The 5 Most Effective Exercises For Building Big Biceps, According To Fitness Experts

When it comes to building a desirable physique, one of the most sought-after goals is mountainous biceps.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the most physiologically gifted individuals to compete in the sport of bodybuilding, and his biceps were legendary.

So how do you get biceps like Arnold? Here’s my quick answer:

Focus on exercises that isolate the various muscles of the biceps and complete 20+ sets over the course of 2-3 training days per week as part of a full-body workout program.

Additionally, you’ll want to prioritize adequate protein intake and overall calories to encourage muscle growth and recovery.

Key Takeaways

  • Higher rep ranges (8-20) with shorter rest (30s) can create more gains in muscle size than lower rep ranges (3-8) with longer rest (3mins).
  • Seated biceps exercises reduce the risk of “cheating” by generating momentum from the legs, hips, or back to complete the movement.
  • Single-arm biceps exercises promote even strength and symmetry by ensuring both arms are working equally as hard.

Exercise Considerations For Growing Bigger Biceps

“Ask someone to flex, and nine times out of 10, they’ll flash you their biceps.”

– K. Aleisha Fetters, C.S.C.S.

When it comes to training your biceps for maximal size, you’ll want to take into consideration how often you train (frequency), how many sets you do (volume), and how heavy you lift (load).


Biceps are a smaller muscle group so they don’t take as long to recover between training sessions as larger muscle groups (i.e. quads).

You can train your biceps 2-3 days per week, with 1-2 rest days between each session.  


Biceps are a muscle group that responds best to a high training volume, so look at your number of biceps training days and the number of sets you’re completing each day.

High training volume is considered >20 sets per week (<12 is low training volume and 12-20 is moderate training volume). 

For example, if you train biceps twice per week, shoot for 10 or more sets on those days.  If you train biceps three times per week, you only need 7-8 sets. 


Contrary to popular belief, the heaviest loads do not necessarily produce the biggest muscles.

In this study, short rest (30 seconds) combined with low-load training (20 reps) lead to improved hypertrophy (muscle growth) compared to long rest (3 minutes) and high-load (8 reps) training.

In the “real world,” outside of exercise labs, hypertrophy rep ranges are generally accepted as 6-12 reps.  

“For hypertrophy (building muscle), the sweet spot is 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 12 reps.”

Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S

Choose the load that allows you to complete the prescribed sets and reps with proper form.

In summary, you should train your biceps 2-3 times per week for a total of 20 sets or more of 6-12 reps.

Biceps Anatomy

The “biceps” is a shorter version of biceps brachii, a two-headed muscle (explaining the prefix “bi” meaning two) with a short head and a long head. The biceps’ main function is to bend the elbow.

Along with the biceps brachii, when bodybuilders talk about training the biceps, they’re usually also referring to the brachialis and the coracobrachialis. These muscles perform similar functions and contribute to the overall size of your upper arm.

The biceps, brachialis, and coracobrachialis are all working in the exercises to follow.

5 Best Exercises For Building Bigger Biceps

1. Seated Alternating Dumbbell Biceps Curls

seated alternating dumbbell biceps curls

Seated alternating dumbbell curls are a great (and humbling) exercise for growing your biceps. 

Sitting (as opposed to standing) reduces the risk of swinging the arms or using the legs or hips to help lift the weight, really isolating the movement in the biceps for maximal engagement.

“Torso swinging is common, and needs to be avoided if you want the most effective workout.”

Alex Stewart

Additionally, using dumbbells instead of a barbell forces both arms to work equally, promoting symmetry. 


  1. Sit on a weightlifting bench with a back, with the back support at or just slightly greater than 90 degrees.
  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing forward, with arms extended toward the floor but not locked out.
  1. Pull the shoulders back (retract the scapula) and press the back firmly against the bench.
  1. Slowly lift the dumbbell toward the shoulder by contracting the biceps, bending the elbow, and bringing the palm directly toward the shoulder.
  1. Exhale while lifting the weight. Pause at the top, then slowly lower the weight to the starting position while inhaling.
  1. Repeat on the opposite side.

