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If you ask someone to flex, 99% of the time, they will throw an arm up and put their biceps on display. A great set of biceps can significantly alter the appearance of your arm and make your everyday life easier (people with kids who want to be carried all the time know this all too well). We've watched countless hours of your favorite pro bodybuilders pump up their biceps and have come up with nine of the best biceps exercises you need to be incorporating into your workouts now. In this article we'll take a look at:
Most likely the most well-known biceps exercise on this list, the dumbbell curl gets taken to the next level with a little extra supination (rotating the hand so your thumb is facing out) of the wrist. Bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger credits supinated dumbbell curls with help building his legendary peaks.
In an interview with Muscle & Fitness, the Austrian Oak recommends trying to get the pinkie higher than your thumb, acknowledging it will hurt like hell, but will help bring your arm development to the next level. Supinated dumbbell curls can be done standing, but performing them seated with your back supported can help stop body swing, really putting the focus on the biceps doing the work.
Pro Tip: Another piece of advice to get as much tension on the biceps as possible is to let your wrist hang and the weight roll toward your fingers at peak contraction. This won't allow the weight to be in a "resting" position at the top of the movement, keeping your muscle firing the whole time.
Take a look at the video below to see Roelly Winklaar performing textbook supinated dumbbell curls.
Incline dumbbell curl was a favorite of old-school bodybuilders and can be seen on prominent display by Lou Ferrigno in Pumping Iron. Known for being absolutely brutal due to the full stretch at the start of the movement, incline dumbbell curls offer a wider range of motion than standard standing dumbbell curls, placing your biceps under tension for longer. The incline dumbbell curl is a go-to of Roelly Winklaar, and with arguably the best arms in the history of the sport, you can bet he knows what he's doing.
Pro Tip: Make sure to keep your elbows down. "Floating" elbows take the tension off of your biceps at peak contraction, robbing you of the benefits of the incline dumbbell curl. Treat your elbow as a hinge tucked into your side.
You can check out a video of a young 7x Mr. Olympia Phil Heath demonstrating incline dumbbell curls below.
Hammer curls are one if, if not the best exercise for brachialis and brachioradialis muscles. The small, often underappreciated, brachialis muscle can make or break a back double biceps pose. Situated between the lateral head of the triceps and the long head of the biceps, a well-developed brachialis can help add thickness to your arm as well as push the long head of the biceps up into a better peak. Hammer curls can also pack on some size to the brachioradialis, which is an absolute must for a balanced looking arm. If you see an IFBB pro with great biceps peaks and massive forearms, you can almost guarantee that hammer curls are an integral part of their training.
Pro Tip: Hammer curls have some of the best curl variations; take advantage of them! Crossbody hammer curls, incline hammer curls, preacher hammer curls, and cable hammer curls are just some of the many ways to perform hammers. Try them out and see which one works best for you!
Below is a video of the Maryland Muscle Machine throwing up serious weight with hammer curls.
A favorite of 4x Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler, the spider curl is an amazing way to isolate the biceps and get a full stretch of the muscle. A staple of his training regimine leading up to the 2009 Mr. Olympia (the year of the "Quad Stomp"), spider curls helped Cutler bring his biceps to the level needed to reclaim the Sandow. Commonly seen being used on his clients by trainer Hany Rambod, pro bodybuilders rave about the contraction they are able to get using ez bars, straight bars, and dumbbells in this position. With 24 Olympia titles under his belt, I'm going to trust that Hany knows what he's doing when it comes to muscle development.
Pro Tip: If you really want to avoid arm swing, you can use a preacher bench (chest on the angled side, back of the triceps on the straight side) to eliminate any momentum.
Here's a video of Jay Cutler himself doing some dumbbell spider curls.
For building raw power in your biceps, look no further than the barbell curl. A mainstay in 8x Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman's arm workouts, often performing 10-12 reps at 225 lbs, there is no doubt that barbell curls can build up some serious strength. For anyone looking to increase their strength, barbell curls are a great way to challenge your arms to grow with more weight than you would be able to do with dumbbells. One word of caution, those with wrist mobility issues might want to take it easy or steer clear of these entirely.
