Big biceps signal to the world that you’ve put in some serious sweat equity at the gym. The biceps are small muscles, but to grow them takes time, knowledge, and intelligent programming. Also, your biceps flex your elbow — which, when you think about it, is a pretty important job. Otherwise, how would you curl that beer (ahem, protein shake) to your lips or pick your kid up? The biceps don’t just look good; they serve a real function.
The good news for you is training the biceps is pretty simple — you curl, curl, and curl some more. That said, certain exercises get the job done better than others. To help you figure out which is best for you, we’ve culled 16 of the best biceps exercises onto one list, along with some more info on the muscle itself and how to incorporate biceps training into your routine.
Best Biceps Exercises
- Barbell Curl
- EZ-Bar Preacher Curl
- Hammer Curl
- Incline Dumbbell Curl
- Facing-Away Cable Curl
- Reverse-Grip Bent-Over Row
- Cable Curl
- Concentration Curl
- Cable Concentration Curl
- High Cable Curl
- Cable Rope Supinating Curl
- Cable Hammer Curl
- Dual Cable Preacher Curl
- TRX Suspension Curl
- EZ-Bar Reverse Curl
The barbell curl is a classic biceps-builder. This exercise targets the biceps and can add serious size and strength to the entire muscle when done correctly. You can curl more weight with the barbell curl than other curl variations as you’re lifting a singular implement with both hands. It’s also straightforward to do. Simply load up a barbell, hold it in both hands, and lift it towards your chin. Rinse and repeat.
Benefits of the Barbell Curl
- It’s simple and effective. The barbell curl offers a small learning curve, perfect for beginners, and more advanced lifters will still benefit from the basic mechanics.
- You’ll build stronger biceps more quickly as you’re able to load your biceps with more weight.
How to Do the Barbell Curl
Grab a barbell with an underhand grip, slightly wider than the shoulders. With the chest up and shoulder blades pulled tightly together, expose the front of your biceps by pulling the shoulders back into the socket. The elbows should reside under the shoulder joint, or slightly in front by the ribs. Curl the barbell up using the biceps, making sure not to let the torso lean forward, shoulder collapse forward, or the elbows slide backward to the side of the body (they should stay slightly in front of the shoulders).
The chin-up is a bodyweight exercise that can induce serious muscle growth of the biceps (and back) with nothing but a pull-up bar. If you have a door-mounted pull-up bar in your home gym, then that’s all you need to bang out sets of chin-ups. Since the lifter pulls their own bodyweight, the biceps are usually exposed to loads heavier than one can lift with a barbell. However, lifters may often perform these incorrectly, engaging their shoulder and grip muscles.
Benefits of the Chin-Up
- To do a chin-up, you only need access to a pull-up bar, making it one of the more accessible movements on this list.
- The chin-up has you lift your entire bodyweight, taxing the biceps with more weight than one can usually curl.
- Your grip and shoulders will also gain some strength.
How to Do the Chin-Up
Hang from a bar with palms facing you and the hands about shoulder-width apart, or slightly wider. From a dead hang, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your body up, making sure not to let the body fold inwards (so many people do this) until your chin is at or above the bar.
Curling on a preacher bench lengthens the exercise’s range of motion. As a result, the biceps will be under tension for a longer period of time, which usually equates to more muscle growth. Using an EZ-bar, which turns the hands inwards, makes the move more comfortable on the wrists and shifts the angle of the exercise to target different muscle fibers in the biceps.
Benefits of the EZ-Bar Preacher Curl
- Using the preacher bench creates a longer range of motion and creates more muscular tension for more biceps growth.
- Using an EZ-bar is more comfortable on the wrists.
How to Do the EZ-Bar Preacher Curl
Sit down on a preacher bench and rest the back of your triceps on the pad. Set your body in the same position as the standard barbell biceps curl (chest up, shoulders back, and elbows slightly forward). Grasp the EZ-bar handle on the inner angled pieces. This will place your hands slightly narrower than shoulder-width and on a semi-supinated angle. With the body locked in place, curl the bar upwards as you flex the biceps, briefly pausing at the top of the curl to flex the biceps. Lower the weight under control.
