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The Best Bicep Workouts

Apr/12/2022 / by KT Hall
Image credits: Shutterstock

Flexing your arms. Lifting packages. Picking up your kids. Your biceps are vital arm muscles used with a lot of daily activities. Biceps (biceps brachii) are muscles on the front section of your arms. Maybe you’ve exercised these muscles to do curls and keep your arms toned. Bicep workouts are essential for having lean and sculpted arms.

Here are the 12 best bicep exercises that can strengthen and shape your arms (and save the wiggle-jiggle for jello!).

The 12 Best Bicep Workouts for Women

In exploring the best arm exercises, you want to strengthen and tone the different muscles in the front of your arms. These include muscles like the bracialis and brachioradialis.

Sets Versus Reps

When you complete the exercises below, reps are the number of times you do the exercise and sets are the number of reps. For example, you might do 10-12 bicep curls in a row. That’s the equivalent of 10-12 repetitions or reps.

Completing those 10-12 reps would be one set. If you then take a small break for 30-90 seconds and do another set, that is now two sets. Hence, three sets might be 10-12 times in a row (reps), a 1-minute break, 10-12 reps, a 1-minute break and then 10-12 reps and then you stop.

Take a look at the exercises below.

Bicep Curls with Dumbbells

One of the best bicep exercises is curls. With this exercise, you will lift small dumbbells and flex your arm up toward your chest. The toning exercise looks easy but maintaining the correct form is essential. That way you can masterfully tone your arms and keep your muscles symmetric.

Often when women do curls, they may not pay attention to proper curling techniques because you are working your arms independently.

To achieve the best results, it’s important that you twist/turn your wrist when you bring your hand up toward your shoulder. Doing this with each rep can help you achieve more intensified muscle contractions. Hence, as you twist your wrist, focus on that pinky finger turning away from your body.

The move might not feel natural at first but you will find that your biceps have to work harder, i.e., you will have a much better workout.

Here are the steps:

  • While standing, hold a 2- or 5-lb dumbbell in your left hand and one in the right hand. Keep your elbows down and slightly locked at your sides.
  • As you hold the weight down at your side, draw your left or right arm up. Hold your arm up in that contracted/tightened stance for a few seconds.
  • Extend your arm back down to your side and do the other side. That makes one rep.
  • Do 12-15 reps for a total of 3 sets.

Hammer Curls with Dumbbells

It’s easy to assume that hammer curls are just like regular curls. However, the exercise targets your biceps and brachioradialis and brachialis muscles.

Because you are exercising the three muscle groups together, you can actually lift more weight. Hence, don’t be afraid to add a few pounds to your dumbbells.

If you don’t have access to a dumbbell rack, some people simply hold two 2-lb weights in one hand and then alternate sides. Other options include lifting something of equivalent weight (water bottle, soup can, laundry detergent jug).

To get started:

  • Stand with your arms down at your sides (palms up) and hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Keep your grip neutral and elbows locked. Bend your left arm as you bring the weight straight up near your shoulder. Avoid turning the weight or twisting/flexing your wrist.
  • Stop when your forearm is touching your bicep, which is just below your shoulder. Hold this pose for 3-5 seconds and then bring your arm back to the starting position and do the right side. That counts as one rep.
  • Do 12-15 reps total for 3-4 sets.

Zottman Curls with Dumbbells

A Zottman curl is often overlooked but it’s one of the most popular curls. Not only can it tone and strenthen your arms but it works the brachioradialis and brachialis muscle groups.

When you exercise your brachialis, you will start to see results in the sides of your arms, which will begin to look leaner from this elbow flexing exercise. Furthermore, you are shaping the brachioradialis which is between your forearm extensors and biceps.

Steps include:

  • Stand with your dumbbells down at your sides. Use a thumbless underhanded grip.
  • With your elbows locked, draw the weight up near your shoulder.
  • When your forearm touches your bicep muscle, then turn your wrist with the weight in your hand to make your hand pronate – or palm side down. Then slowly lower the dumbbell back down to the starting position, and do the other side.
  • Complete 12-15 reps for a total of 3 sets.

Bicep Curls With a Cable Pulley Machine

Pulley curls are an excellent way to challenge your biceps. Not only do you have to work harder with the cable pulley machine but there’s constant force so you cannot completely rest like you can with dumbbells (free weights).

As your biceps are constantly tense, the maneuver will block lactic acid from escaping until you complete your sets.

With this exercise:

  • Add the straight bar to a cable lat pulley machine. Stand in front of the machine with your feet about a shoulder’s width apart. Use an underhand grip (fingers up to the sky) and draw the bar down to your thigh area.
  • With your elbows locked, curl the bar up slowly to your chest. When you stop your biceps and forearms should touch and your hands should be close to your shoulders.
  • Hold the contraction for 3-5 seconds and then slowly lower the bar back to the starting position.
  • Do 12-15 reps for a total of 3 sets.

Curls with Kettlebells

Seated or standing kettlebell curls are a great addition to your bicep workout. Because the kettlebells are easier to hold, you can grip them better than with free weights. This arm sculpting exercise is also essential because your arms won’t tire from gripping dumbbells or free weights.

A drawback or concern for some is that kettlebells usually weigh more. Hence, you may want to save this type of secondary bicep exercise for later in your workout, or at the end.

