The 5 Best Biceps Exercises for Building Mass & Strength

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By Alex
Last updated on

Discover the best biceps exercises to build biceps so big that you’ll need a license to carry them. On this page, you’ll find my top 5 exercises choices for biceps training.

To give you a preview, here’s my best biceps exercises list:

1.  Barbell Curl
2.  Hammer Curl
3.  Dumbbell Curl
4.  Chin Up
5.  Reverse Grip Barbell Row

For the remainder of this article, I will detail how to do these biceps exercises and discuss their benefits.

1. Barbell Curl

How to Do Barbell Curls:

Assume a hip width stance. Grasp the barbell with an underhand shoulder width grip.

Hold the barbell just in front of your thighs with your elbows in line with your hip joints. Keep your elbows close to your body for the entire motion.

Bend your elbows to curl the barbell up to shoulder-level. Your elbows can come forward (so the wrist is above the elbow at the top of the rep). But do not allow them to move behind your hips.

Contract the biceps extra hard at the top. Then slowly lower the barbell back to the starting point, and repeat.

Note: If using a straight bar hurts your wrists or elbows, you can use a curl bar instead.

Barbell Curl Benefits:

The barbell curl is the best biceps exercise for overall size and strength gains. This is because it lets you overload the biceps with more weight than is possible with any other exercise.

And it offers versatility. By simply adjusting your grip width, you can shift the emphasis to the inner or outer head of the biceps brachii:

  • Use a narrower than shoulder width grip if you want to emphasize the outer head more.
  • Use a wider than shoulder width grip if you want to emphasize the outer head more.

2. Dumbbell Hammer Curl

How to Do Hammer Curls

Stand with feet hip width apart. Hold a pair of dumbbells at your side using a neutral grip (palms facing each other).

Keep your elbows in line with your hips, or slightly ahead of them. Also, keep your elbows tucked close to your torso.

Curl the dumbbell straight up by bending your elbow until it can’t bend any further. Try to keep your elbows from shifting forward (it’s okay if its very slight).

Squeeze at the top, then lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Perform the motion on the other side. Repeat as required.

Note: You can alternate between the left and right side (as written) or do both at the same time (as shown in the video).

Hammer Curl Benefits:

Hammer curls are one of the best biceps exercises because they develop the arm in two key ways that other exercises can’t:

  • They work the brachialis, which is the muscle that “pops” out on the side of the biceps if developed. Tip: do isostatic holds at the top of the contraction to really focus on this muscle.
  • They work the brachioradialis, which is technically a forearm muscle. However, it ties into the biceps and also performs similar functions (elbows flexion, supination). Building up this muscle is essential to having a fully developed biceps/arm look.

Of course, they’re also effective for general development of the biceps brachii (the main biceps muscle).

3. Dumbbell Curl

How to Do Dumbbell Curls:

Use a neutral grip (palms facing in) to hold dumbbells at your side. Assume a hip width stance.

Your elbows should align with your hips. They should never go behind your hips. Also, keep them tucked to your sides.

Begin curling the dumbbell up to shoulder-height, but supinate your forearm halfway through the upward motion (i.e. rotate the forearm outward so dumbbell is horizontal).

You can allow your elbow to travel forward (until the wrist is above the elbow) to achieve a fuller contraction at the top. Squeeze your biceps at the top.

Lower the dumbbells to the starting position; rotating the dumbbell back to the neutral grip position at the halfway point.

Note: You can alternate between the left and right side (as written) or do both at the same time.

Dumbbell Curl Benefits:

The dumbbell curl is one of the best biceps exercises because it you can directly overload the biceps with some heavy-ass weight – Not as much as barbell curls, but still a lot.

However, dumbbell curls actually excel over barbell curls in two important ways:

  • You train each side independently, which allows you to even out any strength and size imbalances.
  • It involves forearm supination (outward rotation), which recruits more muscles fibers.

4. Chin Up

How to Do Chin Ups

Hang onto a pull up bar with an underhand grip. Space your hands shoulder width apart.

Retract your shoulder blades. Cross your ankles and squeeze your glutes to keep your body tight.

Pull your elbows down and back as you bend your arms and pull your body up, keeping your shoulder blades retracted.

Don’t swing your body to create momentum. Focus on contracting your back muscles. Your biceps will get plenty of work without even having to think about it.

Pull yourself up until your chin passes the bar, and give your back and biceps a good squeeze.

Lower yourself to the starting position; again, keeping your shoulder blades set.

Chin Up Benefits:

Sure, chin ups are more of a back movement. However, I still consider them to be among the best biceps exercises.

Even though chin ups hit the upper back and lats hard, they also work the biceps like crazy. And this happens indirectly; without you even having to focus on using the biceps.

Think about it, you’re using a underhand grip and lifting your entire body weight (or more if you’re using a dip/pull up belt). This puts a lot of tension on the biceps.

Chin ups are also great because they teach you to use your biceps and back together. In such a way that the biceps assist the back. Not the other way around. This is crucial for effective back training.

5. Barbell Underhand Row

How to Do Barbell Underhand Rows:

Start with a loaded barbell on the ground. Stand in front of it with a hip width stance.

Bend over at the hips to grasp it with an underhand (palms facing out) shoulder width grip.

Pick the barbell off the floor and raise your torso to about 30-40° degrees above parallel. Hold your arms straight down so that the bar is below your knees, almost touching your shins.

Keep your spine neutral (i.e. back straight, head inline with spine) throughout the exercise. Try to minimize torso movement or leg/hip movement to avoid using momentum.

Pull your elbows elbows up and back to lift the bar to your abdomen. Focus on engaging the upper back muscles; the biceps will work incidentally.

Always pull your shoulder blades together as you reach the top of the rep. Pause briefly to intensely contract your upper back and biceps at the top of the motion.

Lower the weight back to the starting position. Repeat.

Barbell Underhand Row Benefits:

Barbell underhand rows share many of the same benefits as chin ups (see above). To recap:

  • They both overload the biceps indirectly.
  • They both teach you how to use your biceps to assist your back (not the other way around) in pull exercises.

The big difference is that this exercise is a horizontal pull motion, whereas chin ups are a vertical pull motion. As such, chin ups place a proportionally greater amount of tension on the biceps.

However, underhand rows have a one-up on chin ups when it comes to teaching you how to move your shoulder blades to activate your upper back…

…You retract (pull together) the shoulder blades at the top of each rep and allow them separate as you lower the weight.

While the shoulder blades are involved in chin ups, they remain in the retracted position the whole time. They don’t move.

Alex from King of the Gym
Hey! My name is Alex and I'm the founder and author of King of the Gym. I've been lifting weights seriously since 2005 in high school when I started a home gym in my parents' basement. I started writing about fitness in 2009. Then, in 2014, I got into writing home gym equipment reviews and I haven't looked back. My current home gym is in my own house and it's constantly growing and evolving. My goal is to help you build the home gym of your dreams! Read more about me here.

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