The hammer curl has the lifter curl dumbbells with their palms facing each other. This neutral wrist position is more comfortable and allows the lifter to hoist more weight, as we’re generally stronger with a palms-facing position. This move also targets the biceps brachialis and brachioradialis (outer biceps and forearm) for more arm thickness.
Benefits of the Hammer Curl
- The neutral wrist position is more comfortable.
- You can lift more weight with the hammer curl, so, over time, you accumulate more muscle-building volume.
- The hammer curl targets the inner biceps muscle and the forearm to build denser arms.
How to Do the Hammer Curl
Hold a dumbbell in each hand while standing. Turn your wrists so that they’re facing each other. Keep your arms tucked in at your sides and flex your elbows to curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders. Lower them back down with control.
To perform the incline dumbbell curl, the lifter needs to lay back onto an incline gym bench. Curling from an incline takes the momentum out of the equation so that the lifter can’t cheat the weight up. Secondly, curling with lengthened, extended arms creates a longer range of motion, ultimately making this curl variation more effective.
Benefits of the Incline Dumbbell Curl
- The incline dumbbell curl eliminates momentum, forcing the lifter to maintain strict curling form.
- Lifting with extended arms increases the exercise’s range of motion for more muscular tension.
How to Do the Incline Dumbbell Curl
Lay back on an incline bench, angled at about 60 degrees, with a dumbbell in each hand. Let your arms hang so they’re fully extended. Without moving your shoulders, curl the weight up to your shoulders. Hold the top of the movement for about a second, and then slowly lower the dumbbells with control.
To perform the facing-away cable curl, the lifter needs to stand facing away between the two cables of a functional trainer or cable tower. This setup allows you the same benefits of the incline dumbbell curl — a greater stretch due to a longer range of motion — coupled with the unique resistance of the cables, which keeps tension on the muscle throughout the entire movement.
Benefits of the Facing-Away Cable Curl
- Barbells lock your arms in place. Cables are mobile. Curling with cables lets the lifter line up the resistance with their preferred arm path — allowing for less discomfort throughout the movement.
- Curling with the cables set behind you increases the movement’s range of motion while using cables creates more tension for a one-two punch of more overall muscle stimulus.
- This movement is great for challenging the biceps and loading them in its lengthened range — a range that doesn’t get loaded enough.
How to Do the Facing-Away Cable Curl
Set the handles of the cable pulleys to the lowest setting and attach D-handles to each pulley. Pick up a handle in each hand. Tense your upper back and let your arms hang so they’re fully extended. Without moving your shoulders, curl the weight up toward your shoulders. Hold the top of the movement for about a second, and then slowly lower the handles with control.
You’re right to think of this movement as a traditional back exercise. It is. That said, similar to the chin-up, the supinated grip of this bent-over row variation involves the biceps to a great degree. You can manage more weight on the barbell compared to other biceps exercises. Also, you’ll build up your biceps in conjunction with your back muscles for more overall muscularity.
Benefits of the Reverse-Grip Bent-Over Row
- The reverse-grip bent-over row targets your back muscles in addition to your biceps.
- You can lift more weight compared to other biceps moves.
How to Do the Reverse-Grip Bent-Over Row
Grab a barbell with an underhand grip that is about shoulder-width apart. Assume the proper bent-over row position, with the back flat and chest up. Row the barbell to the stomach. Pull with both the back and the arms, lowering the weight under control and repeating for reps.
When you curl a dumbbell or barbell, the movement is hardest at the midpoint of the lift since the weight is furthest from the body. However, cables keep tension on the muscle throughout the movement, as the weight stack you’re lifting is suspended throughout. This adds more tension to the muscle for more growth. You can also attach different handles to a cable machine‘s pulley to attack your biceps from different angles.
Benefits of the Cable Curl
- Curling with a cable loads the biceps with constant tension throughout the movement.
- You can target your biceps from different angles by using different handles on the cable machine.
- Cable curl variations typically require less weight to be effective (since the tension is greater throughout the range of motion), so this exercise is a bit friendlier to your elbow joints.
