Bicep Workouts: The Perfect Arm Exercise for Toned Arms

Bicep Workouts

The biceps are the muscles located on the top of your upper arm. They consist of 2 primary muscles: the short head and the long head.

They are responsible for moving and rotating the forearm and bending at the elbow when bringing your forearm upwards or toward the body.

They control all the pulling motions. They help control not only your arms but also your shoulders

Bicep workouts at home

Some of the bicep workouts will need to be at the gym if you don’t have dumbbells or a pulley system.

However, there are several you can do at home without any equipment:

  • Diamond Push-Ups
  • Reverse Hand Push-Ups
  • One Arm Push-Ups
  • Side Plank
  • Pull-Ups (if you have a bar).
  • Chin-Ups
  • Plank Up-Down 

You may see faster results if you use equipment, but you can always use your own bodyweight to start. 

Bicep workouts with dumbbells

There are numerous bicep workouts you can do with dumbbells.

Some are more difficult than others, so always start slow and work your way up.

Always start with low weights if you are a beginner.  

Alternating Incline Dumbbell Curl

  1. On an incline bench, lie down slowly with one dumbbell in each hand. 
  2. Keep your palms facing forward. 
  3. Slowly lift one eight to the front of your shoulder with your elbow and shoulder stationary.
  4. Squeeze the bicep at the top and pause shortly.
  5. Slowly lower your arm back down.
  6. Repeat with the other arm. 

Curls are one of the best ways to build muscle.

In a study done by the Department of Health Science and Human Performance at the University of Tampa, the overall session EMG amplitude was significantly higher in people who performed incline dumbbell curls than in the control group. 

Standing Reverse Barbell Curl

Doing a reverse curl can better target your bicep and help increase muscle mass.

Lightweights are better for this exercise and will still activate all your muscle groups. 

  1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms straight to the floor. Keep your shoulders back and hold the barbell with both hands.
  2. Lift the weight to the front of your shoulders keeping elbows and shoulders stationary.
  3. Pause at the top and squeeze your biceps at the top. 
  4. Slowly lower your arm back down. 
  5. Repeat with the other arm. 

Seated Alternating Hammer Curl

This is a lesser-known dumbbell bicep workout, but it is extremely effective for building muscle mass.

Follow the steps below to get started:

  1. Sit on a 90-degree bench with one dumbbell in each hand. Face your palms forward toward your body.
  2. Extend arms straight to the floor. 
  3. Slow lift one weight to the front of your shoulder while keeping your elbow and shoulder stationary. 
  4. Squeeze the bicep at the top and pause.
  5. Slowly lower your arm back down.
  6. Repeat the movement with the other arm. 

Inner Bicep workouts

With a two-section muscle, it is important to exercise both parts to keep them stable and even. Always work out your inner bicep muscles. 

Preacher Curl

  1. Sit at a preacher bench (due to this at the gym if you don’t have one at home). Hold an EZ bar with a strong underhand grip.
  2. Curl the bar up to the top. 
  3. Always pause and squeeze to get the most out of the move. 
  4. Lower the bar very slowly. 
  5. Lower until the arms are completely straight. 

Cable Bar Curl

This is a great exercise to do at the gym or with a cable bar in your home gym if you have it. 

  1. Hold a straight bar attached to the lower pulley. 
  2. Keep your elbows by your sides.
  3. Curl the bar up and pause at the top briefly. 
  4. Lower the bar slowly and with control. 
  5. Repeat in reps. 

Cable Hammer Curl

The hammer curl is also another great exercise for strengthening the inner biceps.

  1. Use a cable with a double-handed rope.
  2. Use less weight than with the cable bar curl. 
  3. Hold it with palms facing inward. 
  4. Curl it up slowly and pause at the top.
  5. Lower with as much control as possible. 

Everything you need to know about bicep workouts

What is the best bicep workout?

Various exercises target the biceps to get a good workout.

A combination of bicep exercises that target both the long head and the short head will provide the best results.

