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Where there's a will to train your biceps, there's a way to train your biceps, even if you're working out from home with limited equipment.
In all honesty, home workouts are seriously awesome, as you don't even have to get out of your PJs! There's no drive to the gym, nor any wait for equipment. You get to pick your own music and train the way you want.
As for the downsides, you have no personal trainers to help you choose exercises or show you what to do, and you're likely dealing with limited equipment. The good news is that I'm going to fill in for a personal trainer here by providing you with two at-home bicep workout programs, one of which requires minimal equipment.
And when people ask you what your secret is to serious arm growth, you can tell them it involves working out in pajamas from the comfort of your living room!
Table of Contents:
Let's first talk about the anatomy of the biceps, so we have a good foundation for how to train it. This muscle group is called the biceps brachii but is usually shortened to the biceps. We can learn a lot about the bicep muscles from its name.
Biceps actually means "two-heads" ("bi"= two, "ceps"= head) as the muscle has two heads. Makes sense. Fun fact: The "tri" ceps have three heads, while the "quad" triceps have four.
The two heads of the biceps are the short head and the long head.
The biceps short head gets its name as it's - you guessed it - shorter than the length of the biceps. This difference in length comes from its origin as both heads eventually merge into the same insertion. The short head's origin is located on the coracoid process of the scapula. It then runs down the arm's medial (inner) side until it merges into the tendon at its insertion.
The biceps long head is obviously going to be the longer of the two heads. Its origin is located on the supraglenoid tubercle near the clavicle, and it actually crosses the shoulder joint, making it responsible for multiple functions (see below)
Two other upper body muscles to know about are the brachialis and brachioradialis, which are the other two main arm flexors that work in conjunction with the biceps. The brachialis sits under your biceps and is actually your arm's primary flexor.
When you strengthen it, you can put more stress on your biceps using heavier loads. Further, when you perform brachialis exercises and it grows, it will push the biceps toward the skin more (this makes your bicep look even bigger and fuller!).
The brachioradialis is the major forearm muscle involved in elbow flexion. In addition to playing a crucial role in your arm movement, it can also improve your biceps' aesthetics.
If your goal is to build big biceps, you also need to understand the actual functions of the biceps.
There are three of them, which include:
The biceps play a key role in elbow flexion. In fact, if you have ever struck a double biceps pose before (and I know you have!), you had to flex your elbow to do so.
Interestingly, the biceps are only effective flexors when your arm is in a supinated position (palms facing up), such as during an underhand grip bicep curl. When the forearm is pronated, the biceps use a lot of force production due to the location of its insertion.
As just mentioned, the biceps are very powerful forearm supinators. This is why exercises such as Zottman curls are so effective.
In addition, we know that we can alter the arms' position to hit the biceps a bit differently. And targeting the biceps from multiple angles will help you grow those bad boys!
Many people aren't aware of this, but the biceps actually aid in elbow flexion, pulling the arms forward out in front of the body. In fact, this is one of the reasons why the elbow tends to pull forward during bicep curls.
It can also be why movements such as spider curls and Bayesian curls are so effective, as they can help mitigate any movement.
Now let's go over what every biceps workout at home requires to be effective. I'm going to provide you with two excellent biceps workouts below, one with equipment and one without, but I also want to provide you with the framework to create your own routine as well.
A good home biceps workout must have the following:
When optimizing your biceps workout at home, you want to hit the muscles using all 3 functions. To refresh your mind, these are elbow flexion, forearm supination, and shoulder flexion.
Put into practice, to hit each of these functions, you'll want your workout to include dumbbell curls with palms facing upward for elbow flexion, Zottman curls for forearm supination, and raised curls, Bayesian curls, or Spider curls for shoulder flexion.
In addition to training the 3 functions of the biceps brachii, you'll also want to train the brachialis and brachioradialis. To do this, you'll need to use at least one neutral grip exercise and one requiring an overhand grip.
I'm including two different programs here. One is for those of you without any equipment and the other is for those of you who have some dumbbells or resistance bands.
Stay tuned after the workouts, as we'll get into step-by-step directions for each exercise.
Not everyone has gym equipment laying around the house. However, we are going to hope that you have access to a bar or something you can pull yourself up with (even a sturdy doorframe may do the trick). If you don't, find a nearby park with some monkey bars.
