5 Most Effective Exercises For Building Your Biceps

Brad Borland
Written By: Brad Borland
April 13th, 2017
Updated: June 13th, 2020
123.6K Reads
5 Most Effective Exercises For Building Your Biceps
Blast your biceps with these 5 killer moves that put a twist on classic bicep exercises, making them twice as effective!

Here’s the thing: When it comes to biceps training, you can pretty much only do one thing – curl. Boring, yes, but you still desire a nice set of guns.

Maybe you need to get more out of your biceps training. Maybe you need a few more tricks and techniques to get arm growth going again.

The 5 biceps exercises listed below are some of the most effective arm-builders around. At first glance these aren’t anything new, but let’s delve a little deeper and get creative to make these 5 traditional moves into some serious muscle gain-makers.

Try a few of these on for size (literally) and bigger guns will only be a curl away!

1. Barbell Curl

It doesn’t get more basic than the barbell curl. Heavy, simple and to the point the barbell curl allows you to place the most amount of stress of all the biceps exercises.

Related: 5 Killer Arm Workouts for Tank Top Season

Including some form of the barbell curl (be it standing, on the preacher bench, with a wide or narrow grip) is a necessity for anyone’s arsenal if bigger biceps is the goal.

The Twist: A simple yet highly effective version of the traditional barbell curl is the seated barbell curl. Yes, the shortened range of motion will have the illusion of seeming easier to perform, but the reality is quite the opposite. Sit straight up on the end of a bench with the barbell in your lap.

With an underhand grip curl up the weight toward your shoulders and lower under control. When the bar nears your legs only tap the bar and reverse direction. You will find you can lift more weight than the standing, full-range version but that’s not a green light to cheat the weight up. Always use proper, controlled technique.

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2. Inverted Rack Curl

A highly effective but little known biceps builder is the rack curl. If traditional curling has you bored out of your mind and you want to try something very different and a little more functional then give this a try.

Position yourself under a bar (either a locked Smith machine or a bar placed low on a squat rack) and grasp the bar with an underhand grip with your body straight, facing up and feet on the floor. You should be in a similar positon as a reverse-grip inverted row. Keeping your body straight, curl your body up to your hands while flexing your biceps hard.

Your abs, back, shoulders and legs will be under tension for support, but be sure the majority of the stress is to your biceps.

The Twist: After you’ve mastered the move from a moderate height with the bar it’s time to make things a little interesting. Try performing a rack curl ladder. Start with the bar in a low position (the most difficult) and perform your reps as normal. Once you reach failure, raise the bar to the next setting and perform more reps.

Continue to raise the bar to each new level after you reach muscular failure. Each new height will make the exercise angle a bit easier enabling you to keep working your fatigued biceps.

3. Dumbbell Curl

The dumbbell curl is considered the barbell curl’s little brother, however, utilizing dumbbells allows you to supinate (rotate) the wrist.

Why is this worth mentioning? Because the biceps has two functions: To raise the arm and to rotate the forearm. This supinating action will ensure you are working both biceps heads and getting a complete, thorough workout.

The Twist: Instead of slogging through the normal cadence of “curl the left arm, then the right, then the left and so on” try completing half of your reps for one side then half for the other, then complete your reps in the same fashion.

This small, seemingly insignificant shift will enable you to better focus on the side being worked while reducing upper body sway and swing.

Ronnie Coleman Working Out His Biceps

4. Incline Dumbbell Curl

Piggybacking off of the dumbbell curl supinating advantage, the incline bench dumbbell curl is unlike any other exercise for the biceps.Not only will it force you to perform your reps in a strict manner it will also work the biceps in such a way as to increase that coveted peak you are looking to build.

Since this exercise puts you in a vulnerable position it is advisable to use light to moderate amounts of weight and focus on form and technique.

The Twist: Of course using proper form is paramount such as keeping not only your back against the bench but your shoulders as well. Also, let your arms hang down straight to the floor without swinging the dumbbells.

An intense little trick you can try is to lower the weight to a dead stop and pronate (twist) your wrists inward at the bottom of the movement. Twist them back to the supinated (curl) position and lift for your next rep. This will cause an intense stretch and burn. Again, use a lighter weight for these since the drastic stretch will call for more control.

