11 Of The Best Bicep Exercises

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October 18, 2023

11 Of The Best Bicep Exercises - Hero image

Some people follow strength training programs to make everyday life easier and maintain good health, others want to build visible muscle definition, while some just love the feeling of lifting weights and live for the moments when what was once hard becomes easy. We feel that.

Whatever your ‘why’ is when it comes to strength training, working on your upper body strength is no doubt one of your fitness goals, and one of the most popular upper body muscles to train is your biceps. While there are plenty of compound exercises that involve your biceps, such as bent-over rows, pull-ups, thrusters and bench press, here we’re going to take you through some of the best exercises that focus on your biceps.

Building bicep strength isn’t just about showing off your guns - improving your strength and elbow flexion will support all your other upper body training as well as any lifting you do in your daily life, such as carrying heavy groceries, luggage, pets or young children. 

If you’re incorporating any of these exercises in a workout, perform 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps using a weight that feels challenging for you, taking a short rest in between each set. Focus on moving with control - aim for a slow squeeze as opposed to swinging with speed. Find yourself needing momentum to complete each rep or your whole body is swaying? Grab some lighter weights - your biceps will reap far more of the benefits with correct form and full muscle engagement, even if your weights are lighter.

Exercise: Bicep Curl - Kayla Itsines

Barbell bicep curl 

The barbell curl is one of the most classic bicep exercises out there! It can be performed with an Olympic bar or a smaller pump bar and is an amazing way to build bicep strength. Barbell curls can allow you to lift more weight than dumbbell curls, due to the stability of a single bar and by using the strength of both arms to move a single piece of equipment. If you want to target slightly different muscles in your arms, you can do so by alternating between a wide, standard or narrow grip. 

  1. Holding a barbell with both hands in an underhand grip (palms facing away from your body) with arms extended in front of you, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

  2. Bend your elbows with control to bring the barbell in towards your chest, ensuring that your elbows remain in close contact with the sides of your body.

  3. Extend your elbows to lower the barbell and return to the starting position. 

Exercise: Dumbbell Curl - Kelsey Wells

Dumbbell bicep curl 

Although barbell curls can allow you to lift more weight, dumbbell curls have their perks, too. Because you’re holding a weight in each hand, dumbbells allow you to work on the strength of each arm individually and correct any imbalances. Since each dumbbell moves independently, you can’t rely on the stronger arm to pick up the slack! As you start to lift heavier weights, it can help to perform alternating curls, as most people can lift more weight moving one arm at a time than both arms together. 

Given dumbbells are small and affordable (you can also buy adjustable sets), they can be a great option for strength training at-home, or they’re an equally easy grab-and-go piece of equipment in a gym. 

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand in an underhand grip (palms facing away from you) with arms extended directly in front of your body, Ssand with your feet hip-width apart.

  2. Bend your elbows with control to bring the dumbbells up towards your chest, palms facing upwards as your hands rise, ensuring that your elbows remain in close contact with the sides of your body.

  3. Extend your elbows to lower the dumbbells and return to the starting position. 

Exercise: Cable Bicep Curl - Kayla Itsines

Cable bicep curl 

A cable machine offers another variation on the traditional bicep curl that allows you to maintain tension on your muscles throughout the entire movement. When using free weights such as dumbbells or a barbell, you may notice that bicep curls often feel most challenging at the midpoint of each lift, and easier at the top and bottom. A cable machine ensures tension is placed on your muscles throughout each stage of the lift.

  1. Connect the small bar attachment and set the cable pulley at the bottom of the pole.

  2. Face the cable pulley and stand a half-step away with your feet slightly further than shoulder-width apart.

  3. Place both hands on the bar with an underhand grip (palms facing up) and find a neutral standing position, holding the bar directly in front of your body with arms extended. This is your starting position.

  4. Bend your elbows with control to bring the bar up to your chest, ensuring that your elbows remain in close contact with the sides of your body.

  5. Extend your elbows to return to the starting position.

Exercise: Concentration Curl - Britany Williams

Concentration curl

The concentration curl is similar to a classic dumbbell curl in that it allows you to work on any muscle imbalances, but it targets a slightly different part of your bicep for improved overall arm strength. A concentration curl is typically performed while seated on a bench, but if you don’t have a bench you can position yourself with one knee on the floor and the other foot in front of you.

  1. Take your position, either seated on a bench or kneeling on the floor, holding a dumbbell in one hand. If you are kneeling, you would hold the dumbbell in the same hand as your front leg and rest your forearm on your thigh.

  2. Curl the dumbbell towards your shoulder, exhaling as you lift it.

  3. Squeeze your bicep at the top of the movement, then lower the dumbbell back down in a controlled manner.

Exercise: Zottman Curl - Strength Trainer

Zottman curl

When we’re talking about building bicep strength, it’s a great idea to work on your forearm strength as most bicep exercises demand a lot from your forearms. The Zottman curl is perfect for building forearm and bicep strength at the same time. What makes this curl different from a traditional dumbbell curl? You rotate your hands from an underhand to overhand grip halfway through each lift.

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand in an underhand grip (palms facing away from your body) with arms extended on either side, but slightly in front of your body, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

  2. Bend your elbows to bring the dumbbells in towards your chest, ensuring that your elbows remain in close contact with the sides of your body.

