-ups. And if you’re still looking for more benefit for your workout time, consider that studies suggest that the biceps help stabilize the shoulders.

In this 30-minute dumbbell workout to build your biceps, we’ll hammer through four sets of these eight moves in a circuit fashion, alternating between pushing and pulling movements, so we can produce maximum results with minimal time, resting only briefly between sets.

Pete Williams is a NASM certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of several books on performance and training.

1. Bicep Curls

What it does: It’s simple yet challenging and a mainstay of any bicep workout.

How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and biceps at your sides. Keeping your elbows still, lift the dumbbells to your shoulders as you rotate your palms to the ceiling. Keep your back still and stomach tight. Return to starting position.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps.

bicep workout

2. Farmer’s Carry, Racked Position

What it does: The traditional farmer’s carry is an effective full-body move that also challenges endurance as you increase distance carried. By carrying the dumbbells in a racked position (heads of dumbbells at shoulder level) we isolate the biceps.

How to do it: Carrying the dumbbells in a racked position, walk for 30 seconds – 15 seconds out and back or in a loop around the gym.

How many? 4 sets.

3. Four-in-One

What it does: This keeps your biceps under tension for four sets in one.

How to do it: Start with light dumbbells and curl 10 times. Next curl halfway, pausing for a second just above your navel at each of 10 reps. After that, take the dumbbells up and descend just below your pecs, again pausing for a second before returning for 10 reps. Finally, do 10 more full reps. 

How many? 4 sets

4. Dumbbell Row

What it does: Though it’s more of a back and shoulder exercise, it targets the biceps. By placing this move between two curl exercises, it allows us to keep moving without rest.

How to do it: Place a dumbbell on either side of a flat bench. Place your left leg on the bench, bending forward from the waist until your upper body is parallel to the floor. Place your left hand on the other end of the bench for support. Grab the dumbbell off the floor with your right hand while keeping your back straight. Lower to the floor. Do 10 reps and switch sides.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps per side.

5. Hammer Curls

What it does: The neutral grip targets the forearms but also hits the biceps.

How to do it: Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, hold a set of dumbbells with a neutral grip so your hands face each other. Curl the dumbbells to shoulder height, keeping hands facing each other. Pause at the top of the lift, squeezing the biceps, and then lower to starting position.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps.

6. Renegade Rows

What it does: It’s a simple yet challenging move that hits the biceps and also the back, shoulders, and triceps.

How to do it: Start in the top position of a pushup with your hands on dumbbells shoulder-width apart. Row one dumbbell toward the side of your body while balancing on the opposite hand and feet. Pause for one second at the top and return the weight slowly to the start position. Repeat on the other side.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps per side.

7. Split Dumbbell Curl to Press

What it does: It isolates the biceps while also targeting the shoulder and overall core strength.

How to do it: Stand holding dumbbells at your sides and resting your front foot on a bench at mid-thigh height. Perform a biceps curl then press the weight over your head. Do 10 reps then put the opposite foot on the step for your next set.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps.

8. One-Arm, One-Leg, Dumbbell Row

What it does: A variation on the traditional one-arm row works the biceps while also challenging the hamstrings.

How to do it: Keep your non-lifting hand balanced on a dumbbell rack or bench.

Extend the corresponding leg of your lifting hand back. Not only does this push you to work each side independently, as with a traditional one-arm row, but you work your hamstrings while inevitably lowering the dumbbell deeper.

How many? 4 sets of 10 reps to each side.

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Pete Williams is a NASM-CPT and the author or co-author of several fitness books, including Core Performance and Every Day is Game Day. His work has appeared in multiple publications such as Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, and USA Today.