Whether fast or slow responders or whatever the training goal may be, most lifters tend to have one thing in common, use spider curls to build a formidable set of massive, shredded biceps. Certainly, this most visibly appealing complex is universally considered to be the go-to area for maximum visual impact and the cornerstone of an aesthetically-impressive physique. Whether shorter and perfectly peaked or flatter and full from elbow to shoulder, it is important to know exactly how best to maximize our genetically-unique biceps’ size and shape for full muscular impact. Consider this article your step-by-step guide on the most effective ways to force massive growth in your entire biceps’ region (both long and short heads). For some, the biceps seemingly come to life after the first set of curls; for others, this impressive grouping can take much longer to bring up to par. In either case, there are a number of failsafe ways to elevate our ‘guns’ to superior status. The first requirement is to ensure that a broad selection of the best movements or best bicep exercises is used often enough to encourage steady growth, to prevent the biceps from adjusting to any one set of training stressors. Secondly, the biceps must be trained the right way, at the right times and with just the right amount of volume (ideally twice a week) to elicit a maximum growth response. Thirdly, due to its sheer effectiveness and ability to supersize the puniest of bis, one movement must be incorporated into every biceps training session: the spider curl. Keep reading for more on this unparalleled biceps’ builder and how best to honor the other critical biceps training requirements to build your own pro-level cannons.
Seven Best Biceps Movements (Ranked)Building any structure to its fullest requires the right combination of tools and an ability to use them well. Along with the technical and programming considerations to follow, proper biceps building means that we should, as a first consideration, select the most effective training movements. Thus, due to their unique advantages and time-tested effectiveness, it’s recommended that each of the following exercises be incorporated for full biceps building benefit.
Biceps Movement 7: Straight Bar Cable CurlsWhile not a traditional biceps mass builder, the straight bar cable curl offers, as all cable variations do, much in the way of continuous tension, thus paving the way for maximum blood flow and superior growth-inducing pumps (and with the weight stack moving vertically, gravity is always pulling, giving the biceps very little respite, thus exponentially increasing the amount of overload we may inflict on them). In addition, the shorter bar and zero supination required for this variation allows the long head to be fully targeted to better build that coveted mountainous biceps peak. This particular version remains superior to other cable curl variations due to the elbows being in a mechanically stronger position and because it allows more relative weight to be lifted from point A to point B.
Biceps Movement 6: Standing Alternating Dumbbell CurlThis movement can be done either seated or standing. Both versions are equally effective as each has unique advantages. In addition, both enable the lifter to focus on one side of the body at a time. Here, I’m going with the standing version as it enables more weight to be lifted – the only caveat being that perfect execution must be maintained at all times: be aware that momentum will happily assist on the concentric part of the movement if you let it, so keep the body straight and do not swing the weight up. Alternating curls are a must for any serious biceps blasting plan as they limit the compensatory effect of one side working extra hard to make up for the relative weakness of the other (as when using a bar), and due to the lifter’s aforementioned ability to focus on one side of the body at a time, thus eliminating the need to divide one’s attention across both biceps brachii.
Biceps Movement 5: Barbell Preacher CurlAny form of preacher curl (including Scott and dumbbell versions) is most effective in isolating the biceps to fully engorge the entire grouping with blood. With the barbell version, the biceps are forced to work ultra-hard from a fully extended position all the way to a complete positive contraction without the excessive momentum associated with many other free-weight lifts. This makes it particularly effective in maintaining tension on the entire biceps’ complex. Note: be sure not to relax at the bottom of the movement as this may disrupt its beneficial angle of resistance and negate its effectiveness. This movement also offers the benefit of targeting the stubborn lower biceps region, the short head responsible for fully fleshing out the length and girth of the entire biceps’ region, from insertion to attachment.
