Most people take pride in the size and tone of their biceps. After all, when someone asks you to flex, the go-to muscle that you show off is your biceps.
But, having strong biceps is not only a matter of vanity that helps you feel good about the work you have put in at the gym; strong biceps also make lifting items in your everyday life—such as your kids, grocery bags, and heavy pet food bags—that much easier.
Plus, your biceps are involved in other compound exercises such as chin-ups and rows. So, what are the best bicep exercises? What are the best bicep workouts?
In this article, we will discuss how to get bigger biceps by following the ultimate biceps workout routine. We’ll look at how to structure your bicep workout routine based on your goals and share the top bicep exercises to get you there.
Bicep exercises included:
- Barbell Curls
- Hammer Curls
- EZ-Bar Preacher Curls
- Cable Curls
- Incline Dumbbell Curls
- Concentration Curls
- Cable Concentration Curls
- Cable Rope Curls
- Cable Hammer Curls
- Suspension Strap Curls
- Chin Ups
- Reverse Grip Bentover Rows
Let’s jump in!
How to Get Bigger Biceps: Sets And Reps Required in Your Bicep Workout
Overall, you should aim to do 2 to 3 sets of each of your bicep exercises in your workouts, depending on your fitness level, the number of reps you are doing, and your primary training goals.
If you are looking to increase strength, aim for 1 to 6 reps for each of the bicep exercises, completing 3 to 5 sets once you build up your strength. Use at least 85% of your one-repetition max (1RM) for the load.
To increase size, perform 8 to 12 reps per exercise, working up to 2 to 3 sets per exercise. Aim for 70-85% of your 1RM.
If you are looking to increase muscular endurance, perform sets of at least 15 reps per set using 65% of your 1RM.
The 12 Best Bicep Exercises
Most workouts for the biceps involve different variations of a biceps curl for different bicep workouts.With that said, the best biceps workouts change up the grip position and the form of resistance (barbells, dumbbells, cables, etc.).
This will vary the bicep exercises to help target different muscle fibers and provide a varied training stimulus to maximize your gains.
Here are the top 12 bicep exercises to include in good biceps workouts:
#1: Barbell Curls
Barbell curls are a beginner-friendly biceps exercise that is excellent for maximizing the strength and size of your biceps.
Because it is a bilateral biceps exercise, meaning that both arms are working in tandem on the same barbell, you can typically lift even more weight relative to the amount of weight you can use performing dumbbell curls.
Here are the steps for how to do a barbell curl:
- Load a barbell with the appropriate weight.
- Hold the barbell with an underhand grip so that your palms are facing away from your body with the barbell down in front of your hips. Your arms should be fully straightened.
- Stand upright with good posture such that your core is engaged, your back is straight, your chest is up, your shoulder blades are pulled back, and your gaze is forward.
- Keeping your elbows tucked in at your sides, curl the barbell up by contracting your biceps, making sure to keep your torso fully erect without allowing your shoulders to collapse forward. Your elbows should remain just slightly in front of your shoulder joint.
- Once the barbell is all the way up and your elbows are bent as much as possible, slowly lower the barbell back down. Again, make sure to keep your torso upright—do not allow the barbell to pull your torso forward.
#2: Hammer Curls
This is a great exercise for biceps workouts because it changes the grip position to target different muscle fibers in your biceps.
Instead of your palms being in an overhand grip facing away from your body in the starting position, your palms face towards one another throughout the duration of the movement.
This neutral wrist position often tends to be more comfortable and natural for most lifters, allowing you to lift more weight to maximize your strength gains.
This biceps exercise also targets the biceps brachialis, which is a smaller muscle on the outer portion of your biceps, as well as the brachioradialis, which is the primary muscle in your forearms.
Here is how to do hammer curls:
- Stand upright with good posture, as with the barbell curl.
- Hold dumbbells such that your palms are facing one another. Contract your biceps to curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders, maintaining this neutral wrist position.
- Slowly lower the weights back down with control.
#3: EZ-Bar Preacher Curls
One of the best bicep curls is the EZ-bar preacher curl.
A preacher bench is a specific piece of exercise equipment designed for biceps exercises. The design of the bench helps extend the range of motion of a biceps curl, optimizing the time under tension and resultant potential gains.
You can theoretically use dumbbells on a preacher bench, but using an EZ bar is a more ergonomic way to improve the angle of your wrist as you curl.
Additionally, EZ-bar curls are a good variety of standard curls because turning your wrists inward using the grip pattern on the EZ-bar targets different muscle fibers in your biceps.
Here are the steps for how to do EZ curls:
- Sit on a preacher bench with the back of your upper arms resting on the pad, using good posture. Make sure that your shoulders are back and your chest is up.
- Grip the EZ-bar using the inner angled grips so that your hands are turned inward, somewhat facing one another, and are positioned slightly closer than shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly curl the bar up all the way and then back down, making sure to use control so that gravity is not doing the work on the eccentric (lowering) portion.
- Lower the weight all the way back down to the straightened position so that you are maximizing the full range of motion afforded by the preacher chair and not “cheating“ by only going 95% of the way down before beginning your next rep.
#4: Cable Curls
The benefit of adding cable curls to your biceps workout is that the tension on your biceps is experienced more uniformly throughout the lift rather than at the midpoint of the biceps curl, as is the case with barbells or dumbbells.
Because your muscles are under tension for a longer period of time and at different angles of the lift, you can experience more significant gains in muscle strength, and you have the opportunity to target your muscle fibers with resistance at different joint angles.