Some of the most recommended and highly rated bicep exercises:

  • Incline Dumbbell Curl– grip variations (neutral, hammer, twisting)
  • Incline Inner-Biceps Curl
  • Concentration Curl– seated and standing variations
  • EZ-Bar Curl
  • Wide-Grip Standing Barbell Curl
  • Zottman Curl
  • Barbell Curl
  • Dumbbell Curl– standing or seated variations
  • Hammer Curl– standing and seated variations
  • Cable Curl- traditional or overhead variations
  • Preacher Curl- EZ bar or dumbbell variations
  • Chin Up
  • Reverse Curl- EZ bar, dumbbell, barbell variations

The type of workout made from some of the above exercises may vary depending on the desired results.

For toning focus on lower weights, high repetitions, and possible more exercises.

For building muscle focus on higher weights, lower reps, and only a few exercises.

Max out each exercise and allow plenty of rest between sets so you can push yourself.

What is the best way to train my biceps?

As for training the biceps, this can be done in various ways depending on the individual’s training schedule.

It’s not recommended to train the same muscle group for consecutive days.

Outside of this rule, training the biceps is quite flexible. 

Chest exercises are also important for total body training and can be paired with bicep exercises. All your muscle groups work together and should be worked accordingly. 

The biceps don’t really need to be trained more than 1 or 2 days per week. Aiming for about 10-15 sets per week is a good guideline. The Biceps can be trained with many different approaches as well.

Circuit training, supersets, or more traditional resistance training are all viable options. Some people like have a specific arm day when they please.

Others may add it to a pull day or back day as the biceps are a secondary muscle group in many of the exercises.

Depending on the desired results people can follow these guidelines to formulate a workout:

  • Sets: between 3-5
  • Reps: between 6-15
  • Number of exercises: between 3-6

What are the 3 best bicep exercises?

The best bicep exercises are the ones that truly isolate the muscles and allow you to squeeze and get a maximum contraction at the top of the rep.

Some of the top-rated bicep exercises:

  • Incline dumbbell curls
  • Concentration curls
  • Preacher curls
  • Traditional dumbbell curl
  • Chin-up
  • Traditional Cable curl

Are 3 bicep exercises enough?

Yes. 3 bicep exercises on the chosen day are enough to see results.

If only performing 3 exercises, it may be a good idea to push yourself in different ways depending on the desired results.

For building muscle and strength use a weight that is near the maximum, allow plenty of rest between sets.

Perform 3-5 sets of about 6-10 repetitions. The last rep in each set should be near failure.

For toning, if only using 3 exercises perform an exceptionally high number of repetitions.

Perform about 3-5 sets with approximately 15 repetitions per set. Shorten the rest period accordingly. You should reach or near failure on the last set.

A study done by the Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology showed that low and high-intensity workouts show the same amount of work-induced the same reduction in maximal strength of the biceps muscles. 

Low-intensity workouts can still give you the muscle mass and toning you need to start seeing results. 

Which exercise is best for the biceps at home?

This really depends on what the individual has as far as equipment goes.

If you have dumbbells or free weights, the best exercises are:

  • Incline dumbbell curls- if the bench is available
  • Concentration curls
  • Traditional dumbbell curl

If you have a cable machine, try the following exercises:

  • Traditional cable curl
  • Overhead cable curl

If a pullup bar or anything similar is available, you can try doing some chin-ups.

If no equipment or pullup bar is available, try these:

  • Reverse hand pushups
  • Diamond pushups
  • Other variations of pushups
  • Plank

Can I do biceps and triceps on the same day?

Absolutely. This is common amongst people who chose to have an ‘arm day’.

They will then proceed to exercise all muscle groups in their arms.

Others may do triceps and biceps on different days. This works well for people who have a push/pull split or split the week based on specific muscle groups.

For example, your back day can coincide with biceps. On shoulder day, you can do triceps.

How many bicep workouts should I do?

Between 3-6 different exercises approximately 1-2 times per week should be optimal. Generally, aim for about 10-15 sets of bicep exercises per week.

You can also alternate doing bicep exercises and arm day with leg exercises. This will ensure that your entire body gets toned and stays healthy. 

