Biceps are, in the eyes of many, one of if not the most important group of muscles to develop.
We engage our biceps every day, like when we open doors, lift a box, or type on a keyboard. Thing is, though, most people don’t build biceps to type faster or open doors more efficiently.
One of the best benefits to building your biceps is naturally sculpting your physique in a healthy manner. Whether your goals are to participate in a competition, are trying to gain more strength, or simply want a better shot at impressing ladies, biceps are arguably the best muscles for that.
That said, the way you accomplish your goals is ultimately what matters. To help you on this journey of bicep-gains, we outlined the 11 best bicep exercises with in-depth tutorials both written and in picture. If you’re a visual learner, you can follow along with this guide as you’re in the gym or you can print it out ahead of time for reference if you don’t take a smartphone.
1. Standing Cable Bicep Curl
Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Isolation | Gear: Rope, Straight Bar | Target: Brachii
This simple 2-step exercise effectively targets your bicep’s “brachii” muscle. It also helps work other certain stabilizing muscles located around your body. Some of these muscles include wrist flexors, trapezius, levator scapulae, and also anterior deltoids to name a few.
Standing Cable Bicep Curl Directions
Stand up straight facing the cable curl bar (or rope) of your choice that’s clipped on a pulley set in the ‘low’ position. At shoulder width and with your elbows tucked in towards your body, lean forward and closed grip the bar. Your fingertips should now be facing back your chest.
Once your arms are locked on the bar at shoulder width, step forward to the pulley and curl the bar to your collarbone and exhale on the way up. Once the bar’s reached the collarbone, keep it there briefly and engage your bicep before slowly lowering it to the floor while you breathe in.
Pro Tip: Remember to keep your shoulder and elbow stationary, only your arms should move.
2. Overhead Biceps Cable Curl
Difficult: Easy | Force: Pull, Isolation | Gear: Stirrup (Handle) | Target: Brachii, Brachialis
This exercise is a titan of isolation that forces your biceps to do all the heavy lifting. Because it’s a cable, it’s directly targeting the heads of your biceps, forearms, and muscle between your triceps and biceps. This also means that you won’t be able to use your deltoids to help assist.
Overhead Cable Curl Directions
Before you begin, ensure each pulley is equally positioned at the same height slightly above your shoulders and that they’re also the same weight.
Once both pulleys are ready, stand in the center between them and grasp their handles with an underhand grip. Fully extend your arms straight out from your body and make any adjustments to stay even and symmetrical if you need to. This should not be uncomfortable to hold.
Now you should bring both forearms toward your bicep, exhaling as you do so. Once they’ve basically made contact, start inhaling while slowly letting your forearm extend sideways again. The only movement should be from your arms. Your body should be still during this exercise.
Pro Tip: As with each exercise, try to focus on keeping your body even. Because this is an isolated type of movement, you shouldn’t feel any other muscles get recruited to help aside from your biceps and forearms. If you do feel other muscles or joint pain, stop and try again.
3. Close-Grip Chin Ups
Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Compound | Gear: Pull Up Bar | Target: Biceps, Back, Shoulders
Chin ups and pull ups, while similar in technique, work different muscles. What muscles you target depends on how wide your grip is and if your palms are are pronated (out) or subinated (in). Pull ups use a wide grip pronated grip that’s helpful for targeting back and shoulder muscle groups while chin ups use a close-grip subinated grip that targets biceps with stabilization.
Close-Grip Chin Up Directions
Like pull ups, chin ups are a very easy exercise to learn. Start by grabbing a fixed overhead bar with both arms at shoulder width using a close underhanded grip. Your arms should be fully extended. Pull (contract) your biceps to bring your body up to the bar, exhaling as you do so.
As you’re pulling yourself to the bar, try to keep your elbows steady and locked in the sides of your torso. Once you’ve brought the bar to your collarbone, stay engaged for a second, then inhale while slowly returning to your starting dead-hang position.
Pro Tip: If you want to fit in some close-grip chin ups in your bicep routine but are a little on the tired side, trying using an assisted ‘up’ machine. This can help if you’ve totally fried your biceps.
4. Classic Standing Barbell Curl
Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Isolation | Gear: Straight Barbell | Target: Biceps Brachii
This classic exercise is one of the most ancient bicep-building fitness techniques to exist, and with good reason. There are no gimmicks or complex movements. You simply curl the bar and get bigger arms (biceps, forearms) in exchange for your effort. It’s really that simple and easy.
