Most gym-goers don't need to be sold on the virtues of shapely arms. The biceps are one of the most visible muscles we have, and the first ones we learn to train. So there's no doubt they're key to a well-rounded physique. Just as importantly, they are crucial for functional, day-to-day activities.
If you want beautiful biceps that are ready for whatever life throws at them, all you need are some dumbbells and these six killer arm exercises. Either work a few of them at a time into your routine, or do all six for a single biceps-burning workout!
1. Hammer Curl
This exercise is great if you're looking to add a little bump to your biceps and target other muscles simultaneously. In addition to taking your biceps through the full range of motion, the wrist position of hammer curls engages your forearm, making for a more complete training session. Just be sure to stay in control the dumbbells through the entire range of motion.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms hanging at your sides, and a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing inward toward your sides.
- Curl the dumbbells toward your shoulders, keeping your palms facing each other. Slowly return the dumbbells back to your sides. Repeat for 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps.
2. Concentration Curl on Stability Ball
If multitasking comes to you naturally, you'll love this combination of biceps and core stability. Sitting on a ball rather than a bench forces you to engage your core, which can help you generate more tension in your biceps. Not that the concentration curl needs help! Since concentration curls require your upper arm to be stabilized, the biceps muscle is largely isolated.
According to an American Council on Exercise study, concentration curls yield 97 percent biceps-muscle activation, which is more than cable curls and chin-ups (80 percent), barbell curls (76 percent), EZ-bar curls (wide grip 75 percent; narrow grip 71 percent), incline curls (70 percent), and preacher curls (69 percent).
- Grab a heavy dumbbell, and a sit on a stability ball. Sit so your thighs are parallel with the floor, and drop the hand with weight in it to the inside of the leg.
- Push your elbow against your inner thigh for stabilization. Curl the weight up to the same-side shoulder. Repeat for 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps on each side.
3. Dumbbell Biceps Curl
Don't let the simplicity of this exercise fool you! It's a classic exercise for a very good reason: It works—as long as you do it right! That means choosing a manageable weight and maintaining proper form, making sure not to swing with your upper body or back.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and let them hang at arm's length at the edge of your hips. Turn your arms so that your palms face forward.
- Tuck your elbows into your sides and bend them, curling the dumbbells up to your shoulders in a slow, focused movement. Make sure your elbows stay stationary and your upper arms don't move.
- Slowly lower the weights back to your thighs. Your arms should be fully extended at the bottom. That is one rep. Complete 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps.
4. Cross-over Hammer Curl
This great alternative to the traditional hammer curl is sure to hit some of those hard-to-reach places such as the brachialis muscle, located underneath the biceps, which is typically understimulated in curls. If you've been wondering why your arms won't shape up, this could be the solution!
- Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
- Begin with your arms fully extended and palms turned in. Cross your right arm over your body and across your chest, curling the dumbbell up toward your opposite shoulder.
- Slowly return your right arm back to your right side and repeat with the left arm, alternating arms each time. Repeat for 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps on each side.
5. Reverse Biceps Curl
In just one exercise, you can tone your biceps and forearms while building functional grip strength! You may need to swap out your dumbbells for some slightly lighter weights for this move at first.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and palms face-down on the tops of your thighs as you grasp a dumbbell in each hand.
- While keeping your upper arms stationary, curl the weights up to your shoulders by moving only your forearms.
- In a controlled motion, lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position. Repeat for 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps.
6. Horizontal Biceps Curl
This move will really work your biceps, as long as you make sure to keep your upper arms straight and bend from the elbows. With your arms out at your sides instead of directly in front of you, you'll have to fight harder against gravity, making the movement difficult.
- Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart. Keep your chest up and your back straight. With a slightly lighter dumbbell in each hand, lift your arms out to your sides. They should be at shoulder height, and your palms should stay facing upward.
- Bend your arms at the elbows, curling the weight in toward your ears. Pause, then slowly uncurl your arms. Do not drop your arms back to your sides.
- Keep your arms extended, and repeat for 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps. Decrease the weight if you're losing proper form or if you begin swinging for momentum.
As long as you have those dumbbells out, check out Total-Body Dumbbell Fix on Bodybuilding.com All Access. It's a full follow-along video workout program that tones your entire body with just a pair of dumbbells.
- Young S, Porcari JP, Camic C, Kovacs A, Foster C et al. ACE Study Reveals Best Biceps Exercises. Acefitness.org. July 2014.