Best Bicep Exercises For Mass

Someone in a red Chicago Bulls t-shirt bicep curling a black 6kg dumbbell resting against a padded stand.
Credit: Ömer Haktan Bulut

Someone in a red Chicago Bulls t-shirt bicep curling a black 6kg dumbbell resting against a padded stand.
Credit: Ömer Haktan Bulut

Growing your arms can be tricky if you don't know some of the best bicep exercises for mass. Fortunately, we're here to help.

We've compiled a list of what we think are some of the key lifts to incorporate into your fitness routines with the right home gym equipment, all of which should help you build muscle that lasts beyond just that post-workout pump.

The bicep isn't an overly complex muscle to understand, which makes adding mass relatively straightforward compared to other larger muscles in your body. This means you can usually complete a pretty intense bicep routine with just a small amount of equipment, making them one of the easiest muscles to hit from home in our experience.

That said, it's important to team bicep training with the right kind of diet, sleep, and stress management to optimise your muscle growth and strength. Therefore, if you're looking to supplement your training, then make sure you check out our lists of the best protein powders, creatine, and sleep supplements to get you started.

With that covered, let's get into our list...

Barbell curl

The barbell curl is a simple yet effective bicep exercise that can be performed in the gym or at home with the right equipment - check out our list of the best barbells for some inspiration. Also, the barbell curl is a great way to target the long head of your bicep, one of the two muscles contained within the bicep group.

Benefits of the barbell curl

  • Simple to perform, with the only equipment required being a bar and weights.
  • Can load up the plates to increase overall arm strength, which can help up your numbers when it comes to some of the best back exercises around.
  • Quick to pick up and get the technique right, making it ideal for beginners just starting out.

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How to perform a barbell curl

As demonstrated by Scott Herman above, simply grab hold of the bar with an underhand grip to begin this exercise, with your hands placed around shoulder width apart.

Next, pick the bar up, but make sure your arms are fully locked out before starting the movement. A good way to tell if you're locked out is to see if your triceps are flexed.

Then, curl the bar up and focus on engaging your biceps. When you reach the top, slowly begin to bring it back down until your arms return to the fully locked-out position.

A key tip to making sure you're engaging your biceps is to try and prevent your elbows from moving. This should help you keep the focus solely on your biceps.

Cross-body hammer curl

While many of you have probably heard of the hammer curl, we believe a cross-body variation is most beneficial for adding mass. This is because it forces you to activate the brachialis more than during a standard hammer curl.

While the brachialis is not technically part of the bicep, it is situated just beneath and is key for adding width to your arms.

Benefits of the cross-body hammer curl

  • Helps bring focus and attention to the brachialis muscle.
  • Minimal equipment is required to perform the movement. We'd recommend a set of the best adjustable dumbbells if you're looking for something to execute this exercise at home.
  • Can also help build your forearms.

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How to perform a cross-body hammer curl

As showcased by Jeff Cavaliere of ATHLEAN-X, to perform this exercise, simply pick up a set of dumbbells in a neutral grip i.e. so your palms are facing each other, and bring the dumbbell up towards the centre of your chest.

Once you reach this point, bring it back down slowly until your arm is fully locked out to complete the full range of movement.

Incline dumbbell curl

The incline dumbbell curl is similar to the barbell curl in many respects, however, curling from an inclined position helps prevent you from 'cheating' the weight up. Also, the added incline helps to extend the range of motion which, in turn, increases the time under tension.

Benefits of the incline dumbbell curl

  • Minimises momentum which should stop the ability to 'cheat' the curl up.
  • Increases the range of motion and, therefore, gives a stronger contraction off the bottom of the movement.
  • Targets the long head of the bicep.

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How to perform an incline dumbbell curl

To begin, set up a bench in an inclined position and sit back with a dumbbell in each hand. Let your arms hand down so they're fully extended.

Then, curl the weight up, much as you would with a standard bicep curl, and slowly bring the weight back down once the dumbbells reach your shoulders at the top of the movement.

If you're still unsure, check out the above tutorial from Jeff Cavaliere once again, and our list of the best weight benches to use as a base.

Standing preacher curl

The preacher curl is an excellent exercise for targetting the short head of your bicep as your elbows are set away from your body, and it's usually performed using a wide grip.

We believe performing this exercise standing is also the most effective way of ensuring you complete the full range of motion, whilst also stopping you from leaning back to 'cheat' the rep.

Benefits of the standing preacher curl

  • Standing minimises the opportunity for you to use the momentum of leaning back to complete the curl.
  • The preacher aspect also stops you from using your body to force the bar up.
  • Is effective at hitting the short head of your bicep.

