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The best bicep exercises and workouts for men to gain muscle mass

These mass building bicep workouts will add serious size to your upper arms.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 31st July 2021
A man showing some of the best bicep exercises for mass that you can do at the gym

If there's one muscle group that every lifter wants to develop to the maximum, it's the biceps. A bulging pair of bis is a symbol of strength that grabs people's attention and enhances your physique.

So don't skip these mass building bicep workouts if you want to add inches to your arms!

Top 12 best bicep exercises for mass

We tried over 150 different movements (yes, really) before coming up with our list of the top 12 best bicep exercises for size gain. So after weeks of workouts and analysis, here's the definitive rundown of the most effective biceps exercises for muscle growth.

1. Dumbbell curls

A man showing how to do bicep curls with dumbbells in a standing position

Performing bicep curls with dumbbells ensures that both of your arms receive equal work and thus grow in proportion. This results in a more pleasing, symmetrical physique and naturally minimizes the chance of you developing any unsightly muscle imbalances.

The downside is that you'll need to lift lighter weights than if you were curling a barbell. So consider combining both types of bicep curls in order to maximize your muscle growth over the long term.

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides with your palms facing forward.
  2. Curl the weights toward your shoulders while keeping your elbows still.
  3. Keep curling until your forearms and biceps make forceful contact.
  4. Squeeze your biceps and then lower the dumbbells under control until your elbows reach full extension.
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.

2. Hammer curls

A man showing how to do hammer curls with dumbbells to work the biceps

Hammer curls are one of the best bicep exercises for men who want to build their bis from every angle. Not only do hammer curls train your biceps, they absolutely 'hammer' your brachialis and brachioradialis as well.

These muscles—when well-developed—give your arms that enviable thickness and masculine appearance that every guy craves. Be sure to kick off your biceps workouts with hammer curls because you'll naturally be able to lift heavier on them than regular, supinated curls. So you may as well do them when you're at your strongest.

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides with a neutral grip.
  2. Curl the weights toward your front delts.
  3. Pause briefly as your forearms and biceps make contact.
  4. Lower the dumbbells back down until your arms are locked out.
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps.

3. Preacher curls

A man demonstrating how to do an EZ bar preacher curl for the biceps

The preacher curl is one of the most effective bicep isolation exercises ever created. By bracing your arms against the preacher pad, your biceps get to enjoy 100% of the tension because it's virtually impossible to swing the weight up with your shoulders, back, or legs in this position.

So if you struggle to use the proper form when curling, then preacher curls are definitely the top bicep exercise for keeping the resistance on the working muscle. Just make sure to lift the bar (or dumbbells) all the way up and down on every rep so that you recruit as many muscle fibers as possible.

  1. Load some weights onto a curl bar and then sit on the preacher station.
  2. Grab the bar with an underhand grip just inside shoulder-width.
  3. Curl the weight toward your shoulders until your biceps and forearms make firm contact.
  4. Squeeze your biceps for a moment and then lower the bar under control until your elbows are fully locked out.
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

4. Barbell curls

A man demonstrating the proper standing barbell curl form for working the biceps

The barbell curl is arguably the best bicep exercise for mass gain that was ever created because it allows you to overload your arms with the heaviest possible weights. Lifting heavy like this targets the fast-twitch muscles fibers, which ultimately leads to more bicep growth because these are the fibers that grow the biggest.

Your best bet is to do barbell curls early on in your bicep day workout when you're at your freshest. This way, you'll be able to take full advantage of this exercise's high loading potential and really blast your biceps into new growth.

  1. Grab a barbell with a shoulder-width underhand grip and let it rest against your thighs.
  2. Curl the bar toward your chest by flexing your biceps forcefully.
  3. Keep curling until your biceps make forceful contact with the undersides of your forearms.
  4. Pause for a split second at the top of the rep and then lower the weight under control until your elbows reach full extension.
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.

5. Concentration curls

A man performing seated concentration curls with dumbbells

Concentration curls are one of the top biceps exercises for isolating your arms because by bracing your elbow against the inside of your thigh, you naturally take your other muscles out of the equation.

And because you're curling with your arms in front of you, it's also one of the most effective short head bicep exercises that you can do because it really adds mass to the inner head of your biceps. This is the part of your bis that everyone will see when you flex, so don't skip concentration curls even if it means lifting a bit lighter than on the standing variation.

