BEST BICEPS EXERCISES FOR MASS
If you look at the exercises that most people do in their biceps workouts you will see a lot of bicep curl variations.
The curl movement does make some sense, because a major function of the biceps is to flex the elbow joint. However the classic theories of “just do curls” or “it’s not necessary to train your biceps directly” are both flat out wrong!
Because it’s simply not enough for building bigger biceps!
Yes, your biceps likely get a lot of activation during your back workouts, but if you want to take your arm muscles to another level you need to include some unique methods of stimulation in your arm workout.
Remember, just because you’re using a full range of motion and performing the major roles of the biceps brachii muscle in your workouts, it does NOT mean that you are giving the bicep muscles sufficient stimulus to force growth.
We all know guys who can do tons of pull ups and heavy rows, but still don’t have the greatest biceps muscle mass. The solution to this problem is to not forego the popular mass building exercises for the major muscle groups of the upper body, but we also need to add isolation exercises for the arms and special techniques to achieve that fuller appearance and those massive biceps you’re after.
Before I show you how I’ve structured the absolute best bicep workout to build muscular arms, I’d like to show you the bicep muscles that make up the upper arm and an idea of the most important functions this muscle group performs.
THE MUSCLES OF THE BICEPS
As usual, I’ll be breaking out the Muscle Markers to show you the different muscles the biceps are comprised of, and then we’ll take a look at the types of movements they are responsible for.
The biceps brachii itself is a single muscle with two muscle heads: the short head and a long head of biceps.
Yep, that’s why it’s called the BI-CEPS!
THE MUSCLES OF THE BICEPS:
- Long Head
- Short Head
Aside from the two biceps heads, we’ve also got the brachialis which, while it isn’t technically part of the biceps, has a large influence on your bicep thickness especially when looking at them from the front.
Let’s break out the Muscle Markers and see where each of these bicep muscles is located.
SHORT HEAD BICEP MUSCLE (inner biceps)
LONG HEAD BICEPS MUSCLE (outer biceps)
THE 3 FUNCTIONS OF THE BICEPS
Now let’s take a quick look at the different functions that the biceps brachii muscles perform.
1. ELBOW SUPINATION
2. ELBOW FLEXION
3. SHOULDER FLEXION
Some effective biceps exercises can actually work all three functions: elbow joint supination, elbow flexion and shoulder flexion. There are some curl variations that can put all these functions in proper alignment with each other so the line of pull is optimal.
ALL 3 FUNCTIONS
As I chose exercises for the complete biceps workout routine, you’ll see that I’ve incorporated ones that challenge all three of these movement types.
THE STRENGTH CURVE OF THE BICEPS
Biceps exercises have different strength curves, meaning that they will create a stronger contraction either in the either in the beginning, middle, or end of the biceps’ ranges of motion.
Below are a few examples of different exercises and their strength curves so that you can see what I mean.
STRONGEST CONTRACTION IN THE MIDDLE: barbell curl
STRONGEST CONTRACTION AT THE END: banded dumbbell curl
STRONGEST CONTRACTION AT THE BEGINNING: incline dumbbell curl
You’ll see that across the entire biceps workout for mass, I’ve chosen exercises that direct tension and muscle activation to the biceps in the beginning, middle, and the end of the biceps’ partial range of motion.
BEST BICEPS WORKOUT FOR MASS: STEP BY STEP
In structuring this biceps workout for mass, I wanted to be sure we took into account all three muscle groups, all three biceps functions and the three areas of the strength curve to ensure that the workout routine is truly comprehensive.
Because the biceps are attached to a hinge joint, there is some limitation on which exercises we can do in our training session.
Everything is pretty much going to look like curl variants!
This means that when you train biceps, you have to rely on intensity techniques more than any other muscle group to heighten the overall intensity and effect of the workout.
1A.) AND 1B.) THE ‘BIG EXERCISE’
As we often do in our workouts, we’ll start this routine off with a compound exercise.
It’s a different set of curl variations: a Cheat Curl into a drop set with a Barbell Drag Curl. The Cheat Curl is a classic exercise that gives us an opportunity to create great eccentric overload because we are cheating a bit through the concentric curl portion of the biceps movement. This arm movement is done with a supinated grip.
This is a standing barbell curl with a cheat built into the movement. Choose a challenging weight for this barbell bicep exercise and stand with feet shoulderwidth apart, taking a slightly wider grip than shoulder width and an underhand grip on the straight bar.