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How to perform a standing preacher curl

Back to Scott Herman for this one to demonstrate how to properly perform this movement.

Raise the preacher pad so it's just below your pecs and place the lower portion of your triceps on top of the pad so your elbows are just over the edge. This will require you to lean into the pad somewhat.

Then, execute the curl in a similar fashion to how you would a standard barbell curl, making sure to fully extend at the bottom of the lift to complete the full range of motion.

Dumbbell spider curl

The dumbbell spider curl is another excellent movement that focuses on the short head of your bicep. Much like the incline curl, it also helps to increase the range of motion and, therefore, the time under tension.

Benefits of the dumbbell spider curl

  • Focuses on the short head of your bicep to make sure all aspects of the muscle group are covered.
  • Is a simple movement to perform which should help minimise the opportunity to use momentum during the curl.
  • Has a long range of motion.

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How to perform a dumbbell spider curl

As demonstrated here by BPI Sports, set up a bench on an incline position. You'll then want to lie face down on it and pick up your dumbbells.

Then, turn your palms to face away from you, in a position similar to that of the incline curl, so you're ready to begin

Whilst keeping your elbows in a fixed position, curl the dumbbells up towards your face until you reach the top of the movement before controlling it on the way down until your arms are fully extended once more.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Bicep exercises usually come with a ton of questions. Don't worry though, because we've answered some of the most common queries right here.

Is training your bicep important?

Biceps play an important role in a number of core lifts, so regularly training them can play a crucial part in upping your PBs in other areas.

For instance, your biceps almost always come into play during back exercises such as pull-ups and lateral pulldowns, so training them in conjunction with these movements should help you build mass.

Furthermore, your biceps play a vital role in many everyday tasks. Lifting or carrying almost any item will activate your bicep muscles to some degree.

Therefore, training your bicep can also make everyday tasks a little easier.

Should you train your biceps every day?

In some aspects, given their smaller muscles, you may be inclined to train your biceps every day.

However, like with most exercises, we'd recommend giving your biceps a handful of days off during your week.

Giving your biceps a chance to rest will give them time to recover and rebuild which, in turn, will help you build muscle.

It should also lower your risk of injury as your arms won't be so fatigued which can, in turn, help improve your overall performance and strength.

How often should you train your biceps?

If you're not training biceps every day, you may be wondering how often you should be incorporating them into your workouts.

We'd recommend incorporating some bicep-specific exercises into your workouts at least two or three times a week, particularly if you're looking to build mass.

That said, we'd also recommend you don't train them on consecutive days as this may lead to fatigue and actually detriment your gains as you won't allow your biceps the time they need to repair.

It's also worth keeping in mind that some exercises, particularly back movements such as lateral pulldowns and chin-ups, also activate the muscles in your biceps as well, therefore adding to how often you train them.

How many reps do you need to build your biceps?

The key to building muscle, beyond just your biceps, is to maximise the time under tension, so counting in reps may not be the most beneficial and accurate measure.

So, for muscle growth, a recommended approach is to aim for around 40-120 seconds of tension during each set, which typically translates to approximately 8-12 reps.

However, before diving into your main workout, it's crucial to warm up properly to ensure your body is primed for the upcoming exercises. Research conducted by Neves et al. supports the idea as it concluded strength improved when a higher load is used during warm-up, with few repetitions.

Therefore, starting with a lighter weight and gradually increasing the intensity as you progress through your workout can effectively prepare your biceps for handling heavier weights later in the session. This approach enhances muscle activation and helps prevent injuries while promoting overall muscle growth.

How many different bicep exercises should you do?

The approach you take to train your biceps will largely depend on your specific goals and the exercises you incorporate into your routine.

If your aim is to increase muscle mass, consider including three to four different bicep exercises with around three sets each. It's crucial to choose exercises that target both the long and short heads of the biceps to enhance both width and peak development.

For instance, a combination of barbell curls, cross-body hammer curls, and spider curls can be effective in promoting bicep growth and overall arm size. By strategically selecting these exercises, you can work towards achieving your desired results.

Are push-ups good for building your biceps?

Push-ups primarily target the muscles in your chest, shoulders, and triceps. While they do engage the biceps to some degree, they are not the most effective exercise for directly building these areas.

The biceps are the muscles located at the front of your upper arm, and to target them more directly, you should incorporate exercises that isolate and challenge the biceps. Exercises that engage your biceps more include, but are not limited to, bicep curls, hammer curls, chin/pull-ups, preacher curls, and so on, all of which we've touched on here.

That being said, although push-ups are predominately a chest exercise, they can be a great exercise to use to warm up your entire upper body before moving on to free weights, thus making them a worthwhile addition to your fitness routine.

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