  1. Grab a relatively light dumbbell with an underhand grip and sit on the edge of a weight bench.
  2. Rest your arm against the inside of your leg and let the dumbbell hang so that your elbow is completely extended.
  3. While keeping your elbow still, curl the weight toward your shoulder by squeezing your biceps as hard as you can.
  4. Pause for a second as your biceps come into contact with your forearms.
  5. Lower the dumbbell under control until your arm is once again fully locked out.
  6. Do 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps per arm.

6. Zottman curls

A man performing a standing Zottman curl

The Zottman curl is one of those exercises for biceps that far too many people skip because it's not like the other pure biceps brachii exercises. Instead, Zottman curls make use of your biceps during the concentric phase in order to overload your brachioradialis and brachialis muscles during the eccentric part of the rep.

In the long run, this makes your arms look thicker overall because by doing Zottman curls, you'll also be working the other key arm muscles that most lifters overlook. They're also one of the great bicep exercises that you can do to burn out your arms at the end of a workout because, with Zottman curls, you generally perform very slow and controlled negatives to tear down the remaining muscle fibers.

  1. Hold a set of dumbbells by your sides with a supinated grip.
  2. Curl the weights toward your front delts.
  3. Rotate your hands to a pronated (palms-down) position at the top of the rep.
  4. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to your sides.
  5. Switch back to the original underhand grip and repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

7. Spider curls

A man performing the spider curls exercise with dumbbells

Spider curls are one of the best biceps exercises for muscle isolation because by bracing your chest against the back pad of the bench, you can't cheat the weights up with your other body parts. As such, your biceps get to enjoy 100% of the resistance, which is why spider curls often create an incredibly intense arm pump when you lift with the proper form.

The trick is to squeeze your biceps as forcefully as possible at the top of every spider curl rep so that you can enhance your mind-muscle connection and recruit the maximum amount of muscle fibers possible.

  1. Set the backrest of a weight bench to 60 degrees.
  2. Hold two dumbbells with an underhand grip, and then sit on the bench in a reverse position with your torso pressed against the back pad.
  3. Let your arms hang down and slightly forward so that your elbows are fully extended.
  4. Curl the weights toward your shoulders and squeeze your biceps forcefully.
  5. Hold the contraction for a second, and then lower the dumbbells under control until your elbows are once again locked out.
  6. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 10-25 reps.

8. Reverse curls

Man performing reverse curls with a barbell

Reverse curls are one of the best exercises for biceps and brachioradialis development that you can do in the gym. The large elbow flexion component of the movement places a ton of tension on the biceps. But because you're curling with an overhand grip, the thick forearm muscle that’s known as the brachioradialis also gets a growth-stimulating workout.

This muscle will make your arms look bigger when they're hanging by your sides (i.e., most of the time) by filling out the top of your forearms.

Reverse curls also work the brachialis. This is a slow-twitch muscle that, like the biceps, flexes the elbow but which becomes more active when you put the biceps in a position of mechanical disadvantage, which is to say when you curl with an overhand grip.

Building your brachialis can actually help to improve your bicep peak by pushing the biceps brachii out more. So don't skip this biceps training drill if you want to sculpt a pair of aesthetic arms.

  1. Hold a barbell in front of you with a thumbless overhand grip, just inside shoulder-width.
  2. Curl the bar toward your chest while keeping your elbows still.
  3. Keep curling until the tops of your forearms make firm contact with your biceps.
  4. Pause for a split second at the top of the rep and then lower the weight under control.
  5. Repeat the motion for 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

9. Incline dumbbell curls

Man performing a seated incline dumbbell curl for his biceps

All the best bicep workouts include the incline dumbbell curl because no other exercise places as much mechanical tension on the biceps. It's also one of the great long head bicep exercises that you can do to increase your peak because it really stresses the outer head.

Just make sure to keep your elbows behind your torso when you perform these exercises (and use the correct bench angle—45 or 60 degrees) so that you keep the tension on the biceps in general and the long head in particular.

  1. Set the backrest of an incline bench to between 45 and 60 degrees.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit on the bench.
  3. Let your arms hang by your sides, slightly behind your torso.
  4. Curl the weights toward your shoulders while keeping your elbows stationary.
  5. Squeeze your biceps forcefully at the top of the rep.
  6. Lower the dumbbells under control until your elbows are fully locked out.
  7. Repeat the movement for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps.

10. EZ bar curls

A man doing a standing EZ bar biceps curl

The EZ bar curl is the most effective bicep exercise for building your arms while sparing your joints. By holding the bar with a semi-supinated (rather than fully supinated) grip, you naturally take the strain off your wrists and forearm flexors, which also means that your injury risk is significantly reduced.