Biceps Movement 4: Dumbbell Unilateral Concentration Curl (Seated)A firm favorite of old school bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, the concentration curl has found a new following in those who wish to develop similarly impressive upper appendages. Studies have shown that this movement does more to bring up the biceps short head than any other movement.5, 6 Thus it is one of the best short head bicep exercises. Here, simultaneous flexion and supination maximizes short head activation while keeping tension on this area for the full duration of each rep. Furthermore, this movement eliminates the involvement of the anterior deltoid, a major limitation with most other biceps’ exercises. While an emphasis on perfect form can address front delt recruitment, once the muscles under attack begin to fatigue and falter on the final reps, any ensuing shoulder assistance will immediately reduce tension on the bis. Thus, by eliminating this possibility concentration curls force the biceps to work harder for the full duration of a set.
Biceps Movement 3: Hammer CurlThe basic hammer curl is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, of the biceps mass builders. First of all, it allows more weight to be lifted to promote maximum mechanical tension (and a subsequent maximal hypertrophic response) across both biceps’ heads. As well, the lifter to fully focus on contracting the relevant muscles without having to expend unnecessary energy keeping the body in the correct alignment throughout. Because it does not require supination and can be done with a narrow grip, this curl variation greatly overloads the long biceps head to encourage more in the way of peak development.
Biceps Movement 2: Incline Dumbbell CurlMany consider the incline dumbbell curl to be the best biceps movement of all and it’s difficult to argue against this assertion. In hitting both heads fully and limiting excessive body movement, this variation is among the most painful biceps movements to complete. However, it’s well worth the effort and discomfort as it produces greater muscle activation compared to most other biceps’ movements (particularly in long head) due to its greater range of motion and prolonged stretching of the long head (which is placed in a greater stretch position compared to the short head, enabling it to produce more force and to stay more active for the duration of each rep).4 Also, like all dumbbell curl variations, one side cannot compensate for the other. Thus, muscular imbalances can be minimized, making it a great way to ensure both sides receive equal attention (and, all going well, equal development).
Biceps Movement 1: Dumbbell Spider CurlsIt’s difficult to surpass the dumbbell spider curls in fully fleshing out the biceps. In addition to providing the collective advantages of all other dumbbell curl variations, this movement also allows for a greater range of motion than most other biceps exercises, while keeping tension on the working muscles over a longer period of time. While considered to be a complete biceps builder, the spider curls allows for maximum supination and is therefore an excellent way to bring up the short head to add thickness and width. Also, because the body is braced to a bench it has a similar effect to the standard preacher curl in that it restricts excessive momentum to isolate the biceps through all ranges of a rep.
Never Neglect the BrachialisWhile the above movements are biceps brachii specific (the complex involving the long and short biceps heads), there is one associated area that must also be addressed when seeking to supersize the arms. Often included in biceps training, and the prime mover in elbow flexion, the brachialis is nevertheless a separate muscle best targeted with any variation of the hammer curl or reverse curl. Its major advantage in biceps’ size and shape accentuation is to add overall thickness to the upper arm while providing a ‘platform’ from which to elevate the biceps brachii. One to two brachialis movements will therefore be included per biceps workout in the plan to follow (in addition to whichever combination of the above movements is used).
How to Build 18+ Inch ArmsBeing equipped with the best biceps movements in existence does not automatically mean you’ll be filling out those shirtsleeves any time soon. What you need is a focused and perfectly periodized plan of attack that’ll spark extreme growth and keep the gains coming. This means that different rules may apply to different training populations and the way in which we use an array of superior training tactics can make all the difference to how our bis respond to the best movements on offer. Indeed, building cannons that exceed 18-inches (the Gold Standard Measurement for massive arms) cannot, in most cases, be done by tacking on a few sets of curls at the end of a back session. For full development, the biceps must be prioritized. Use the following tips and schedule to ensure your guns get the attention they need to grow like never before.
Most Effective Biceps Training TipsIt seems like every trainee with a modicum of training experience has an ‘educated’ view on how best to target the bis for maximum size, shape and strength. From ‘cheating’ to ‘giant sets’ to ‘ultra-high reps’ there are many different theories on how to force fresh growth in those coveted cannons. We are not in the business of wasting time on ideas that produce negligible returns. Thus, we present a selection of the best biceps training tips so that you can derive greater results from the plan to follow.
