Our biceps are used for lots of pulling exercises – in fact they’re essential for almost all moves you might perform in the gym including pull-ups and rows, as well as sports such as wrestling and martial arts. They’re also key in providing stabilisation when you’re performing deadlifts and carries – whether that’s with a pair of dumbbells or bags of shopping!
Whilst functional movement training containing more compound movement to hit more areas at once has its place, there’s nothing quite like a focused bicep workout to help produce sleeve-popping arms. Of course, barbells and chin-ups are great at building your biceps, but little comes close to dumbbell exercises for the biceps in helping to develop those head-turning ‘guns’.
This quick, but focused, thirty-minute bicep workout will really target both heads of the biceps and help to ignite some serious growth. Before we begin though it’s worth taking a whistle-stop look at the biceps to understand what they are and how they work.
A Quick Look At The Biceps – What And Where Are They?
The biceps (also known as the biceps brachii) are a group of muscles on the front of your upper arms. There are two heads to the biceps – the long head and the short head – and both of them begin at the scapula (shoulder blade) and come together in the middle of the arm. At each end, tendons attach these muscles to your arm bone.
Both heads work together to help flex the elbow and move the forearm, allowing rotation to around 90 degrees. The bicep muscles support and stabilise the brachialis muscle for strength and greater movement.
A Few Tips Before We Start
These quick tips will help you to get the most out of your workout to help maximise your results, don’t gloss over them – they really do make all the difference.
Remember to warm-up
It’s important to increase the blood flow to the muscles you will be working before you start lifting those heavy weights. I recommend doing some light cardio such as three to five minutes of jogging or running on the spot, or some jumping jacks to get the blood oxygenated which will lead to a bigger pump. Then take a couple of light dumbbells and crank out a few quick arm curls to ensure the biceps are warm and supple before moving on to the heavier weights.
Squeeze at the top
I recommend this with all my workouts, and this one is no exception. It’s really important to squeeze your muscles at the top of each movement/contraction in order to focus as much tension as possible to help break down the muscle fibres and help to build more muscle mass.
Rest between sets
When it comes to building muscle, adding in slightly longer rest periods between sets can make all the difference. By giving your muscles the chance to recover between sets, you’ll be able to lift at your limit as you’ll be ensuring they have enough time to rest and recover leading to better progress and gains overall, over time.
A brief mention about equipment
As always, I try and make these workouts accessible for anyone who may be working out from home with limited equipment. You will, of course, need a pair of dumbbells – adjustable or selectorised are absolutely fine as long as you can progressively increase the weight as you gain more strength and to continue to challenge your muscles.
A couple of these exercises will require an adjustable bench, however if you don’t have one then I’ve suggested a variation of the exercise you can try using just a chair or a stool, or standing.
These five exercises make up a thirty-minute circuit. The aim is to complete three rounds of the circuit, resting two to three minutes between each exercise to give your biceps adequate time to recover in between.
1. Alternating Incline Dumbbell Curl
Where it targets: Due to the incline, this variation of the dumbbell curl will target and place more tension on the long head of the bicep but will hit both heads of the biceps brachii.
How to perform it: Adjust a weight bench to incline (around a 45 degree angle) grab a dumbbell in each hand and lie back with the palms of your hands facing forward. Ensuring you keep your elbow and shoulder still, slowly raise one arm up towards your shoulder, pause and squeeze at the top for a second, and then slowly lower it back down to the start. Repeat this on the other side and continue to alternate arms until you’ve completed 8 to 10 reps on both sides.
Variation: If you don’t have an adjustable bench then forget about the incline and perform these seated. You will still target the long head of the bicep, albeit with slightly less tension. To make up for this, try squeezing at the top for an extra second and lowering your arm down even more slowly on the eccentric part of the movement.
Where it targets: As you’ll be holding the dumbbell with a neutral grip, you’ll be targeting the long head of the bicep as well as the brachialis and the forearm muscles (brachioradialis)
How to perform it: Stand with your feet at hip-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand with neutral grip so your hands are facing inwards towards each other. Curl up the dumbbells towards your shoulders keeping your hands facing inwards. Pause at the top whilst you squeeze your biceps, before lowering back to the start. Perform 8 to 10 reps.
Variation: You could try alternating the arms instead of lifting them both at the same time. I tend to be able to focus more on the squeeze at the top if I do this.
Where it targets: This curl focuses on all three muscles that make up the biceps – the biceps brachii (long and short heads) brachialis and brachioradialis and is a great multi-movement exercise.
How to perform it: Stand with feet at hip-width apart holding a dumbbell in each hand and arms down by your sides with palms facing forward. Now bend your elbows to curl the dumbbells upwards and in towards your shoulders without moving your upper arms. Pause and squeeze the bicep for a second. From here, rotate the dumbbells so your palms are facing forward again before lowering them slowly back down, in that position, to your sides. Rotate the dumbbells back to the start position and repeat. Perform 8 to 10 reps.
Where it targets: In the same way the incline dumbbell curl places increased tension on the biceps brachii, this other variation of the curl does the same, but this time includes the brachialis as well. It will require more effort and stability to contract your muscles thus making them work even harder!
How to perform it: Set the weight bench to a 45 degree angle in the same way you did for the incline curl, and then lie on it chest down with a dumbbell in each hand. Keeping your upper arms still, bend your elbows and curl up towards your shoulders, as close as you can. Pause and squeeze at the top for a second before slowly lowering the weights back to the start position – ensuring your arms are straight before starting the second rep. Perform 8 to 10 reps.
Variation: If you don’t have a weight bench, you can try doing these standing but bent forwards at a 45 degree angle with your knees slightly bent keeping your abs and core tight to protect your lower back. Raise and lower the dumbbells in the same way, squeezing at the top. This variation will also indirectly work your core and abdominal muscles.
Where it targets: As this is an isolated bicep exercise you’ll really be creating tension on the biceps brachii allowing you to focus on building significant mass to the core upper section of your arm. As you’ll be concentrating even more on the contraction with this one, you may want to start out with a slightly lighter weight.
How to perform it: Seat yourself on a weight bench, or a chair or stool if you don’t have one, and sit with your legs wide. Grab a dumbbell in one arm and rest it against your leg on the same side, with the weight hanging between your legs. For stability place your other hand on your thigh. Now curl the weight up, pause and squeeze at the top for a second and then slowly lower it back down to the start. Perform 8 to 10 reps on this side before moving to the other side and repeating.
Stretch Out And Rest Up!
After you’re done, don’t forget to stretch out your arm muscles, really focusing on stretching those biceps, to help prevent soreness and injury. One stretch I particularly like is sitting on the floor with feet flat and knees bent and palms on the floor behind me with fingers pointing away from me. From here I slowly slide my butt away from my hands until I feel a stretch and hold for a good thirty seconds.
Final Things To Consider
These exercises, when combined, will really target all three muscle groups that make up the bicep, including the forearms. You should aim to complete this workout within thirty minutes and perform at least once a week, or twice, with a few days rest in-between, if you’re really focusing on increasing the size and strength of your biceps.
Of course, you will only see results if you combine your workouts with adequate rest and good nutrition, including high protein foods in your diet to give your muscles everything they need to grow and get stronger. Feel free to take a look at my article on how to build muscle fast to really get the most out of your workouts and ensure you get the results you’re looking for.
If you want a dumbbell workout that targets the triceps to help develop well-rounded, strong arms, then you can also take a look at my article on dumbbell exercises for triceps.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Try these exercises out, either at home or next time you’re at the gym, and watch your biceps grow. Have your own bicep workout you’d like to share or a different variation of what’s above? Comment below and tell us!