5. Reverse-Grip Biceps Chin-Up

Another unsung hero of the biceps building world is the reverse-grip chin-up. Normally you would perform a traditional chin-up by pulling with your lats and elbows while arching and squeezing your back.

Related: The "Guns-A-Blazing" Arm Training Workout Routine

For the biceps version you will actually slightly round your back to engage your biceps more fully. Also, try more of a curling motion with your forearms instead of a straight pull as in a traditional chin-up.

The Twist: Can’t do too many chin-ups or none at all? You have options. Either have your training partner support your feet to lessen the amount of body weight lifted or loop a band under your feet or knees for the same support.

Another option would be to use a low-hanging bar and jump to the top/contracted position. Once in that position slowly lower your body under complete control for an intense negative (eccentric) fatigue affect. Once you build your strength you will be able to perform normal reps over time.

2 Effective Programs For Building Your Biceps

Try each program once per week. For example, program A on Monday and program B on Thursday.

Program A

Exercise Sets Reps
Seated Barbell Curl 3 10-12
Incline Dumbbell Curl (with a full wrist twist) 3 10-12
Seated Dumbbell Curl (one arm at a time) 3 8-10

Program B

Exercise Sets Reps
Reverse-Grip Biceps Chin-Up 3 Max
Inverted Rack Curl Ladder 2-3 Max
Traditional Seated Dumbbell Curl 3 10-12

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Posted on: Wed, 05/27/2015 - 15:49

By doing the program listed above how long will it take to build bigger biceps? Also do I alternate workout programs?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 05/27/2015 - 17:16

Hi Matt. I would give the program 4 to 6 weeks to see noticeable changes. And yes, alternate the 2 programs.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 05/29/2015 - 09:16

There are no "required" supplements.

To quote one of my past articles: "Sure, meal timing, supplementation, macronutrient ratios, carbohydrate cycling, and all of the other “fun stuff” have their place, but the majority of folks are going to see their best results when they focus on getting 80% of the basics correct and quit worrying about the extra 20% that’s not always necessary." - https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/5-tips-to-intuitive-for-eating

If you want the basics on supplementation, start here: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/complete-guide-how-to-increas...

Posted on: Thu, 05/28/2015 - 17:19

Thank You. Also what supplements are required in order to see noticeable changes in the 4 to 6 week program?

J. Cossio
Posted on: Fri, 05/22/2015 - 17:12


i've read that curls are always going to end up in tendonitis, and if you were to create a huge massive bis would be through compound movements such as, rowing and pulling ups, is this true?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sun, 05/24/2015 - 11:06

Yes and no.Yes, you need those big, heavy compound moves but in order to round-out biceps development you will need to throw in a few basic curling moves.

Dave Goren
Posted on: Sat, 04/01/2023 - 20:31

I’ve been curling for over 45 years. I’ve never developed tendinitis in my biceps. A little bit in my shoulder and my feet. But for biceps, I’ve learned to START SLOW AND LIGHT. It’s actually a smaller muscle and needs time to recover. If you miss a couple of workouts, pull reduce the intensity when you return.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sun, 05/17/2015 - 22:29

I'm here to answer any questions you may have...

Banti Debnath
Posted on: Sun, 05/17/2015 - 22:59

Hello Brad,

What is the ideal amount of Carbs, Proteins and Fats I should consume per pound or kilo of my body weight for weight gain? My current weight is 45 Kgs and height is 5 feet 5 inches.

I understand this question is not related to this article but I thought you could help me out.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 05/18/2015 - 22:31

Start with 2 grams of protein per kilo, 3 grams of carbs per kilo and about .5 grams of fat per kilo. You can adjust from there.

Banti Debnath
Posted on: Wed, 05/27/2015 - 12:21

Thanks Brad.

Banti Debnath
Posted on: Tue, 01/05/2016 - 01:59

Thanks Brad for the guide. After the earlier post I was seriously ill and I lost 2kgs. Once I recovered I decided this was enough. I hit the gym along with your guide, now after three and half months I gained 12kgs and now weigh 55kgs. Though I gained some fat but I ain't afraid of it. I can get it shed during summer. Thanks again.