5 Best Strength-Building Bicep Exercises for Mass

5 Best Strength-Building Bicep Exercises for Mass

When it comes to looking strong, it’s all about the biceps. And to get solid biceps you need to know the best bicep exercises.

Bicep Exercises: What Are the Best?

Think about it: Ask someone to flex and, nine times out of 10, they’ll flash you their biceps. Sometimes, they’ll invite you to squeeze them. (Thanks, but no thanks.)

Below are five of the best bicep exercises for targeting and building your biceps. The first three are dumbbell bicep exercises and the fourth is a barbell bicep exercise, the fifth uses a cable. Integrate three or four into your regular routine, which should already involve upper-body work, including pulling movements like rows and pull-ups. Perform three to five sets of six to 12 reps, resting for 30 to 90 seconds between each set. Use a weight that allows you to just barely get through your last rep with proper form.

As soon as you can perform two extra reps during your last two sets, move up in weight. After six to 12 weeks of performing those bicep curl variations, rotate through three to four new ones. Once you exhaust the list, start the cycle back over.

Oh, and get ready to receive some flex requests.

Best bicep exercises

1. Seated Alternating Dumbbell Curl

When discussing valuable bicep exercises, We’d be remiss not to start things off with the tried-and-true dumbbell curl. Sure, it’s the basis for every exercise on this list, but research published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine shows that its popularity holds up, with it activating the biceps far better than some other curl variations (not listed here).

To get the most from your traditional bicep curl, perform it alternating. The vast majority of exercisers can lift slightly more total weight when curling one arm at a time than they can if they curl both arms together. And the more weight your biceps curl, the stronger they’re going to get.

How to do it: Sit on a 90-degree bench with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing forward, arms extended straight toward the floor but not locked out, and shoulders pulled back. From here, slowly lift one weight to the front of your shoulder while keeping your back pressed firmly against the bench and elbow and shoulder stationary. Pause, squeezing your bicep at the top, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side.

Related: How to Do Perfect Pull-Ups in 28 Days: A Step-by-Step Plan

2. Alternating Incline Dumbbell Curl

When you think about your biceps, you probably envision your biceps brachii, which sits above your brachialis (we’ll get to that later) and is largely responsible for that bicep bulge we all want, explains Matthew J. Capolongo, C.S.C.S., P.E.S., a sports performance coach at Professional Athletic Performance Center in New York City. He adds that research shows that this move is one of the best for the developing the biceps brachii.

How to do it: Lie back on an incline bench with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing forward, arms extended straight toward the floor but not locked out, and shoulders pulled back. From here, slowly lift one weight to the front of your shoulder while keeping your back pressed firmly against the bench and elbow and shoulder stationary. Pause, squeezing your bicep at the top, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side.

3. Seated Alternating Hammer Curl

By curling your dumbbells with a neutral rather than underhand grip, you automatically switch the main muscle worked from the biceps brachii to the brachialis, explains Capolongo. That’s because your biceps brachii help you rotate your forearms so that your palms face up. And, while the brachialis is a deeper, barely visible muscle, it helps give your biceps as a whole more shape and strength, he says.

How to do it: For this biceps exercise, sit on a 90-degree bench with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing in toward your body, arms extended straight toward the floor, but not locked out, and shoulders pulled back. From here, slowly lift one weight to the front of your shoulder while keeping your back pressed firmly against the bench and elbow and shoulder stationary. Pause, squeezing your bicep at the top, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side.

Related: 7 Things Your Trainer Will Never Tell You About Your Fitness Routine

4. Standing Reverse Barbell Curl

According to 2015 research from Frontiers in Physiology, this variation significantly increases activity in the brachioradialis, the third and final muscle that makes up your biceps. This is because, when you curl a weight with an overhand grip (which is easiest to maintain with a barbell), you put the biceps brachii at a huge mechanical disadvantage, meaning the typically underused brachioradialis has to step in to pick up the slack, explains Minnesota-based exercise physiologist Mike T. Nelson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S.

It’s worth noting that you won’t be able to curl near as much weight with this variation compared to the other exercises on this list. Don’t be too proud to go light.

How to do it:  Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart holding a barbell with both hands, palms facing in toward your body, arms extended straight toward the floor but not locked out, and shoulders pulled back. From here, slowly lift the weight to the front of your shoulders while keeping your elbows and shoulders stationary. Pause, squeezing your biceps at the top, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side.

5. Standing Cable Curl

Cable curls are a great when paired with free-weight bicep exercises. While dumbbells and barbells place the greatest amount of force on the biceps when your elbows are bent to 90 degrees, cables keep resistance constant through the entire range of motion. So with this variation, you’ll notice your biceps working a lot harder at the very top and bottom of the movement than they do with dumbbells.

How to do it:  Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart facing a cable station, with a straight handle fixed to the lowest setting. Hold the handle with both hands, shoulder-width apart, palms facing forward, arms extended straight toward the floor but not locked out, and shoulders pulled back. From here, slowly lift the weight to the front of your shoulders while keeping your elbows and shoulders stationary. Pause, squeezing your biceps at the top, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start. Repeat on the opposite side.

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