So you want to build your biceps for summer? If you’ve been working on your arms for a while, you’ll know that not all bicep exercises are created equal. But what are the best bicep exercises to focus on if bigger, stronger, or more sculpted arms are your goal?
“You can build your bicep muscles by eating right, training effectively, and by isolating your training to target the arms," FightCamp (opens in new tab) founding coach PJ Shirdan told Tom’s Guide. Far from being just an aesthetic goal, stronger biceps can help improve your overall upper body strength, helping you lift heavier weights in and out of the gym.
Shirdan has outlined some of the best bicep exercises to isolate the bicep muscle below, but has caveated that these exercises aren’t the only way to improve your bicep strength.
“The other way, that I believe is more fun and effective, is utilizing movements in which the biceps are a secondary/auxiliary muscle worked. For example, with pull-ups, chin-ups, and reverse pull-ups, we are activating the lats, deltoids, rhomboids, and your core all at the same time while working the biceps," said Shirdan "I love to train biceps, but I tend to begin with pull-ups and chin-ups, then isolated movements later in the workout. Train the whole body, and your biceps will grow."
Should you train your biceps muscles every day?
As tempting as it might be to add these exercises to your daily routine Shirdan warns “you should not train your biceps every day."
“Training breaks down the muscle fibers, and they need time to recover to grow back better. Repeating the breakdown of muscles continually without proper healing can delay growth, gains, and overall health,” adds Shirdan.
But how often should you be working on your biceps if you are hoping to build muscle? Shirdan says there’s nothing stopping you from fitting bicep-focused training 2 to 4 times per week into your routine, as long as you “give 24-36 hours of recovery between each session."
“Train hard, train smart, mix up your bicep routines, and don’t be afraid to do a little tricep work on your days not doing biceps since the triceps make up almost 70% of the upper arm," he adds.
What are the best exercises for building your biceps?
Ready to get started? According to Shirdan, these are the best bicep exercises to build muscle:
1. Chest-to-bar pull-ups
To do a chest-to-bar pull-up, grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your legs underneath your body, pull up on the bar until your chest touches the bar, pause at the top, before lowering back to your starting position. Don’t drop your weight back down, the entire movement should be slow and controlled.
2. Standing barbell curl
To do a standing barbell curl, start with your feet shoulder-width apart, your core braced, and your chest up. Holding a barbell with your hands just outside of your hips, and your palms facing away from your body, raise your hands slightly so you feel your biceps engage.
Slowly lift the barbell up towards your body, making sure the movement is coming from your biceps, pause at the top, then slowly lower the barbell down to your starting position. At the bottom of the movement, straighten your arms fully and tense your biceps before going onto your next rep.
3. Seated preacher curl
To do a seated preacher curl, you’ll need a preacher bench, which you should be able to find in most gyms. You can do the exercise with a barbell, dumbbell, or EZ bar. Start by sitting on the preacher bench, with your armpits underneath the sloped section.
Hold the weight in an underhand grip, with your palms facing up, and curl the weight up, keeping your upper arms flat on the bench, until your forearms are vertical to the bench. Pause here, then slowly lower down to your starting position. Your torso and upper body should stay still for the entire exercise — make sure the movement is coming from your biceps and you’re not rocking back and forth.
4. Reverse pull-ups with barbell
For a reverse or inverted pull-up, you’ll want to set your bar to waist height and lie underneath the bar. Grip the bar with an overhand grip, with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
Keeping your body straight and your feet pressed into the floor, pull your chest up towards the bar, keeping your elbows as far away from the bar as possible. Pause at the top, squeezing your back and shoulder muscles, before slowly lowering back to your starting position.
5. Standing cable curl
Unlike using a dumbbell or barbell, using a cable allows you to keep the muscle under tension throughout the exercise. Start by gripping the cable curl bar, keeping your torso upright, with your palms facing up to the ceiling, and your elbows tucked in close to your body.
Curl your hands up towards your torso, squeezing your biceps as you do. Pause at the top of the movement, then slowly lower your arms back to the starting position.
6. Standing dumbbell hammer curl
Holding a dumbbell in each hand with your hands in a neutral grip (with your palms facing your body), bend your arms slightly to engage your biceps — this is your starting position.
Keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, slowly curl the dumbbells up towards your chest. Pause at the top, before slowly lowering the dumbbells back to your starting position.
7. EZ bar reverse curls
The wavy handle on the EZ barbell is great at isolating the biceps during curls. Start by holding the EZ bar in front of your thighs, with your palms facing in towards your body. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
Curl the bar up to your shoulders, squeeze at the top, then lower the bar back to your starting position.
Looking for more workout inspiration? Here are six of the best resistance band exercises for building your arms without weights, plus a 15-minute dumbbell arm workout for a quick burn.