Guys typically hit the weights for strength training in hopes of crafting tree trunk legs, boulder shoulders, and six-pack abs—but the most common (and attainable) fitspo goal of all might be building bulging biceps. There’s a reason the curl is a universal go-to exercise for dudes from the first moment they heft a dumbbell: they want to get swole, and that starts with the arms. You can’t walk around showing off your big legs or your ripped abs all the time in polite society, but big-time biceps are unavoidable.
The biceps might not be the largest muscle group on your arms—that title actually goes to the triceps—but they might be the most noticeable given their position on the front of the limb. These guns aren’t all for show, either. The biceps, composed of a long and short head, are certainly important, given their function.
The muscle is tasked with flexion of the elbow, which means that any time you bend your arms, your biceps are putting in the work. If you want to be able to lift any type of load, from luggage to your kids, you’ll need healthy flexion. And when you train your biceps, you can’t neglect the brachialis, the muscle the sits beneath the biceps and generates even more flex power. You’ll get stronger, and your muscles will look bigger to boot.
To work your biceps, you’ll mostly need to do exercises that isolate the muscle. That might not be as efficient as your training plan for some other muscles, which you can target as just one part of a more comprehensive plan using multi-joint movements—but isolation allows you to really dial in on your progress and development. And building a strong set of biceps can only help you to get stronger overall, as all pulling movements will reap the rewards of your focused work.
To help you hone those arms, we created this list of 22 go-to moves to work your biceps. Some of these are classics; some are new. Some are a grind; some are fun. Some hit the long head of the muscle; some focus on the short head.
Pick the ones you like (and maybe some that you don’t), and use them to pump up your arms—and fill out your sleeves.
STANDING BARBELL CURL
This is as basic as it gets. You’ve probably heard serious lifters carrying on about oblivious meatheads taking up space in squat racks to do bicep curls, so be mindful when and where you load up a barbell — but that shouldn’t be an excuse to skip out on the move entirely. Barbells allow you to work both arms simultaneously and evenly, and the position of your grip can allow you to home in on different parts of the muscle.
How to do it: Grab the barbell with an underhand grip, with your your hands positioned about as wide as your hips. To emphasize the inner portion of the bicep, take a wider grip; to target the outer part of the muscle, bring your hands closer together. Start holding the bar at hip height, then squeeze your core and contract your biceps to curl the bar up to shoulder height. Squeeze your biceps at the top of the movement, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position, controlling the weight through the eccentric movement. Make sure to keep your feet solidly planted throughout the exercise, and don’t use your hips to lift the weight.
The concentration curl is a biceps isolating standard that you’ve undoubtedly seen performed in just about any gym. You can rip through reps for volume, or take a cue from the name and focus on the eccentric portion of the move for even better results.
How to do it: You’ll need a dumbbell and a bench to start. Sit on the bench, spreading your legs. Rest your arm holding the dumbbell on the same side leg, just below the knee, so that the weight hangs down between your legs. Keep your torso upright by stabilizing your off-hand on your thigh. Curl the weight up, focusing on squeezing the bicep, pause at the top, then lower back into the original position.
EZ-BAR PREACHER CURL
Resting your arms on a sloping pad of a preacher bench helps isolate your biceps by taking your other upper-body muscles out of the equation—meaning, they won’t come into play to assist where your biceps are weakest. If you don’t have the appropriate workstation, you can use a Swiss ball or a bench angled to 45 degrees.
How to do it: Grab an EZ-bar with your hands six inches apart. Rest your upper arms on the sloping pad of a preacher bench and hold the bar in front of you with your elbows slightly bent. Without moving your upper arms, bend your elbows and curl the bar toward your shoulders. Pause, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position.
DUMBBELL PREACHER CURL
The dumbbell preacher curl gives you an opportunity to change your upper arm angle during the movement even if you don’t have a dedicated preacher curl setup and E-Z bar. All you need are dumbbells and an adjustable bench—some of the most common equipment in the gym.
How to do it: Set up by placing your arm on the bench, holding the dumbbell, with zero space between your underarm area and the top bench. Focus on keeping your upper arm on the bench throughout the whole movement. Sit down low and squeeze your core and glutes to help to avoid using any momentum during your curl reps. Squeeze your biceps to lift the dumbbell up, keeping constant tension throughout the reps.
STANDING RESISTANCE BAND HAMMER CURL
Leave the weights on the rack and give resistance bands a shot to really reap some bicep gains. The bands allow you to work through the full range of the motion by offering resistance (get it?) through the eccentric (lowering) part of the exercise, along with the concentric (curl) lift. The hammer grip, meanwhile, shifts the focus of the work to the brachialis, a lower muscle that can really make your arms look thick.
How to do it: Step on the center of a resistance band, gripping one end of the implement in each hand. Hold the band with your palms parallel to each other. Curl your hands toward your shoulders, maintaining the position of your palms. Squeeze your biceps at the top of the movement before lowering your hands back down to your sides, maintaining constant tension on the band. Keep your elbows stable and in position at your sides throughout the movement.