In place of equipment, you'll use a towel for most of the exercises.
I'm going to discuss different methods to activate your muscles down below. Basically, you will use a towel or dowel to perform isometric curls or use it for a mental connection. When performing an isometric exercise, hold the contraction for around 5 seconds. I'm listing the exercises at 90%, which means you should use 90% max strength.
Also important to remember: You don't need to train biceps on their own. You could easily add this workout to your at-home back workout to make it a complete routine.
Wall Curl (Using Towel)
Isometric Hammer Curl (With Towel)
This workout will assume you have some dumbbells, resistance bands, and access to a pull-up bar. You can also buy some TRX systems to hook on a tree.
However, also realize you can fill a backpack with books or use full milk jugs. I've even seen people fill up buckets with sand! Get creative, and you'll find a way to incorporate some weights into your at-home program. Just remember to concentrate on using RPE and mind-muscle connection, which we'll go over below.
Resistance Band Bayesian Curl
Hammer Curls or Zottman Curls
Let's get into the various program variables you will be adjusting to optimize your training. These different training variables and concepts should be implemented with all of your training.
Frequency refers to the number of times you train your muscle groups during the week¹. Based on research and my training experience, training each muscle twice a week produces optimal results.
This is because it takes advantage of the muscle recovery and compensation cycle. Muscles take 2-3 days to fully recover. So, by training a muscle twice a week, you can train your biceps, wait 3 days (you can train other muscle groups during this time), and then train again.
This way, the muscle is perpetually recovering and growing.
I firmly believe this is the most important training variable there is.
Progressive overload simply states that in order to continue growing, you must constantly place greater stress on the muscle. This is done by tracking your weights and rep scheme. The total load needs to be increased by adding weight or reps to increase the stress on the muscle.
It can also be the total load placed on your muscle.
For example, if you do 5 chin-ups, then biceps curls with 50 pounds, the week after, you could do 6 chin-ups, then biceps curls with 50 pounds. Even though you did the same amount with your biceps curls, you put more stress on the biceps muscle by adding one more chin-up.
RPE stands for rate of perceived exertion. It's a form of self-regulation that allows you to train depending on how you feel. The easiest way to think of this is using a scale of 1-10 to measure intensity.
A level 1 refers to an extremely easy movement that could be done "forever," like a slow walk. Level 10 refers to a true max as in 100% effort. Then every number basically refers to a percentage;
RPE is an effective method for measuring intensity and progression². It's exceptionally important with home workouts as you don't have a full set of equipment. This makes it harder to prescribe a defined set range, which is why I prefer to prescribe a range with RPE.
The most important concept of home workouts is to train too close to failure. This is similar to RPE, where you might not have the right weight to work a prescribed set.
The concept here is to train hard to near failure or your prescribed RPE. If you want to see results, you need to push yourself.
Our mind is a powerful tool when building muscle.
If you think about it, you don't even need a load to contract your muscles. Right now, you can flex your chest until total failure. In fact, studies have actually found that you can actually build muscle with what's termed "no-load" training³.
No-load training is when you take your body through a movement, such as a deadlift, yet do not use any weight or implements. But as you go through the movement, you simply think about lifting a load and use a full contraction as you go through the movement slowly.
This can be a useful tactic for those without a lot of equipment.
Similar to no-load contractions, even if you do have some equipment, using intentional contractions and focusing on a strong mind-muscle connection during the movement can help increase your muscle activity⁴.
You can (and probably should) use this with both workouts, but it's most important for those with no equipment.
Here are the top exercises to include in your at home biceps workouts. Master these moves, and don't forget to focus on a strong mind-muscle connection when performing each.
Chin-ups are one of the best biceps exercises you can do at home, or anywhere, for that matter. All you need is access to a pull-up bar, and if you don't have that, you can simply use a tree branch or monkey bars. Yeah, that's right. Be the weird guy doing chin-ups at the park - it's in the name of big biceps, after all.
While most think the chin-up is a back exercise, it actually requires your biceps to flex your elbow to pull your head above the bar.
How to do Chin-Ups:
The Bayesian curl is usually performed with the cable machine, as you need the resistance to pull behind you. But if you're not in a gym setting, performing a bicep cable workout is close to impossible.