When you perform cable curls, there are a variety of different handles you can attach to the cable machine to vary the grip pattern that you are using and the resultant feel and benefits of the exercise.
Here is how to do curls with the cable pulley machine:
- Set the pulley of the cable machine to the lowest setting and attach your desired handle to the clip.
- Holding the handle with both hands, take a few steps backward so that the weight stack lifts up. This is your starting position; the weight stack should remain elevated throughout the entire set, not touching down fully after each rep.
- Curl the handle up to your chest, keeping your shoulder blades retracted, and then slowly lower it back down.
#5: Incline Dumbbell Curls
Incline dumbbell curls increase the range of motion of the exercise because you can extend your arms through a larger range of motion.
Additionally, because you are seated in a reclined position, it is much harder to “cheat.“
When you do standing biceps curls, it’s easy to unintentionally use momentum or pop your hips forward as you curl to help hoist the weight.
Here is how to do incline dumbbell curls:
- Set a weight bench to an incline of about 60° and then lay back on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Extend your arms fully so that they are hanging down by your side. Keep your shoulders pressed into the bench as you slowly curl the weights up to shoulder height and back down.
#6: Concentration Curls
Most biceps workouts include concentration curls because it is a great variation on the standard biceps curl that truly isolates your biceps muscle.
You should be “concentrating“ on maintaining tension in your biceps during the entire range of motion of the movement. Stay present and focused, and do not allow gravity to do any of the work on the way down.
This will help you be able to increase your load with bilateral exercises because the “lagging“ muscle will be able to carry more of the load.
Here is how to perform concentration curls:
- Sit on a weight bench with your feet at least three feet apart so that your arm can comfortably hang down between your two legs.
- Hold a dumbbell in just one hand.
- Rest your elbow of the working arm on the inside of the thigh on that leg.
- Slowly curl the dumbbell up, “concentrating” (as the name suggests) on contracting your biceps as you do so. At the very top position of the movement, squeeze and flex your biceps muscle as much as possible before slowly returning to the starting position.
#7: Cable Concentration Curls
You can also perform concentration curls with cables instead of dumbbells using a cable pulley machine.
Again, this helps keep your muscle fibers under uniform tension throughout the entire exercise.
Here is how to do concentration curls on a cable machine:
- Set the pulley on a cable machine or functional trainer at chest height.
- Hinge at your hips so that your torso is leaned slightly forward. Grip the handle with your palm facing up (supinated).
- As you curl the weight, your arm should angle across your body towards the opposite ear. Slowly lower the handle once you have reached the top position.
#8: Cable Rope Curls
Using the rope attachment on a cable machine requires your biceps to both supinate and flex the elbow, which are the two motions that the biceps are responsible for. Thus, this is one of the best exercises to include in good bicep workouts because it targets both functional roles of the biceps.
The more that you twist your hands inward towards your face as you curl, the more you will really feel your biceps working.
Here is how to do cable rope curls:
- Stand facing a single cable pulley with the pulley set at one of the lowest heights. Attach the rope attachment.
- Hold a rope attachment with your palms facing away from your body.
- Perform a curl by bending your elbows, but as you curl upward, start to rotate or supinate your hands (so that your palms begin to face one another) after you are about one-third of the way up. Do not supinate at the beginning of the movement; wait until you are 30 to 35% up towards the top of the movement.
- Finish the exercise at the top portion in the supinated position, and then slowly lower back down, returning to a neutral grip by the end of the movement.
#9: Cable Hammer Curls
You can also do hammer curls on a cable machine using two D-handles with a neutral grip.
Adding this exercise to your biceps workout is a great way to also improve your grip strength and forearm strength. Additionally, because your wrists are in a neutral position, you can use a heavier load.
To perform cable hammer curls, simply use the D handles on the lowest setting and hold them with your palms facing one another. Follow the same procedure as the basic cable curls.
#10: Suspension Strap Curls
A challenging exercise to add to your biceps workouts is suspension curls using suspension straps such as TRX.
The more upright your body position, the less resistance you will have, so the easier the exercise will be.
Here is how to do suspension body weight curls:
- Hold the handles of the suspension straps and then take several steps forward; lean your entire body back so that you are stiff as a board, like a plank, with your weight on your heels and your toes pointing toward the ceiling.
- Contract your biceps to lift your body up using only your biceps. When your hands are up at your shoulders, slowly extend your elbows to lower your body back down.
Your biceps play a key role in lifting your entire body weight up and over the bar.
￼Here is how to do a chin-up:
- Grab the pull-up bar with a shoulder-width grip with your palms facing your face.
- Hang from the bar, raising your feet off the ground by bending your knees.
- Pull yourself up by engaging your core, lats, and biceps while you bend your elbows.
- Raise your body until your chin clears the top of the bar.
- Lower your body back down in a controlled fashion and repeat.
#12: Reverse-Grip Bent-Over Rows
Although bent-over rows are primarily a back exercise, you can incorporate this key movement in your biceps workouts because the supinated grip position activates your biceps as well.
Plus, the bent-over row exercise is a great compound exercise that trains the biceps in a functional movement pattern.
Here is how to do a reverse grip bent-over row:
- Hold a barbell with an underhand grip (palms pointing away) with your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Hinge at your hips so that your back is flat, your chest is up, and you are in the proper row position.
- Contract your lats and biceps to row the barbell up towards your stomach, and then lower the weight back down slowly with control.
There you have it! The best bicep workout routine for excellent gains. Learn more about how to build muscle fast in our guide here.