Classic Barbell Curl Directions
Barbell curls are one of the most powerful exercises you can do to build out, and here’s how.
Start by standing straight and holding a barbell with both arms fully extended at shoulder-width using an underhanded grip (palms facing outward). Once your form is symmetrical and even with both elbows resting close to your chest, curl the bar to your chest and while breathing out.
Once you’ve finished the curl by raising the bar to shoulder level, hold for a second and engage your bicep. Now breathe in and slowly lower the bar back to your starting position and resist its weight on the way down.
Pro Tip: Don’t swing your body back to help lift the weight up. Make sure to keep your body stationary, elbows close to your sides, and let your biceps and forearms do the heavy lifting.
5. Preacher Barbell Curl
Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Isolation | Gear: EZ Curl bar | Target: Biceps Brachii
The Barbell Preacher Curl is one of the best exercises for isolating the bicep from other muscles. It targets the bicep brachii, brachialis, and brachioadialis. You can use a straight bar or preacher bar for this movement, although we like to use a preacher bar whenever possible.
Preacher Barbell Curl Directions
Preacher curling is a very simple exercise once you get some practice and momentum. Start by adjusting a preacher bench to a good fitting position that holds your body still and secures your arms on the pad. With your feet flat on the floor, chest comfortably pressed against the pads and arms facing forward, grasp an EZ bar with a close underhand grip (palms facing up).
Raise the bar to your chest without moving your arms around, exhaling on the way up. Once the bar’s fully curled, hold for a moment and squeeze before slowly lowering the bar down and breathing in. Don’t fully extend your arms on the way back down as this can hurt your joints.
Pro Tip: Pause at the bottom of your rep instead of the top. This helps stretch out your biceps and give them a short break. As always, try to get the full range of motion and take it slowly.
6. Wide Grip Standing Barbell
Difficulty: Easy | Force: Curl, Isolation | Gear: Barbell | Target: Biceps Brachii
This exercise is varies slightly form of the classic bar curl because it targets different areas of the bicep. Basically, the wider your grip is, the more emphasis will be placed on the short head bicep brachii, whereas a narrower grip will put more emphasis on the long head brachii.
Wide Grip Standing Barbell Directions
Similar to exercise #4, you’ll first need to stand up straight with your feet at shoulder width and grasp the barbell with a wide underhanded grip. Your hands and arms should face down from your body, fully extended, while your elbows are locked in to the sides of your chest.
Once locked in, start exhaling and curl the bar toward your shoulders using only your arms. When you’ve brought up the bar and your bicep’s fully engaged, wait a moment and feel your biceps squeeze before slowly lowering it back down. Make sure you inhale on the way down.
Pro Tip: Similar to preacher curls, try to pause for a moment at the bottom at the end of every rep. This gives your biceps a moment to rest and helps maintain a stable full range of motion.
7. Incline Bench Dumbbell Curl
Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Isolation | Gear: 2 Dumbbells | Target: Biceps
The incline bench dumbbell is a variation of the classic dumbbell curl. An incline curl utilizes (you guessed it) an incline bench which targets tissue not usually targeted. Basically, an incline curl targets the negative pose of a classic curl to make a deeper stretch on the bicep’s head.
Incline Bench Dumbbell Curl Directions
Before you begin lifting, you’ll need to ensure your bench is setup properly to avoid bad form. The angle your incline bench should be is about 45 degrees, but you can always feel it out.
Once your bench is ready, sit back into it firmly with a dumbbell in each hand hanging at arms length by your sides. Your feet should be flat on the floor, palms facing forward, and elbows close to your chest. Once you’re ready, curl the dumbbells to your shoulders while exhaling.
When your biceps are fully contracted and the dumbbells are at about shoulder level, hold for a second before slowly returning to the starting position. Make sure you inhale on the way down.
Pro Tip: Form is very important. Keep your shoulders stationary and elbows close to your sides. As always, try to resist lowering the dumbbells to help further enhance mind to muscle control.
8. Standing Hammer Raise
Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Isolation | Gear: 2 Dumbbells | Target: Biceps brachii
This exercise is named the ‘hammer curl’ because it imitates the movement of swinging a hammer up and down, except with a dumbbell instead. Don’t let its name dissuade you, though, because this movement is one of the best (and most simple) to build bigger and better biceps.
Standing Hammer Curl Directions
Simply stand up straight with a dumbbell in both hands at arms length and shoulder-width. Your elbows should hang close to your sides and palms should be in a closed grip facing your body.
