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Biceps Exercises

Looking for ways to build bigger biceps and biceps strength? Check out these tips for new ways to add serious size to your biceps.

Biceps Exercises

Arms are one body part that, when sufficiently developed and defined, just scream right away, "Yes, I train my ass off!" While the triceps compose the majority of upper arm mass, the biceps obviously play an important role in overall arm size. Below you'll find a few of my favorite training techniques to blast the biceps and add both size and strength to help you achieve the sleeve-busting guns you're after.

Pre-Exhaust Your Biceps

Sometimes getting your biceps to grow means giving them a little shock treatment – something unique and different to spark new growth. That's exactly what this biceps pre-exhaust routine aims to do. It's a lethal combo starting with cable curls and finishing with bodyweight biceps pulls in a squat rack. Your arms will never know what hit them!

Biceps Ladder

Bigger biceps are much sought after, yet guys (and even girls) in the gym rarely move away from the standard fare of exercises: Curls using dumbbells, barbells, cables and a few other common types of equipment. These are all good curling variations, but don't forget about one specific machine on arm day: The Smith Machine.

I'm not talking about Smith machine curls here, or even drag curls. I'm talking about my popular Biceps Ladder. It's essentially one long extended set, where you do bodyweight curls all the way up a Smith machine (though a squat rack can be used as well), one notch at a time.

How To Do It: You'll start your curls at the lowest position possible, where with your arms extended and your body hanging down the floor your back is hovering just above the floor. Rep out to failure, then raise the bar one setting and go to failure again. You'll repeat this sequence – with no rest between settings – until the bar is at around chin height on the machine. The higher you go up, the easier the movement gets. Trust me, you'll need this lower degree of difficulty late in the set, because your biceps will be thoroughly fatigued.

When To Do It: Do the Biceps Ladder at the beginning of your biceps workout (when your biceps are fresh). Do 2-3 ladders total, resting 2-3 minutes between each one. After that, continue with the rest of your biceps workout, doing anywhere from 1-3 more curling exercises (depending on your current fitness level) using straight sets.

Here's a short video demonstration of me doing the Biceps Ladder:

And below is a sample biceps workout where Biceps Ladders kick things off. Notice that I kept volume in check for the exercises after the ladders. Your biceps will be sufficient fried with those 2-3 trips up the ladder, so no need to go crazy after that on biceps.

Workout Note: *Reps will vary from person to person; just make sure you go to failure at each "rung" up the ladder.

Download This Workout

Seated Barbell Curl

There's no debating the fact that barbell curls are the best overall mass builder for the biceps.

To learn how to place more focus on the long (outer) head of the biceps or the short (inner) head of the biceps, watch the video below:

Yet many guys find that when they do the standard barbell curl standing, they feel it more in the forearms and less in the biceps. Consequently, their biceps growth is limited.

This is really not all that surprising once you consider that when you perform a typical biceps curl standing the first half of the movement (from straight arm to arm bent about 90º) primarily involves the brachialis (muscle underneath the biceps) and the brachioradialis (forearm muscle on the thumb side of the arm). The biceps don't really kick in and take over the curl until the elbow is close to 90º. This first half of the ROM (range of motion) of the biceps curl is the weakest due to the fact that the biceps haven't fully kicked in yet to assist the brachialis and brachioradialis.

Therefore, when you do a full ROM curl starting with your arms fully extended in the bottom position, you are limited to a weight that you can perform through the weakest portion of the ROM. This limits the amount of stress that you can place on the biceps, and can limit your biceps growth. The seated barbell curl is an exercise that can help you maximize the stress placed on the biceps and therefore biceps growth.

To do the seated barbell curl, sit on a short-back bench or on the end of a flat bench, with your feet planted firmly on the floor while you rest a straight bar or EZ-bar on the top of your thighs. Hold the bar with an underhand, shoulder-width grip and curl it toward your shoulders, stopping where you normally would for a standard barbell curl. Hold this position and contract your biceps as hard as possible then slowly lower the bar back to your thighs and repeat for reps.