How to Do the Cable Curl
Attach the desired handle to the pulley of a cable machine set to the lowest height. Grab the handle in both hands and take a few steps back so there’s constant tension on the cable (the weight stack should be elevated the entire time). Curl the bar up to your chest and then slowly lower it back down.
The concentration curl is all about feeling your biceps work. You sit down on a bench, rest your elbow on the inside of your thigh, and curl a dumbbell from full extension to contraction. Lifting with one arm at a time means you’re doing more overall work — so you’ll burn more calories and allow your weaker arm to play catch up. Also, the isolated curling position really lets you hone in on your biceps as you curl a light dumbbell.
Benefits of the Concentration Curl
- The ability to focus more intently on your biceps.
- More calories are burned as you’re working one side of your body at a time, which effectively doubles the number of sets you’re doing.
- By focusing on one arm at a time, your weaker side will get stronger.
How to Do the Concentration Curl
Sit on a bench with your feet set wide enough to allow your arm to hang in the middle, with your elbow resting on the inside of the thigh. With a dumbbell in hand, slowly curl the dumbbell upward at a controlled tempo, concentrating on contracting the biceps to move the load. At the top of the movement, flex as hard as possible, then slowly lower the load. The key is not to lose tension on the biceps at any point in the range of motion.
As you may have deduced by now, replacing any free weight with cables is a great way to level up an already effective movement. Subbing cables for dumbbells for a set of concentration curls means more tension along with the same existing benefits of the movement — isolation, unilateral focus, and biceps that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be jealous of (not really, but it’s good to set the bar high).
Benefits of the Cable Concentration Curl
- The ability to focus more intently on the short head of your biceps.
- By focusing on one arm at a time, your weaker side will get stronger. It also allows you to add variety to your exercise selection by using cables.
- The use of cables over dumbbells alters the resistance profile, changing where the tension is greatest within the exercise.
How to Do the Cable Concentration Curl
Stand in front of a single cable on a functional trainer or cable tower. With the cable set around chest height, grab the handle with a supinated grip (palm facing up), and slightly lean your torso forward. Your working arm should be angled across the body while you curl the handle toward the opposite ear. Keep tension on the biceps all the way to the top of the movement, then slowly lower the load.
This high cable curl variation has the lifter curling the cables while shoulders are flexed and palms are facing up (supinated). The cables will be set just above shoulder level while performing this exercise on a functional trainer or cable tower. Curling from a high, extended arms position is thought by many to target the shorter biceps head, which is what creates that coveted biceps peak.
Benefits of the High Cable Curl
- The ability to focus and train both arms at once.
- The use of cables over dumbbells allows for an altered arm path, creating new stress on the biceps — challenging them in their contracted, shortened position.
How to Do the High Cable
Set a cable pulley to about shoulder height and attach D-handles to each cable pulley. Grab the bar with a supinated grip (palm facing up). Keep tension on the biceps all the way to the top of the movement, then slowly lower the load back to the starting position. The key to this exercise is maintaining your shoulder position throughout the range of motion, not allowing your elbows to dip — making it easier. Maintaining tension in the upper back will help keep shoulders stable and arm position constant, driving up tension in the biceps.
This low cable curl variation has the lifter curling with a and twisting a rope attachment, prioritizing both functions of the biceps brachii muscle — supination and elbow flexion. Because you’re standing farther away from the machine, your biceps will be under tension for the entire movement. Twisting your hands inward toward your face will create even more biceps tension (which you’ll absolutely feel.
Benefits of the Cable Rope Supinating Curl
- The ability to train both primary functions of the biceps brachii — supination and elbow flexion.
- The addition of the Fat Gripz allows an object lever for your biceps to fight against during supination compared to the rope alone.
- The use of cables allows for an even resistance across the entire range of motion.
How to Do the Cable Rope Supinating Curl
Stand in front of a single cable on a functional trainer or cable tower. Set the cable to a lower setting with each side of the rope attachment in your hands (palms facing each other). To complete the curling motion, start by flexing your elbows (bringing the hands up toward the shoulders), and around one-third of the way up, rotate (supinate) your hands to face up as you continue to curl up. The key to increasing the challenge of supination of this exercise is waiting to supinate until you’re a third the way into the rep — this ensures the muscles responsible for supination can kick in while the resistance is on them.
