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The best bicep exercises and workouts for definition

Learn how to get defined biceps the right way by performing these proven exercises.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 9th August 2021
A man performing a bicep definition workout

Most people's biceps can get more defined if they lift weights consistently and reduce their body fat. But depending on which region of your biceps is less developed (inner vs outer head), you can also build well-defined biceps by improving that lagging area with specific exercises.

So not only are you going to learn how to get more defined biceps through dietary and body-fat-reduction means; you'll learn about the best bicep exercises for the job as well.

The 7 best bicep exercises for definition

After trying over 100 different movements, we handpicked the best bicep definition exercises for getting leaner upper arms. The tutorials below will help you to get the best results by lifting with the proper muscle-building form.

1. Seated bicep curls

A man performing seated DB curls for his biceps

Performing sitting down bicep curls might not seem like anything special when it comes to building defined biceps. However, when you do your curls seated rather than standing, you can actually lift heavier weights and thus overload your biceps with more resistance.

This is because by sitting down and, ideally, bracing your back against the pad, the core stability of the exercise is significantly reduced. As such, you (i.e., your central nervous system) can dedicate all of your strength toward blasting your biceps because you don't need to put as much effort into bracing your core.

This extra resistance will help to build more bicep muscle mass, which, in addition to having a sufficiently low body fat level, is the sine qua non to building well-defined biceps.

  1. Hold a pair of weights with an underhand grip.
  2. Sit on a weight bench with your back against the pad.
  3. Let the dumbbells hang by your sides.
  4. Curl the dumbbells toward your shoulders while keeping your elbows stationary.
  5. Keep curling until the undersides of your forearms push right up against your biceps.
  6. Hold the contraction for a moment and then lower the weights down to your sides in a controlled manner.
  7. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.

2. Cross body hammer curls

A man doing cross body dumbbell curls for his biceps

The cross body dumbbell curl is one of the best bicep exercises for definition because it enables you to lift more weight than just about any other movement, and it targets the often underdeveloped long head by having you curl with your arm turned in.

Let's start with the long head. This is the outer region of the biceps and the area that's usually most underdeveloped for most people. So by performing exercises that emphasize the outer part of your biceps, you can actually make your biceps look more defined by enhancing their muscularity from all angles.

Additionally, since you'll be curling—unilaterally—with a neutral grip during the cross body hammer curl, you'll naturally be able to lift heavier weights and thus overload your biceps with more muscle-building resistance. As we established above, sufficient muscle mass is one of the two indispensable requirements for getting better biceps definition.

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides with a neutral grip.
  2. Lift one of the weights across your body toward your opposite shoulder.
  3. Keep lifting until your forearm is pressed right up against your biceps.
  4. Hold the contraction for a second.
  5. Lower the weight back to your side under control until your elbow reaches full extension.
  6. Repeat the motion with your other arm and do 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps per side.

3. High cable curl

Man performing an overhead cable curl for his biceps

If you want to learn how to get bicep definition, then you also need to know how to contract your biceps properly.

Squeezing your biceps forcefully and feeling them working during the entirety of the set will enhance your mind-muscle connection and thereby your ability to recruit a broader range of muscle fibers, which ultimately results in greater hypertrophy.

As you know by now, hypertrophy is is the essential physiological process that has to take place if you want impressive biceps definition.

The cable crossover curl is one of the best bicep definition exercises in this regard because cables provide constant tension. As such, you have to keep your biceps contracted for the whole duration of the set because the pulley is constantly exerting some kind of tension, so it's not like your biceps can rest at the bottom of your reps like they can with free weight curls.

  1. Set the cable pulleys to a high position above shoulder height.
  2. Connect a single handle to each side.
  3. Grab each attachment with an underhand grip and then stand in the middle of the machine.
  4. Raise your arms up slightly to increase the tension on your biceps.
  5. Curl the handles toward and then behind your head.
  6. Allow your elbows to raise up as you contract your biceps.
  7. Hold the peak contraction for a moment and squeeze your biceps as hard as you can.
  8. Slowly release the handles until your elbows reach lockout.
  9. Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps.

4. Scott curls

A man doing a dumbbell Scott curl

If you want to enhance the appearance of your upper arms by improving their size and symmetry, then make sure to include one arm Scott curls in your bicep definition workout.