Keeping your elbow tucked in, curl the bar with momentum and squeeze your biceps when you get to the top of the bar curl. Slowly lower the weight down to return to start.
After doing the Cheat Curl bicep curl variation, we’ve set ourselves up for a mechanical drop set. Instead of a regular drop set in which we lower the weight we’re using, we’re going to take the same weight we used in the Cheat Curl and shorten the movement into a different barbell bicep curl variation. Again, to follow proper form on this challenging exercise you will want to use a slightly wider grip than shoulder width on the bar.
We’ll do this by moving our elbows from out in front of our body back into a Drag Curl, and we’re still able to keep the reps coming.
With the position of the elbow back behind the body we’re achieving another one of our goals of getting more long head of the biceps muscle activation.
HOW TO DO A CHEAT CURL INTO A DRAG CURL:
- Starting position is standing, holding on to a hefty weight on the barbell.
- Perform a Cheat Curl by cheating the weight up using your upper body strength as you curl.
- Do the Cheat Curl to failure and immediately move into a mechanical drop set of the Drag Curl, taking it to failure as well.
- For the Drag Curl, drag the barbell from above your knees toward your torso. When you reach waist height, curl the bar up slightly to further activate the biceps.
- Try to do three sets of these curl variations, taking rest periods between each set.<
2A.) AND 2B.) HITTING ALL 3 FUNCTIONS WITH OVERLOAD
Our next combo begins with another heavy upper body exercise that gives us the option to overload the biceps: the Weighted Chin Up.
This is an excellent exercise because it hits all three functions of the biceps by taking one of the best body weight exercises and adding weight to it. We have to flex the elbow to grab the bar and pull.
To get into the chin up starting position we have to have a supinated forearm. We also get flexion of the shoulder to help us get peak contraction of the biceps muscle fibers because we have our arm out in front of our body to grab the bar.
Starting position is standing with feet hip width apart with arms extended, grabbing the bar above you with an underhand grip / supinated grip position (hand palm facing toward you) with hands shoulder width apart and a weight plate affixed to you using my dog leash technique.
Bend your elbows and pull your body upward until your chin clears the bar. Slowly reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
WEIGHTED CHIN UP
We can utilize an intensity technique if we pair up the Weighted Chin Up with heavier weights in a drop set with the Peak Contraction Chin Up. We’re going to use this as a burnout to the previous set, and we’re only going to focus on repping out in that final contracted state of the biceps.
Before your chin reaches the bar, pause squeezing your bicep, and then lower your body to the starting position and repeat until failure.
We know that we’re limited by our options for biceps training, and this technique takes our normal chin up exercise to another level and helps you build stronger biceps quickly. It’s also excellent for building grip strength.
PEAK CONCENTRATION CHIN UP
HOW TO PERFORM THE WEIGHTED CHIN UP TO PEAK CONCENTRATION CHIN UP:
- Starting position is hanging from the bar with arms in extended position with an underhand somewhat narrow grip, weight plates affixed to your body with a dog leash.
- Activating the biceps, perform the Weighted Chin Up to failure.
- Do three sets, with rest intervals between each set.
3.) ACTIVE SUPINATION
While the benefits of big exercises like the Barbell Curl and the Weighted Chin Up can’t be ignored, we also have to be willing to accept that there are some limitations.
In my mind, the biggest limitation of these exercises is that in both, there is no active supination being resisted. In both exercises I’m isometrically grabbing in a supinated position, but I’m not going through the act of supination against resistance.
So we will have to address that separately in our biceps workout for mass, and we can do so with a variation of a traditional dumbbell curl, the Banded Dumbbell Curl.
BANDED DUMBBELL CURL
The Banded Dumbbell Curl is an excellent exercise that also gives us the ability to increase peak tension on the biceps throughout the entire range of motion.
In a regular Dumbbell Curl, a classic arm exercise, the contraction peaks at the midpoint of the movement and then dies off. When we add a band to it, the tension picks up right where it dies off and it continues to the end range of the movement at shoulder level.
HOW TO DO THE BANDED DUMBBELL CURL:
- Starting position is in standing position with a band anchored to a low stable object and a piece of the band and one dumbbell in each hand.
- Slowly lift and curl the dumbbells toward you, pausing at the top, and you’ll definitely feel how difficult this becomes as you reach the top of the movement.
