Build Biceps With These10 Best Moves

The standard shoulder-width curl engages the short and long heads of the biceps equally

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We decided to determine the ten best biceps exercises using several parameters, including the following:

  • Ease of learning and performing
  • Total muscle stimulation and intensity
  • Popularity among diehard lifters and bodybuilders
  • Availability of equipment in commercial gyms

You don’t have to consider this a definitive list. Besides, it’s the journey that keeps your interest in fitness fresh, so you should try something out for yourself to better understand what’s best for you.

10 Best Biceps Exercises

1. Barbell Or EZ-Bar Curl

Curls with a shoulder-width grip engage the biceps equally, but you can slightly change the emphasis by altering the grip width (wide to target the short head, narrow for the long head). Also, you can pile on the weight and don’t have to sit endlessly working one arm at a time.

2. Cable Curl

When looking at this movement, it seems a lot like the standing barbell curl. Secure the bar utilizing an underhand grip and extend your arms, stepping back slightly from the pulley. Position your feet at shoulder-width apart and maintain the bar beneath your thighs. This exercise is different than others because it provides constant tension on the muscle throughout the full range of motion.

3. Dumbbell Curl

Is this really any different than a barbell curl? That’s up to you. We don’t recommend doing the same moves in the same workout. There are many benefits to dumbbell curls, such as the ability to do them standing or seated, with both arms or alternating, rotating your wrists into Zottman curls to work on your forearms, or twisting that pinky up to focus purely on the biceps. In short, you have options.

4. Chin-Up

Ever done a set of max-rep chins? This move requires the biceps to work hard. Both pull-ups and chin-ups involve a high degree of elbow flexion, but research has shown that chin-ups work the biceps significantly more.

5. Reverse-Grip Barbell Row

Welcome to the fourth power lift, the bent-over row. This back-focused movement allows you to go very heavy, and the biceps are heavily engaged with the reverse grip. This exercise is suitable for both back and biceps days because it works for both muscle groups.

6. Hammer Curl

Curls with a palms-facing or neutral grip activate the biceps and the brachialis muscle, which is located under the biceps. This muscle is not usually measured in EMG studies.

If you want to make your arms look bigger, you should focus on increasing the girth of your brachialis. This will “raise” your biceps from below, making your arms appear larger overall.

7. Incline Curl

The difference between curling at 90 degrees and 45 is the amount of Curl you will achieve. More than you think. The Curl performed on an incline emphasizes the lengthening of the biceps and increases the stretch at the start of the move. This position is supposed to help you target the long head of your biceps and build the biceps peak.

8. Concentration Curl

There’s a good reason that the concentration curl scores so highly on muscle activation studies. Some have touted the concentration curl as an exercise that will undoubtedly provide a formidable bicep pump and strengthen the connection between the user’s mind and muscles. One reason is that the torso position limits shoulder involvement, but another might be that some evidence suggests that the mind-muscle connection can help increase muscle growth.

9. Preacher Curl

There are many versions of the preacher curl. This exercise for the biceps requires utilizing a preacher bench, which has a seat and an angled pad for immobilization and is executed by stabilizing your elbows and triceps on the angled pad with the feet on the ground. The objective is to curl a weight or multiple weights up to the shoulders from this position. You can use this old-school biceps peak-builder for an entire biceps workout, or you can use it with other exercises like hammer curls.

10. Drag Curl

Instead of keeping your elbows at your sides as you would in traditional barbell curls, you will push them backward. Keep the bar close to your torso as you bring it up. Because the drag curl places the barbell close to your body rather than curling toward your shoulders, you’ll move the bar up to your body while bringing your elbows back. This restricted and abbreviated range of motion will target the biceps and minimize shoulder stress.

Working Out Your Back and Biceps Together

Rowing or pulldown exercises are typically done at the beginning of back and biceps workouts to target the larger back muscles while you have more energy. Doing biceps curls at the beginning of your workout will make your arms so tired that they won’t be able to help you as much as they should when you move on to training your back. So it makes more sense to save the biceps work after you’ve already trained your back.

A commonly used workout split that has been around for a while is the push-pull split, where you alternate between training muscles that push and those that pull. You could do a split routine where you work different muscle groups on different days. For example, you could do chest, shoulders, triceps, quads, and calves on Monday and then work back, biceps, glutes, hamstrings, and rear deltoids on Tuesday. This schedule effectively maintains a balance between all your training and prevents any muscle groups from being neglected.

You don’t need to train your whole body each day, although there are protocols for whole-body workouts too. You could split your upper-body workouts, doing pushing exercises one day and pulling exercises the next. You could do leg workouts later in the week. A session for the back and biceps can be easily included in all variations of the push-pull split.

When experts in strength and conditioning talk about “back training,” they usually refer to upper back muscles. The erector spinae is a group of muscles supporting the spine and involved in leg exercises such as the deadlift and squat variations.

The Best Back Exercises

1. Horizontal pulls (rows).

If you imagine your body standing, it will be easier to understand how the back exercises are categorized. To move something along a horizontal plane means to pull it towards your midsection. Any exercise performed on a horizontal plane is a type of row, including seated cable rows, face pulls, and one-arm dumbbell rows.

2. Vertical pulls (pullups/chin-ups, lat pulldowns)

When you think of vertical pulling, it is easier to imagine than when you think of horizontal pulling. Vertical pull exercises are movements where you pull yourself upward in a straight line or pull a bar down to meet you. These exercises include many pullup and lat pulldown variations.

3. Isolation exercises (straight-arm pulldowns and pullovers)

Exercises that pull up pulling with the arms in a fixed position, like the straight-arm pulldown and pullover, remove the biceps as a secondary mover. These exercises target the lats and upper back muscles more directly, making them work harder.

