How to Get Big Biceps that Look Awesome PLUS 44 Bicep Exercises
A good friend of mine has awesome arms. I’m talking absolutely stellar, bulging biceps that are fully developed.
Every t-shirt he wears shows off his arms very nicely. Any time he makes a fist and supinates his forearm or lifts his forearm, the bicep pops.
My biceps are coming along … but he’s definitely got me beat in the bicep department.
How did he get big biceps?
We talk about lifting a lot. He told me his secret for getting big biceps is as follows:
- Train progressively (duh – I’ll explain it below if you’ve never heard of that term);
- Use proper lifting form; and
- Workout all parts of the bicep muscle (this is what I want to focus on because it’s important).
Note: Your diet is also critically important, but this post on how to get big biceps isn’t going to get into diet/nutrition. It’s focused on the workout element of developing awesome biceps.
Let’s explore my friend’s 3 secrets he used to get big biceps.
1. Train progressively
When my buddy trains, he’s a poster child for intensity. He goes all out. He’s fierce in the gym.
He constantly progressively trains every muscle, including his biceps. By progressively, I’m referring to the concept of adding weight to lifts. For example, if your rep volume goal is 12 reps for a particular set and you squeeze out 13 reps, the next workout for that set, you increase the weight incrementally (usually 2.5 to 5 pounds for a bicep lift).
You don’t want to add too much weight when it’s time to increase your weight. You also don’t want to add weight to your lifts too soon. That said, you must continuously add weight to your lifts once you achieve or exceed your stipulated rep volume for each set.
Suppose you do 10 sets for your bicep workout. If you barely hit the rep volume for sets 1, 2 and 3 but on set for exceed stipulated rep volume by 2 reps, the next bicep workout you want to increase the weight only for set 4.
This is why tracking weight lifting and number of reps achieved for every set is so important.
2. Use proper lifting form
Every exercise has proper form. Some exercises have different forms, depending on your objective. I’m not going to set out the proper form for every bicep exercise. The point is that you must lift with proper form.
Drop your ego and you’ll probably have to drop your weight in order to lift with correct form. You get far more out of your reps when you use proper form. Sure, cheat a bit to squeeze out that last rep or 2. That’s cool. But don’t start swinging the barbell on rep #2 so that you can load 35 pound plates on the barbell curl bar.
3. Workout ALL Parts of the Bicep Muscle
When I started designing my workouts so that I targeted several parts of every muscle, including my biceps, I started developing much better-developed muscles. Since then I’ve taken it a step further to focusing on under-developed parts of my muscle.
For example, my biceps when flexed have a decent bulge in the center, but the upper outside development where my bicep meets my shoulder doesn’t pop as much as I’d like while my arm is extended. What I’m doing to fix this is target the upper outside part of my bicep.
How do I target the upper outside part of my bicep? By doing wide-grip barbell curls. I can’t curl nearly as much weight with a wide grip; however, I feel the burn exactly where I need to. I expect within 10 to 12 weeks I’ll get my upper outside bicep to develop in-line with the rest of my bicep.
The 2 main muscles that make up your bicep
- Short head: The outside bicep muscle (shorter muscle that’s often ignored).
- Long head: The inside bicep muscle (longer, larger muscle that most people work out).
Underneath the 2 bicep muscles are the brachialis (outside part of upper arm) and brachioradialis (lower muscle in upper arm extending to forearm) muscles.
Developing Well-Balanced and Awesome Biceps
From a bicep development/appearance perspective, there are several parts you want to develop:
- Lower bicep (near elbow)
- Upper inside and outside bicep (adjacent to shoulder)
- Center bicep (inner, center and outer).
All sections must be developed in order to achieve that awesome looking bicep.
4 bicep lifting movements
- Palm out curl: Main curl motion. Hits both long and short muscle. Your grip width determines whether it targets inner, center or outer. The wider the grip or hand placement, the further outside it targets.
- Hammer curl (palm facing inward): Targets outer bicep.
- Supinating curl: This is when you start in the lower position with palms facing outward and as you curl upward, twist the weight inward resulting in a hammer fist at the top of the lift. The most common exercise for this is alternating DB curls; however, they can be done with a Gaspari curl bar and rotating handlebar for cable attachment.
- Reverse curl: Targets upper forearm most, but does work outer bicep muscles somewhat.
4 Arm Placements for Further Variation
You can also vary your bicep workouts based on your arm placement (i.e. angle degree from your torso).
- Straight up and down: This is when your upper arms remain flush on the side with your torso. This can be in seated or standing position.
- Extended shoulder: Hanging arms – often done lying face-down on an incline bench. Very strict form is forced – hard to cheat unless you swing the weights.
- Angled forward (incline curls): This is when your upper arms are angled slightly forward from torso usually using a platform (i.e. preacher curls)
- Angled backward (recline curls): This is when your upper arms hang slightly behind your torso (i.e. incline bench seated curls).
Putting it all together
Each type of curl movement can be done with any of the 4 arm placements. The result is that there really is a huge variety of bicep exercises at your disposal.
The following is a good list of bicep exercises with brief comments on which part of the bicep they target (primarily).