The only downside is that using such a grip places slightly more tension on your brachialis and brachioradialis at the expense of your biceps. So if you want to program your bicep building workouts in a truly optimal fashion, then you'll want to stick with the straight bar. Over the long term, however, you might actually make better gains with the EZ bar if it enables you to train pain-free.

  1. Load some weights onto an EZ bar and then grab the bar with a shoulder-width underhand grip.
  2. Curl the bar toward your chest while keeping your elbows and shoulders still.
  3. Keep lifting until the undersides of your forearms press right up against your biceps.
  4. Lower the weight under control until your elbows reach full extension.
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

11. Drag curls

A man performing a barbell drag curl for his biceps

Drag curls are one of the most effective biceps exercises for achieving a powerful pump because they place the most tension on the biceps when the muscle is in its shortest (i.e., most contracted) anatomical position. That's why the exercise features prominently in the full bicep workouts below.

The most common drag curl mistake that lifters make, however, is shrugging the weight up with their traps. While feeling a moderate amount of upper trapezius involvement is indeed normal for drag curls, your biceps should still perform the majority of the lifting.

Focus on dragging your elbows behind your torso while simultaneously moving your palms toward your shoulders to get the best results. Also, it's okay to keep constant tension on your biceps during drag curls since one of the primary purposes of the exercise is to maximize the pump. Yes, the movement will still build mass, but you won't be able to lift as heavy as you can on regular curls.

  1. Hold a bar with an underhand shoulder-width grip and let it rest on your thighs.
  2. Drag the barbell up your torso by dragging it up toward your chest.
  3. Keep dragging the bar until the undersides of your forearms press up against your biceps.
  4. Squeeze your biceps as hard as you can at the top of the rep.
  5. Lower the bar slowly until your arms are almost fully locked out.
  6. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps.

12. Cable curls

Man doing standing bicep cable curls

Cable curls are one of the most underrated bicep building exercises that you can do in the gym. Unlike free weight movements, cable curls blast your biceps with constant muscle-building tension while also taking some pressure off your joints.

Therefore, it's a brilliant idea to end your mass building bicep workout with high rep cable curls so that you can stimulate maximum growth by fatiguing the reaming muscle fibers that you couldn't fully recruit with your heavier sets.

  1. Connect a straight bar attachment to a low pulley and then grab the bar with a shoulder-width underhand grip.
  2. While keeping your elbows and shoulders still, curl the bar toward your chest.
  3. Keep curling until your forearms press up against your biceps.
  4. Squeeze your biceps forcefully at the top of the rep, and then lower the bar under control.
  5. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps

Best bicep workout routines

After testing over 150 different exercises over the course of many grueling months, we created 3 of the best bicep workouts for men to build serious upper arm size. All the routines will build noticeable muscle mass, yet each has a specialty attached to it to suit different training goals and ability levels.

You can also click the link to see the various bicep workouts for women that our team of experts created with females in mind.

Starter biceps workout

A man doing a bicep workout

1: Barbell curl — 3-4 sets of 6-10 reps

2: Incline dumbbell curl — 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps

3: Reverse curl — 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps

This short yet intense beginner bicep workout removes the complexity from bicep strength training so that you can focus on building overall mass rather than on worrying about the finer details that don't really affect muscle size.

The most important requirement is to use the proper form. You want to ingrain the correct movement patterns into your brain now. You don't want to have to do a weight reset down the road due to sloppy technique. So don't be afraid to lift borderline embarrassingly light weights if that's what it takes to use the proper form and feel your biceps doing the work.

Also, don't get tempted to throw in extra sets or additional exercises. When you're a novice, you can make significant gains from a ridiculously low amount of training volume. We're already doing 9-12 sets here, which is actually a substantial amount of volume for a small muscle group like the biceps.

You can perform this full bicep workout once per week or split the sets into two workouts if you want to train each muscle twice a week (ideal for intermediates but not beginners).

Bicep workout for mass and size

A man demonstrating some of the best bicep workouts for men to build muscle.

1: Hammer curl — 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps

2: Incline curl — 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

3: Preacher curl —3-5 sets of 10-15 reps

4: Reverse curls — 3-4 sets of 12-20 reps

5: Drag curls — 2 sets of 20 reps (optional)

This is the best bicep workout for mass if you're an intermediate or advanced lifter. The routine blasts your biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis from every angle to ensure that no muscle fiber is left understimulated.

You'll begin with heavy hammer curls to work on your overall upper arm mass before moving into incline curls to focus on the long head of the biceps and build that peak. Then, it's time to maximally isolate your biceps with preacher curls.

Finally, you'll train the all-important brachioradialis and brachialis muscles with reverse curls so that your arms look muscular when they're by your sides—not just when they're flexed.