How Many Back Exercises And Biceps Exercises Should I Do?

The back can take more work than the biceps. How many back and biceps exercises you do in a workout depends on how many exercises you want to do in total. A two-to-one ratio of back-to-bicep exercises is a good guide. This would mean doing four back and two biceps exercises isolated in a session.

The back can be trained multiple days a week. Since its muscles support your posture all day long, they’re very durable and can handle quite a bit of work. However, the biceps cannot take the same amount of training volume and frequency as the back. When people think about doing back and biceps workouts, they often think about doing them in a ratio of one-to-one—one biceps exercise for every back exercise. However, this isn’t a good idea in terms of health and results in the long term.

The biceps are small muscles, and they can be over-trained easily. The biceps muscles attach to the elbows and shoulders. Overworking these muscles can lead to joint pain, especially if you also train the chest, triceps, and shoulders.

Most people can only train their biceps one day a week without causing damage to their tendons and related connective tissue and elbows. This is true for bodybuilders as well. If you’re new to resistance training, go lighter than you think you should because it may save some trouble a few days later. There’s no rush; go light and see how your biceps feel the next day and slowly adjust accordingly ongoing.

How Many Sets and Reps Should I Do for the Back and Biceps?

A reasonable number of sets to do per exercise is two to three. A working set is a set where you are using a challenging load and going to failure or close to it (or within one or two reps of failure).

You will not always be able to hit the two-to-one ratio of back-to-bicep exercises; sometimes, you may do three back exercises to every two bicep exercises. In these instances, doing a two-to-one ratio of sets for the back and biceps is best. For example, do six sets for the back and three sets for the biceps.

You can tailor your back training to focus on either gaining strength or maximum muscle growth (by doing low reps for strength or moderate to extremely high reps for growth), but there’s no need to train for strength when it comes to your biceps. Elbows aren’t meant to lift increasingly heavy weights, so you’ll get more out of them by focusing on muscle growth by getting a good pump.

How Should I Set Up A Back and Biceps Workout?

The order in which you exercise is just as important as the exercises you choose. The three P’s system for delivering results in size and strength while minimizing the risk for injury is Prime, Perform, and Pump.

1) Prime. It would be best to start your workout with an exercise that gets your central nervous system going so your muscles are wide awake and ready to work out. This could be a compound lift that will broadly target all muscles. You should perform the lift with a relatively lightweight so you can focus on form and making a mind-muscle connection. Priming helps get the blood flowing into your muscles to reduce your risk of injury.

For the back, straight-arm pulldowns are a good choice. If you don’t want to use your home gym equipment for rows, you could opt for a machine or chest-supported row instead. These rows isolate the movement more, and your body is supported. For the biceps, you can do hammer curls. The suggested number of repetitions for both of the preliminary exercises should be between twelve and twenty-five.

2) Perform. After the prime, you’ll perform one to two strength-based lifts using heavier weights and lower reps (between 8 and 10). This is the crucial part of your workout, but that doesn’t mean pull-ups start with it.

For the back, barbell and dumbbell rows are a good strategy. You can do barbell and dumbbell curls or cable curls for the biceps.

3) Pump. The next pump phase of the workout is for people who can do more than 8-15 reps of pullups. Pullups or, even better chin ups will dial in your biceps and back. If you’re not yet up to chin-ups, this is the stage where you work to achieve total muscle growth and use light to moderate weights with moderate to high reps.

We don’t want our base strength to limit the number of repetitions we can do for back and bicep exercises. Lat pulldowns with palms facing in can be perfect to simulate a chin-up with good form and control if you’re still building toward the required strength to do full-on chin-ups.

The Best Back and Biceps Workouts

The workouts below follow the Prime-Perform-Pump (PPP) protocol for the back and biceps and should only be completed if you are already in good shape. Choose the workout that is right for you based on your fitness level and the equipment you have available. The following workouts are examples of how the PPP concept can be applied. You can choose any exercises you want to use if they follow the PPP guidelines.

Do only one back-and-biceps workout per week. However, knowledgeable trainees should be able to deal with extra back training during the week.

Beginner Back and Biceps Workout (sample)

1. Straight-Arm Pulldown (Prime)

Sets: 3 Reps: 15–20

2. One-Arm Dumbbell Row (Perform)

Sets: 3 Reps: 8–10 (each side)

3. Lat Pulldown (Pump)

Sets: 2 Reps: 20

4. Dumbbell Hammer Curl (Prime/Pump)

Sets: 3 Reps: 12–15 (each side)

5. Preacher Curl (Pump)

Sets: 1 Rep: 25–30

Advanced Back and Biceps Workout (sample)

1. Band Row (Prime)

Sets: 3Pullup 20

2. Bent over Row (Perform)

Sets: 3 Reps: 8–10

3. Chin up (Perform)

Sets: 3 Reps: 8

4. Lat Pulldown (Pump)

Sets: 3 Reps: 25

5. Dumbbell Hammer Curl (Prime/Pump)

Sets: 3 Reps: 15–20

6. Barbell Curl (Pump)

Sets: 3 Reps: 25–30

Advanced Back and Biceps Workout (sample)

1. Band Straight-Arm Pulldown (Prime)

Sets: 3 Reps: 15–20

2. Pullup (Perform)

Sets: 3 Reps: 8

3. Meadows Row (Perform)

Sets: 3 Reps: 10

4. Lat Pulldown (Pump)

Sets: 3 Reps: 25

5. Cable Hammer Curl (Prime/Pump)

Sets: 3 Reps: 20

6. Preacher Curl (Pump)

Sets: 3 Reps: 40–50