This variation, which has you lift two D-handles with a neutral grip, lets you lift more weight as you curl the handles all the way up and down, keeping your hands in a neutral position. Because you’re squeezing the handles hard, you’ll also activate a lot of the muscles in your forearms for a grip boost. To increase activation of the forearm muscles, you can add Fat Gripz to the handles.
Benefits of the Cable Hammer Curl
- The ability to train muscles of the forearm — most notably the brachioradialis — and also muscles of the upper arm, like the brachialis and short head of the biceps.
- The use of cables allows for an even resistance across the entire range of motion.
- A great variation to use as a part of a bigger biceps superset or giant set.
How to Do the Cable Hammer Curl
With the cables positioned lower on the cable tower, the lifter will grip each handle with a neutral grip (palms facing each other), take a step back, engage the upper back to add stability to the upper body and curl the weight up. Maintain a neutral grip (palms facing each other). Squeeze and contract once you reach the top of the movement, then slowly lower the load back to the starting position.
This preacher curl variation uses a dual cable set up on a functional trainer. The preacher curl comes with many benefits — namely, the opposing force created by the preacher bench. This variation builds on that by adding the cables’ unique resistance, allowing for an even resistance across the entire range of motion. The lifter will take hold of each handle and set it up on the preacher bench. Once stable, the lifter will maintain their shoulder position, drive the back of the arm into the pad, and curl the weight up — creating a large amount of tension in the biceps.
Benefits of the Dual Cable Preacher Curl
- The ability to harness stability throughout the exercise increases the tension created and sustains it deep into fatigue.
- The use of cables allows for an even resistance across the entire range of motion.
- It can be used for a multitude of rep ranges, building muscle and strength in the biceps.
How to Do the Dual Cable Preacher Curl
Set up a preacher bench roughly three to five feet away from a cable tower with two cable pulleys. Set the pulleys, so they’re slightly lower than the bench. Sit on the preacher bench and have a training partner hand you both handles. Position your elbows so that they rest over the pad. Lower the arms until your elbows are nearly locked out, and then curl the weight back up.
This curl variation is great for anyone with limited access to free weights, cables, and machines. Like other suspension-based exercises, you can also easily adjust the difficulty of the exercise by adjusting your body position — the more upright your body position, the easier it will be. Because you are only using bodyweight as your resistance, altering the rep tempo can increase the time under tension on the biceps.
Benefits of the TRX Suspension Curl
- The ability to use your body weight as resistance.
- The TRX suspension trainer can be taken anywhere, allowing you to train at home, the gym, or the park.
- To increase the difficulty of the exercise, you adjust your body position. The further you lean back, the more of your body weight you will resist during the movement.
How to Do the TRX Suspension Curl
Once the TRX suspension has been secured, grab hold of the handles, take a few steps forward, lean back, and curl your body weight up. To increase the difficulty of the exercise, you simply adjust your body position. The further you lean back, the more of your body weight you will resist during the movement. If you want to make the exercise easier, you can position your body to be more upright.
This exercise has the lifter use a semi-pronated (the middle point between pronated — palms facing down — and neutral — palms facing each other) grip on an EZ-bar. With your hands around shoulder-width and hands in a semi-pronated position, grip the bar and allow it to hang with arms extended. The lifter will curl the bar up while maintaining their shoulder position and keeping the elbows to their side. The only movement should come from the forearm and biceps muscles flexing the elbow. This curl variation trains the forearm and upper arm muscles — most notably the brachialis and brachioradialis — helping increase size and bolster grip strength.
Benefits of the EZ-Bar Reverse Curl
- The ability to train muscles of the forearm and biceps with a pronated or semi-pronated grip position.
- Cambered EZ-bar’s are easy to find in gyms across the globe, so it’s a very accessible curling variation.
- This variation can train and add size to the forearms.
