Working With the Best Bicep Workouts to Build Muscle and Get Cut
The pandemic did one good thing for many of us, and that’s getting us into shape. Over Half of Americans met the CDC’s physical activity guidelines last year, and fitness trends are only looking up!
While we’re all working on our fitness goals, there’s one that never seems to go away, and that’s bigger biceps. Every year we ask for bigger biceps for the Holidays, and this year, it may finally happen. Let’s talk about the best bicep workouts to turn your arms into tree trunks!
Why Biceps Are Important
In order to understand how to train any muscle, it’s essential to know its function. Each muscle has a biomechanical function to work with other muscles to perform a specific movement.
The bicep is most commonly associated with the curl or for contracting your arm. If you want to lift your hand from a relaxed position by your side, your bicep will be the primary driver of that movement.
However, the bicep offers more function than that. Almost any motion that requires you to contract your arms will require flexion from your bicep. Your latissimus dorsi or your deltoids may primarily drive these movements, but they would not be possible without the use of your biceps.
The final function of your bicep is for what exercise scientists and kinesiologists call “showing off.” Yes, all jokes aside, the bicep is undoubtedly the king muscle when it comes to showing off size and physique in the fitness industry. Sure, one could argue that abs have taken over, but if you’re wearing a shirt or if someone asks you to flex, you know you’re going to show off your biceps.
It makes biceps important for sports that involve your physique, especially bodybuilding. While they were still impressive, Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t get famous for his hamstrings.
All in all, if you’re looking to make it in the fitness industry as an influencer or a trainer, a solid set of biceps will help you sell yourself as a serious athlete.
Best Compound Movements for Your Biceps
The consensus has been long-established that compound movements are the key to muscle growth. Even if you only care about your biceps, you should still incorporate plenty of compound movements into your routine to help build your overall physique and even to grow your biceps.
That’s right. Working other muscles will help you grow your biceps. It is because the more muscles you hit, the more your body is forced to adapt. Compound movements put your body into an anabolic (muscle-building) state far more than isolation movements.
While it’s still a great idea to incorporate isolation movements into your routine, compound movements prioritize. Here’s one way to think about it:
Two men with the same genetics and same physique decide they want bigger biceps. They both agree to practice the same curling routine and the same diet. However, one of them decides to add a squat exercise into his program while the other sticks to curls. Whose biceps will be more prominent in a few months?
The answer is, without a doubt, assuming all things are equal, the man who is squatting along with the program. Unlike any other movement, Squatting grows muscles as it is the most anabolic lift, so don’t underestimate the importance of training your whole body.
However, bicep training will still play a significant role in growing your arms. Here, we’re going to talk about the most crucial compound exercised to grow your biceps and the proper form for each of them. Remember, never sacrifice form for heavier weight. Tearing your biceps is not going to help you grow them.
Many calisthenics athletes, gymnasts, and even bodybuilders consider this the king movement for your upper body. There’s a reason that a 60-pound chimpanzee is more robust than that steroid fiend you see at the gym. They do pull-ups as a full-time job.
The pull-up is one of the most natural upper-body movements humans can do, and it hits your back and biceps, unlike any other movement. There is no better movement for upper back development than the pull-up, which means that it offers an excellent anabolic effect while still training your biceps, secondarily.
The difference between a pull-up and chin-up is that your hands will face away from you on the grip. It is excellent for developing “taller” biceps that go higher when you flex.
We always mean, use a full range of motion when you do a pull-up. You want to start from a dead hang, pointing your elbows at 180, with your hands a little wider than shoulder-width (adjust this as you please), and pull until your chin is above the bar. Keep your feet together and try to keep your body as stiff as a board throughout the entire movement.
As you get more advanced, try to go higher, add weight, or try L-sit pull-ups.
If you cannot do a pull-up, don’t worry. You’re far from alone. Use resistance bands, jumping pull-ups, and negatives to working your way up. Negatives are a great way to start.
Stand on a box or step stool, start at the top position of a pull-up (chin above the bar) and try to bring yourself down as slowly as possible, and repeat for multiple reps. You will develop the strength to do a pull-up faster than you think.
The chin-up is a pull-up with your hands facing toward you. You will often hear that these work your biceps far more than your back, but this isn’t exactly the case. This movement will make your biceps “fatter” instead of taller.