Once your form is properly realized, curl a dumbbell toward your shoulder as if you were raising a hammer. Remember to breathe out on your way up. When your bicep is fully engaged, hold for a second, then breathe in as you slowly lower the dumbbell and return to your starting position.
It’s important to keep your elbows from flaring out or moving to help out your bicep. The only muscles that should be moving is your forearm and bicep. Repeat this with one arm at a time.
Pro Tip: Try not to let your body lean back as you curl the weight. Instead, keep your shoulders stationary and elbows close to your sides. Only your forearms should slowly raise and lower.
9. Zottman Dumbbell Curl
Difficulty: Intermediate | Force: Pull, Isolation | Gear: 2 Dumbbells | Target: brachioradialis
Conceived by George Zottman in the 1880s, the Zottman Curl is an old school strategy that’s used even today to help build better biceps and forearms. The Zottman Curl is a little more difficult because it has more steps than most, but it’s one exercise definitely worth knowing.
Zottman Dumbbell Curl Directions
Start by standing up straight with a dumbbell in both hands at arms length and shoulder-width. Like standing hammer curls, your elbows should hang close to the sides of your chest. Before you start, make sure your palms are facing each other.
Once your form is realized, start exhaling and curling both dumbbells while engaging your biceps. As you’re curling, turn your wrist from a neutral grip to a palms facing up grip. Your palms should be completely face up when the dumbbells have reached about shoulder height. Try holding this position for a moment before breathing in and slowly lowering the dumbbells.
Before you begin lowering the dumbbells, turn your wrist 90 degrees. They should be turned face down (palms looking down instead of up) as you lower. A good ‘rule of thumb‘ is that they’ll be face down when your thumb is higher than your pinky whilst gripping the dumbbell.
As you slowly lower the dumbbells, begin turning your wrist back into a neutral position again (palms facing each other) as they approach your legs. This may take some practice to perfect.
Pro Tip: If for whatever reason you can’t finish a set with both arms at the same time, try lifting one arm per rep. You may also find it useful to lower weight. This is particularly good for those with sensitive wrists. Stay attuned to proper movement and you’ll perform just fine.
10. Standing Bicep Dumbbell Curl
Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Isolation | Gear: 2 Dumbbells | Target: Biceps
This exercise is without a doubt one of the most effective bicep curls there is for increasing arm strength and size. This is in part due to its inherent simplicity of only having one single step. In order for it to work make sure to keep your elbows locked and shoulders stationary.
Standing Bicep Dumbbell Curl Directions
This exercise is quite simple and really involves one step (curling). Start by standing up straight with a dumbbell in both hands and at shoulder-width. Your arms should be fully extended, palms facing out, with your elbows resting close to your chest. Only your forearms will move.
Once you’re in proper form, start exhaling and curl up the dumbbells. Your biceps should be fully engaged when the dumbbells reach shoulder level. Hold this pose for a second before slowly lowering the dumbbells back down to their starting position, inhaling on the way down.
Congratulations, you just curled a dumbbell standing up. Repeat this movement as necessary.
Pro Tip: Try not to let your arms hang at the end of a set as this can stress out your joints. Instead, keep the tension on your biceps and focus on staying stationary. As long as you follow the basics and don’t sway, hang, or let the weights hit your body, you’ll do great with this curl.
11. Incline Bench Inner-Biceps Dumbbell Curl
Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Isolation | Gear: 2 Dumbbells | Target: Biceps Brachii, Brachialis
This variation of the usual incline bench bicep curl focuses on the inner-bicep to help sculpt physique (round out the muscle) while a regular curl targets the outside, or head. This is done by using a different angle of approach with an emphasis on wrist rotation and muscle isolation.
Incline Inner-Biceps Curl Directions
Pick up and hold a dumbbell in both of your hands and then lie back into an incline bench. Your arms should hang straight down close to your chest with palms facing away from your body. Once your form is properly realized, exhale and start curling the dumbbells up and outwards.
At the peak of your curl, your forearms should be at shoulder height and in line with your side deltoid muscles. Hold the dumbbells at the top for a moment and engage your biceps. Slowly return to a hanging pose like the same way you came up. Remember to inhale on the way down.
Pro Tip: As usual, a steady controlled range of motion is the primary focus here. Keep your shoulders stationary and elbows straight, only your forearms should have any movement.
12. Dumbbell Concentration Curls
Difficulty: Easy | Force: Curl, Isolation | Gear: 1 Dumbbell | Target: All 3 bicep heads
According to a study by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) involving 16 young athletic people, concentration curls were found to be the best (isolative) bicep exercise to use in the gym for the most effective bicep growth. Keep in mind, though, it is not a compound movement.
