The Best Bicep Exercises and Workouts For Mass

by Jeff on May 23, 2011

Ever notice that some guys don’t have bicep definition on the outside of their arm? You might even be able to relate to this, your biceps look alright from the inside view, but you can’t really see anything from the outside view.

Other guys have great definition from both sides of view, with the side view looking like this:

If you can’t see the biceps from the side view, it is because they were training their biceps with a limited range of motion that didn’t allow the bicep muscles to activate for the entire range of motion.

Another distinction is bicep ‘width’ and bicep ‘peak’. Concentration curls helps build more of a peak while barbell curls helps build more mass and width. I will talk about this later in the exercises section.

Training Specific Regions of a Muscle

There are people that believe you can train a specific part of the muscle such as ‘bicep peak’ and there are people that don’t believe in this. This has been a debate for a very long time.

In August 2011, there was an interesting study that suggests you CAN train for regional muscle activation and hypertrophy (muscle hypertrophy=muscle growth).

In this post, I will talk about bicep workouts that targets every part of your bicep, complete with bicep exercises, workout routines and video demonstrations.

But first I’m going to talk about the importance of form and how you can use correct form and a full range of motion to build more bicep mass that is visible from BOTH sides of view. You will not experience optimal growth if these points are omitted during your training.

The Importance Of Form

Form is critical, don’t sacrifice your form to lift heavier weights because it will not help you grow. You can only get proper muscle activation and a full range of movement if you have great form.

The bicep is made up of two parts, the brachii and the brachialis. The brachii is the inside of the bicep and the brachialis is the outside of your bicep. Here is what it looks like:

The reason that guys don’t have bicep definition from the side view is because their brachialis are not properly developed.

With the right exercises and the right form, you will be able to develop both sides of the bicep. You will be surprised at the growth once both parts of your bicep muscle are growing together. The exercises that I talk about later in this article will help you get this growth.

The Best Bicep Exercises

In this interesting book, it describes a series of experiments where the subjects (10 males in their 20′s that are resistance trained with 13% body fat) were measured by EMG while performing various exercises.

With the EMG, they were able to measure which parts of the bicep muscles had the most activity during the various exercises. For a more in-depth analysis, check out this post on SuppVersity.

They tested various bicep exercises, various grip width and also various grips to find out which combination produced the highest level of muscle activation. I have video demonstrations in a section below.

The best bicep exercise turns out to be the negative of a Concentration Curl using a supramaximal weight (heavier than you can lift). Simply the ‘lowering’ portion of the exercise with a slow tempo. This was the clear winner by a very significant margin (40% more activation than the regular concentration curl).

The second best bicep exercise is the regular concentration curl, closely followed by the Scott’s Curl (Preacher Curl with a Straight Bar), then the Regular Straight Bar Curls and the Preacher Curl (60 degree incline). These exercises only differ in effectiveness by around 10%.

Grip Variations

Surprisingly, using the hammer grip created most brachii activation during the concentration curl, not the brachialis.

Grip Width

  1. Wide grip for better brachii development (shoulder width).
  2. Narrow grip for better brachialis development.

Number of Reps and Rest Time Between Sets

It depends on what exercise you are doing. On starting exercises, you want to use a heavier weight going at a lower volume to build strength. On finishing movements, you want to use a lighter weight and higher repetitions to create cumulative muscle fatigue.

The best exercise to develop bicep strength is the weighted chin up (palms facing you). Strength is what will help you keep making gains over the long term. So start off your bicep workouts with weighted chin-up at low volume. 2-3 sets at around 5 reps.

Once this is done, you can move onto the bicep isolation exercises:

Starting Bicep Exercises

These are exercises that are good for starting your bicep workout. You can use heavier weights on these because it doesn’t put as much stress on the tendons.

Drag Curls

This exercise is excellent for putting more mass. You can choose this exercise this at the beginning of your bicep workout.

Barbell/Ez-Bar Curls

The barbell curls is a basic and versatile exercise. With a close grip, you work the outside of your bicep. With a far apart grip, you work the inside of the bicep. The ez-bar takes a lot of the stress of your wrist, but it works your biceps at a slightly different angle.

Finishing Bicep Exercises

Concentration Curls

This is one of the best finishing exercises. It helps you build more of a bicep ‘peak’. The peak creates a small size difference, but it creates a very significant visual difference. Because of the motion, you will be using a lower weight. As a finishing exercise, your biceps will already be fatigued at this point anyways.

