You don’t have to be an expert gym-goer to understand how to work your biceps, since pretty much any kind of curl will hit the muscles. However, the best biceps workout feature more than straight biceps curls. Instead, aim to vary the type of curls you perform to hit every part of the muscles from different angles.
This simple three-move workout is designed to help you do exactly that. You can bolt it on to another gym session or do it by itself for a fast lunchtime session. It’s key to focus on form, making sure you’re working the right muscles—don’t get sloppy and use your momentum or other parts of your body to help you lift the weights. Also make sure you take your time with each rep because more time under tensions equals better results. There’s little point in rushing through the sets and getting only half the benefits.
Along with an explanation of how to do each exercise there’s also insight from Greg Burns, a trainer at Embody Fitness, on exactly how the moves will help you build sleeve-busting biceps.
1 Single-arm dumbbell preacher curl
Sets 3 Reps 6-8 each side Rest 90sec
Holding a dumbbell, place the working arm on top of the preacher bench. Slightly rotate your body and slowly lower the dumbbell until your arm is fully stretched, then squeeze your biceps hard to reverse the curl back to the starting position.
Why “The position of the shoulder can influence biceps activity throughout the range of motion,” says Greg Burns, a trainer at Embody Fitness. “For instance, the preacher curl provides greater activation in the first third of the ROM and targets the short head, while the standing curl gives the greatest activation in the final third of the movement and targets the long head. For full stimulation you should train using a variety of exercises with differing points of peak contraction.”
2 Incline dumbbell curl
Sets 3 Reps 8-10 Rest 90sec
Set the bench to an incline of about 60°. With your palms facing forward, initiate the lift by contracting your biceps and curling the weight up. When your forearm is parallel to the floor, hold for one second and flex your biceps hard. Then lower the weight slowly back to the start position. At the bottom, flex your triceps to fully stretch your biceps.
Why “The long head of the biceps crosses the shoulder joint, which means that it’s possible to pre-stretch the muscle in certain exercises to cause higher levels of muscle activation,” says Burns. “Incline dumbbell curls are the perfect example of this. Another trick to stimulate the long head more is to bring your shoulders forward slightly as you reach the top of a curl.”
Sets 3 Reps 10-12 Rest 90sec
Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms by your sides with your palms facing inwards. Keeping your torso completely still, curl the weights up. Lift until your arm is fully flexed, pause briefly and then return to the starting position.
Why “The brachialis muscle is an elbow flexor and due to its position under the biceps it literally pushes the biceps up as it gets bigger, which can create a higher peak on the biceps,” says Burns. “Doing curls with a neutral or ‘hammer’ grip is an excellent way to develop the brachialis. Studies show that the brachialis tends to have more slow-twitch fibers than the biceps, so performing the eccentric portion of the lift slowly increases brachialis activation.”
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From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.