Use a Full Range of Motion (ROM) At All TimesWhile partial reps may be a useful training tactic for some, a full range of motion will always be the best way to properly stimulate the greatest number of biceps’ muscle fibers. Remember, we are not just after pumping as much blood as possible into the biceps by any means possible. To achieve maximum growth, we must instead subject the biceps to the greatest amount of time under tension (60-70 seconds per 12 rep set is optimal). In doing so, the biceps will be forced to work harder, thus increasing muscle damage and compensatory growth (particularly on the negative, or lengthening, portion of each rep).
Use a Varied AttackThe biceps will always respond best to a variety of different movements as opposed to 1-2 ‘go-to’ lifts. Because each of the aforementioned biceps’ movements present a series of unique benefits, it makes sense to incorporate them all (though not in the same session) to hit the entire biceps complex from every conceivable angle – thus leaving nothing to chance and targeting a maximum number of muscle fibers. By employing more movements in a given biceps session we also increase total training volume to more thoroughly overload the biceps while boosting the all-important muscle protein synthesis (a process dependent upon sufficient total training time).7, 8, 9, 10, 11
Vary Training WeightsBuilding bigger guns is not all about lifting mega weights in hopes of forcing massive amounts of supercompensation, an important adaptation to higher-resistance protocols. Instead, spend around 30% of your biceps training time lifting more moderate poundages for higher reps (50%, as opposed to 75%, of a one repetition max). This way, form is less likely to suffer toward the end a set and a range of unique growth benefits can also be encouraged: more fatigue-resistant muscle fibers are targeted to increase muscle endurance along with enhanced slow-twitch muscle fiber density, myofibrillar hypertrophy and metabolic stress, each a known contributor to greater muscle gains.2, 3 That being said, we should never stray from the major precursor to serious growth: the heaviest weights possible for 8-12 reps. In this way, more nervous system activation can be achieved along with greater fast-twitch muscle fiber stimulation and more strength gains to ensure maximum muscular overload.
Vary Grip RangeEmploying the same grip, workout after workout, may lead to an overstressing of the same movement and muscle recruitment patterns, which may, over time, produce a desensitizing effect in which the biceps are less likely to adapt in a positive way. Therefore, to force continued positive training adaptations, be sure to change-up the grips on the different biceps’ movements below (wherever specified in the plan to follow). The different grip ranges, and their relative merits, are as follows:
-Regular Grip (shoulder-width)This is the best grip for heavy lifting heavier iron and is superior when seeking to hit both biceps heads (long and short), along with the brachialis. Engage this grip to ensure that each area of the biceps’ heads receive the same amount of stress.
-Wide Grip (six-inches wider than shoulder-width)Use this grip to stimulate the biceps’ short head to the fullest.1
-Narrow Grip (less than shoulder-width)This grip primary hits the biceps long head to create greater length and peak development.
Supinate (When Necessary)No biceps building approach could be considered complete without an emphasis on supination. Achieved when the palms are gradually rotated outward as the weight is curled (with little fingers turning away from the body), supination is integral to fully activating the short head of the biceps. However, there will be times when certain movements, such as the regular, or specifically the ezy, barbell curl call for little to zero supination in order to maximally target the long biceps head. In certain cases, pronation (palms turned down) will be the order of the day, such as when completing a reverse curl for brachialis and forearm development. Bottom line: know the difference between pronation and supination and strategically apply each for complete biceps development.
