The Best Biceps Workout Doesn’t Just Feature Biceps Exercises

Man doing a biceps workout
You’ll need a preacher bench and EZ-bar for this biceps workout (Image credit: Getty Images)

You might think that the best biceps workout would simply involve ripping as many biceps curls as you can before the deep burn renders your upper arms useless. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy as that to bulk up your biceps, as Nick Mitchell, CEO and founder of Ultimate Performance, explains.

“I was once asked by a client: ‘Nick, if I did 100 biceps curls on each arm every day, would I have massive biceps in about a month?’ Unfortunately, the human body just doesn’t work that way,” Mitchell says. “Your body will always fight to stay in balance, and it takes an extra 10-15lb of overall lean bodyweight to add an inch to the circumference of your arms.”

The best way to add size to your upper arms is to train the whole body, as well as doing some of the best biceps exercises in arm-specific sessions. Mitchell has provided a killer arms workout below that uses supersets to work both the biceps and triceps, but first we asked him for some more general advice about bulking up your arms.

What is the best way to train for bigger biceps?

The real trick to adding size to your arms and building bigger biceps is to work your whole body with a balanced bodybuilding programme. You should also remember that building big arms isn’t just about building big biceps. The triceps muscle at the back of the arm constitutes more than two-thirds of the typical arm circumference. My own arms measure just under 20 inches when I am lean and in good shape, and anyone who knows me will testify that the majority of my arm size comes from the size of my triceps, rather than having really huge, peaked biceps. 

One of the most common reasons people don’t gain size in their arms is because they are underweight. Have you ever seen a 60kg guy with 17-inch arms? Probably not. A lack of arm size is just a lack of overall growth, and so getting strong on compound lifts like the bench press, the overhead press, deadlift, chin-up and the barbell squat will help contribute to more overall muscle mass, which will help drive overall bodyweight up and so make your arms bigger. 

How should you structure your training to build bigger biceps?

Another important factor to consider when prescribing direct arm work is your training age. If you’re a complete beginner, direct arm work probably isn’t necessary. At the most, one biceps and triceps isolation exercise per week will be enough. The real focus at this stage should be on getting stronger and more competent on the basic compound upper-body lifts. As you begin to build your foundation, you can start to devote more time to direct biceps and triceps work. 

A great way to really increase the size of your biceps would be to structure your weekly bodybuilding programme around four weight training sessions a week. Devote one session to your upper body, for example your chest and back, devote another session to your lower body, and then do two sessions a week dedicated to your biceps and triceps. 

How do you progress your biceps training?

Training arms is like training any other muscle, and providing a specific stimulus by applying the principles of progressive overload – increasing the demand on your muscles over time – is critical. We can do this in various ways, but one of the best ways is to add a little bit more weight to each exercise, each session. It’s no good simply doing 12kg dumbbell curls every time – your body will quickly adapt to this and there will be no stimulus for growth. Try adding 1.25kg to 2.5kg to each exercise, each session, so long as you can maintain perfect form.

Eventually when you plateau, as we all do, you can manipulate variables such as time under tension, or the number of reps/sets, to make the sessions tougher without trying to lift an impossibly heavy weight. 

Superset Triceps And Biceps Workout

Mitchell has put together this testing superset session that hits the biceps and triceps hard, as well as your forearms, and it will certainly encourage them to grow when used as part of a structured training programme as outlined above.

“Perform this twice a week, gradually increasing the weights with each session,” says Mitchell. “You can follow this programme for as long as you continue to make gains.”

The workout consists of four supersets of two moves and the last is a tri-set, which is three moves. Stick to the tempo prescribed to ensure you work the biceps and triceps correctly to maximise the gains from each move. If you’re unfamiliar with tempo, our expert guide to tempo training explains all.

1A Dumbbell curl

Man performs EZ-bar preacher curl in gym

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sets 4 Reps 6 Tempo 5010 Rest 90sec

Sit at a preacher bench holding an EZ-bar with an underhand grip. Curl the bar up to the top, pause and squeeze your biceps, then lower the bar slowly until your arms are fully straight.

1B Close-grip bench press 

Woman performs close-grip bench press in gym

Hold the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart to perform the close-grip bench press. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Sets 4 Reps 6 Tempo 5010 Rest 90sec

Lie back on a bench holding a bar with your hands shoulder-width apart, or slightly closer together if you can still control the bar. Bring the bar down to your chest, then press it up above you.

2A 45° dumbbell curl

Man performs 45-degree dumbbell curl on an incline bench

Hold the dumbbells at a 45° from your body as you curl. Perform this move standing. (Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Sets 3 Reps 10 Tempo 3010 Rest 0sec

Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand by your sides. Move the weights out to a 45° angle from your body then curl them up to your shoulders, before lowering them back down.

2B Incline dumbbell triceps extension

Dumbbell overhead extension

(Image credit: Glen Burrows)

Sets 3 Reps 10 Tempo 3010 Rest 30sec

Lie on an incline bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Lift the weights above your head with your palms facing. Bend your arms at the elbows to lower the weights behind your head, then lift them again.

3A Reverse incline hammer curl

Man setting up to perform reverse incline hammer curl

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 4010 Rest 0sec

Lie face down on an incline bench with your chest pressed into the pad, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing each other. Curl the weights up to your shoulders, then lower them.

3B Dumbbell skullcrusher

Man performs dumbbell skullcrusher in gym

(Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Sets 3 Reps 12 Tempo 3010 Rest 90sec

Lie on a flat bench holding two dumbbells directly above your head. Bend at the elbows to lower the weights behind your head, keeping your upper arms still, then lift the weights again.

4A Triceps dip

Man performs triceps dips using dip bars in gym

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sets 1 Reps 1 Tempo Lower for 30sec Rest 90sec

Lift yourself on a set of dip bars, supporting your upper body with your arms locked out. Bend at the elbow to lower your body slowly over the 30 seconds.

4B Hammer-grip chin-up

Man performs hammer gip pull-up

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sets 1 Reps 1 Tempo Lower for 30sec Rest 90sec

Hold the hammer grips on a pull-up station so your palms are facing. Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar, then take 30 seconds to lower.

5A Dumbbell wrist curl

Sets 3 Reps 15 Tempo 2010 Rest 0sec

Sit on the side of a bench with your knees bent and feet planted on the ground. Hold dumbbells with your palms facing up and your forearms resting on your legs, with the weights hanging over the front of your knee. Keep your forearms still while curling the weights up and down with your wrists.

5B Cable wrist curl

The supersets in this workout use a variety of exercises to work your biceps and triceps from different angles to stimulate growth. There are three supersets in the workout, with each pairing a biceps and a triceps exerciseSee the superset arms workout

5C Behind back barbell wrist curl

Sets 3 Reps 15 Tempo 2011 Rest 90sec

Stand holding a barbell behind your back with your palms facing away from you. Keeping your arms still, curl the barbell up using your wrists, then lower it.

Nick Harris-Fry
Nick Harris-Fry

Nick has been a journalist since 2012, most of which have been spent writing about health and fitness with Coach and other publications. Nick was the news editor of Coach magazine when it launched in 2015 and joined the website team in 2017.

Nick has covered all aspects of health and fitness for Coach, interviewing experts and celebrities, trying fitness classes and running marathons, all in the name of providing readers with the information they need to get the most out of an active lifestyle.

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