Best bicep workouts to build impressive upper-arm muscle

The best bicep workouts will help develop well-defined arms and upper-body strength

Group doing one of the best bicep workout moves
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best bicep workouts give results we instantly recognize. You can find bulging arms in almost every TV show, movie, and Instagram post. Muscular biceps are visually impressive, but there's more to this upper-body muscle than aesthetics alone.

You can promote muscle growth in this area by adding protein into your diet. To save money on this supplement, it's worth checking out this year's Black Friday protein deals. 

More developed biceps improve our arm strength, but the muscle also plays a key role in our shoulders' function. Previous research has found that the biceps are vital to shoulder stability, while damage to this area can cause long-term shoulder pain.

Consequently, it's crucial to develop your biceps safely to prevent injuring other parts of your upper body.  As quite a few of the best bicep workouts involve dumbbells, you can exercise each arm independently. This makes these upper arm moves the ideal choice for strength training if you have injured one arm.

According to one study, even exercising a single arm can improve strength and decrease muscle loss in the other. If you're keen to develop strong arms, it's worth investing in a set of the best adjustable dumbbells.

With these, you can easily incorporate a variety of the best bicep workouts with dumbbells into your exercise routine while adjusting the weight to an achievable level. 

The best bicep workouts

Fortunately, you don't have to do endless curls to build t-shirt muscle. We've put together a varied list of the best bicep exercises to get your upper arms working. Unless otherwise noted, aim to work for 45 seconds on each move rather than setting a rep goal. 

  1. Banded curls
  2. Waiter's curls
  3. Renegade rows
  4. Drag curls
  5. Underhand pull-ups
  6. V-grip pull-downs
  7. Single arm hammer bicep curl
  8. Tricep kickback
  9. Bicep curl to overhead shoulder press

1. Banded curls

This exercise requires one of the best resistance bands, which can be picked up very cheaply and will prove invaluable for future workouts. Loop the band underneath your feet and grab the other end in each hand, knuckles facing the floor.

Now squeeze the biceps and curl the band upwards, keeping the elbows tucked into your sides. At the very top of the move, the hands should be level with your shoulders but a few inches out in front of your body.

Stop here at the height of the contraction and lower back down to the start in a controlled fashion. Repeat for the duration, then aim to perform the set twice. 

2. Waiter's curls

Grab a single dumbbell in one hand, but place the weight plate in the palm of both hands, as if you were serving it to some dinner guests. From this position, keep the elbows tucked into your sides and curl the dumbbell upwards, but ensure the palms of your hands always face the ceiling.

This shifts any strain away from your wrists and will rely solely on your bicep to complete the movement. Every rep should be slow, so look to take three seconds on the way up, pause, then take three seconds on the way down.

3. Renegade rows

This exercise is traditionally performed with dumbbells, a kettlebell or any other kind of manoeuvrable weight, but starting with just your bodyweight is a good method of building a solid strength platform to improve upon.

Adopt a press-up position, with arms fully extended but elbows not quite locked out. Imagine you are gripping an imaginary dumbbell with the left hand and “pull” it off the ground by engaging the biceps and shoulder muscles.

Squeeze the left shoulder blade as you pause at the top of the move and return the hand to the floor slowly. Swap sides and repeat. Once you feel ready, add a dumbbell into the exercise. 

4. Drag curls

In the same way as with the banded curls, loop your resistance band under your feet and take a solid grip on the other end. Rather than curling the arms out and upwards, you are going to drag the band up your sides, as if you were pulling up your trousers. 

This will force your elbows back but cause a good contraction of the biceps at the very top of the move. Pause here for maximum effect before slowly returning. Work for the duration and aim for two sets. You can also switch the resistance band for dumbbells. 

5. Underhand pull-ups

You will need a chin-up or pull-up bar for this one, although a sturdy tree branch, monkey bars or any kind of solid apparatus will do, so long as you can get a good grip around the bar itself.

Ensure the bar is deep in the palm of your hands before starting, so force it into the fleshy area at the base of your thumb before wrapping the rest of your fingers around it. This will alleviate any stress on your wrists.

Now pull your body weight upwards, keeping the core, glutes and shoulder muscles tensed, but also imagine you are curling the bar towards you as you ascend and finish with your forehead near the bar near, as this places more focus on the biceps. Pause at the top and return to the start.

If this is too difficult, you can always tie a resistance band around the bar and place a knee or foot in the hanging loop for assistance. Do a many reps as you can while holding strong form in 30 seconds. 

6. V-grip pulldowns

You’ll need access to a gym for this one, although you can closely replicate it at home with a resistance band and a pull-up bar. This  move really helps build the brachialis, which is the classic bicep peak that bulges from the middle of the arm. 

Attach a v-grip handle to the pull-down machine in the gym and grab it with the palms facing towards each other. Now pull the attachment down towards the chest without moving your torso. Aim for between 12 and 15 reps. 

7. Single arm hammer bicep curl

Woman doing a single arm hammer bicep curl

(Image credit: Future)

Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand held at arm's length. Keep your elbows close to your torso and palms facing in. Keeping your upper arm still, curl the weight in one arm upwards.

Raise the weight until the dumbbell is at shoulder level. Pause briefly, inhale and lower the dumb-bell back down to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite arm.

8. Tricep kickback

Move one leg backwards and lean over your front leg slightly. With your upper arms parallel to the floor, elbows bent, raise the dumbbells behind you, keeping your arms still, until they are straight. Pause and lower the dumbbells.

9. Bicep curl to overhead shoulder press

Bicep curl

(Image credit: Future)

Stand feet hip-width apart with a dumbbell in each hand. Arms should be hanging down by your sides, palms forwards.

Flex your elbows to curl the weights in towards your chest. Rotate your arms and shoulders and extend up towards the ceiling. Pause before reversing the movement.

How to perform the best bicep workouts

You can create a workout routine from the moves in our bicep workout list or incorporate a few of them into your current exercise regimen. The important thing is to focus on your form, squeezing your biceps as you contract the muscle, and not rush the rep to avoid injuring yourself. 

To do this effectively, you’ll need to keep your attention on the move, but it also pays to practice contracting your biceps before getting started for the first time.

If you want to see how it feels, pick up a light weight in each hand, this can be anything from a can of food to a small dumbbell, and practice pulsing the mid-portion of a bicep curl for 45 seconds or more. 

Most of the bicep exercises listed here can be performed with a set of dumbbells, but can be adjusted for resistance bands. Some of the best bicep workouts are specifically designed around resistance bands, although you can also use them as dumbbell alternatives, too.