Heavy strength bicep workout

A man demonstrating the best bicep workout for mass gain

1: Barbell curl — 4-5 sets of 4-7 reps

2: Hammer curl — 4 sets of 6-8 reps

3: Concentration curl — 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

4: Drag curl — 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps

This workout includes all of the best bicep exercises for strength. We begin with barbell curls to maximally overload the biceps and target the fast-twitch muscle fibers. Try to leave at least one rep in the tank on every set so that you don't fatigue your biceps prematurely—total training volume is more important than lifting to failure.

Next up is the hammer curl. This classic gym exercise for biceps builds three of the critical upper arm muscles simultaneously—the biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis. It also enables you to lift heavier than regular curls since the latter two muscles can produce more force when you curl with a neutral grip.

Concentration curls will improve your unilateral bicep strength and help you to develop more symmetrical arms.

Finally, you'll end this complete bicep workout routine with the formidable drag curl. Because let's be honest, even if you're training for biceps strength, you still want to get a good pump in the process.

FAQ

If you want to learn how to craft the perfect bodybuilder biceps workout, then check out this FAQ to learn the finer details about training your biceps.

What are the top 5 most effective biceps exercises?

The top 5 biceps exercises for building muscle (we tried way over 100) are barbell curls (for building mass), dumbbell curls (for developing symmetry), hammer curls (for overall elbow flexor development), preacher curls (for maximum bicep isolation), and concentration curls (for improving your mind-muscle connection).

You can also perform variations of these top 5 exercises and get similar results. But more often than not, you're best off sticking with the basics so that you can focus on proven training principles like progressive overload rather than on the latest exercises that you saw some fitness guru doing.

What is the single best bicep exercise for muscle growth?

Proper form, sufficient training volume, and a healthy, high-protein diet that's appropriate to your training goals are what primarily determines your bicep development. Nonetheless, you could argue that barbell curls are the best bicep mass builder. This is because they enable you to overload your muscles with more resistance than the other bicep exercises.

On the other hand, you could make a strong case for dumbbell curls being the single best bicep exercise because they enable you to supinate your wrists to a greater degree than barbells do. This extra supination creates a more potent bicep contraction because it optimally trains the two main functions of the biceps (elbow flexion and forearm supination) simultaneously.

What are the best bicep workouts for men?

The best bicep workouts for men to gain muscle are the starter, mass-building, and strength workouts listed above. This is because the routines each cater to different training goals and ability levels. As such, regardless of where you are in your fitness journey as a man, you'll find a good bicep workout that's appropriate to your strength level and physical aspirations.

Of course, you can also create a killer bicep workout of your own by using our list of exercises. This way, you can craft a workout routine that's more customized to your personal weak points. And you can also pick exercises that you enjoy the most so that your training motivation stays high.

Can you suggest some good bicep training tips?

First and foremost, you should always lift with the proper form. Curling with the correct technique helps to prevent common weight lifting injuries while simultaneously keeping more of the tension on the target muscles.

Also, avoid doing too much training volume. Performing twice the number of sets doesn't lead to twice the gains. You can certainly increase the volume as you get more advanced, but you should keep it in a moderate range (6-12 weekly sets) to avoid overtraining and burning yourself out.

Finally, make sure to do some kind of exercise where you're curling with a neutral or pronated grip. This approach will shift the emphasis of the exercise onto the brachialis and brachioradialis to ensure that you're building proportional arms rather than overly dominant biceps.

What does a complete biceps workout look like?

A complete biceps workout uses a combination of bars and dumbbells so that you can focus on building mass and developing muscle symmetry. You should also include exercises, as mentioned above, that worth the brachioradialis so that your arm muscles are in proportion with one another.

Additionally, ensure that you're training close enough to muscular failure to stimulate new bicep growth. Aim to leave no more than 2-3 reps in reserve on each set so that you can recruit the most amount of bicep motor units.

Conclusion: How to have good bicep workouts every time

Now that you've seen the best bicep workouts for each kind of goal and person, it's down to you. Gaining new muscle requires consistency and patience. Your biceps won't gain noticeable size overnight, but if you can string together a few months of consistent workouts, then there's a good chance that you'll feel your sleeves getting a bit tighter.

As mentioned, we've tried and tested over 150 different bicep exercises to see which movements are the most effective for building muscle and training the target areas. As confident as we are in our research, you can still make excellent progress with other exercises. You could follow the best bicep workout on the planet for a year straight, but if you don't get enough sleep or if you lack the dietary discipline, then it won't matter what exercises you do. So get started with your routine today and then sick at it!

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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