The best bicep workouts must be among the globe's most popular exercises. From Arnie’s bulging cannons to Madonna’s impressively sculpted guns, the relatively minuscule bicep muscles – or musculus biceps brachii if you want to be Latin about it – play a huge role in portraying a fit and healthy lifestyle. Filling a t-shirt or rocking a sleeveless dress is far easier if you have toned and defined arms to do the garment justice, and having strong arms is useful in many everyday scenarios.
But before you go out and start curling dumbbells until the cows come home, it is worth noting that the biceps are incorporated in most upper body pushing and pulling movements. In fact, many experts feel that specifically targeting the biceps is unnecessary, if you are already engaging in proper upper body resistance workouts, with the correct form. Push-ups, underhand pull-ups, barbell rows and many more incorporate the biceps effectively, and embarking on a routine that works a variety of muscle groups is preferable to simply focussing on one body part.
Nonetheless, for those who want to give their upper arms some close attention, we’ve collated some of the best biceps exercises. They should help you get more toned or pronounced muscles to fill your sleeves.
How to perform the best bicep workouts
The moves below are designed to work the biceps hard, so feel free to add a few of these into an existing upper body routine, or select five or six to create an intense, bicep-heavy workout that you can squeeze into a lunch break. Don't forget to rest the biceps for at least 24 hours before working them again, or risk fatiguing to the point where they simply don't develop.
You’ll ideally need a set of dumbbells or, if you fancy an inexpensive alternative, a small selection of resistance bands that come in a number of thicknesses. Focussing on the biceps involves a lot of curls and these are only really effective if you have some weight or a source of resistance to overload them.
Good mind/muscle connection is extremely important when it comes to working the biceps, as it is very easy to perform curls and the associated variations without really taxing the muscle you are actually attempting to build. As a result, it will pay dividends to practice contracting (squeezing) the biceps before you embark on a full blown workout.
To do this, you can simply grab something with some heft (it doesn’t have to be heavy) in each hand and practice pulsing the mid-portion of a bicep curl for 45 seconds or more. Squeezing the biceps during these mini-reps will force it to contract and allow you to sense how it feels when the biceps are really working. All you have to is replicate that sensation when performing any of the below.
The best bicep workouts
1. Banded curls (2 x rounds of 45 seconds)
This exercise requires a resistance band, 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 time period.
2. Waiter’s curls (45 seconds)
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 (don’t actually do that). 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 and three seconds the way down.
3. Renegade Rows (45 seconds, alternating arms)
This exercise is traditionally performed with dumbbells, a kettlebell or any other kind of manoeuvrable weight, but starting with simply the bodyweight is a good method of building a solid strength platform to improve upon. Adopt a press-up position, with arms full 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.
4. Drag curls (2 x 45 seconds)
Adopt the same position as the banded curls mentioned above, with your resistance bands looped underneath your feet and a solid grasp on the other end. But 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. This exercise can also be performed in the same fashion with a set of dumbbells.
5. Underhand pull-ups (30 seconds)
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 the bar near your forehead, 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.
6. V-grip pulldowns (12-15 reps)
You’ll need access to a gym for this one, although you can just about replicate with a resistance band and a pull-up bar at home. 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.