The biceps is arguably one of the most targeted muscle groups at the gym. Yet even the most avid trainee often fails to remember that biceps need to be trained from various angles to involve the different heads of the muscle as well as with different hand positions to involve the forearm muscles too. The biceps muscle actually consists of two heads: the shorter inner head and the longer outer head, with the outer head providing the most mass in the muscle group. Underneath the biceps is the brachialis, which is visible on the side of the arm between the triceps and biceps. Thus the key to building the perfect biceps is selecting the right exercise moves. The following biceps exercises are some of the most effective bicep exercises for building the perfect biceps.
1. Standing barbell curl
Target: The two heads biceps brachii and brachialis, and brachioradialis
Standing barbell curl is the best move for packing up muscle on your biceps. Nothing adds size and shape like the barbell curl, a compound move that also lets you lift more weight than any other bicep exercise. And with a change in grip, you can shift focus from the long head to the short and vice versa. For example, move your hands closer together to stress more of the outer part of the biceps and move them farther apart to place more emphasis on the inner part. For variety, you can perform this exercise with an EZ bar or seated on a bench to work the bicep muscles at different angles.
How to do it: Grasp a barbell with an underhand grip, your hands spaced about shoulder-width apart. Stand erect with your chest out, shoulders back and spine in alignment, keeping a slight bend in your knees. The bar should rest across the tops of your thighs, arms extended. With your elbows tight to your sides, squeeze your biceps to raise the bar in an arc toward your shoulders. Squeeze for a peak contraction before slowly lowering the bar back down. Stop the bar just short of your thighs to keep tension on the biceps.
How to use it: Perform barbell curl first in your biceps workouts, when your muscles are fresh. Follow this compound exercise with moves like incline curls or preacher curls. Complete 3-4 sets in which you reach failure at 6-10 reps. Rest between 90-120 seconds between sets
2. Standing dumbbell curl
Target: The two heads biceps brachii and brachialis, and brachioradialis
Another mass builder but unlike standing barbell curl, standing dumbbell curl allows you to work your biceps separately, so your stronger arm can’t take over the workload. Also by supinating your wrists at the top, this exercise move allows you to get a stronger contraction on the biceps. For variety, you can do this bicep exercise with both arms simultaneously or seated on a bench.
How to do it: Standing erect holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, palms facing in (neutral grip). Lock your elbows by your sides slightly in front of your torso. Without shifting your body, curl one arm at a time by flexing your biceps. As you curl, supinate your wrist, squeezing your muscle hard at the top. You’re not going for height here; make sure your elbow stays back to keep the tension on your biceps. Lower under control and repeat for the opposite arm.
How to use it: Do standing dumbbell curl first or second in your biceps workout. Follow this exercise with exercises like incline curl or cable curl. Do 3-4 sets of 6-10, resting 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Incline dumbbell curl
Targets: Biceps (emphasis on the long, outer head)
Incline dumbbell curl is another good overall bicep size and shape builder, however, the weight load you are able to handle with this exercise is often limited without scarifying strict form. This exercise also targets your biceps from a different angle, which helps the muscle adapt to different stresses and allow you to achieve a full range of motion while getting a maximum stretch at the bottom of the movement.
How to do it: Set an adjustable bench to an incline (roughly 45 degrees) and sit with your back flush against the pad, dumbbells low at your sides, palms facing up, thumbs around the handles, feet flat on the floor.Without swinging the weight, curl one dumbbell up as high as possible while keeping your upper arm perpendicular to the floor. Pause at the top for a second before returning the weight to the starting position. Complete all reps for one arm before switching.
How to use it: Do incline dumbbell curl towards the middle of your biceps workout, after compound moves like barbell curls or dumbbell curls. Follow this exercise with some form of concentration curls or cable curls. Do 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.
4. Preacher curl
Target: Biceps (emphasis on the short, inner head)
The preacher curl maximizes biceps isolation, focusing on the short head by eliminating any involvement of the shoulder muscles to help raise the arms. This is not only a great move for developing the lower portion of the biceps, it’s also very effective for building a better peak. To build more of the peak of your biceps, do preacher curls with your arms over the vertical side of the bench instead of the angled side. For variety, perform preacher curls with an EZ bar or dumbbells instead of a barbell and vice versa.
How to do it: Set up a preacher bench so it rests comfortably under your armpits. Take a shoulder-width, underhand grip on the bar and position your arms parallel to each other on the bench. Keep your body steady. Flex at your elbows to bring the bar as high as possible without allowing your elbows to flare out. Don’t rest at the top; squeeze your biceps hard before slowly lowering to just short of full arm extension.
How to use it: Pair the preacher curl with exercises that hit the biceps from various angles, including incline curls, standing barbell/dumbbell curls, or hammer curls. Do 3—4 sets of 12—15 reps.
5. Concentration Curl
Target: Biceps peak and fullness
Dumbbell Concentration Curls are great for building peak and full biceps. In fact, Arnold considered concentration curls to be the ultimate movement for adding a peak to the biceps. This exercise does that by placing greater emphasis on the biceps brachialis, the muscle that pushes the peak of the biceps higher and gives your arms better shape when viewed from the side. For variety, perform this move either with your elbow tucked against your thigh while seated on a bench, or standing, with your upper body bent over, and curling the dumbbell up with your arm positioned perpendicular to the floor.
How to do it: Sit at the end of a flat bench with your feet spread apart on the floor. Grasp a dumbbell with an underhand grip and lock your working arm against your same-side inner thigh. Moving only at your elbow, curl the weight as high as you can, squeezing your biceps at the top before slowly lowering. Do both sides.
How to use it: Do concentration curl at the end of your triceps workout. Select a weight that you can easily manage as well as hold and squeeze at the top of each rep. Complete 12 reps for two sets, then drop the weight slightly and do two more sets of 15-20 reps, keeping the rest between sets to 60 seconds or less.
6. Hammer Curl
Target: Biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis
The hammer curl targets both heads of the bicep and also the forearm muscle which leads to a greater degree of overall size to the biceps area. The position of the wrists is also what makes this exercise great. With your palms facing inward, the wrists are turned in a more comfortable position than they are when grasping a straight or curl bar. This also allows for a great range of motion and more tension on the biceps. For variety perform this move cross-body by curling the weight in front of you at about a 45-degree angle from your torso, toward your opposite shoulder. This will place even greater emphasis on your biceps long head.
How to do it: Stand upright holding a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip (palms facing in). Your head should be in a neutral position and your knees slightly bent. Keep your core tight. Contract your biceps to raise the dumbbells toward your shoulders. Keep your elbows next to your body, and don’t rotate your hands as you bring the weights up. Return under control to the start position.
How to use it: Do hammer curls towards the end of your biceps workout. Choose a weight with which you can complete 12 reps for two sets, then drop the weight slightly and do two more sets of 15-20 reps, keeping the rest between sets to 60 seconds or less.