44 Bicep Exercises
- Standing Shoulder-Width Grip
- Standing Wide-Grip
- Standing Narrow Grip
- Preacher Shoulder-Width Grip
- Preacher Wide-Grip
- Preacher Narrow Grip
- Face-Down Incline Bench Extended Shoulder Shoulder-Width Grip
- Face-Down Incline Bench Extended Shoulder Wide-Grip
- Face-Down Incline Bench Extended Shoulder Wide-Grip
- Standing Palms Out
- Standing Alternating (Supinating)
- Standing Narrow Palms Out
- Standing Wide Palms Out
- Standing Hammer Curls
- Seated Palms Out
- Seated Supinating DB Curls
- Seated Wide Palms Out
- Seated Hammer Curls
- Preacher 1-Arm DB Curls (Palms Out)
- Preacher Hammer Curls
- Lying Face-Down Incline Bench DB Curls (Palms Out)
- Lying Face-Down Incline Bench DB Curls (Supinating)
- Concentration Curls
- Seated Incline Bench (Reclined Slightly) Palms Out DB Curls
- Seated Incline Bench (Reclined Slightly) Hammer Curls
- Seated Incline Bench (Reclined Slightly) Supinating Curls
Note: with most DB curls, you can lift both arms at the same time or do an alternating version. Alternating technique can help with focusing on form; however, they take longer. I also get more reps when alternating because of the rest each arm receives while the other arm curls.
- Standing Cable Narrow Grip Curls
- Standing Cable Shoulder-Width Grip Curls
- Standing Cable Wide-Grip Curls
- Standing 1-Arm Curls
- Standing Reverse Grip Curls
- Preacher 2-Arm Narrow Grip Curls
- Preacher 2-Arm Wide Grip Curls
- Preacher 2-Arm Shoulder-Width Curls
- Preacher 1-Arm Curls
- Preacher 2-Arm Reverse Grip Curls
- Preacher 1- Arm Reverse Grip Curls
- Standing 1-Arm Hammer Curls
- Lying Down Shoulder-Width 2-Arm Curls
- Lying Down Wide-Grip 2-Arm Curls
- Lying Down Narrow-Grip 2 Arm Curls
- Lying Down Reverse Grip 2 Arm Curls
EZ Bar Curls
- Same as Barbell Curl Options above
- Wide Grip Reverse Grip (knuckles toward your face)
- Narrow Grip Reverse Grip (knuckles toward your face)
- Shoulder-Width Reverse Grip (knuckles toward your face)
Targeting different parts of your biceps
The general rules of thumb are as follows:
- Shoulder-width grip: targets center bicep. It should be a staple exercise.
- Narrow-width grip: targets inner bicep.
- Wide-grip: targets outer bicep.
- Hammer grip: Targets outer/lower bicep.
- Reverse grip: Targets outer/lower bicep.
- Reclined position (sitting on an incline bench): Applies more resistance at the beginning of the lift targeting lower bicep.
- Face-down incline bench (extended shoulder): Applies more resistance at the top of the lift targeting upper bicep.
- Straight-up and down (arms flush to torso): Applies most resistance in the mid-range of the lift targeting center bicep.
- Preacher position: Applies most resistance at beginning portion of lift (lower range of lift) targeting lower bicep.
Note: Cable curl exercises are excellent because the distribute resistance more evenly. There are still tension differences throughout the movement, but it’s less variation than free weight.
Do you see the pattern?
There’s clearly a pattern. Grip positioning largely determines horizontally which part of the bicep you target (i.e. outer, inner, center). Arm position targets vetically which part of the bicep you target (upper, lower, center).
What about using bicep curl machines?
My gym has the Hoist bicep cable machine as well as 2 preacher curl machines.
I sometimes include these machines in my bicep regimen because they isolate the bicep nicely. I get a great burn and so I like doing them.
For instance, cable curls (including curl machines that use a cable method) distributes resistance evently throughout the bicep curl movement. Whereas with free weight curls, depending on how your arms are situation, there’s a range in the lift that’s easier and range in the lift that’s harder.
My recommendation is to use a variety of curl methods, including arm position and grip variations (wide, narrow and shoulder-width).
How do you choose which bicep exercises to do?
What I do is follows:
I always include main bicep lifts that target the center of my biceps (center both horizontally and vertically).
Then, I identify lesser-developed portions of my biceps and incorporate exercises that target those parts.
It’s that simple.
How many bicep exercises in a bicep workout should you have?
It depends on your goal. I generally incorporate 3 to 4 exercises, each doing 3 to 4 sets.
How many sets should a bicep workout have?
I do 9 to 12 sets. This is when I do a 4 or 5 day split (which is most of the time). I really hammer my biceps.
Bicep Muscle Blasts
Because my biceps are not the best-developed muscle in relation to my other muscles, I often incorporate a second bicep workout in the split cycle. This second, lighter bicep workout I call a “bicep blast”. It usually has 8 to 9 sets.
Go out and build huge biceps
Now that you know there’s actually a method to the bicep madness, design your bicep workout so that you supercharge your bicep development. There’s nothing like having killer biceps and when your workout is planned right, you progressively load your training, you use proper form and you eat right … there’s no reason you can’t have killer biceps.
For more information checkout Old School Arm Building Secrets.