Bicep training: 10 workouts you can’t miss
The biceps are not just one of the more easily identifiable muscles in the human body. They are one of the more iconic and enduring images of fitness and muscle building culture in the world. This iconic pose of fitness icons and professional athletes raising and flexing one arm is one of the most imitated images of the last 50 years, recreated time and time again by people across the world as a sign of strength and confidence.
From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Donna Moore, biceps are forever immortalised as an image of what you can achieve with the right level of training, commitment and perseverance. Regardless of doing weight training before or after cardio, this should definitely be part of your workout routine if you want to grow your bicep muscles. But what exactly is the secret to training our biceps and getting them to look and function like these icons of the fitness world?
Bicep muscles and why you should train them
Why train your biceps? Well everyone needs to use their arms, don’t they? Training and building muscles are something that every person does naturally (to some extent) from the moment they are born.
Our muscles are not just important in developing and improving our bodies function and performance over time but also, ensuring that we remain healthy and our bodies continue to keep functioning properly in the future. It’s been speculated for many years now that the growth and development of muscles help to promote better insulin function within the body, which can prove helpful in counter-acting a lot of health problems we might develop in later life, such as heart disease and numerous types of cardiovascular illnesses; as an example.
You can combine a lot of biceps-based workouts with working out other areas of your body as well. Some workouts, such as the racked farmers carry, are good workouts for using other prime movers in your body and as such, help build muscles elsewhere in the body and not just your biceps. Lifting objects in day to day life requires a lot more than just biceps, just as much as doing only a few crunches every now and then won't give you a 6-pack, but that doesn’t mean we should be neglecting training them specifically!
Top tips for bicep training
Struggling to make some headway in getting bigger biceps? Well one of the more common reasons why biceps don't grow as big or, quicker than we would like them to, is through failure to understand how the muscle works. The bicep is broken down into three parts:
- Biceps brachii – the part that makes up the main bump on the arm.
- Brachialis – the muscle that sits under the bicep.
- Brachioradialis – the muscle than runs along the forearm.
Most casual trainers will only focus on working on the biceps brachii, which is not what you should be doing if you want to get bigger and thicker looking biceps. It is important to train all three parts of the arm maximising a full range of motions to get those biceps bulging.
To train your biceps the right way and exercise all three parts of the muscles it is important to remember to:
- Warm-up! Never go into a workout without getting your muscles going beforehand with even the lightest of warm-ups. Properly warming up before a workout increases your performance and can also help prevent any accidental injury.
- Visualise your movement. Think about how your biceps are contracting when using the weight can help establish quicker neural pathways between your brain and biceps.
- Keep the tempo. Sticking to a constant and consistent rhythm will expose your biceps to more tension. Take into your count the lowering and lifting of weights and make sure you don’t rush between sets and reps for consistent muscle building.
- Count from high to low. Counting down your reps will help you push through harder sets when you see it coming to an end. But when counting up, especially for long sets, it becomes harder to stay motivated and maintain focus.
- Mix things up. Don’t rely too much on the same routine or exercise every time. Explore the power of different workouts and maximise training the biceps from all angles to make sure you’re working all parts of the muscles.
- Remember to breathe and take breathers! Take time to rest when your muscles are sore or hurting is working out 101. You won’t get any medals for pushing through the pain barrier and doing yourself an injury, so make sure you leave appropriate time gaps between both sets and workouts. Focus on your breathing also when performing reps, as this will tie into keeping up a good tempo, as well as ensuring you’re not putting too much strain on your muscles. The body needs its oxygen!
Bicep routine: our favourite exercises
Now for the tough part; putting it all into practice! We have put together a list of 10 of our favourite and most effective biceps workout exercises that you can perform anywhere! Whether you’re in the gym, the park or, working out in the comfort of your own home.
1. Barbell Curls
What is it? The most basic bicep building move. You stand there, barbell in hand (or hands in this case) and start curling!
Equipment: A barbell
Method: Grabbing the barbell with an underhand grip, position your hands about as wide as your hips. To emphasize the inner portion of the bicep, take a wider grip or, to target the outer part of the muscle, bring your hands closer together. Hold the bar at hip height before squeezing your core and contracting your biceps to curl the bar up to shoulder height. Remember to keep your feet planted firmly throughout the exercise and refrain from using your hips to help lift the weight.