  3. As your hands reach the top position, rotate your wrist so that you are holding the dumbbells in an overhand grip (palms facing down).

  4. Extend your elbows to lower the dumbbells. At the bottom of the movement, rotate the dumbbells so that you are holding them in an underhand grip to return to the starting position.

Exercise: Resistance Band Bicep Curl - Phyllicia Bonanno

Resistance band bicep curl

Not everyone has access to dumbbells, barbells or larger pieces of gym equipment like a cable machine, but that shouldn’t be a barrier to building your strength! Resistance bands offer a great way to strengthen your biceps, whether you have limited equipment or are working your way up to lifting weights. 

  1. In a lunge position, step onto the middle of a resistance band and grasp one end of the band with your palm facing up.

  2. Keeping your elbow close to your side and your upper arm stationary, bend your elbow and curl the band up towards your shoulder.

  3. Squeeze your bicep at the top of the movement, then lower the band back down to the starting position in a controlled manner, keeping tension on the band throughout the movement.

Exercise: Preacher Curl - Kelsey Wells

Preacher curl

If you have access to a preacher bench (or you can use an adjustable standard bench), a preacher curl can offer a slightly different way to challenge your biceps as the positioning creates a wider range of motion. Preacher curls can be performed with a barbell, EZ bar, or you can work each arm individually using dumbbells. 

  1. Holding a barbell with both hands in an underhand grip (palms facing up), rest your arms over the preacher bench with arms extended in front of you, shoulder-width apart. Transition into a split stance with your left foot forward and right foot back. This is your starting position.

  2. While keeping your upper arms as still as possible, bend your elbows to bring the barbell in towards your forehead.

  3. Extend your elbows to lower the barbell and return to the starting position. 

Exercise: Bicep Curl - DB Neutral-Side On - Kayla Itsines

Hammer curl

The positioning of a hammer curl is easy to remember - simply hold your dumbbells like you would hold the handle of a hammer with palms facing each other! Not only does this work slightly different muscles, it can also be a more comfortable option if you have wrist issues or experience sore wrists when you lift weights. If you prefer to use a cable machine, go for it! For cable machine hammer curls, you’ll need to attach the rope on the bottom cable pulley.

  1. Holding a dumbbell in each hand in a neutral grip (palms facing inwards) with arms extended on either side of your body, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. 

  2. Bend your elbows to bring the dumbbells in towards your chest, ensuring that your elbows remain in close contact with the sides of your body.

  3. Extend your elbows to lower the dumbbells and return to the starting position. Repeat for the specified number of repetitions.

Exercise: Chin Up - Cass Olholm

Chin-up

Chin-ups are an incredible compound exercise, meaning they work several major muscle groups at once including your arms, back and core. Chin-ups are proof that bodyweight exercises can be challenging. After all, you’re lifting the weight of your entire body, which for most people is significantly heavier than what you would select for your barbell, dumbbells or cable machine. 

We love chin-ups because they offer serious bang for your buck - you’ll be working your biceps, along with your shoulders, back and core. If you’re working towards unassisted chin-ups, feel free to use a long resistance band to make these easier!

  1. Start by hanging from the bar with your hands in an underhand grip (knuckles facing towards you) with your hands shoulder-width apart on the bar and your arms extended.

  2. Bend your elbows and pull your body up until your chin is higher than the bar.

  3. Lower your body back down until your arms are at full extension.

Exercise: Inverted Row - Chontel Duncan

Inverted row

As much as we’re big fans of chin-ups, they definitely require a fair bit of strength. To support you on your journey towards an unassisted bodyweight chin-up, why not add in some inverted rows? This exercise is like a horizontal chin-up with your feet on the floor - great for your biceps and fantastic for building that chin-up strength. 

  1. Set the height of the Smith machine bar or the hooks on your squat rack squat to approximately hip height. 

  2. Place both hands on the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing down) wider than your shoulders. Slowly walk your feet forwards until your chest is positioned directly below the bar. Extend your elbows and rest on the heels of your feet, ensuring that the rest of your body is elevated off the floor in a straight line from neck to feet. 

  3. Using the muscles in both your arms and back, bend your elbows to bring your chest towards the bar. You should feel a small squeeze between your shoulder blades.

  4. Extend your elbows to lower your body and return to the starting position. 

Exercise: Reverse Bent Over Row - Kelsey Wells

Reverse grip barbell row

Bent-over rows are typically performed with your hands in an overhand grip - palms facing towards your body. By flipping your grip to an underhand grip - palms facing away from your body - you can work your back and your biceps. 

  1. Holding a barbell in both hands with an underhand grip (palms facing away from you), hands shoulder-width apart, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. While maintaining a slight bend in your knees, hinge forward from your hips so that your torso is parallel to the floor. Extend your arms directly below your chest. 

  2. Bend your elbows to bring the barbell in towards your lower ribs, ensuring your elbows remain in close contact with the sides of your body. You should feel a small squeeze between your shoulder blades.

  3. Extend your elbows to lower the barbell to the starting position. 

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Upper body exercises are a fundamental part of any solid strength training program, and building stronger biceps will make it easier to perform other upper body exercises, workouts and everyday lifting in general! 

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* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.

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