Fitness: This is the best exercise to get bigger biceps, according to science

The concentration curl is the best way to get bigger biceps, according to a study from the American Council on Exercise

Bicep curl
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When people think about resistance training and building muscle, we often think of big biceps squeezed into tight t-shirts as a symbol of strength. But thick arms are about more than just vanity: in research from UCLA, male study participants with large arm and leg muscles were 68 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than males with less muscle, as long as they maintained low belly fat. 

So how best to grow your guns? The American Council on Exercise looked at seven of the most common bicep exercises to find out which were the most effective in stimulating growth. The study looked at the following moves:

  • Cable curl
  • Barbell curl
  • Concentration curl
  • Chin-up
  • EZ Curl (with both wide and narrow grip)
  • Incline curl
  • Preacher curl

The researchers affixed electrodes on three different muscle groups in the arm to find out which move generated the most electrical activity. The results found the concentration curl, as the name suggests, stimulates the bicep more than any of the other movements. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the move, the concentration curl is that classic image you see of Arnold Schwarzenegger resting his elbow on his thigh while doing bicep curls. The idea behind it is to use your elbow to prevent other muscle groups from assisting with the lift, concentrating solely on the bicep.  

This is what's known as an isolation exercise. It's different to compound movements, such as deadlifts and the bench press, which tend to work lots of muscle groups at once. They're great for whole-body exercise and burning calories, but if you're looking for growth in a specific area, isolation exercises are the way to go.

They often take less energy to perform, so many gym-goers start their session with compound movements and save isolation exercises until later on in the workout. If you're looking to get stronger with muscled, toned arms, the concentration curl is a great way to work your bicep. 

Make sure you're pairing bicep exercises with tricep exercises, like tricep extensions or push ups, to ensure you're working both muscle groups in your arm. 

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. 

Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.