STANDING DUMBBELL CURL
In a biceps-focused list like this, you can’t leave out the classic dumbbell curl. So we didn’t.
But we would ask that you use a weight that makes sense: If you’re swaying back wildly and contorting your body—especially excessively arching your lower back—to lift the load, you should probably get a lighter pair of dumbbells.
How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells and let them hang at arm’s length next to your sides. Turn your arms so your palms face forward. Without moving your upper arms, bend your elbows and curl the dumbbells as close to your shoulders as you can. Pause, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. Each time you return to the starting position, completely straighten your arms.
This biceps move uses smart positioning to blow up your arms. According to Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., the exercise is so effective because you’ll eliminate most of the cheating that happens with other, standing curls, which allow you to use body English to lift up the weights. Samuel recommends that you pick a weight in the lighter end of what you might typically work with, so you can handle the full challenge.
How to do it: Grab a dumbbell and sit facing forward on an incline bench. Moving only at the elbow, squeeze you bicep to curl the dumbbell way up with clean form. Make sure to keep your shoulder out of the equation by keeping your back live and engaged.
Take your standard-grip curl and flip it on its side. This small difference in the way you hold the dumbbell helps transfer more of the work from your biceps brachii to your brachialis—a muscle that can make your arms look thicker.
How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells and let them hang at arm’s length next to your sides with your palms facing your thighs. Without moving your upper arms, bend your elbows and curl the dumbbells as close to your shoulders as you can. Pause, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. Each time you return to the starting position, completely straighten your arms.
UNDERHAND-GRIP INVERTED ROW
The inverted row is primarily an upper-back exercise. However, using an underhand grip instead of a standard grip forces your biceps to work harder.
How to do it: Grab a bar with an underhand, shoulder-width grip. You palms should be facing you. Hang with your arms completely straight. Your body should form a straight line from your ankles to your head. Initiate the movement by pulling your shoulder blades back, then continue the pull with your arms to lift your chest to the bar. Pause, then slowly lower your body back to the starting position.
DECLINE DUMBBELL CURL
Lying chest-down on a bench really isolates the biceps since you don’t have to maintain as much tension in your legs and core muscles as you do when you stand. Use various grips in this position to zero in on different parts of your biceps.
How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie with your chest against a bench that’s set to a 45-degree incline. Without moving your upper arms, bend your elbows and curl the dumbbells as close to your shoulders as you can. Pause, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. Each time you return to the starting position, completely straighten your arms.
Photographs by Beth Bischoff
INCLINE DUMBBELL CURL
The opposite of the decline variation, you’ll lie on your back, allowing your arms to drop down behind your body. This puts an extra challenge on the long head of your biceps brachii because you’re working from a deficit—meaning, you’re starting the movement at a point where you have less leverage than normal.
How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells and lie with your back against a bench that’s set to a 45-degree incline. Without moving your upper arms, bend your elbows and curl the dumbbells as close to your shoulders as you can. Pause, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. Each time you return to the starting position, completely straighten your arms.
BENT-OVER BARBELL ROW
The muscles in your upper body have two functions: push and pull. Your biceps are most active when you pull, according to Alwyn Cosgrove, a Men’s Health Fitness Advisor. Since you’re using other muscles to perform the row, you’ll likely use a weight that’s much heavier than one you would curl.
How to do it: Grab a barbell with your hands just beyond shoulder-width apart and hold it at arm’s length. Bend at your hips and knees, bracing your abs as if you’re about to be punched in the gut. Pull the bar to your ribcage, pause, and then lower back to the starting position.
KNEELING SINGLE-ARM CURL
Curling a weight with one arm helps you zero in on weak spots. And performing the biceps exercise in a kneeling position will diminish the chance that you use body English to heave the weight up to the top position.
How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells. Hold one dumbbell by your side in your left hand, palm facing your thigh. In your right hand, hold the dumbbell with your palm facing outward. Without moving your upper arm, bend your elbow and curl the dumbbell as close to your shoulder as you can. Pause, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. Each time you return to the starting position, completely straighten your arm. Perform all reps on your right arm before switching to your left.
TOWEL HAMMER CURL
Whether you’re stuck with limited equipment or you’re eager to hone your grip strength, this curl variation is perfect to shake up your routine. You’ll target your biceps, brachialis, and forearms in one move, which is why Samuel uses it as a finisher in his arm routines. “This move attacks both key drivers of elbow flexion (biceps and brachialis), and then it adds a persistent grip challenge because of the nature of the towel,” says Samuel. “And through all of this, you’re loading up on growth-driving time-under-tension.”
How to do it: Loop a towel through the handle of a kettlebell. Grip the towel tightly, with your palms in a neutral position (facing toward each other) you would use for a standard hammer curl with dumbbells. Engage your glutes and core to create a solid base, then squeeze your biceps to lift the weight. Avoid using any momentum to aid in the movement. For an extra challenge, add pause reps in using the half-full protocol outlined in the video above
This exercise targets the three major muscles that make up the biceps—the biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis—by rotating from an underhand to an overhand grip halfway through the move.