Numbers Don’t Lie: Check the Clinical Studies 

Case studies are some of the best ways to see if and how exercises work. There have been numerous studies done on bicep exercises.

They show fantastic results for building strength and toning muscles. 

We referenced a few above, but let’s go into the details a bit more to see exactly how the studies were conducted and what the results show. 

Shoulder Positions and Bicep Curls

In a study titled “Effect of the shoulder position on the biceps brachii EMG in different dumbbell curls” from 2009, 22 subjects completed various variations of bicep exercises. 

Important notes:

  • Incline Dumbbell Curl (IDC) and Dumbbell Preacher Curl (DPC) are two variations of the standard Dumbbell Biceps Curl (DBC).
  • This study aimed to identify changes in the neuromuscular activity of biceps brachii long head for IDC, DPC, and DBC exercises. 

Main Results:

  • All protocols elicited a considerable level of activation of the biceps brachii muscle (at least 50% of maximum RMS).
  • Contribution of this muscle for elbow flexion/extension varied among exercises.
  • All exercises showed significantly less muscle activity for the elbow extension (eccentric).
  • The Incline Dumbbell Curl and the classical Dumbbell Biceps Curl resulted in similar patterns of biceps brachii activation for the whole range of motion.
  • Dumbbell Preacher Curl elicited high muscle activation only for a short range of elbow joint angle. 

Volume Load and Muscle Activation 

In a case titled “The Effects of Varying Glenohumeral Joint Angle on Acute Volume Load, Muscle Activation, Swelling, and Echo-Intensity on the Biceps Brachii in Resistance-Trained Individuals” in 2019, subjects performed 9 sets of bicep curls with shoulders in neutral positions. 

Important Notes:

  • The experimental condition (VAR), varied the glenohumeral joint angle by performing 3 sets in shoulder extension (30°), 3 sets neutral (0°), and 3 sets in flexion (90°)
  • Volume load and muscle activation (EMG) were recorded during the training sessions

Main Results:

  •  The overall session EMG amplitude was significantly higher (p = 0.0001) in VAR compared to the CON condition (95%-CI: 8.4% to 23.3%). 
  • The findings suggest that varying joint angles during resistance training (RT) may enhance total muscle activation without negatively affecting volume load.

Short Term-Resistance Training and Muscle Strength

In a case study titled “Effects of Short term equal volume resistance training with different workout frequency on muscle mass and strength” in 2007, 29 subjects were studied to determine workout results on tissue mass and muscle strength. Short-term resistance training was used to determine results. 

Important Notes:

  • Assigned to one of two groups- group 1 trained 2 times per week, 3 sets, 10 reps, 9 exercises. 
  • Group 2 trained 3 times per week, 2 sets, 10 reps, 9 exercises. 

Main Results:

  • Both groups increased lean tissue mass
  • Both groups increased strength as well
  • These results suggest that the volume of resistance training is more important than the frequency

Muscle Fatigue Determined by Intensity of Workouts

A study titled “Neuromuscular fatigue following high versus low-intensity eccentric exercise of biceps brachii muscle” in 2009 studied the effects of neuromuscular fatigue in high-intensity versus low-intensity workouts. 

Important Notes:

  • Ten volunteers performed two eccentric exercises of the elbow flexors. 
  • Maximal voluntary contraction torque and surface electromyography of the biceps brachii muscle were recorded before exercises, immediately after, and 48 hours after. 

Main Results:

  • Maximal voluntary contraction torque was significantly (P < 0.01) reduced immediately and 48 hours after exercise. 
  • The reduction was not different between the two conditions. 
  • Electromyography associated with maximal voluntary contraction significantly decreased (P < 0.05) immediately and 48 hours after exercise for both conditions.
  •  Maximal voluntary activation level was only significantly reduced immediately after the high-intensity exercise. 
  • High and low-intensity eccentric exercises with the same amount of work-induced the same reduction in maximal strength capacities of the biceps brachii muscles. 
  • The magnitude of peripheral and central fatigue was very similar in both conditions. 
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