Since this movement is a unilateral exercise, you have to train each arm independently. Therefore, you can easily ensure that each bicep is receiving roughly equal amounts of stimulation and thus growing at a similar rate.

Also, since your arms are braced against the Scott curl pad, you can't swing the weights up with your other body parts. As a result, your biceps have to handle virtually all of the tension by themselves, which puts them in a prime position for growing bigger and stronger.

  1. Grab a dumbbell with a supinated grip and then sit on the curl station.
  2. Brace your arm against the pad and let your elbow extend.
  3. Hold onto the top of the pad with your spare arm for support.
  4. Curl the dumbbell toward your shoulder until your biceps and forearm make forceful contact.
  5. Squeeze your biceps at the top of the rep and then lower the weight in a controlled manner until your arm is fully locked out.
  6. Repeat with your other arm and do 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps per side.

5. Single-arm cable curl

A man performing a single arm cable curl for his biceps

The single-arm cable curl helps you to develop lower and upper bicep definition by providing both a deep muscle stretch and an intense peak contraction.

Being a unilateral exercise, the single-arm cable curl also enables you to overload your biceps with plenty of resistance to get them growing. This is because you can lift heavier weights when your brain only has to focus on moving one limb at a time rather than two.

Cable exercises like this, as we established earlier, challenge your biceps with constant tension. This prolonged tension, in turn, increases your pump because your biceps don't get an opportunity to rest until you put the weight down, and so the lactic acid doesn't get a chance to escape until the set is over.

This pump can, temporarily at least, enhance your biceps definition immediately because your arms always look leaner and more vascular when you have a good pump.

  1. Connect a single handle to a low pulley.
  2. Grab the handle with an underhand grip and then take a small step back from the machine.
  3. Curl the handle toward your front delt by flexing your biceps.
  4. Keep curling until your forearm and biceps make firm contact.
  5. Hold the peak contraction for a moment.
  6. Lower the weight under control until your elbow reaches full extension.
  7. Repeat the movement with your other arm and do 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps per side.

6. Reverse preacher curl

A man doing reverse grip preacher curls

Although we're teaching you how to define your biceps, it's essential to train your brachialis and brachioradialis muscles as well if you actually want your arms to look good.

Reverse grip preacher curls are just about the best exercise in this respect.

Not only do they put your biceps at a mechanical disadvantage and thereby force your brachialis and brachioradialis to do more work, but they're also highly conducive to using the proper form.

This is because you can't cheat the weight up when your arms are braced against the preacher pad—especially not when you're also sat down. As such, it’s much easier to keep the tension on the target muscles.

  1. Load some weight onto either side of an EZ bar and then place it in the preacher curl rack.
  2. Brace the undersides of your arms against the pad and then grab the bar with a thumbless overhand grip.
  3. Curl the bar toward your shoulders until the tops of your forearms press right up against your biceps.
  4. Hold the contraction for a second.
  5. Lower the bar in a controlled manner until your arms are locked out.
  6. Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps.

7. Incline alternating dumbbell curl

Man performing incline alternating dumbbell curls

The incline alt dumbbell curl is one of the best bicep exercises for definition because it targets the long head of the biceps, which, as mentioned, is the head that's generally lagging the most on the majority of people's physiques.

Moreover, since you're performing your incline curls in an alternating fashion, you'll naturally be able to perform more reps during your sets because each of your biceps is getting a short rest while the opposite arm works.

That's why alternating exercises are a great way to sneak in more training volume and time under tension without actually doing any extra sets.

  1. Position the backrest of an adjustable bench to between 45 and 60 degrees.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells with a supinated grip.
  3. Sit on the weight bench and lie back on the pad.
  4. Let your arms hang over either side of the bench and slightly behind your torso.
  5. Lift the dumbbells toward your shoulders while keeping your elbows still.
  6. Keep curling until your forearms and biceps make forceful contact.
  7. Hold the peak contraction for a moment.
  8. Lower the weights back down in a controlled manner until your elbows reach full extension.
  9. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.

Bicep definition workout routines

Each bicep definition workout will improve the appearance of your biceps if you perform it on a weekly basis.

The difference between the routines is that the first is shorter and thus ideal for novice lifters, whereas the second program contains more volume and greater exercise variety and is, therefore, your best bet if you're an intermediate or advanced lifter.

