When you first hit the gym, what was the first muscle you trained? Biceps. Endless curls for the girls to get bigger biceps. If you're a female, you likely didn't experience this but still want "shaped and toned" arms.
While the biceps are the most commonly trained muscle group, it is done poorly.
Just look around your commercial gym to see guys slamming curls while shaking their bodies like a salmon out of water. Impressive biceps take a targeted approach. Not one of slangin' weights. So, I have a complete guide to sleeve-busting biceps below!
But first, we must understand the anatomy of the biceps to know which exercises are most effective.
The biceps brachii are made of two muscle heads:
Both heads originate at the shoulder and insert on the radius bone in the outer forearm . The primary function of the biceps is to flex the elbow and supinate the forearm. They also help flex the shoulder. The biceps brachii elicit the greatest muscle activation when the forearm is supinated.
But the brachialis muscle is the strongest elbow flexor and is targeted with a neutral hand position. It originates on the bottom of the upper arm and inserts on the ulnar bone in the inner forearm. Its primary function is elbow flexion .
The brachioradialis contributes to elbow flexion and pronates and supinates the forearm. The most significant activation occurs when performing curls with a pronated hand position . Therefore, maximizing biceps growth requires performing elbow flexion with various hand positions.
How To Get Bigger Biceps Fast
Here are 5 rules to follow to build bigger biceps fast!
Emphasize Long Muscle Lengths
More and more research confirms that training at long muscle lengths is superior for muscle hypertrophy compared to short muscle length training.
Specifically referencing the research on biceps, a 2021 study found that performing the bottom half of the dumbbell preacher curl led to more significant improvements in strength and muscle size than performing the top half .
The same authors in 2023 followed this up with female subjects.
They found the bottom half reps resulted in more significant biceps growth at the bottom half of the biceps compared to performing the top of the rep .
1RM strength increase is also more significant in the bottom half rep group. This reinforces that long muscle-length training is essential for maximizing muscle growth. You can potentially target different parts of the muscle with different exercises.
There are three ways to attack this within your biceps training. Firstly, use a full range of motion. This stimulates the most hypertrophy as you create the most mechanical tension through stretch, a prerequisite for maximizing muscle growth .
Secondly, select exercises that place the biceps under greater stretch. For example, the incline dumbbell curl takes the biceps through a greater range of motion than the preacher curl .
And training biarticular muscles at extreme muscle lengths, as evidenced by the overhead triceps extension, leads to vast improvements in triceps growth .
Therefore, as the biceps brachii crosses the shoulder and elbow, training with extreme biceps length may result in similar findings.
Finally, you can take the original biceps research literally and use end-range partial reps as an intensity technique. For example, performing 10 full range of motion biceps curls and finishing the set with 6-10 bottom half partial reps.
Get Stronger On Compound Pulling Exercises
You have likely been told all you need are compound exercises to get bigger arms. Except this isn’t true. You need isolation exercises to overload the biceps through elbow flexion. However, that doesn’t make compound exercises useless.
Getting stronger on rows and chin-ups will impact your biceps growth positively. You'll get extra training volume for the biceps. As you get stronger, you can use heavier loads on your biceps isolation exercises.
Heavier loads and more reps equal bigger biceps.
Increase Your Biceps Training Volume
There’s a dose-response relationship between volume and gaining muscle . Meaning the more volume you do (measured as sets per muscle group per week), the greater the muscle growth (to a certain extent).
The range is typically 10 to 25+ sets per week . Very rarely would you exceed 25 sets per week for biceps, as this can quickly lead to burnout.
Use A Specialization Program
A simple way to increase training volume is to run a specialization program. In this instance, it may be a biceps or arm specialization program. The reason to use a specialization program instead of increasing biceps training volume in your current program is to reduce the training of other muscle groups.
This gives you more energy to attack the biceps with more effort and reduces your energy expenditure on other muscle groups. These muscle groups will still be trained but with minimum volume to maintain muscle mass.
The frequency of biceps training will increase from once to 2-3 times per week to allow the additional volume to be performed.
Vary Your Hand Position
As mentioned in the biceps anatomy section, different hand positions stimulate different muscles in the upper arm.
Supinated or palms up position targets the main biceps muscles, the biceps brachii. A neutral or semi-pronated position targets the brachialis. And pronated or palms down position targets the brachioradialis.
Therefore you must use these different hand positions to maximize biceps development. So which exercises fit into each category?
7 Best Exercises For Bigger Biceps
In my experience, these are the best exercises for bigger biceps. The biceps are a small muscle group mainly responsible for a single joint action. Therefore, there isn’t a huge variation of exercises to choose from that are truly effective.
But these are my go-to biceps exercises to blow up your arms.
Incline DB Curls
This is the first extreme biceps stretch exercise. As the biceps flex the elbow and are a synergist muscle for shoulder flexion, placing the shoulder into extension with an extended elbow increases the stretch.
Theoretically, this will enhance the hypertrophic response. Further, it’s a reprieve from the bent arm postures we spend our lives in at desks. Here’s how to do it:
The Bayesian curl is another extreme stretch variation but uses a cable. It has become popular recently because of the research on long muscle length training. Here’s how to do it:
Barbell Biceps Curl
The barbell biceps curl is considered the king of biceps exercises. It allows the heaviest loads and smokes your biceps and forearms. While it doesn’t provide the same stretch as the above exercises, it’s been a staple biceps builder for decades. Here’s how to do it:
DB Hammer Curls
This is my go-to exercise for hammering (no pun intended) the brachialis, the strongest elbow flexor. You’ll notice the hammer curl is the exercise you can use the most weight because of this. That doesn't mean the biceps brachii aren't hit; they also help with elbow flexion.
But you’re emphasizing the strong brachialis muscle with a semi-pronated hand position. Here’s how to do it:
Band Reverse Curls
You can do reverse curls with various equipment. Barbells and EZ bars are the typical prescriptions. But I’ve recently been using the band or cable reverse curl. It creates a brachioradialis and forearm pump you won't get using barbells.
The tension created in the shortened position with the bands is at another level. Because the shoulder position doesn't matter since the brachioradialis isn’t involved in shoulder flexion like the biceps brachii, you can perform the reverse curl effectively with bands. Here’s how to do it:
If you’re looking for the perfect set of bands for smashing biceps, skip the strength bands on Amazon. I use the Iron Neck Resistance Bands, which include handles and are far more comfortable.
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The favorite biceps exercise of the golden era of bodybuilding goes to the preacher curl. Think of it as the purest biceps isolation exercise since your arms are rested against a pad. Your shoulders cannot move to help with the curl.
Instead, everything is powered by elbow flexion. If you've done these before, you know the sick pumps from this exercise. I prefer an EZ bar as it's easier on the wrists, but you can also use 1-arm dumbbell variations with the preacher curl. Here’s how to do it:
And we finish with a compound exercise for the biceps. Chin-ups are often forgotten in the realm of biceps exercises because they are seen as a back exercise, which is true. But the supinated chin-up position elicits greater biceps activation than lat activation .
Add weight to that, and it's like doing an extremely heavy barbell cheat curl. Here’s how to do it:
Best Biceps Workout For Mass
A1) Weighted Chin-Ups
3 x 6
B1) DB Hammer Curl
4 x 10
C1) Band Reverse Curl
3 x 15
D1) Incline DB Curl
3 x 12
To get bigger biceps, you must focus on elbow flexion with varying hand positions emphasizing long muscle lengths through full ranges of motion. Biceps are a simple muscle group to grow as there are limited options for training them.
Go hard on the basics of biceps curls while getting stronger on your pulling compound lifts, and you have a recipe for success.
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