How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells and let them hang at arm’s length next to your sides. Turn your arms so your palms face forward. Without moving your upper arms, bend your elbows and curl the dumbbells as close to your shoulders as you can. Pause, then rotate the dumbbells so your palms face forward again. Slowly lower the weights down in that position. Rotate the dumbbells back to the starting position and repeat.
Photographs by Beth Bischoff
CABLE ROPE HAMMER CURL
Just like the dumbbell hammer curl, this biceps exercise will hit your brachialis to build thickness in your arms. But unlike the dumbbell version, the cable machine keeps a more steady and constant load on the biceps for longer, which may elicit more growth, according to Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D.
How to do it: Hold both ends of a rope attached to the low pulley of a cable machine. Press your elbows into your sides with your palms facing each other. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart, your torso upright, and your knees slightly bent. Keeping your arms stable throughout the move, curl, the rope toward your shoulders, Pause, and reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
Photographs by Beth Bischoff
CABLE ALTERNATING FLEX CURL
Instead of holding your arms by your sides for this variation of the biceps curl, you’ll keep them extended outwards, parallel to the floor. Just holding your arms in this position will put them to work. Adding a curl helps zero in directly on your biceps.
How to do it: Stand between the weight stacks of a cable crossover station and grab a high-pulley handle in each hand. Hold your arms out to the sides so they’re parallel to the floor. Without moving your right arm, curl your left hand toward your head. Slowly allow your left arm to straight and then repeat the move with your right arm.
Photographs by Beth Bischoff
LYING PREACHER CURLS
A post shared by Ebenezer Samuel (@ebenezersamuel23)
The beauty of the preacher curl is that it increases the angle of your bicep relative to your torso, limiting your ability to cheat on the curl with your shoulders. You’re all biceps for this move — which means you’re gains will only increase. This particular version of the preacher curl has two benefits. First, instead of losing resistance (which happens at the top of a standard preacher curl, like above), you still face it at peak contraction thanks to the cables. Second, the bench/floor offers feedback for your back positioning, helping you to keep them back rather than slouching forward.
How to do it: You’ll need a bench and a cable pull-down station for this move. Position the bench beneath the cable, so that your head is in-line with the bar when you lay down. Reach up to grab the bar with your arms straight up. Bend your elbows and squeeze your biceps to curl the bar down toward your head. Keep your shoulders still, and really emphasize the bicep squeeze at the bottom of the movement before controlling the bar on the way back up.
OPEN-PALM MACHINE CURLS
A post shared by Ebenezer Samuel (@ebenezersamuel23)
This move is all about grip. All it takes is a subtle tweak on machine preacher curls to help you focus on your biceps more: maintain an open palm. Do this and you almost completely eliminate forearm flexor assistance, leaving your bicep to shoulder a greater load on the curl. Bonus: if you’re dealing with elbow tendonitis, you can still pull this curl off. Don’t do this all the time though; you want your muscles working well together. Mix it into your arm workouts maybe once a month.
How to do it: Sit down as if you were going to perform normal reps. Instead of grasping the handle with your fingers, keep your hands open and press against the machine with your palms up with the handle at your wrist. Curl the weight up with the open palm. Perform with either one hand alone or both simultaneously, depending on the machine available to you.
While the chinup doesn’t isolate your biceps, it certainly trains them hard. Along with other muscles in your arms, shoulders, and back, you’ll use your biceps to pull your entire bodyweight from a dead hang, building serious upper-body strength, according to Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., co-owner of Cressey Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts.
How to do it: Grab a chinup bar using a shoulder-width underhand grip and hang at arm’s length. Squeeze your shoulder blades down and back, bend your elbows, and pull the top of your chest to the bar. Pause, and slowly lower your body back to the starting position.
Photographs by Mitch Mandel
SEATED CABLE ROW
When you sit and row instead of stand and row, your biceps are in the direct line of the pull so they work extra hard during each rep, according to Gentilcore. The seated cable row will also help you build a massive back to compliment your guns.
How to do it: Sit at a seated cable row station with your feet on the platform and your knees slightly bent. Grasp a V-bar with your palms facing each other. Keep your back flat and pull your shoulders back as you pull the bar toward your torso.
Photographs by Thomas MacDonald
RACKED FARMER’S CARRY
The farmer’s carry is a great way to work your body from head to toe as you walk, but holding the weights in a racked position can help you zero in on your biceps. It’s like an isometric hold for your guns, jostling the weight with every step. And since you typically use extra-heavy weight for farmer’s carries, you’ll overload your biceps in a completely contracted position.
How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them in the racked position so one head of each dumbbell rests by your shoulders. Walk forward for 10 yards, turn around and walk back.
Photograph by Mitch Mandel
Build Your Biceps With This Badass Arm Plan
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