A time-saving bicep workout for definition

A man demonstrating how to get well defined biceps

1: One-arm cable curl — 4-5 sets of 8-10 reps

2A: Incline alternating dumbbell curl — 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps

2B: Cross body hammer curl — 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps

3: Reverse curl — 3-5 sets of 12-15 reps

If you want to get well-defined biceps without living in the gym, then this is one of the best bicep workouts for definition that you can do. Although there are "only" four exercises, you're still doing between 13 and 20 sets, which is plenty of training volume to stimulate new muscle growth.

We also included a superset to save time and increase your pump (the pump makes your biceps look more defined during training, remember?). The reps for superset are total reps per set, not per arm.

For rest periods, your best bet is to take a 2-3 minute break so that you can still lift plenty of weight on your subsequent sets. If you're really pressed for time, however, then you can still get great results from resting as little as 60 seconds between sets.

Just make sure that you avoid hitting muscular failure in the first part of the workout. This way, you won't see any sudden or sharp strength drop-offs that could impede your ability to accumulate sufficient training volume.

The first two exercises focus on the biceps specifically. And because both are also unilateral, they'll make your biceps look more symmetrical and aesthetic in addition to big and muscular.

The crossbody hammer curl is a hybrid movement in that it trains the brachialis, brachioradialis, and biceps fairly evenly. Don't change the order of the superset because you're naturally weaker on incline curls than cross-body curls; hence, it would be impossible to do incline curls second in the superset without decreasing the resistance.

Finally, you'll do reverse curls to make sure that your brachialis and brachioradialis muscles receive the maximum amount of stimulation. Developing these two muscles can really enhance the appearance of your arms and make the definition seem more impressive when your body fat is sufficiently low (more on that in a minute).

The bodybuilding biceps definition workout

A man performing some bicep definition exercises

1: Seated dumbbell curls — 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps

2: Incline alternating dumbbell curls— 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps

3: Cable crossover curls — 3-5 sets of 10-12 reps

4: Reverse preacher curls— 3-5 sets of 12-15 reps

5: Single-arm cable curls — 2 sets of 20 reps

Performing this bicep workout routine for definition is a great idea if you're a well-trained intermediate or advanced lifter because it attacks your upper arms from a variety of angles and with different rep ranges. As such, it's naturally the best routine for maximizing muscle hypertrophy, providing, of course, that you can handle the training volume (15-22 sets).

Aim to rest 2-3 minutes between sets so that you don't see any sharp strength drop-offs early in the workout. Also, avoid training to failure until you get to the final exercise.

As with the other bicep definition workout, there's a big emphasis on unilateral exercises. This is because single-arm curls enable you to lift heavier weights and thereby overload your biceps with more resistance. In turn, this extra resistance will result in more muscle mass, which, as we established, is of critical importance for making your biceps look more defined.

After the unilateral exercises, it's onto high cable curls to improve your mind-muscle connection and grow the short head of your biceps. Make sure to really squeeze your biceps during the peak contraction part of this movement because it's the hardest point in the exercise. So if you can get strong during the contraction phase of the rep, then the other parts of the lifting motion will feel easy.

Reverse preacher curls are the penultimate exercise and one which helps you to build proportional arms—not just gargantuan biceps. You ideally want to use a thumbless grip when you're doing reverse curls so that the bar can't just rest in your fingers. Instead, your brachioradialis will have to work harder when you wrap your fingers and thumbs around the same side of the bar.

Your final bicep blast comes courtesy of 20-rep one-arm cable curls. While it's recommended to leave 1-2 reps in the tank on your other exercises, you can train to failure on this final movement if you wish so that you can stimulate as many muscle fibers as possible and maximize your potential hypertrophy.

How to get defined biceps

This guide teaches you how to get definition in your biceps so that you can make your arms look leaner and more aesthetic.

Lose some body fat

Bodybuilder flexing his vascular arm

It doesn't matter if you have bodybuilder-level bicep development; if your arms are holding excessive body fat, then your biceps will never look defined.

It's that simple.

So take an honest look at your physique. Are your biceps lacking mass to make the definition noticeable?

Or do you have a layer of fat covering your muscles?

If it's the latter, then you need to reduce your body fat, something which you can accomplish through a combination of exercise and moderate calorie restriction.