Perform three sets of the Banded Dumbbell Curl to failure, resting in between sets. Choose moderate weights that are a bit less than your 10 -12RM, realizing that adding the band will make this fantastic exercise more difficult.
4.) STRETCH REFLEX – BEGINNING OF range of MOTION
We don’t want to neglect the beginning portion of the biceps’ partial range of motion, and the Incline Dumbbell Curl is an excellent exercise to achieve peak contraction there.
This biceps move also serves another purpose. Because of the position of the arm back behind the body in this incline curl, we’ve just placed a little more stress on the long muscle heads of the biceps because it’s in more of a stretched position.
INCLINE DUMMBELL CURL
We can take further advantage of the long muscle heads being on stretch using another intensity technique, which is actively contracting the triceps during specific dumbbell bicep exercises.
We know when we do that we can antagonistically shut off the biceps, or at least allow for a greater stretch of the biceps. This gives us a stronger contraction coming out of the bottom of the movement as you curl the weights again. Doing a curl on an incline angle helps us achieve this.
I recommend that you include this exercise and technique in every dumbbell bicep workout.
HOW TO DO AN INCLINE DUMBBELL CURL:
- First set up in the incline workout bench with the seat angled back. Body position is sitting facing forward with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Lift the weights squeezing the bicep at the top of the movement.
- Then lower the arms down to extended position and repeat.
Slowly lower the dumbbells, and squeeze the triceps at the bottom part of the motion. In this challenging exercise both biceps and triceps will be working in an alternating fashion.
Perform Incline Dumbbell Curls for three sets to failure, taking rest periods in between sets.
5.) INTENSITY, SHOULDER ROTATION AND BRACHIALIS
We’re going to wrap up this advanced workout with our Dumbbell Biceps Curl Trifecta using a couple dumbbell curl variations that will fulfill different goals.
We’ve got three dumbbell exercises that are going to do three different things for us:
- We’re going to keep the set going, giving us an intensification over our usual set of 12 reps.
- We’re going to work the rotation of the shoulder.
- We’re going to hit that all-important brachialis muscle that we haven’t addressed yet!
The first one of these curl variants is the Supinated Cross Body Curl, a fantastic exercise which allows us to preferentially hit the long muscle heads of the biceps.
Starting position is standing holding a pair of dumbbells.
SUPINATED CROSS BODY CURL
As we use a supinated hand position and come across the body in the Supinated Cross Body Curl, we are looking straight at the outer head of the biceps.
This alternating dumbbell curl is performed by bringing the arm across the body with palm facing toward the ceiling.
Our second of the curl variants in the combo is going to be a Pronated Cross Body Curl in which we keep the same movement but reverse grip with palms facing toward the ground.
PRONATED CROSS BODY CURL
When we use a pronated position, we shift the load to the elbow flexor, which is the brachialis. This portion of the series will be done with a pronated grip / overhand grip.
Now we want to work the outward rotation of the shoulder opposite to what we were doing previously. We’ll do this with the No Money Curl.
NO MONEY CURL
In addition to giving you a bit of a shoulder workout by targeting external shoulder rotation, the No Money Curl favors the short muscle heads, or inner portion of the biceps. Again, this is not complete isolation or a ‘short head bicep exercise’ but it will have a greater influence on the short head of the biceps. For this one, bend your elbows and curl the weight toward you as you rotate your wrist.
You’ll be alternating these 3 basic bicep exercises for 24 total reps in a set.
HOW TO DO THE BICEPS CURL TRIFECTA:
- Perform the Dumbbell Curl Trifecta by alternating Supinated Cross Body Curl, Pronated Cross Body Curl and No Money Curl for 24 reps.
- Do 2 complete sets, taking rest periods in between.
- The Supinated Cross Body Curl emphasizes the long head of the biceps. The Pronated Cross Body Curl emphasizes the brachialis because we are using the pronated position. The No Money Curl favors the short head of the biceps.
THE WORKOUT AT A GLANCE
So, here is the entire advanced bicep workout for mass step by step, all sets, all reps for you to follow.
You should feel your biceps like never before because we’ve addressed every, single component of biceps training, all in one selection of exercises.
BEST BICEPS EXERCISES FOR MASS
- THE BIG EXERCISE:
1A. BARBELL CHEAT CURLS – 3 SETS TO FAILURE (PERFORM AS DROP SET WITH 1B.
1B. BARBELL DRAG CURLS – TO FAILURE
- HITTING ALL 3 FUNCTIONS WITH OVERLOAD
2A. WEIGHTED CHIN UPS – 3 SETS TO FAILURE (PERFORM AS DROP SET WITH 2B.)
