Building big biceps is the goal of most lifters when they start training. Learn which exercises are the top 10 all-time best for targeting the biceps.
There are Top 10 lists for almost everything – plays in sports, songs, best-selling books, and movies are among the most popular.
So why not exercises? Which lifts are the best to help you achieve the most gains?
We haven’t seen too many lists like that so we’re going to take the initiative on this one. And what better muscle group to do this with than the biceps?
When you think muscle, the first thing that comes to mind is a flexed bicep. So after performing lots of sets and reps with lots of exercises, these are what we found to be the 10 best biceps exercises in the iron game.
Some are expected while others may come as a surprise.
All of these exercises can be found with instructions in the Exercise Database on M&S.
The Zottman curl makes the list not only because of how you perform it but also because of what it can do for you. Twisting the dumbbells at the top can help transfer the emphasis to the brachialis as well as the muscles in the forearms. That means you can use it as a finisher to burn the arms out.
They also can be a great warm up exercise to get all the muscles firing, and help the elbows warm up before you start doing the heavy work. This is a very versatile exercise.
You might also know these as cross-body hammer curls. Whatever you choose to call them, pinwheel curls are awesome because you can go a little heavier and they will help you add overall thickness to the upper arm.
Unfortunately many lifters try to take this to the extreme and allow themselves to generate momentum and swing the weight which minimizes the benefits while increasing the chances of injury. If you start lower in the dumbbell rack and focus on form, you’ll see why this made the list.
You get isolation and constant tension with the cable preacher curl. To save time you can use a bar attachment so you can use both arm simultaneously. You can also focus on one side at a time if you use a single grip handle.
Either way, the preacher bench helps you get the most isolation possible and the cable helps you maintain tension on the biceps all the way throughout the movement. The pump will be there if you add these to your arms arsenal.
These are also known as Superman curls and front double biceps cable curls because of how you look when you perform them. Bodybuilders like performing the standing high pulley cable curl because they can use the tension of the weight selected as a challenge while performing the pose which is what they do onstage. It is a great isolation exercise for any type of lifter who wants improvement.
Here’s an advanced way to try this one. Perform one more rep at the end of your set and hold it at the top for as long as you can. Squeeze the biceps as hard as you can. If you can hold it for longer than 60 seconds then you need to go heavier.
For those of you that might not be familiar with this one, the barbell you would use here is actually called the triceps bar. It’s a barbell that has a round middle with vertical handles inside of it where you would hold it.
Barbell hammer curls allow you to go heavy hammer style. Or you can go with a lighter load and pump out more reps to get a big pump without having to twist the hands at the top which can help those of you with elbow issues or past biceps injuries.
There’s no way to specify which exact machine would be the best because there are so many versions. So if the biceps machine you have access to allows you to isolate the muscle on a bench similar to a preacher bench, gives you range of motion that allows you to keep tension on the area, and offers the ability to perform one arm at a time, it’s a great one to use.
While bicep machine curls may not be the best for adding power, they will help you achieving quality biceps contractions and getting a great pump which is also important.
Most of the great champions of every era used incline dumbbell curls and for good reason, they’re effective. You’re lying back on the bench so cheating is harder. Your arms are to the sides and isolated so lifting the weight is harder. You can lift them straight up or to the sides so the effectiveness is determined by the individual performing the movement.
You can go heavier within reason but also flex the biceps hard. You can go lighter and focus on the tension to achieve benefits that way. If you have an adjustable bench, you can adjust the angle and will feel the biceps working in other ways. Go higher to work the lower biceps. Less angle means more work at the top of the biceps.
The first image that came to mind when you saw the name of this one is of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron doing these while talking about the “pump”. He is standing while doing them, but you can also perform concentration curls seated which may actually be the better way in relation to the biceps.
Since you’re seated, you don’t have to worry about stability. That means you can devote all of your attention to contracting the biceps, turning to focus on that peak, and feeling that stretch at the bottom.
The alternate dumbbell curl is the biggest mass builder when it comes to working on each arm individually. It isn’t just about doing it though. How you do it matters too. If you stand, you can generate greater momentum which boosts the ego but not the biceps.
Doing seated alternate dumbbell curls allows you to concentrate more on the overall movement while not worrying so much about the rest of the body moving. The best part is the simplicity. All you need is a seat and dumbbells. So long as you focus on form, going heavy on these isn’t simply ok but encouraged. The freedom of twisting at the top also maximizes the contraction which can help you maximize the results.
If there’s a bench press for biceps, the barbell curl is it! You’re using a bar so it’s free weight which means the stabilizers in the biceps are working non-stop. Since you’re lifting one object with both arms, you can go heavier to maximize both intensity and volume.
It’s also as simple of an exercise for biceps as it gets. Pick it up, curl, lower, repeat. There will be the argument about whether the EZ bar is better because of wrist and elbow position or the straight barbell because of the supination of the hands and the biceps being fully engaged. If a strict curl competition is what you’re preparing for, opt for the EZ Bar. For biceps development, the straight bar is the answer.
Do you have a favorite biceps exercise that didn’t make this list? Do you feel there’s one that should’ve been added? Which movement helps you achieve the confidence to go sleeveless and post on Flex Friday?