5 Best Bicep Exercises You’ve Never Heard Of
Biceps. Everybody wants them but few actually build a set worthy of t-shirt season. Those two upper arm muscles are arguably the most famous masses of meat since the days of Eugene Sandow. If someone wants you to flex you don’t lift up your shorts and contract your quads, you roll up that sleeve and squeeze your biceps into a miniature mountain complete with trails of vascularity and valleys of separation.
But lately it’s had a revolt of sorts. Functional training has taken over the landscape like selfies on Instagram. Many lifters preach that curling serves little-to-no function and should be eliminated for the worthless exercise it is. When in the world will you realistically curl in everyday life anyways, right?
Related: 7 Tips to Build Bigger Biceps
Contrary to the recent functional mentality movement your biceps actually have many real-world benefits despite the backlash. Assisting with pull-ups, rows and even deadlifts they also serve as primary movers for anything that requires lifting from floor to shoulders or overhead. Cleans, sandbag carries, snatches, kettlebell work and even support for dumbbell presses you don’t want to turn your biceps into the weak link of the strength chain.
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Then there’s the simple fact that you want to build a symmetrical, balanced physique that, let’s face it, looks good by the pool or at the beach. Why would you put so much time and energy into your workouts and leave this one muscle group with little-to-no attention?
You may be the type who already has the desire to build bigger biceps and has put in the time, energy and patience with no real results to show for it. Curling is, well, curling. Nothing fancy, nothing too exciting. If you find yourself at the short end of the bigger biceps stick then below are five biceps exercises you may have never heard of. Read, execute and finally fill out that t-shirt.
5 Best Bicep Exercises You’ve Never Tried
#1 – Reverse-grip biceps chin-up
Standard barbell or dumbbell curls are still staples to any arm mass and strength program, however, sometimes you simply get tired of (yawn) curling. Think about it; you may think all you can do for your biceps is curl – pure and simple but also boring.
You might need a little shift in perspective in order to put a little excitement back into arm training. Look beyond the curl to other forms of more compound, multi-joint exercises to pack on more mass and boost strength. A reverse-grip pull-up may be just what you need to inject a little challenge in your tired routine.
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Grasp a pull-up bar underhanded with a shoulder or a bit wider than shoulder-width grip. The starting point will be with your elbows slightly bent to take stress off of your shoulders and lats. Begin by pulling up focusing on using more of your forearms to pull. In order to reduce the activation of your lats so more stress is focused on your biceps, while you are pulling up round your back by flexing your abs.
This should tuck in your pelvis slightly and bring your legs forward. Come up to the bar leading with your chin until you feel an intense contraction with your biceps. Squeeze for a count before slowly returning to the starting position once again.
#2 – Rope/sled pull
Male gymnasts have amazing upper bodies complete with a physique envied by the average lifter toiling away at body part-specific exercises day after day. They spend all day on rings, pummel horses and beams with little work toward actual weight training. What gives?
All this practical work adds up to hours spent suspending their bodies, pulling and pushing in natural planes of motion. Their bodies have no choice but to grow and become strong from all of that real-world work. But what if you could apply the same principles to your own arm program?
Rope pulls and sled pulls can mimic your body’s natural movement and function specifically for your biceps. The act of pulling in general can create an unusual stress on the biceps not found with traditional curling. You can perform this exercise with a rope attached to weights at one end or to a sled.
You can also practice rope climbs using only your upper body without help from your legs. Whichever you decide be sure to focus on pulling with your biceps. You can add weight when necessary or simply perform more “reps” each set.
#3 – Suspension trainer curl
Suspension trainers need no introduction when it comes to their functionality. Portable, convenient and versatile there really is no reason not to include a suspension trainer system in your arm program.
The main benefit to the biceps is the fact that you can stimulate strength and muscle gain by manipulating your stance and bodyweight with one simple exercise. Many lifters actually find the suspension trainer curl to be more challenging than a standard curl for the fact that they have to stabilize the entire body and curl most of their bodyweight all at once.
With an overhead suspension trainer grasp each handle facing the origination point. Position your arms in front of you perpendicular to your body – your body should also be in a straight line. With your abs tight and your feet firmly on the floor curl your arms bending only at the elbow and the handles moving toward your face.
Supinate your wrists as you curl and bring the handles by the sides of your head. Squeeze your biceps for a count and then slowly return to the starting position. If the specific angle is too challenging to perform good form then simply step back further from the wall or origination point to increase the angle to the floor.
The closer you are to the wall the tougher the exercise will be.
#4 – Rack curl
Another weightless exercise is the rack curl. This is much like the suspension trainer curl but here you will be using a fixed bar and be using a more stable apparatus. An advantage of the rack curl is that it doesn’t even require any special equipment.
Just find a bar that is around hip height and get to work. You won’t have the option of supinating and pronating your wrists so if you have difficulty or pain with flexibility in your forearms you may opt for the suspension trainer version.
Position yourself under a bar set around hip height or a bit higher to start. Face up with an underhand grip on the bar. Your body should be about perpendicular to your arms as they will start in the stretched out position. Curl your body up by bending at your elbows and lead up with your head.
Squeeze your biceps at the top for a count and lower back down slowly. If you find the exercise too challenging simply raise the bar and you will have shifted your bodyweight more toward your feet and off of your upper body.
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#5 – Reverse one-arm cable curl
Okay, so we’ve gone over a lot of indirect biceps exercises – ones that haven’t involved direct curl movements that mimic an actual barbell or dumbbell arm curl. But that shouldn’t give you the mentality that your arm program should be void of any curl work. You can easily think of new ways to perform old exercises.
For example, the cable curl is a great way to stress your biceps as it keeps constant tension on the muscle from beginning to end. But then again you are still curling in the standard form. Let’s adjust this angle a bit and get more out of an old favorite.
By adjusting the angle of a cable curl you can stimulate your biceps in a very unique way. Take a single cable handle attachments in one hand and stand facing away from the cable pulley station. Angle your arm back from your shoulder so that your hand is on the supinated (palm up) position and is back behind the line of your body.
This should place your biceps in a stretched position. Without moving at the shoulder joint curl the weight forward and up at the elbow and squeeze for a count at contraction. This accomplishes two things in one motion: It places a severe stretch and also an intense contraction with each and every rep.
The Unheard of Biceps Workout Program
- Reverse-grip biceps chin-up or suspension trainer curl: 3 x 6-12 or as many reps as possible
- Rope or sled pull: 3 rounds of pulls
- Reverse one-arm cable curl: 3 x 10-12