The Best Bicep Exercises

Big Guns, the focal point of every man’s weight training goals, right? Having that perfect softball shape perk up into position upon flexing is a dream come true for weightlifters alike and one they are sure will turn them into a major babe magnet.

General Tips for Weight-Lifting:

No matter what your goal is in the weight room, there are some general guidelines that should be followed to facilitate the best gains as well as preventing injury.

1. Type of training equipment: free weights or machines
2. Frequency: 2-3 times per week
3. Number and order of exercises: 8 to 10 exercises selected, larger muscle mass and more complex exercises first and smaller muscle mass, simpler exercises second
*A well designed program should consist of both single and multiple joint exercises. This will facilitate whole body fitness and increase overall body strength as well as physique.
4. Number of sets per exercise: 2-3 sets
5. Repetitions for each set: 5 to 12; should be varied on a regular basis
6. Weight to be used for each set: 65-85% of 1-repetition maximum; one or more sets should involve maximal effort
7. Rest periods: 1 to 2 minutes between sets; 1 to 3 minutes between exercises
(Chromiack, 5-6)

Best Way to Build Biceps:

The biceps, also known as elbow flexors, are made up of 3 main muscles. Biceps brachii (long and short head), brachialis, and brachioradialis. The best way to build theses muscles is by performing a combination of both, compound lifts (multiple joint exercises), as well as isolation exercises, which target a single muscle group.

Compound lifts build the whole body. Just as squats, lunges and deadlifts work large muscle groups of the lower body, there are compound exercises that are great for the entire upper body, including the biceps. Usually these include exercises where pulling and pushing are critical components of the exercise. Examples of compound exercises that work the whole upper body, including back muscles, biceps, triceps, forearms, and shoulders are chin-ups (vertical pull), inverted rows (horizontal pull), military press (vertical push),and bench press (horizontal push).

According to Joe Dowell, a trainer for professional athletes and celebrities, “if you really want big arms, you need to focus the majority of your training time getting stronger in the compound lifts.”

Isolation exercises target one individual muscle group. Such as with bicep exercises, the biceps brachii, brachialis, and brachoradialis are targeted and are basically built by using different arm positions and grips to perform exercises that focus on that one general area.

Best Isolation Workout for Biceps (by Joe Dowell):

1. Incline Dumbbell Curls: this exercise focuses on the long head of the biceps brachii and is performed by sitting on an incline bench where the shoulders are extended just beyond neutral and the elbow joint is behind the torso. Curl is perfomed in a supinated ( palms up) position, creating a line of pull directly opposite the resistance. Sets:4, Repetitions: 6-8

2. Seated EZ Bar Cable Preacher Curls: this exercise focuses on the short head of the biceps brachii and is performed by placing the shoulder joint in a pre-flexed position with the elbow joint out in front of the torso. These types of bicep curl exercises are essential. (Suggestion: use a low pulley to ensure that the maximum overload is at the top of the movement). Sets: 3, Repetitions: 10-12

3. Standing Dumbbell Hammer Curls: this exercise focuses on the brachioradialis and is performed with the palms remaining in their neutral position, or facing the sides of the legs, throughout the entire curl. Sets: 4, Repetitions: 6-8

4. EZ Bar Reverse Curls: this exercise focuses on the brachialis as well as the pronator teres ( a muscle in the forearm), and curl is performed with forearms and palms in the down position. (Suggestion: use a fat-grip on EZ bar to facilitate grip strength as well). Sets: 3, Repetitions: 10-12

*Note: Alternate between a shoulder and/or tricep exercise of choice and each bicep exercise performed in the order they are arranged. Train the arms 2 times per week, or at least every 4 days.

Joe Dowell suggests, that if you are training your whole body, “you can integrate the Incline Dumbbell Curls and EZ Bar Reverse Curls on one day, and then substitute the Seated EZ Bare Cable Preacher Curls and Standing Dumbbell Hammer Curls on your next training day. Continue to flip-flop these pairings of your biceps training for the next 4-6 weeks.”

Summing It Up:

While large muscle gains can be made by isolating certain muscles like the biceps, professionals agree that whole body strength and conditioning should be the focus. Doing this can help weightlifters avoid that “Popeye” look where the upper body is a mass of super big, super ripped muscles, while the lower body is scrawny and underdeveloped by comparison, creating the appearance of “bird legs”. My female perspective, for what it’s worth, is that the biceps won’t look very impressive by themselves, if the rest of the body has been ignored.

Also noteworthy, remember that muscle is not solely built in the gym but is tied largely to diet, and most importantly, protein consumption, which is a necessary component in building muscle tissue. Caloric intake is also very important, as it takes 3,500 calories just to gain one pound of muscle.

Chromiak, Joseph, A., PhD, CSCS. ( March 7, 2006). Strength Training for Muscle Building. NSCA Hot Topic Series. Retrieved on November 22, 2011 from

Dowell, Joe. (September 14, 2011). Ask the $250/HR. Trainer: What’s the Best Workout for Bigger Biceps? Retrieved on November 22, 2011 from


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"Any change requires an initial period of discomfort until the body adjusts to the new demand." - Author unknown

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