Preacher Curls

Preacher Curls works both heads of the biceps, focusing on the lower biceps, this creates more definition in that area. A little increase in definition and size in the right place can create a noticeable increase in ‘perceived size’. Another variation of this is using a straight bar, it’s called the Scott Curl (Larry Scott’s favourite exercise).

This demonstration below is just for entertainment purposes:

Sample Bicep Workout

Now that you know the principles of bicep workouts for mass, you can create your own. Just remember the points:

  • Work out both heads of your bicep.
  • Full range of motion with great form.
  • Work towards muscle fatigue (higher reps).

Here is a sample workout that you can try out:

  1. Start off with weighted chin-ups at 3×5. It doesn’t matter how great the bicep exercises are, this is the most important step. Continuous bicep strength gains is key to continued bicep development.
  2. Barbell curls at 3 sets of 8 reps. 20-30 second rest in between sets.
  3. Followed by Preacher/Scott Curls at 4×8.
  4. Concentration Curls 4×12 (alternate between hammer grip and regular grip).

Want Your Biceps to ‘Pop Out’ More To Look Even More Impressive?

There are 3 parts of the shoulder muscles. The front part is called the anterior deltoid. Developing the anterior deltoid will increase the crease where your bicep meets the shoulder, this will make your biceps look a lot more impressive. The top of the bicep especially ‘pops out’ more.

Developing the anterior deltoid will also create the same effect for your chest.

Check out my post on the Best Shoulder Workouts and Exercises if you want to learn about the best way to:

  1. Build wider shoulders
  2. Make your biceps AND chest ‘Pop Out’ for more upper body definition.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Randy June 3, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Thanks Jeff,

I will take your advice and check in with you soon.

Take care,

Randy

Reply

dave andreides August 21, 2011 at 6:10 pm

hi jeff, great article i have one question. on barbell curls should i work close grip and wide grip in the same work out ?or alternate on different days? thanks dave

Reply

dave andreides August 22, 2011 at 2:59 am

Hey jeff , You seem to have great knowledge and your input would be greatly appreciated.I have one more question regarding triceps workouts. Do you recommend the the 20-30 sec. rest between sets like the bicep workout? And also any thoughts on starting out triceps workouts with outer & medial head exercises like” pulley pushdowns or skull crushers”.Or inner & medial head exercises like “standing dumbbell extensions or barbell extensions”. Or vise versa for ending or finishing or any routine? Starting to lift after a 15 year break going for mass. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Dave

Reply

Jeff August 31, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Hey Dave,

For building more mass optimally, the short rests and higher reps can apply for all muscle groups.

As for the wide grip and close grip, you can try out both approaches. See what creates the most fatigue for you.

Jeff

Reply

Scott September 15, 2011 at 7:20 pm

I just want to thank you for the videos. I have a question. Because of my equipment limitations, I am unable to do the preacher curls. What I am doing is as follows:
exercises:
Concentration Curls : 3 sets of 8 (high weight)
Barbell/Ez-Bar Curls: 4 sets of 8 (high weight but not a max) Alternating grip for each day
Then going back to Concentration Curls : 4 sets of 12 (much lower weight)

Am I wasting my time? If so, what can I sub for the preacher curls to split my workout up

thanks

Scott

Reply

Jeff September 24, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Hey Scott,

Preacher curls is just one of my personal favourites, it’s fine if you don’t do them. Instead, you can do drag curls.

I recommend that you do concentration curls as a finishing movement. If done correctly, you shouldn’t be able to use a heavy weight.

Reply

Khaled Ahmed October 16, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Thanks for this blog, it’s really helpful. Cheers

Reply

Johnny November 1, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Jeff Your An Amazing Help. No questions just wanted to say thankyou so much! your site is more than helpful than any others

Reply

jack dawson December 8, 2011 at 5:37 pm

had some good information on here that sets the basics out right!

Reply

Kasim January 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Very nce i like it very much

Reply

tj May 9, 2012 at 12:45 am

Hi thanks very much for your website it has been a great help to me, I have two questions though, should feel sore after every workout?? I’m trying to lose some weight, can i get muscle definition without eating as much?

Reply

Jeff May 10, 2012 at 3:19 pm

You have to eat above maintenance in order to grow. But if you eat clean with the right amount of calories with the right macros, you can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. Check out my post How To Get Ripped Fast and the section where I talk about body recomposition.

As for muscle soreness, you should experience a higher degree when you start a new workout routine. The soreness will decrease over time on the same routine. But you should always experience some soreness if you work with enough intensity.

Reply

Brien January 11, 2014 at 4:25 pm

great job. thanks for the inspiration!

Reply

Brien January 11, 2014 at 4:28 pm

thank you

Reply

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