There’s no argument – biceps are the ultimate showman muscle.
Biceps aren’t naturally very large, so when they are, you can be sure that the person attached to them is probably ripped. Although this muscle is associated with bodybuilders, anyone can learn how to build bigger biceps.
In this article, I’ll be showing you the fastest way to tone arms through targeted biceps exercises. I’ll walk you through the 101 of muscle building, the anatomy of bicep muscles, and eight bicep isolation exercises.
Once you’ve nailed that, I’ll share a week long routine and some tips and tricks to boost your diet, nutrition, and overall upper body strength.
I’ll leave no stone unturned so you can get started using proven methods to build bigger arms, improve your health, and create lasting muscle mass.
How to Get Bigger Biceps 101
There are two fundamental strategies to bulking out your biceps and muscles in general – calorie surplus and progressive overload.
1. Calorie Surplus
To gain and keep muscle, you need more calories in than out. Your daily calorie needs depend on many factors, including your age, weight, and activity levels. First, find out what you need using a total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) calculator. (1)
You should only be in surplus by around 250 to 500 calories a day. Your body can only build half a pound of muscle a week, so an excessive surplus will result in fat gain.
2. Progressive Overload
To avoid plateaus and make the most of your time in the gym, use progressive overload to build muscles steadily over time.
Progressive overload means that you regularly and incrementally increase the intensity or volume of your routine. Your body will constantly need to work to adapt to your new demands, by building new muscle and increasing strength.
Anatomy of Bicep Muscles
The biceps or biceps brachii is the muscle on the top of your upper arm. It’s made up of a “short head” and a “long head” that work together as a single muscle. The biceps brachii bends the forearm toward the upper arm.
The brachialis is a muscle in the upper arm that flexes the elbow joint. It sits deeper than the biceps brachii and works as the prime mover of elbow flexion.
Although the biceps brachii is the “show muscle”, the brachialis actually generates more power. (2)
Biceps training works with the triceps, shoulders, and back to allow the shoulder and elbow to function optimally. Strong biceps are necessary for any sport or activity that requires grabbing, pulling, and lifting.
8 Best Biceps Exercises
1. Chin Ups
By gripping the pull-up bar with an underhand grip, chin ups can lazer-focus muscle growth on your biceps.
To start, hang from the bar using an underhand hold. Hands should be shoulder-width apart, and feet should be off the ground.
Pull up until your chin is slightly above the bar.
Return to starting position by slowly lowering yourself down. Elbows should always be slightly bent. If you aren’t able to get feet off the ground, find a spotter or weight-assisted machine to modify this movement.
Related: Best Bodyweight Bicep Exercises
2. Regular Grip Barbell Curl
This barbell curl should be a go-to isolation exercise for working the full length of your biceps. For this curl, you’ll need a barbell.
Start by standing straight, with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the barbell so that your arms are extended and you have a stable underhand grip. Keeping upper arms steady with elbows close to your sides, bend your arms to lift the barbell to chest height.
Return to starting position by extending your arms and lowering the barbell back to hip height. Repeat for each rep.
3. Reverse Grip Bicep Curl
It’s normal to grab a lighter weight, since this grip is usually undertrained.
Start by standing straight with feet apart. Keeping elbows close to your sides,
hold a barbell by your hips at shoulder width with your palms facing down. Using only your forearms, curl the weight up to shoulder height. Squeeze, then slowly lower back to starting position.
4. Cable Bicep Curl
Cable curls use a low pulley and cable to work your biceps and improve stability.
Start by standing upright while holding a curl bar that connects to a low pulley. Grab the cable handle with two hands, keeping it shoulder width and elbows tucked into your sides.
The palm of your hands should be facing you and arms should be extended so your hands begins at hip height.
Continue curling until your arms are fully bent and the bar is close to shoulder level. To release, slowly extend to lower down to starting position.
5. Dumbbell Preacher Curl
This exercise works one arm at a time, training the biceps to use full range of motion and benefit for your biceps.
To complete preacher curls, you’ll need a dumbbell and a preacher or incline bench.
First, place your upper arm on the bench. Bend your forearm so the dumbbell at shoulder height.
