Set your biceps on fire. Here are ten great exercises and techniques to light up your boring biceps workout and trigger new muscle growth.
The best way to get your muscles bigger and stronger is through the application of kaizen, Japanese for “continuous improvement.” You apply this principle by trying to increase the weight or reps, no matter how small the increase. This principle works for your biceps workout, but your progress will still stall at some point.
To bust through the plateau, change the stimulus. That usually means switching the exercise, the angle, the resistance profile, or the technique. Here are ten plateau–busting biceps exercises to use when the basics stop working:
Don’t knock this landmine setup until you’ve tried it. It’s a useful way to train your biceps in their weakest position, along with being a real plateau buster.
From a tall-kneeling position, grip the bar from a point directly in front of your junk, down the midline of your body. Keep your elbow tucked and wrist neutral as you curl. Your fist should travel slightly outside the line of your shoulder, allowing you to feel an intense biceps and forearm contraction at the top.
Try to crush your forearm against your biceps. If a full-length Olympic bar is too heavy, start with a 5-foot Olympic bar or shorter EZ-curl bar.
The palms-down (pronated) grip emphasizes the brachialis and coracobrachialis portion of the upper arm. The fat grip of the bar also requires your forearms to do a lot more work.
This is like the kneeling landmine reverse curl, but you set yourself up in a rack using the pins. I saw John Meadows do this one, and it’s since become a personal favorite.
This version has a slightly different feel, though the benefits are the same. Try both and play around with angles and body position until you find the best version that aligns your shoulders, elbows, and wrists.
And yes, this does technically count as using the squat rack to curl, albeit you’re actually outside of it, so you get a pass!
Do a mechanical drop set, transitioning from a seated hammer curl to a standing hammer curl, and then finishing with a higher-rep pump. There’s not much to dislike about this one.
- A1. Seated Hammer Curl, 6-8 reps (no rest)
- A2. Standing Hammer Curl, 6-8 reps (same weight, no rest)
- A3. Band Hammer Curl, 12-20 reps
These also work well with an underhand grip.
A Hercules curl typically has you set up between cables set to a high position. Then you do a curl that kinda resembles a front-double biceps pose. It’s a good one for training the long-head of the biceps in their shortened position.
Enter the one-arm supported version, where we use a bench for additional stability and support for the elbow and shoulder. The angle of the cable is key. The cable load is greatest when the angle of the cable is roughly 90 degrees to the forearm (due to leverage factors), so play with the cable height and bench angle to help you get the best feel.
Sit backward on the preacher bench and keep your upper arms fixed against the pad. This eliminates cheating and keeps your humerus directly perpendicular to the floor, allowing you to really isolate the tension.
You can also do this by sitting backward in a lat pulldown machine, where you can adjust the height of the knee pads to fit the height of your upper arms. The surprising thing is how comfortable these two setups are!
Triple-threat protocols add volume to your workouts, increase training variety, and give you insane pumps. Here’s one that Christian Thibaudeau has shared before.
Each position has a purpose and applies load to the biceps at a different point. This is typically done with dumbbells but works great with an EZ-bar too. Try 5–7 reps in each position:
- A1. Leaning Back Biceps Curl: The point of maximal loading (PML) is in the bottom portion of the curl. Same weight, no rest.
- A2. Standing Upright Biceps Curl: The PML is around the middle of the curl. Same weight, no rest.
- A3. Leaning Forward Biceps curl: The PML is closer to the top of the curl.
Put them all together and you’ve got one killer biceps movement.
Here’s another way to perform a triple-threat set, this time using cables. This one works like a mechanical drop set:
- A1. Cable Biceps Curl Leaning Forwards (pulleys just slightly behind you): The PML is around the middle to top of the curl. Without resting, use the same weight and go to the next part of the movement.
- A2. Cable Biceps Curl (pulleys adjacent to your feet): The PML is around the middle of the curl. Without resting, use the same weight and go to the next position.
- A3. Cable Biceps Curl (pulleys behind you): The PML is around the middle to bottom portion of the curl.
Using an incline bench to add some support is a great strategy if you want to isolate your biceps. Complete 6-10 reps in each position, in sequence:
- A1. Incline Bench Cable Biceps Curl: The PML is in the bottom (lengthened) position. Same weight, no rest.
- A2. Bench Leaning Cable Biceps Curl: The PML is nearer the middle of the curl. Same weight, no rest.
- A3. Chest-Supported Cable Spider Curl: The PML is near the top (shortened) position.
The bench stays in place throughout, which makes this setup highly practical. The cables stay where they are too. Just make sure they’re properly aligned with your shoulders and at their lowest height. Two to three sets of these and your biceps will be fried.
While some biceps exercises fall short in maintaining tension throughout the movement, kettlebell curls are an exception. They also help to emphasize an elongated eccentric contraction, which causes lots of microtrauma that’s essential for muscle growth. As a result of the high tension, kettlebells also produce an occlusion–type effect: the restricted blood flow acts as another hypertrophy stimulus.
This move specifically targets the brachialis and brachioradialis in the top portion of the movement.
(For more on training your arms using kettlebells, check out Kettlebells Beat Dumbbells for Biceps by Joel Seedman, PhD.)
A neutral grip will shift emphasis onto the brachialis muscle, which, when trained efficiently, can give some thickness to your upper arms.
The squatting position isn’t some ridiculous way to hit your quads at the same time; it’s so your knees can provide support for your elbows like a steep preacher curl bench would. This helps isolate your elbow flexors while also emphasizing loading at the top of the movement.
Start by using some of these moves to replace your current biceps exercises to change the stimulus. Stick with them for at least a few weeks (generally 4-6 workouts) before switching things up again, and always consider the kaizen principle: coax, don’t force your biceps into growth.
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