2B. PEAK CONTRACTION CHIN CURLS – TO FAILURE
- BANDED DB CURLS – 3 SETS TO FAILURE
- DB INCLINE CURLS – 2 SETS TO FAILURE (STRETCH REFLEX)
- DB CURL TRIFECTA – 2 SETS (ALTERNATE POSITIONS FOR A TOTAL OF 8 REPS IN EACH POSITION, EACH ARM)
This advanced workout contains long and short head biceps exercises that hit these areas not in isolation but preferentially. It also hits the brachialis, a totally separate muscle. In addition, this ultimate biceps routine puts the biceps through its full range of motion and utilizes both the flexion and supination of the elbow and the flexion of the shoulder. Finally, to round out your biceps I’ve also included techniques that create unique stresses on the muscle giving it no choice but respond.
As you can see, you don’t have to work out for hours and hours at a time to build bigger biceps, improve biceps thickness and build arm strength. If you choose the best exercises and apply the right techniques you can get a lot from your workouts in a much shorter period of time. If you’re looking for a complete program that employs the best training techniques according to science and gives you all the best techniques, workouts and exercises, check out our ATHLEAN-X Training Programs.
- That classic advice to ‘just do curls’ or ‘don’t train the biceps directly’ is just wrong. It’s simply not enough if you want to take your biceps development to the next level.
- The biceps has a short head and a long head. The brachialis muscle isn’t part of the biceps, but it plays a large part in the width of your biceps.
- There are three major functions of the biceps that a biceps workout for mass should cover: elbow supination, elbow flexion and shoulder flexion
- There are also three separate parts of the biceps strength curve, and different exercises maximize contraction in different parts of the strength curve.
- This biceps workout for mass is a complete exercise guide structured to work the entire biceps and brachialis, and also covers all three major functions of the biceps and every portion of the biceps strength curve and increase biceps strength and size.
BEST BICEP EXERCISES FOR MASS FAQS
The best way to bulk up your biceps fast is to make sure you're hitting the muscle fibers of the short head and the long head of the biceps. One of the best ways to bulk up biceps is using a dumbbell arm workout that includes heavy curls using a barbell and other exercises like curl variations that emphasize different portion of the biceps' strength curve. If you're an experienced lifter, you can turn it into an advanced workout by adding techniques that increase the level of intensity.
The #1 exercise for training biceps is the curl, and there are several curl variations that emphasize different bicep muscle functions and portions of the strength curve. You can incorporate many different variations of the curl into a beginner bicep workout, or if you need an advanced bicep workout you can use techniques that increase the level of intensity. For your dumbbell biceps workout, start with a moderate weight and you can add additional weight over time as you build strength and begin to lift at an advanced level.
Two basic bicep exercises is really not enough for training biceps and achieving serious arm growth. You should incorporate 3-4 different variations of the curl into your dumbbell biceps workout. You can incorporate these movements into a beginner bicep workout and use additional intensity techniques if you need an advanced bicep workout. Start with a moderate weight in your training routine and you can add additional weight over time as you build strength. You should do an effective arm workout 1-2 times per week for best results.
For the most effective arm workout to get big biceps in one month, use different curl variations in your dumbbell biceps workout that emphasize different parts of the biceps muscle and different portions of its strength curve. You can incorporate many of these movements into a beginner bicep workout and use more intensity techniques if you need an advanced workout. To increase the rate of muscle growth in your training routine, be sure you're performing some heavy curls using a barbell. Perform 1-2 weekly workouts for the ideal training volume to grow the biceps.
If you are doing a dumbbell arm workout at an advanced level, especially for an experienced lifter, doing 3-4 different bicep exercises should be adequate for muscle growth. You will likely want to experiment with different curl variations and incorporate intensity techniques for an advanced workout. Perform 1-2 weekly workouts for the ideal training volume for optimal growth.
The best way to build biceps in 30 days is to make sure you're doing an effective arm workout that hits the muscle fibers of the short head and the long head of the biceps. One of the best ways to bulk up biceps is using a dumbbell arm workout that includes heavy curls using a barbell and other exercises like curl variations that emphasize different portion of the biceps' strength curve to help increase the rate of muscle growth. For an advanced level training routine, be sure to incorporate some intensity techniques and use a training volume of 2-3 biceps workouts per week.
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.