To begin, lower the dumbbell until your arm is fully extended. Once extended, ensure your wrist stays straight to keep the biceps engaged. Use your biceps to curl the weight up back to starting position until your biceps is fully contracted and the dumbbell is at shoulder height. Once you’ve finished your reps, switch hands.
6. Incline Dumbbell Curl
This move allows your arms to move behind your body, giving you full range ability to work your shoulders and the long head of the bicep. Incline dumbbell curls require two dumbbells, and an adjustable angled bench.
Adjust the angle to around 45 to 60 degrees – the lower your bench, the better this exercise can create muscle isolation and target your biceps.
Sit with the dumbbells held down by your sides, palms facing inward. Hold the upper arms still, and curl your forearms to shoulder level. As you curl, rotate your palms so once they reach shoulder level, the palm faces you. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position to repeat.
7. Hammer Curl
Hammer Curls help build the biceps, as well as the smaller brachialis and brachioradialis - allowing you to develop bigger muscle. To do the hammer curl, you’ll need two dumbbells.
Start by standing straight and holding one dumbbell in each hand by your sides. Palms should be facing inward. Keeping elbows tucked and upper arms stationary, curl the dumbbells to
shoulder height. Squeeze the muscle, then slowly extend your arms and lower the dumbbells back to hip height.
8. EZ Bar Curl
EZ or cambered bar curl is one of the best biceps builder exercises. The EZ bar helps you vary the angle of your grip, which challenges different parts of your biceps.
Start by standing and grasping an EZ curl bar at the wide outer handle. Stand straight with arms extended.
Elbows should be near your sides and the palms of your hands facing forward.
Keeping your upper arms stationary, raise the weight until your arm is fully bent and the bar is at shoulder level. Hold, then return to starting position by extending your arms to lower.
2 Best Biceps Workouts
Now that you know how to target your biceps, here’s an easy to follow workout routine that you can use for the week.
These sets can be combined with shoulder, chest, and back exercises so you get a comprehensive upper-body workout.
Because these muscles are all highly interconnected, it’s important to leave two rest days between routines. Without enough rest, your body won’t be able to do the work it needs to repair and build muscle.
To avoid strain or injury, rest 60-90 seconds between sets to assess if you need to adjust your weight or posture.
1. Workout A - Monday
- Chin-Ups (weighted): 3 sets of 4-6 reps
- E-Z Bar Curls: 3 sets of 6-8 reps
- Dumbbell Hammer Curls: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
2. Workout B - Thursday (Or minimum 48 hours after workout A)
- Barbell Curls: 3 sets of 6-8 reps
- Dumbbell Curls: 3 sets of 6-10 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Curls: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
5 Workout Tips To Maximize Gains
1. Stretch Properly and Warm up Beforehand
Warming up and stretching should always be a part of your workout routine.
Warming up prepares your body for exercise because it increases your heart rate, which reduces stress on your heart. (3)
It also increases blood flow to your muscles, which helps your body make the most of your exercise.
2. Don’t Go Too Heavy on the Weights
It can be difficult figuring out how much weight you should use per exercise.
Too much and you may have bad posture and cause strain or injury. Too little and you might not get the gains you deserve.
Thankfully – there’s a formula you can use to figure out how much weight is right for you.
First, you’ll need to determine your one-rep max, which is the maximum amount of weight you can lift if you only had to do one rep.
Use an online calculator to determine how much weight you should use in your exercises, and avoid strain or injury.
3. Train to Failure
Training to failure doesn’t mean you failed your workout – it means you tried so hard that your body can’t do another rep.
Although it’s a good muscle building technique, you shouldn’t overuse it.
Save training to failure for simpler exercises to avoid injury. Use these exercises at the end of your routine to cap off your hard work.
According to a Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study, training to failure increases the release of muscle-building hormones compared to standard exercise methods.
4. Use the Right Form
Because of the way the biceps muscles are arranged, correct form is important to correctly target these muscles.
Elbows should not flare and not for most moves should not drop below parallel to the floor.
You should also be extending and bending your arm to activate biceps exercise.