How to Do the EZ-Bar Reverse Curl
Grip an EZ-bar with each hand while standing. Turn your wrists, so your palms are facing down (or best fit to the slanted part on the bar). Keep your arms tucked in at your sides and flex your elbows to curl the bar up towards your shoulders. Lower the bar back down with control.
About the Biceps Muscle
The biceps are called brachii, which is Latin for “two-headed muscle of the arm” — representing the short head and the long head. The biceps attach across two joints — the elbow and the shoulder. Its core function is to flex the elbow and turn the wrist.
The biceps are small muscles, but they serve a pivotal function when you really think about it. Anytime you pick something up or get press something overhead, you’re flexing your elbow (and therefore your biceps) to some degree. Think about the last time you loaded a suitcase into an overhead compartment. To get your luggage overhead, you probably curled it to your chest before pressing it up. Small but mighty — that’s the biceps for you.
Aesthetically, the biceps are a coveted muscle. When someone asks you to make a muscle, you don’t roll up your pant leg and flex your calf or pull down your shirt collar to show off your traps — you flex your biceps. Many lifters desire that classic biceps peak, which is when the muscle juts upwards. Unfortunately, whether you have a more distinguished biceps peak or not is determined by genetics, but you can grow the area which will translate to a larger peak to some degree.
The Short Head
The short head of the biceps is positioned on the inside of the upper arm and attaches to the coracoid process of the scapula (the curvy part that shoots out under the collarbone), and inserts into the biceps tendon down near the elbow. The short head is most known for its roles in elbow flexion and supination (the turning) of the forearm or wrist. (1) When people talk about the short head, they’re usually referring to the biceps peak.
The Long Head
The long head of the biceps is positioned on the outside of the upper arm. It attaches to the more shoulder-centric part of the scapula — where its tendon runs smoothly through a grooved notch in the humerus bone — and inserts into the biceps tendon near the elbow alongside the short head. The long head also flexes the elbow and creates supination (the turning) of the forearm or wrist. (1) The longer head sits under your short head and, when trained, helps to create a thicker arm.
How to Train Your Biceps
As for how often to train your biceps, you want to aim to get in about 10 to 14 total sets per week. If you’re a gym newbie, start with eight sets per week. Again, the biceps are small muscles with only two primary functions, so they don’t require a hefty amount of work to spark growth.
We suggest training your biceps with your triceps together as they’re antagonistic muscles (your biceps flex the elbow and your triceps extend the elbow). You can also save your biceps training for after your back workout or, if you follow a push, pull, legs split after your pulling day. Since your biceps are recruited in most upper-body pulling movements, it makes sense to tack them onto that day since they’ll already be a bit fatigued.
Choosing the right exercise for the goal is like picking out the right tool for the job — it’s vital to your success.
You’ll need to do a little math to figure out how many exercises to train per session. Say you train your biceps twice per week at the max set recommendation of 14. You’ll perform seven sets of biceps work per workout. You could do three exercises, performing three sets for the first two and two higher-rep sets on the third exercises. Typically, aim to do three to four sets per movement.
When choosing exercises to perform, you want to pick exercises that:
- Give sufficient load to the muscle without excessive stress on the surrounding joints.
- Lines up the resistance with the muscle(s) you want to train.
- Allows you to train around pre-existing injuries or limitations.
- It can be performed with the equipment in your gym space.
When it comes to training the biceps, dumbbells and cable variations typically rank over fixed-barbell ones due to the ability to adjust your setup and technique to your structure. Bottom line: if it causes you joint pain, there is most likely a better exercise to use to get the job done.
Sets and Reps
The number of sets and reps performed is generally relative to the weight being lifted.
For More Muscle
Training across a wide range of rep ranges and training volumes is suggested to maximize muscle growth. Do three to six sets of six to 12 reps with moderate weight. If you’re performing fewer reps, then lift more weight. As you increase the number of reps, typically, you’ll need to lighten the load a little bit.
For More Endurance
To increase endurance — or metabolic demand — you can do three to five sets of 12-20 reps with low to moderate weight.
For More Strength
To maximize strength development, you want to train with higher loads and fewer overall reps per set. Do three to six sets of four to six reps with moderate to heavy weight.
