The best bicep workouts have landed. And along with helping you build bigger muscles, these top-rated bicep-building exercises will work towards improving your upper body’s functions too.
But where’s the best place to start on your goal of toning your arms? While bodyweight workouts are great and have a well-earned place in any exercise regime, we’d suggest investing in free weights, like the best adjustable dumbbells. Once armed with these, you can perform a range of exercises to specifically load up and target your biceps. Why? According to research commissioned by the American Council on Exercise (opens in new tab), the best bicep workouts include exercises that really isolate the bicep muscles. And once armed with a pair of dumbbells, you can do just that.
But the good news about the best bicep workouts doesn’t stop there. Building your biceps will also benefit the function of your shoulders. According to a recent study by the National Library of Medicine (opens in new tab), our biceps are necessary for shoulder stability and any damage occurring here can lead to lasting shoulder pain.
To help you grow and tone, and do so with the correct form, keep reading to discover our top tips to make sure you ace the best bicep workouts perfectly.
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.
- Banded curls
- Waiter's curls
- Renegade rows
- Drag curls
- Underhand pull-ups
- V-grip pull-downs
- Single arm hammer bicep curl
- Tricep kickback
- 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 in to 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 maneuverable weight, but starting with just your body weight 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 to 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 as 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
Stand upright with a dumbbell in each handheld 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 dumbbell back down to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite arm.
8. Tricep kickback
Move one leg backward 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
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 lightweight 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.
James is a London-based journalist and Staff Writer at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.
In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.