Dumbbell Concentration Curl Directions
Start by sitting on a chair or flat bench with your feet flat on the ground and knees spread apart with a dumbbell held in your right hand. Then, bend yourself forward and place your right arm on top of your inner right knee. Turn your right hand until its palm faces out from your knee.
At this point your right arm should be hanging down fully extended, dumbbell in hand, with its palm facing your left leg. This is your beginning position. Once form is realized, keep your upper body still and slowly curl the dumbbell up and toward your shoulder, exhaling as you do.
Once the dumbbell has reached shoulder height and your bicep’s fully engaged, hold a moment, then reverse the movement and slowly lower the weight back into the starting position. Repeat this movement as many times as you need to (depending on your routine) then switch arms.
Pro Tip: Keep your gains consistent by performing the same amount of reps on each arm. Avoid swinging motions and keep the upper body still. The only moving part’s your forearm and bicep.
13. Suspension Trainer Bicep Curl
Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Isolation | Gear: TRX Straps | Target: Biceps, forearms
Suspension trainers are without a doubt one of the most versatile ways to build one’s body. Used by Olympic bodybuilders to calisthenic professionals, it’s effectivity should not be underestimated. That said, we’re guilty of using this exercise all the time. Check it out.
TRX Bicep Curl Directions
Standing, adjust the strap’s handles to about chest level. Facing the anchor point, grasp the handles using
Arms fully extended, exhale and slowly curl your body up to the handles. Engage your biceps to pull the body and flex your elbows to complete the motion. The rest of your body should remain stationary at all times. Hold the top position for a second and squeeze your bicep.
Inhale and slowly lower yourself back to the starting position, resisting on the way down.
Pro Tip: The difficulty of this exercise depends on your distance and angle to the floor and straps. Increase difficulty by walking your feet farther and lowering your body closer to the floor. Decrease difficulty by bringing your feet closer, raising the distance between you and the floor.
14. Prone Incline Barbell Curl
Difficulty: Intermediate | Force: Pull, Isolation | Gear: Barbell, Incline Bench | Target: Biceps
The prone incline barbell curl is one of the best isolative exercises to really lay waste to your bicep’s brachii. In addition to targeting the bicep, it also recruits other stabilizing groups like your wrist flexors, forearms, traps, and also rhomboids to boot.
Prone Incline Barbell Curl
Adjust an incline bench’s height so that it’s like a ramp and place it next to a low rack if you don’t have a spotter. Lie into the bench with your chest pressed up against it. Your body should be as straight as an arrow with only the balls of your feet touching the floor.
Now dismount the bar from a low rack or have your spotter hand it to you. Grasp the bar at shoulder-width with a supinated (palms facing up) grip and let it hang freely. Your arms should be slightly bent, body stationary, and head forward. This is your starting position.
Breathing out, engage your biceps to flex your elbow and curl the barbell up for a full contraction. Only your forearms and elbow should move during this exercise. Pause for a moment at the top and squeeze your biceps before inhaling and slowly lowering the bar back down.
Pro Tip: Remember to keep your body flat and not to move your upper arms. Try to resist the barbell’s weight as much as possible on your way to the starting position.
15. Preacher Curl Machine
Difficulty: Easy | Force: Curl, Isolation | Gear: Curl Machine | Target: Outer, inner heads
When it comes to curls, few exercises are known better than the classic machine preacher. This variation is designed to isolate a wide range of muscles that make up your biceps as well as help improve other inner region stabilizers, like wrist flexors and forearms.
Preacher Curl Machine Directions
Position the height of the machine and set your desired level of weight. Sit into the pad with your torso upright and plant your feet into the floor. Lean forward slightly with your elbows in and grasp the handles with a supinated (palms up) grip. Your arms should be fully extended.
This is your starting position. When ready, focus on contracting your biceps to slowly curl the handles back up and flex your elbow toward your neck, exhaling as you do so. The only part of your body moving should be your forearms (driven by the bicep). Pause at the top and squeeze.
Slowly reverse the movement and go back down to the starting position, inhaling as you do. Resist the weight’s push as much as possible during the descent.
Pro Tip: As with each exercise, remember to perform this movement in a slow and controlled manner. Maintain a straight posture, keep your upper arms stationary, and only flex at the elbow. Make sure to use a moderately comfortable weight setting so you don’t lose form.