Total Volume and Frequency
Training volume refers to the amount of exercise or work performed over a given period of time, whether that’s the training session or a week of training. Frequency refers to how often you are training a specific muscle group each week.
Ten to 14 sets per week is likely a great starting point for anyone looking to grow their biceps. More advanced trainees could potentially exceed 14 sets per week if their goal is to grow their stubborn biceps. Remember that you will also have overlapping volume from other exercises, like pulling movements when training back.
Remember, there is a limit to how much you can do per workout while still being productive. If you notice your performance dropping off, it may help to split up some of the training volume to a day later in the week. A training frequency of two to three sessions a week has been recommended to help maximize muscle growth. (2)
How to Warm-Up Before Training Biceps
A well-designed warm-up helps reduce the risk of injury and improves readiness heading into your training session without generating excessive fatigue. Increased body temperature, an activated (excited) nervous system, and a prepared mental state can help increase readiness for the upcoming day of training — helping improve concentration toward exercise technique, skill acquisition, and overall coordination.
One of the most effective warm-ups for any muscle group is the exercises you are performing in that day’s training session. This ensures that the appropriate muscles and joints are primed, reducing the risk of injury and improving your overall training performance. Other effective ways to warm up involve increasing the readiness and blood flow of surrounding tissues — in this case, the muscles around the shoulder and elbow.
Biceps Training Rules
Your biceps play an important role in everyday life and play a pivotal role in upper body training — most notably back training. When training your biceps to grow or get stronger, there are a handful of rules that can help you improve your performance while limiting further risk of injury.
Rule 1 — Stabilize
Establishing tension in the upper back (between the shoulder blades) during the setup of an exercise can help add stability to your upper body during biceps exercises. Increased stability — external (outside the body) or internal (inside the body) — can help you produce more significant tension during an exercise, leading to increased performance and more quality training volume.
Rule 2 — Train Muscle Through a Full Range of Motion
To reap the full benefits of training the biceps (or any muscle), you need to ensure you fully contract the muscle by lifting through a complete range of motion. Different exercises present slightly different angles and ranges of motion — but a general rule of thumb is to fully extend your arm and then curl the weight to your deltoid. The equipment you use matters, too.
Free weights (barbells and dumbbells) usually tax the biceps in their mid-range position — as these tools are heaviest when they’re farthest from the body.
Exercises that utilize cables provide the evenest form of resistive tension, applying the resistance directly in line with the cable itself (and also allow you to adjust the height of the handle or attachments, further manipulating the resistance). Machines have a fixed resistance profile (where the exercise hits peak resistance within the range of motion) due to how the machine is built. Depending on the machine — or your body position in a cable variation — the resistance can be shifted away from the mid-range and more toward the extremes, adding variety and versatility to your training.
To maximize your biceps training, you should utilize a multitude of training methods, including free weights, cables, and machines.
Rule 3 — Keep Your Elbows Fixed
A common mistake in biceps training is allowing the elbow to create unnecessary momentum and shoulder movement by not remaining fixed throughout the exercise. It can take away from the main functions of the biceps brachii (supination and elbow flexion), your overall upper body stability, and lead to a higher risk of potential injury.
Rule 4 — Use Momentum (when appropriate)
If your goal is building muscle and strength — and even endurance — creating and maintaining significant amounts of tension in the target muscle(s) is imperative for stimulating positive muscular and neural adaptations. When you generate momentum, you set yourself up for bypassing the part of the rep that places the most significant amount of tension on the muscle — working against the ultimate goal.
So, is it ever appropriate to create momentum within an exercise? It absolutely is. At the tail end of a hard set, momentum can be used to squeeze out another rep or two. You can use momentum during high load strength-based training and low-moderate load power training to help drive neuromuscular adaptations that help build strength and power.
If your goal is to grow your biceps, start the exercise slowly and then accelerate through the rest of the rep — squeezing through the tension and creating a solid contraction in the biceps.
- Tiwana MS, Charlick M, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Shoulder and Upper Limb, Biceps Muscle. [Updated 2020 Aug 11]. StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519538/
- Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 46(11), 1689–1697. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8