You can see why just by looking at your arm. If your hands are facing in toward your body, flex your bicep and rotate your hand. You will notice that your bicep is “fatter” when your hand is facing toward you and “taller” when your hand’s reversed. It goes for all movements.
Again, start from a dead hang and try to pull yourself up, keeping your body as stiff as possible. When getting your first few pull-ups, it’s okay to move a little as a beginner, but focusing on proper form early on will only help you get stronger.
Also, for both the pull-up and chin-up, remaining stiff will engage your entire core. Not only do you want a more muscular body, but hiring more musculature will only help with overall muscle growth.
Focusing on the pull-up and the chin-up is excellent throughout your fitness career, especially at the beginning. Not only does it rely on high levels of strength, but they also rely on you being light enough to lift, which may encourage you to burn some fat. Pull-ups and chin-ups are a great way to demonstrate optimal health and wellness for athletes.
It is an excellent exercise if you’re starting your pull-up journey, have limited equipment, or want to switch up your rowing movements.
Also known as the Australian pull-up, the bodyweight row is where you hold onto a bar that’s low enough to the ground that you can stand up comfortably but high enough that your back won’t touch the ground. Somewhere between shoulder level and waist level is ideal.
To start, grab onto the bar with any grip that you prefer (switch it up as much as you’d like) and walk your feet under the bar until your shoulders are almost under the bar. Straighten up your body, keep your core tight, and pull yourself up without bending your body.
It is a great way to build pull-up strength and engage your lats and biceps from a different angle. Whether you are working out a gym, a home gym, or even at a playground, you can incorporate this movement into your training.
Alternatively, find monkey bars, grab on, and put your legs on top of another bar further away from you and perform a bodyweight row like that. It will target your shoulders a little more, but it will still hit your biceps all the same!
It is a controversial exercise because of the strain that it puts on your lower back. However, if you’re ready to practice critical form and prioritize safety, you will be okay. Choose a lighter weight to start, and then work your way up to find your comfort level.
Grab a barbell, stand up, keep your back up straight and your core tight. Start lowering the bar down your legs, literally sliding it on the way down, bend your knees slightly, and lean forward, ensuring your back is perfectly straight.
Without jerking, start the bar at the bottom with your arms straight and try to row it toward your lower chest. If you are feeling discomfort in your lower back, make sure your form is correct. If it is, try it with a lighter weight or move on to a different exercise.
It is a much easier variation for beginners. You need to grab a dumbbell off the rack and stay there. Grab the weight with one hand, place your other hand on the frame (or a bench) for stability, lean forward with your back straight, and row toward the side of your body.
Dumbbells also give you the option to rotate your hands if you choose to. It can attack your biceps from multiple angles with each rep. If you have an adjustable dumbbell, that’s about all you need for this exercise.
Pro tip: Switch the side that you start with it. You run out of energy when you’re doing up 6 to 12 reps on each side so that the second side may suffer because of it. Start on different sides to avoid long-term imbalances.
It is one of the most straightforward exercises for switching grips and attacking your biceps from different angles. You can grab other attachments for wide grips, narrow grips, overhand, underhand, or neutral.
Grab onto the attachment, push back with your legs while maintaining a straight back, lean your upper body slightly back, and pull. This motion is also known as a “low row” because of the angle you are drawing. It minimizes your lat involvement (slightly) and puts more strain on your biceps.
It is a lat movement when done the traditional way. We won’t deny that at all. However, you can always switch your grip on the pull-down machine to use broader or more narrow and neutral grips, which will allow you to target your biceps more.
However, no matter how you perform this movement, there will be some bicep engagement. Choose the right setting for the height of your legs, adjust the weight, grab on, lean back with a straight upper body, and pull.
This movement is different from pull-ups because of the angle you are pulling, the path of the bar, and the ability to adjust the weight as little as you want. It will also be easier to extend the range of motion for the movement, bringing the bar toward your chest.
For those who miss their bicep pumps on shoulder day, we have the exercise for you! You can perform upright rows with weight plates, a set of kettlebells, dumbells, or barbells.
Use a weight that’s less than your standard rowing weight (start as light as possible to find your comfort level), stand up straight, keep your feet about shoulder-width apart, grab the bar, and try to row the bar up to your chest. It is primarily a shoulder workout, but if you’ve never done it, believe us, your biceps will feel it!
Best Bicep Workouts
Isolation time. Remember, compound movements always come first, no matter what muscle you are trying to target. However, isolation movements are great for genuinely giving your biceps the edge that they need to grow.