Enter, resistance bands. Using a band, your arm starts in a hype-extended position and curls up.
How to do Banded Bayesian Curls:
This is one of my favorite dumbbell bicep exercises, as you isolate the biceps by using a wall to rest your back on. When you perform these, you have a couple of options. One, you can simply stand and lean your back against the wall, or two, you can do a wall squat and then perform a biceps curl.
As you lean against the wall, you want your arm's back pressed firmly against it. This prevents any sort of swaying or arm movement you may subconsciously do.
Prepare to feel your upper arm burn!
How to do the Wall Biceps Curl:
Dumbbell hammer curls are performed by holding a dumbbell in a neutral position, so your palms face each other and the dumbbell is straight up and down.
In this position, it's in a 50% supination/pronation position, so you activate the brachialis and brachioradialis to a higher degree.
How to do the Dumbbell Hammer Curl:
The Zottman curl is a bicep exercise that requires you to switch grips throughout the movement.
As you curl the bar up, rotate it into a supinated or underhand grip. Not only does it require the biceps to flex the elbow, but it must also supinate the forearm.
How to do the Zottman Curl:
There are a lot of awesome benefits to working out at home. Undoubtedly, one of the best benefits of training biceps with your home workouts is that it will force you to do more chin-ups.
As seen above, we love the chin-up! It is an awesome upper-body pulling exercise that's actually arguably the best back exercise we have.
However, it's also a very impressive biceps exercise, arguably the best. The problem is that people don't do them enough. You'll be forced into doing them more when working out at home with limited equipment.
In addition, another benefit is the convenience of at home workouts. After a long day of work, sometimes all you want to do is skip the gym and go home.
When you exercise at home, you have the convenience of literally rolling out of bed in the morning to do it, or coming home and mustering up the gumption to get it in before you start binge-watching Netflix.
Nothing comes without any drawbacks. One of the downsides of a bicep workout is not having access to the cable machine, which I happen to love using for smaller accessory moves and isolation exercises.
A gym setting also offers equipment for other beloved biceps exercises, like the preacher curl, for example, that are hard to replicate at home - unless you have a bench.
In addition, following progressive overload is easy to measure and implement when you have a full gym. However, when you're limited with weights, you're stuck to counting reps and using a strong mind-muscle connection to ensure muscle growth. It's not impossible to build muscle this way, but it can be harder.
Once you've been working out for a while, you'll need to buy some basic equipment to place enough stress on your muscles. If we were to suggest one piece of equipment, it would be a TRX setup, like these suspension trainers, as it also allows you to do various other biceps curls.
Further, if you have a pull-up bar, you can focus on performing harder variations. If you don't have a pull-up bar, the TRX will solve that again. You may also want to eventually consider investing in an outdoor pull up bar.
One other piece of equipment that can be very helpful is an adjustable dumbbell set. These will save you space and money yet allow you to put in the perfect amount of weight you need. With this, you can virtually progressive overload as much as you want until you hit your genetic max.
Any remaining at home bicep workout questions? Let's answer them!
You will build your biceps at home the same way you would at the gym. Use exercises that emphasize elbow flexion and emphasize progressive overload.
If I could only pick 3, I would choose chin-ups, Zottman curls, and incline curls.
The best biceps workout is one that works the biceps with a full range of load, a full spectrum of grips, and incorporates various angles.
I wouldn't recommend using push-ups as a biceps exercise, as push-ups are going to primarily train your pushing muscles, including your chest, triceps, and anterior deltoids. While your biceps will still fire, it's doing so as an antagonist muscle to the triceps in order to create a smooth, controlled movement.
Building strong biceps is essential for performance, aesthetics, and injury prevention. While they can be a bit difficult to train at home, especially with limited equipment, it can still be done.
With the above exercises, you'll be able to preserve your strength if you're out of the gym for a little bit. Or, if you're just looking for general fitness, this will also do the trick. Think of building biceps from home as a challenge. And we're not ones to walk away from a challenge!
If biceps growth is your goal, make sure to read this Ultimate Guide to Building Big Biceps. Packed with tips, best exercises, and essential information, it includes everything you need to grow massive upper arms!
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