Form Over ResistanceThe worst mistake any lifter can make when seeking to fully fresh out the biceps is to use too much weight to the detriment of proper training form. Ingrain the following on your pre-frontal lobes right now: never sacrifice form for weight. So, go light from the outset and gradually increase weight in accordance with increasing strength levels. Proper elbow placement is another key performance factor never to be overlooked. As such, the elbows must never flare out or drift forward when completing a curl (extending and flexing at the elbow joint). Unfortunately, this problem is extremely common to where it remains the primary barrier to full biceps engagement, activation and isolation. Closely associated with proper elbow placement is correct arm positioning. Whatever the biceps’ movement, the arms must be kept fixed in place for the entirety of a set. This may, for example, mean keeping the upper arm perpendicular to the ground when completing a set of spider curls, or regular bar curls. Doing so will require extreme focus, especially during the dying stages of a set when muscular fatigue will be at its peak. So, rather than letting momentum take over (as with so-called cheat reps), keep the arms in place, shoulders back, and tension of the biceps (not the lower back or shoulders). Remember also that correct tempo can make a world of difference to ramping up biceps’ development. Here, the following is especially applicable: perform a super slow negative (a 2-3 count) with a slight pause at the bottom (a 1-count, while keeping tension on the biceps), followed by a forceful concentric contraction (a 1-2 count), while maintaining sufficient time under tension (approximately 65 seconds per 12-rep set).
12-Week Prioritization Plan for Supersized Bis
- Morning Cardio (Fasted): Select Preferred Cardio Plan
- Evening: Biceps
- -Standing Bar Curl (Narrow Grip): 1 set of 25 reps; 3 sets of 12 reps.
- -Dumbbell Spider Curls: 3 sets of 12 reps per set.
- -Incline Dumbbell Curl (no supination) Super setted with Standing Alternating Dumbbell Curl: 3 sets of 12 reps per set.
- -Reverse Barbell Curl Super setted with Dumbbell Hammer Curl: 3 sets of 15 reps per set.
- Evening: Legs and Abs: Select Preferred Workout Plan
- Morning Cardio (Fasted): Select Preferred Cardio Plan
- Evening: Chest, Shoulders and Triceps: Select Preferred Workout Plan
- Evening: Back and Traps: Select Preferred Workout Plan
- Morning Cardio (Fasted): Select Preferred Cardio Plan
- Morning Cardio (Fasted): Select Preferred Cardio Plan
- Evening: Biceps
- -Straight Bar Cable Curl (Narrow Grip): 3 sets of 20 reps per set
- -Barbell Preacher Curl (Wide Grip) Super setted with Dumbbell Spider Curls: 3 sets of 12 reps per set.
- -Dumbbell Unilateral Concentration Curl (Seated): 1 set of 20 reps; 3 sets of 12 reps.
- -Hammer Curls: 3 sets of 20 reps per set.
- Rest Day
- Crichton, J. C. et al. (2009). The anatomy of the short head of biceps – not a tendon. International journal of shoulder surgery, 3(4), 75–79.
- Dankel, S. K. et al. (2017). Do metabolites that are produced during resistance exercise enhance muscle hypertrophy? Eur J Appl Physiol. Nov;117(11):2125-2135.
- Fink, J. et al. (2016). Impact of high versus low fixed loads and non-linear training loads on muscle hypertrophy, strength and force development. May 20;5(1):698.
- Oliveira, L. F. et al. (2009). Effect of the shoulder position on the biceps brachii emg in different dumbbell curls. Journal of sports science & medicine, 8(1), 24–29.
- Pro Source. ACE Study Reveals Best Biceps Exercises. [Online] https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/prosource/august-2014/4933/ace-study-reveals-best-biceps-exercises/ – retrieved on 18.11.20
- Rudroff, T. et al. (2008). Electromyographic measures of muscle activation and changes in muscle architecture of human elbow flexors during fatiguing contractions. J Appl Physiol. Jun;104(6):1720-6.
- Schoenfeld, B. J. et al. (2015). Influence of Resistance Training Frequency on Muscular Adaptations in Well-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res. Jul;29(7):1821-9.
- Schoenfeld, B. J. et al. (2016). Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. Nov;46(11):1689-1697.
- Schoenfeld, B. J. et al. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Sports Sci. Jun;35(11):1073-1082.
- Schoenfeld, B. J. et al. (2015). Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res. Oct;29(10):2954-63.
- Thomas, M. H. (2016). Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training. Int J Exerc Sci. 2016; 9(2): 159–167 (Published online 2016 Apr 1).