To get started:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold kettlebells in both hands with your fingers facing up (supinated grip).
  • With your elbows locked at your sides, raise the kettlebells up in your arms toward your shoulders. Don’t stop until your forearm and bicep touch.
  • When your hands are closest to your shoulders, hold that position for 3-5 seconds. Then lower the kettlebells slowly back to the starting position.
  • Complete 12-15 reps for 4 sets.

TRX Bicep Pulley Curls

As one of the most effective bicep exercises that doesn’t use weights, TRX curls can give you an optimal workout with only a few simple movements. While this curl looks simple, it simultaneously strengthens the biceps and abs.

An additional benefit is you don’t have to set the weights or worry about resistance as the bands use your body weight.

To begin:

  • Stand in front of a TRX and suspend it just above your head. Grasp the handles and use a palm side up supnated grip.
  • Bring your feet forward and gently lean back as you hold the handles. Arch your neck down toward your hands as you flex your arms in a forceful manner. Tighten your bicep muscles as they draw near and eventually touch your forearms.
  • Hold that position for 2-3 seconds and then start to slowly lower yourself back into the starting position where your elbows are fully extended.
  • Do 10-12 reps for 5 sets.

Bicep Curls with Resistance Bands

Another top contender in the ‘say goodbye flabby arms’ quest is a curl with bands. Easy-to-do, this versatile exercise can be done anywhere you travel and you can buy resistance bands with different tension levels. Hence, no waiting on gym equipment and no expensive weights or delivery delays to your home.

The movement with banded curls makes it easier to work out when and where you want. With constant tension, you can get a decent burn and double up the loop to increase the tension (if you don’t buy different band sets together).

To begin:

  • Stand with your feet about a shoulder’s width apart and step on the middle of the band to keep it secure on the floor. Hold the bands on both sides by their handles using a palm-up or supinated grip.
  • With your arms locked at the elbows, lift your hands up toward your shoulder area. Stop when your forearms and biceps make contact and hold that position for 3-5 seconds for added tension.
  • Slowly lower the bands back down and get back into the starting position.
  • Do 10-15 reps for 5 sets.

Squats with Bicep Curls

Another variation of biceps curls, squat curls, combine lifting dumbbells with squats. It’s a great way to strengthen and tone your thighs and improve your balance. Another benefit is you can customize this exercise. One variation is to squat and do your bicep curls at the same time. It’s a good quad burn and increases your calorie loss.

To get started:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold dumbbells at your sides with your fingers down (underhand grip).
  • Squat into a comfortable position and do 5 bicep curls in a row.
  • Push back up into the starting position and do 5 more bicep curls. That counts as one set.
  • Do 5 sets total.

Squat Curl Press

As one of the best all-in-one exercises for burning calories, squat curl press moves target the thighs, biceps, deltoids and core. The movements in this heart rate-elevating exercise are ideal for strengthening and toning but also for working on stability and balance.

To intensify your workout, start strong and fast with your initial reps but keep the right form to avoid injury, of course. As you get into the remaining sets, you will start to slow down and tire as you feel the sweat on your forehead. Hence, you are completing the workout of the day!

To begin:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold free weights down at your sides.
  • With your elbows locked, curl the weights up toward your shoulders so that your biceps and forearms touch.
  • Lift the weights up over your head until you can lock your elbows. Hold that position for a few seconds and slowly reverse the moves.
  • Get back into the original position and do 10-12 reps for 4 sets.

Bicep 21s (7+7+7)

The benefit with Bicep 21s is these are easy to do and you can get in a great workout. 21s are a real bicep burn because you are doing 7 reps, then doing 7 more, followed by an additional 7 reps. The move opens the muscle fibers, creates small tears and helps build new muscles.

To get started:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold a barbell in your hands with your palms and fingers facing up (underhand grip).
  • Keeping your elbows locked, draw the bar up with both hands until you reach 90-degrees. Then go back to the starting position and do that move 7 times.
  • Next, draw the bar from that 90-degree angle all the way up to your shoulders so you’re curling the bar up to where your forearms and biceps touch. Do that 7 times.
  • Lastly, go from the original starting position to 90-degrees and all the way up to your shoulders. Complete that 7 times. Do 4 sets total.

Reverse Curls with Dumbbells

The perfect way to round out your bicep exercises is with reverse dumbbell curls. Because your palms are facing down, these help to isolate your brachioradialis and brachialis muscle groups.

At this angle, your biceps can’t exert a lot of force. Hence, your other arm muscles must pitch in. That means you get the added benefit of additional muscle toning.

To get started:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Hold dumbbells in your hands with your palms facing down. Use a thumbless overhanded grip.
  • With your elbows locked, draw the dumbbells straight up to your shoulders.
  • Bring the weights up to the point where your forearms touch your biceps and hold this postion for a few seconds before lowering your arms back to the starting position.
  • Do 10-12 reps for 5 sets.

Reverse / Overhand Preacher Curls

While preacher curls are generally palms-up, reverse curls in this manner are palms down or overhand. Use a pad with this exercise to help stabilize your arms. That way your biceps handle the tension and you avoid swinging your arms.

Steps include:

  • Sit at a preacher curl machine and add weights to it. Grasp the bar using a palm down or overhand grip. Keep your arms a shoulder width apart.
  • With your arms resting firmly on the pad, draw the bar up to your shoulders. Stop when your forearms and biceps touch and hold that position for 3-5 seconds.
  • Slowly lower your arms back down to the starting position.
  • Do 10-12 reps for 3 sets.

If you’re looking for more routines to build your workout, check out Aerobic Workouts for the Entire Body