Pro Tip: Lift with a partner to do a few negative reps at the end of your sets to exhaust your bis beyond failure.
Lee Priest gives a great YouTube short on how to properly perform barbell curls in the video below.
Another great way to make sure your biceps are doing all the work is to hop on a preacher bench and smash out some preacher curls. Appropriately named for resembling a preacher leaning over a pulpit, preacher curls came into fashion in the 1960s. For anyone who is a fan of the history of bodybuilding, might be familiar with how Larry Scott (the very first Mr. Olympia) introduced Arnold to preacher curls, bringing his arms to a whole new level. A few common variations of preacher curls can be performed using a cambered bar, straight bar, dumbbells at tandem or one at a time, or machine preacher curls.
Pro Tip: Don't let your elbows lock out at the bottom; it puts unnecessary strain on your elbows and will keep tension on your biceps. Bonus tip: don't let your forearms get completely vertical, as that will put more load on your forearms rather than your biceps.
If you're interested in some preacher curl variations, all-star trainer to the Olympians Hany Rambod walks you through some below.
Concentration curls are a fantastic choice for laser-focusing on bicep development. Sitting on a bench, you lean forward slightly and isolate each arm in turn, effectively eliminating momentum and ensuring that your biceps are fully engaged. This exercise gained popularity in the golden era of bodybuilding and has continued its popularity through modern lifting.
The key to concentration curls is the position: one arm at a time curls the weight from a hanging position, elbow usually braced against the inner knee, fully stretching the bicep at the bottom and then contracting it at the top with a peak squeeze. The simplicity and effectiveness of concentration curls make them a staple in bicep workouts, perfect for anyone looking to add serious definition and peak to their arms.
Pro Tip: For a different take on concentration curls, try using a resistance band to really increase the tension put on your biceps throughout the entire exercise.
Check out the clip of Flex Wheeler performing seated concentration curls below.
While you may think that hardcore gym rats would shun cable machines for free weights, you couldn't be further from the truth. They might not be on everybody's Mount Rushmore of biceps exercises, but cable curls deserve a place up there. In fact, we're huge fans of cable arm exercises!
The beauty of cable curls is the versatility you have in your setup. Changing the angle you want to hit your biceps can be done by moving the pulley up a little bit or dropping it down. Doing any type of curl variations on a cable machine also means that you are keeping constant tension on the muscles since there is no rest spot.
Pro Tip: Try all the attachments for the cable machine! Rope curls, ez-bar curls, straight bar curls, and single-arm curls can all hit the biceps differently. Also, experiment with the height of the pulley, distance away from the machine, as well as body orientation (give cross-body curls a shot!). We've even come up with a bicep cable workout you can give a try.
You can check out the video below of World's Strongest Man Brian Shaw curling the weight stack under 8x Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman's tutelage.
Though I might not be an IFBB pro, these are one of my favorite finishers for biceps. You may not trust my opinion, but I'm sure you can agree with Flex Lewis, Phil Heath, and Ronnie Coleman, who swear by them. Mimicking a front double biceps pose, the high cable curl is a great way to work the peak of the biceps. Most bodybuilders recommend doing higher reps of these, think 15-20 rather than 8-12.
Pro Tip: You can change the angle even more dramatically by going down on one knee to perform your set.
Here is a one minute video of 7x 212 Mr. Olympia Flex Lewis demonstrating high cable curls, with some added tips.
While this isn't a comprehensive list of all the biceps exercises out there, we think it's one of the best. If you go back and look at all the Mr. Olympia winner's workouts, you'll see that they are almost exclusively made from exercises on this list. If these exercises work for the best arms in the world, they will definitely work for you! Let us know down below what your favorite biceps exercise is. And if you are going down the rabbit hole of biceps exercises and want more targeted movements, you can read our articles on the Best Short Head Exercises, Best Long Head Biceps Exercises, and Best Brachialis Exercises.
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