They may not be the biggest or the strongest group on your body, but your biceps are arguably the best "show" muscles. Upon hearing the clarion cry, "sun's out, guns out," you don't want to flee into the shadows like a vampire with flabby arms.
Functionally, the biceps are pretty straightforward—they just flex the elbow—yet humankind has come a long way since the days of hoisting a club. Today, there is a dizzying array of movements to bring out every vein, bulge, and peak.
To see the full array, check out the Bodybuilding.com Exercise Database, which hosts video demonstrations of hundreds of exercises with top models from the industry. Below are the top ten biceps exercises as rated by you—our users!
While you rate this No. 1, we give it mixed reviews. The incline bench position increases the stretch on the long head of the biceps, while the neutral grip increases emphasis on the brachioradialis and brachialis. But the "hammer" takes some of the tension away from the long head, negating the benefit you gain from sitting at an incline.
Test this yourself by simply placing your right hand on your left biceps. Move your left hand from palm up to palm sideways and you can feel the tension change in your biceps.
Incline Hammer Curls
The biceps brachii actually consists of two portions or "heads," with differing attachment points. The "long" head actually attaches above the shoulder joint, which means that the position of the upper arm relative to the body can determine how much each head of the biceps helps during a curl.
This exercise gets your humerus behind your body, stretching the long head to the max. The more horizontal the bench, the more the long head will be stretched.
Incline Inner biceps curl
In contrast, concentration curls place the arm in front of the body with a rotation in the shoulder. While this decreases recruitment of the long head, it potentially increases biceps thickness and peak by better short head and brachialis recruitment.
I recommend placing your free hand on your off leg to support your body weight. When you hit failure using a supinated grip, switch over to a hammer grip and burn out a few extra reps.
Many find the EZ bar significantly more comfortable than a straight bar. It shifts a little bit of the load from the biceps brachii to your other elbow flexors, so an argument could be made that the EZ bar curl is the best all-around biceps builder.
EZ bar curl
Taking a wider-than-normal grip will cause you to externally rotate at the shoulder, so your humerus changes its position. This prompts more involvement from the short head of the biceps. For this and all barbell curls, avoid cheating reps by leaning back. If you want to overload the top, use bands, chains, or a partner for forced reps.
wide-grip standing barbell curl
Are you having trouble deciding which biceps exercise to do? Choose the Zottman. In this movement you have a palms-up (supinated) grip on the way up and a palms-down grip (pronated) as you lower the weight. All of your elbow flexors get hit in one swoop. The brachioradialis and the brachialis take heat on the negative, and during the curling motion itself, the biceps brachii bears the load.
My recommendation would be to rotate the wrist as you come up instead of just doing it at the bottom before the rep starts. Some of your elbow flexors act as supinators as well, and rotating the wrist during the curl instead of at the bottom will load up that function.
The classic! If you did only this movement for biceps, you would still come out ahead. Since the amount of wrist rotation helps determine how much work our biceps brachii work, it makes sense to maximize supination in a movement where we can load fairly heavy.
Play around with your grip width. It may reduce discomfort that some experience with a barbell, as well as emphasize a different part of the biceps. A narrower grip will emphasize the long head; a wider grip, the short head.
A dumbbell curl is a basic movement that seems to be the icon of fitness. Don't believe me? Just nose around our site; it seems like half of our banners have someone doing a dumbbell curl! Dumbbells allow the wrists to move freely.
Most people will adopt at least a little bit of wrist rotation as they curl—just try to keep as much supination as is comfortable.
The "hammer" or neutral wrist position will typically be our strongest curl. This is because all of our elbow flexors are actively involved; the brachialis is worked the hardest. I would recommend doing this movement like a concentration curl or on a preacher bench. This should minimize cheating and maximize recruitment.
Preacher Hammer Dumbbell Curl
This movement is a great way to practice your front double biceps pose as you train. With our arms in this position, brachialis recruitment is maximized. The higher your elbow, the more isolated the brachialis is from the biceps brachii.
A good variation is to do one arm at a time, getting the arm straight up (against the head), curling behind your head.
Overhead cable curl