Try to use these movements at the end of your training day to prevent your biceps from fatiguing and hindering your compound movements. It’s better to perform isolation movements with fatigued muscles than allow one fatigued muscle to affect several others.
All isolation movements involving your biceps will be some variation of a curl, as this is the primary movement of your bicep. If you know how to curl appropriately, then none of these exercises will be too challenging.
Strict Barbell Curls
It is far too common to cheat on barbell curls, so we want to emphasize the importance of strict barbell curls. Perform these as strictly as possible; place your back against a wall and your feet only slightly in front of you, so they don’t limit your range of motion. From there, curl the bar up to your shoulders.
A flat barbell will help you build fatter biceps, whereas an EZ bar (curl bar) will help you build more well-rounded biceps, targeting them from a different angle.
There are a few variations within this movement. Concentration curls are a popular one, or you can sit or stand and curl beside you.
Concentration curls involve sitting on a bench, leaning forward, placing your elbow on the inside of your thigh or knee, and curl. Keep your foot firmly planted on the floor to prevent too much wobble. It is a complex variation, so start with a lighter weight than average.
Alternatively, stand or sit and keep the dumbells beside you and curl them up. You can rotate your wrists differently to hit your biceps from different angles, but make sure that it’s your biceps doing the work. Sitting helps limit excessive movements, but standing with your back against a wall is even better.
You can always change your grips with dumbbell curls. By grips, we mean the angle of your wrist. You can have your palms facing toward you or away from you, but you can also do hammer curls with dumbbells.
Hammer curls are when you hold the dumbbell perpendicular to your body. Your palms will face inward toward each other. It helps build taller biceps and improve your view of the biceps from the back.
Stand in the cable cross, choose a side, and lower the cable feed to the bottom. Lock it in place, stand above it, select your desired grip, and curl.
You’ll notice more resistance toward the top of this range of motion than you’re used to with regular curls, making it an excellent addition to confuse your biceps and make them stronger.
It is also an excellent exercise for changing different grips and attacking your biceps from different angles and building a more well-rounded set of arms.
Alternatively, you can do high cable curls where the feeds are placed at about shoulder level, stand in the middle of the cable cross, and curl toward your shoulders, forming the prominent frontal flex position in the bodybuilding world.
Most gyms will have these setups. You will sit behind an angled platform for your elbows, grab onto a barbell, and curl. It eliminates any possibility of cheating and isolates your biceps.
It is an excellent exercise for beginners and advanced athletes looking to target their biceps, which you can do with any grip or bar. Some gyms will even have preacher curl machines, but a barbell will do just fine. You will likely notice that your weight tolerance reduced even if you think you have strict curls.
It is the same logic as the pull-up. Reverse your grip on your curls to both trains your grip and build your biceps to be taller. This movement will feel unnatural at first, so try lowering the weight to see how it feels. It’s also best practice to perform these against the wall to limit excessive movement.
You can do it with cables, barbells, kettlebells, or dumbbells. Take any curl variation on this list and face your palms outwards.
Practice Muscle-Building Habits
We won’t spend too much time on nutrition, sleep, or supplementation, but they are essential. Ensure you are getting enough macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat), and most importantly, enough calories. Even more importantly, consistency is the key.
Muscles will only build if your body is in a calorie surplus and you consume enough protein for your body to undergo protein synthesis. Micronutrients are also critical to preventing inflammation, reducing the risk of injury, facilitating muscle growth, aiding in recovery, and keeping you healthy.
Try to eat a wide variety of whole foods first and supplement when necessary. Don’t rely entirely on whey protein and multivitamins for everything.
Also, make sure you rest enough. Sleep is when your body makes repairs, meaning it’s critical for building muscle.
Also, don’t forget to push yourself in the gym. You want to see progress. Continue to make workouts harder and harder by adding more weight, new movements, and new rep schemes into your routine. If you do all of that, you’ll see the results in your biceps.
Lastly, it’s important not to overtrain your muscles. It’s essential to give your body adequate rest and work on opposing muscles to ensure proper muscle growth. Hitting back and biceps is excellent, but don’t forget chest and triceps, or the rest of your body for that matter.
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To the gun show, that is. Now that you know the best bicep workouts to build yourself a massive set of arms, that knowledge will only go to waste if you don’t put it to use. Keep up with your gym routine, don’t forget to change it up now and again, and stay up to date with our latest fitness news. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at any time!