Bad form will not only decrease the effectiveness of your workout, but risks strain or injury.
5. Don’t Overtrain
Because the biceps, triceps, and deltoids frequently work together, it’s common to accidentally overtrain this area of the body.
Overtraining actually breaks muscle down instead of building it up, killing progress you’ve made.
To avoid overtraining, schedule your routine so that you rotate between entirely different areas of the body (upper body vs lower body and not bicep day vs triceps day) and schedule rest days to promote muscle mass.
Diet & Calories
Muscle is an energy-hungry tissue that can’t be built without a calorie surplus. However, a surplus doesn’t mean a free-for-all.
Your body can only create so much muscle in a week.
If you consume more than 300 surplus calories a day, your body will likely store those calories as fat. (4)
Use a fitness tracker, calorie counter, and other free online tools to help guide your meals based on your activity levels.
Protein Is Key
Protein should be your go-to nutrient when you need to full up. It naturally slows digestion, creates muscle, and stabilizes blood sugar.
It also supports weight loss because muscle tissue burns more calories, making it easier to keep up with your meal plan. (5)
If you’re hungry between meals or after a workout, grab a protein rich snack to hold you through.
Some options might be fruit and nut bars, lentil salad, and apple and peanut butter. You can check other protein sources by watching this video:
Supplements To Boost Muscle Growth
Creatine is a substance naturally found in your muscle cells and helps produce energy during strenuous exercise. (6)
Whey is a byproduct of cheese production that is now used as a health supplement.
Studies show that its properties support muscle growth, improve strength, and accelerate fat loss.
Both of these supplements come in powders, capsules, or premade snacks that can easily be incorporated into your diets. An easy way to get the exact amount of supplement you want is to make smoothies for before or after your workouts.
Before hitting the gym, have a pre-workout smoothie to prepare your body for exercise. Include simple carbs for quick digestion, protein, and fiber. Post-workout smoothies should have carbs to replenish your glycerin levels and protein to repair and build muscles.
A study by the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that creatine can increase muscle mass, strength, and exercise performance.
1. How Many Times a Week Should You Train Biceps?
You should train your biceps two times a week.
A 2016 Sports Medicine study showed that major muscle groups should be trained at least twice a week to maximize muscle growth.
You have to allow time between biceps workouts for your muscles to rest and repair. If you work your biceps more often than every 72 hours, you run the risk of over-training them. Not only will this cause you to plateau in your muscle growth, but you'll run the risk of injuring your biceps.
2. How Long Does It Take to Build up Your Biceps?
How long it takes to build up your biceps can depend on a variety of factors including your age, genetic makeup, and past exercise history.
However, you can still get bigger biceps by doing a variety of exercises, including hand-weights, pulley machines, and body-weight exercises.
Be sure not to overtrain so your body has time to recover and build muscle.
Getting Bigger Biceps: The Bottom Line
In this article, I discussed how you can achieve big biceps and improve your health through sharing some information on biceps, outlining isolation exercises, giving you some tips on nutrition, and answered some FAQ’s on getting bigger arms.
All of these exercises can be easily done with basic gym equipment. Biceps will help you achieve a sculpted upper body, helping you improve arm, back, and shoulder strength as well as looking kick-ass in photos.
In combination with a curated diet and strategic supplements, you’ll be on your way to Schwarzenegger arms in no time.
- Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN, 4 Keys to Strength Building and Muscle Mass, retrieved from https://www.eatright.org/fitness/training-and-recovery/building-muscle/strength-building-and-muscle-mass
- Dan Washmuth, Brachialis Muscle: Function, Location & Nerve Supply, retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/brachialis-muscle-function-location-nerve-supply.html
- Gordon E. Howard , Carl S. Blyth & William E. Thornton, Effects of Warm-up on the Heart Rate during Exercise, retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10671188.1966.10614762
- Erica Kannall, How Does Your Body Store Excess Calories?, retrieved from https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/body-store-excess-calories-9627.html
- Kris Gunnars, BSc, How Protein Can Help You Lose Weight Naturally, retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-protein-can-help-you-lose-weight