This exercise basically removes the weakest portion of the curl by starting the exercise in the strongest portion of the curl, with the arms bent. This allows you to use more weight than you can normally handle on the standing barbell curl (about 20-30% more) and places more overload on the muscle fibers you are trying to target—the biceps. It also turns the barbell curl into an even greater isolation exercise, by minimizing the involvement of the brachialis and brachioradialis from the curl to better emphasize the biceps.

Supinating Dumbbell Curl with Offset Grip – A Simple Trick for Bigger Biceps

The biceps don’t just flex (bend) the elbow as in a standard curling motion. They also supinate the forearm – the motion in which the palm turns upward (or forward if your arm is at your side).

If you stand sideways to a mirror, bend your arm 90 degrees, and rotate your forearm back and forth, you’ll see the biceps shortening every time you turn the palm up. That’s the biceps initiating forearm supination.

When doing a barbell curl, your forearms are going to stay facing forward throughout because your hands are fixed on the bar. But on dumbbell curls, you don’t only want to do reps where the forearms start in the supinated position (palms facing forward at the bottom) and you simply curl up from there. You should also be doing curls where you supinate as you’re flexing the elbow – in other words, starting in a neutral position at the bottom, with the palm facing in, and turning the palm up (supination) as you curl the weight.

However, when you hold the middle of the dumbbell handle (as you normally would when doing dumbbell curls), there’s really no resistance against supination, as you’re supinating against gravity.

There’s one “trick” you can use to change that and add a little extra resistance to the biceps: Use an offset (unbalanced) grip on the dumbbell, sliding your hand closer to the thumb side of the handle so that there’s a greater space on the pinky side. This will make the pinky side heavier, which will place more resistance on the biceps, specifically against the supinating motion. The result? A more difficult curl, but also bigger biceps!

How and When To Do It: Next time you’re doing dumbbell curls (either seated or standing), slide your thumb over so it’s right up against the side of the dumbbell and keep it there throughout the set. And make sure you start each rep with your forearm neutral (palm facing in), turning your forearm/palm up as you curl the weight. You can do these offset supinating dumbbell curls either one arm at a time or both.

Building a Better Biceps Peak

There's not a guy alive who isn't interested in a more impressive biceps peak. And while the amount of peak you have on your biceps is genetically predetermined to an extent, that doesn't mean you can't drastically improve what you've got. The key is proper exercise selection. The majority of the peak that pops up when you flex your biceps is made up of the biceps' long (outer) head. And although both the long head and short (inner) head work together to flex the arm, you can place better emphasis on the long head with the right techniques.

I covered three such techniques in the video below:

  • Curl with your upper arms behind your body—e.g. behind-the-back cable curls, incline dumbbell curls, and Smith machine drag curls
  • Perform curls with the arms turned in toward the body—as in concentration curls and barbell curls with a close grip (hip width or closer)
  • Use a neutral grip—any version of hammer curl; dumbbell hammer curls being the most common, but cable hammer curls using a rope attachment work great too

Give the following "peak-focused" biceps routine a try to target the long head for a more impressive pair of pipes. I broke it up into two separate weekly workouts to accommodate the various exercises that target the long head. Give your biceps at least two full days of rest between workouts, and feel free to do these workouts whenever you normally train biceps in your split—with back, triceps, chest, etc.

Workout Notes: In Workout 1, do the first two sets of barbell curl with a narrow grip (inside shoulder-width) to emphasize the biceps' long head. When performing concentration curls, don't take an official rest—go back and forth from arm to arm until three sets per arm are completed.

In Workout 2, make sure your hands on inside shoulder width on cable curls to emphasize the long head. On the last set, do 1-2 drop sets after reaching failure with the initial weight. Because it’s a cable exercise, lightening the load is a simple matter of moving the pin up the stack.

Download This Routine

Zottman Curls

Named after famed strongman George Zottman, the Zottman curl is a unique exercise that involves rotating your hands at the top of the movement to take the focus off of the biceps during the negative portion of the curl. This is helpful because it not only targets the brachialis and brachioradialis, but does so using more weight than you'd likely use with regular reverse curls. Strengthening these muscles will help improve the first half of your curling ROM while also adding size to your forearms and biceps.

For a more detailed breakdown, read my Zottman Curl Master Class article.


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