What is it? If you don’t know what a chin-up is then you haven’t worked out. One of the most iconic exercises there is, the chin-up is more of an all-rounder than a bicep specific training method, but it adds great variety to a bicep themed workout!
Equipment: A chin-up bar
Method: Hang at an arm’s length, squeezing your shoulder blades down and back, whilst bending your elbows, and then pull the top of your chest to the bar. Pause, and slowly lower your body back to the starting position. Don’t stop till you drop!
3. Hammer Curl
What is it? A small difference in the way you hold a dumbbell makes a big impact transferring more of the work from your biceps brachii to your brachialis, helping your arms look thicker.
Equipment: A pair of dumbbells
Method: Letting the dumbells hang at arm’s length next to your sides with your palms facing your thighs, bend your elbows and curl the dumbbells as close to your shoulders as you can, without moving your upper arms. Pause, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position, whilst remembering to keep your arms entirely straight when you return to the starting position.
4. Incline Dumb Bell Curl
What is it? The incline dumbbell curl is a bicep curl variation that puts you in a position that does not allow your shoulders to become involved. By sitting on an incline, the torso is reclined, exposing more of the biceps and increasing the overall range of motion in the exercise.
Equipment: A pair of dumbbells. An incline bench or other appropriate seating position.
Method: Seat at an incline of 45-70 degrees (if you’re using an incline bench set it to this). Grab your dumbbells and hold them by your sides. Pull your shoulders back and position your chest upwards. With your elbows down towards the floor, curl the weights up, pause, contract, and then slowly lower and repeat.
5. Cable Curl
What is it? Making the most of the resistance offered from heavier weight cables and exercising the biceps at different angles to that which are normally possible with weights.
Equipment: A training cable.
Method: Set the cables at your desired height, often from a low position, then grab the handles, rope, or bar attachment and perform the desired curl variation. Try to keep up the variation by switching angles each time after a few reps to help stimulate new growth in the biceps.
6. Concentration Curl
What is it? We’ve all seen this image before, even those who’ve never set foot in a gym! Concentration is crucial when it comes to maximising performance from this isolated movement to build your biceps.
Equipment: A dumbbell.
Method: Sit on a bench and spread your legs. You can alternate between arms, but rest your arm holding the dumbbell on the corresponding leg just below the knee, so that the weight hangs down between your legs. Keep your torso upright by using your offhand for support and stability by placing it on your thigh. Curl the dumbbell towards you, focus on squeezing the bicep, pause at the top, then lower it back into the original position between your legs.
7. Racked Farmers Carry
What is it? The farmer’s carry is a great exercise to work your body from head to toe. Holding the weights in a racked position, however, helps create an intense bicep-building workout!
Equipment: A pair of dumbbells
Method: Using a pair of dumbbells, hold them in the racked position so one head of each dumbbell rests at the same height as your shoulders. Take ten steps forward, then turn around and walk back in the same position.
8. Seated Cable Rows
What is it? A back and bicep building combo that’s more intense than the standing version of this popular exercise
Equipment: A cable row station or set of resistance bands.
Method: Sit at with your feet up on the platform and your knees slightly bent. Grasp the bar/bands with your palms facing each other. Keep your back flat and pull your shoulders back as you you’re your arms towards your torso.
9. Laying Preacher Curl
What is it? An alternative to the standard preacher curl using cables/bands, whilst the bench/floor offers supportive posturing for your back and shoulders.
Equipment: A bench and pull down cable station or resistance bands.
Method: Position the bench beneath the cable/point you have fixed the bands too so that your head is in-line with the bar when you lay down. Keep your arms straight and reach up to grab the bar. Bend your elbows, squeezing your biceps to curl the bar down toward your head whilst keeping your shoulders still, and emphasize the bicep squeeze at the bottom of the movement before controlling the bar on the way back up.
10. Zottman Curl
What is it? An underhand-overhand rotation exercise that works the three major muscles in the bicep.
Equipment: Pair of dumbbells.
Method: Using a pair of dumbbells, let them hang an arm’s length next to your sides and turn your arms so your palms are facing inward. Now bend your elbows and curl the dumbbells as close to your shoulders as you can whilst keeping your upper arms straight. Rotate the dumbbells so your palms face outward again, then slowly lower the weights down in that position. Rotate so your palms are facing inward again and then repeat.