The good news is that most people, especially men, tend to store relatively little adipose tissue on their arms in comparison with their other body parts. Therefore, you might be able to get defined biceps faster than you think by training for a month or so alongside an appropriate, calorie-deficit diet.

Increase your biceps time under tension

A man demonstrating how to get more defined biceps

If you already have a low body fat level but still lack the biceps definition that you're after, then there's a good chance that your biceps simply need more overall mass.

Increasing your training volume (reps x sets x weight) and thereby your time under tension is one way to stimulate bicep hypertrophy.

You just need to make sure that you're performing this volume in sufficient proximity to muscular failure.

To illustrate, it's no good doing extra sets if they're all 7-8 reps away from failure.

Instead, you should leave no more than 1-3 reps in reserve on each set so that the repetitions are challenging enough the recruit a wide range of muscle fibers.

Then, once your bicep definition workout is finished, you need to take advantage of the heightened muscle protein synthesis levels that you just stimulated in the gym by consuming a proper muscle-building diet and getting adequate recovery.

A good diet for hypertrophy purposes consists of getting sufficient protein (at least 1.8g per kg of body weight) and eating in a calorie surplus.

Beyond that, you need to get enough quality sleep and ensure that your muscles are properly recovered before you train them again.

So if you follow these basic guidelines, then you'll be able to get more defined biceps by increasing their overall mass.

Broaden your exercise selection

A man demonstrating two of the best bicep exercises for definition

Supinated curls are your best bet for building the biceps brachii.

But impressive arms consist of more than just bulked-up biceps.

You need equally well-developed brachialis and brachioradialis muscles if you want your arms to look defined from every angle (who doesn’t?).

For example, building the brachialis can actually enhance your bicep peak because the brachialis is a deep muscle that lies beneath the biceps. Hence, when you add size to this deep muscle, it naturally pushes your biceps out and makes them look more prominent.

Similarly, growing your brachioradialis helps to fill the gap between your biceps and forearm extensors, which makes your arms look bigger (and more defined) when they're just hanging by your sides.

So make sure to perform some kind of reverse curl and/or hammer curl in your workout if you want to maximize your muscle definition as a whole.

Improve your weaker biceps head

The long and short head of the biceps brachii

Everyone has a bicep head that's less developed on them.

If your biceps look good when flexed but a bit thin when they're relaxed, then you can do a specific long head bicep workout to beef up the outer muscle fibers of your bis. Exercises that have you use a close grip and/or curl with your arms behind your torso will emphasize this region of the biceps.

In a similar way, if the short head of your biceps is lagging, then you can give more attention to your inner bicep workouts by performing movements that have you curl with your arms in front of your body or which enable you to lift with a wide grip.

So sometimes, you may actually have nicely defined biceps already; it's just that you might not notice this definition because part of your biceps is underdeveloped. In other words, you often just need more size to make the definition more visible and prominent.

See also: How to build your lower bicep

Get a good pump

A man showing people how to get bicep definition

Want to learn how to get bicep definition fast?

As in right now?

Okay, all you need to do is perform some high rep curls (ideally using constant tension and short rest periods) to get a good pump.

As you might have noticed before, when you're training your biceps—especially with higher repetitions—they often start to look noticeably leaner and more vascular (which is to say more defined) almost immediately.

This is because the muscle cells swell with blood and lactic acid when you contract them repeatedly by performing curls and other such exercises.

The trick to making this pump more permanent is to train your biceps consistently so that they simply grow bigger. After all, if you can gain enough muscle size while having a sufficiently low body fat level, then your biceps will look defined 24/7.

But if you want to maximize your biceps definition while you're in the gym, then you can check out our best bicep pump workout for a full routine.

Conclusion: What you need to know about building defined biceps

Let's get to the heart of the matter: Building defined biceps comes down to having enough muscle mass to make the definition noticeable while also having a sufficiently low body fat to reveal the definition.

But you needn't be ripped to have well-defined biceps. As mentioned, most people store relatively little body fat on their arms, so even bringing your overall body fat down by a few percent can make your biceps look learner and more defined.

Then it's just a matter of training consistently so that you can build enough muscle size to make the definition that you do have worthwhile.

You can create a great workout by using the bicep definition exercises that we explained above. Or, you can follow one of our pre-made routines to take the guesswork out of creating a good program.

James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
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