Related Article: The 7 Most Effective Ab Exercises For A Flat Stomach, According To Experts

2. Seated Alternating Hammer Curls

seated alternating hammer curls

Similar to seated alternating dumbbell biceps curls, seated hammer curls also prevent the athlete from using momentum from the legs or hips to lift the weights, and the single-arm nature of the exercise forces equal strength and performance from both arms.

The exercise is similar to regular dumbbell biceps curls, but the grip is different, to focus on the brachialis muscle on the side of the biceps.


  1. Sit on a weightlifting bench with a back, with the back support at or just slightly greater than 90 degrees.
  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing your body (neutral grip), with arms extended toward the floor but not locked out.
  1. Pull the shoulders back (retract the scapula) and press the back firmly against the bench.
  1. Slowly lift the dumbbell toward the shoulder by contracting the biceps, bending the elbow, and bringing the palm up with the thumb directly toward the shoulder (do not rotate the palm to face the shoulder).
  1. Exhale while lifting the weight. Pause at the top, then slowly lower the weight to the starting position while inhaling.
  1. Repeat on the opposite side.

3. Preacher Curls

preacher curls

Preacher curls are my preferred way to introduce a barbell (or EZ curl bar) into a biceps workout. The preacher bench (a specific bench designed for preacher curls) forces the athlete to use upper body strength only, preventing the use of the lower body for generating momentum to help lift the weight.

Keep the elbows, armpits, and chest firmly in contact with the bench throughout, and do not jerk or throw the head to perform the curl.


  1. Sit at the preacher bench and grip the barbell (or EZ curl bar) with a full underhand grip with wrists neutral and thumbs wrapped around the bar. The armpits and chest should be flush with the pad for support, with the backs of the upper arms (triceps) in full contact.
  1. Brace the core and curl the weight up, maintaining elbow contact with the pad as you exhale throughout the contraction.
  1. Stop short of a fully vertical position and slowly lower the weight with control as you inhale to prepare for the next rep.

4. Standing Cable Rope Curls

Cables are a good way to introduce dynamic resistance to biceps training. Unlike dumbbells and barbells, which have varying amounts of resistance depending on the angle of the elbow during the curl, cables maintain constant resistance throughout the entire range of motion.

The exercise does have more potential for “cheating the rep” if you’re using a load that is too heavy.

Choose an appropriate load that allows you to maintain a neutral posture (no lower back arching) with elbows tucked in and in and maintaining constant contact with the body.


  1. Stand tall with feet hip-width apart facing a cable station with a rope attachment fixed to the lowest setting.
  1. Hold the rope with one end in each hand, about 1 inch back from the head/knot.  This will force you to develop strong grip strength rather than allowing the rope knot to rest against your hand.
  1. Begin with the palms facing each other. Exhale, and as you curl up, you can either keep palms neutral for a cable rope hammer curl or rotate the palms upward so that the rope flares out and the hands finish facing the shoulders.
  1. Pause at the top of the rep and squeeze the biceps before slowly returning to the start, exhaling as you lower.

5. Close-Grip Chin-Ups

close-grip chin-ups

Chin-ups are an advanced exercise for the biceps because they effectively translate into curling your entire body weight.

The chin-up commonly works muscles in the back and core as well – maintaining a close grip (no more than 6” apart) forces more of the work into your biceps rather than the lats.

If you struggle to perform chin-ups without assistance, try doing them on an assisted chin-up machine with a counterweight or using a band.


  1. Grip a pull-up bar with a neutral underhand (supinated) grip, with palms 6” apart.
  1. Brace the core to avoid arching your back, and pull yourself upward until at least your chin is over the bar.
  1. You can maximize the contraction and ensure full flexion by continuing to pull until the collarbone makes contact with the bar.
  1. Pause at full height before slowly lowering to the start position.
  1. Avoid relaxing at the bottom of the rep; keep the core engaged until all reps are completed. 
  1. Do not kick with the legs or use the knees or hips to attempt to achieve the required height.

Sample Workouts For Bigger Biceps

Your bicep training should only be a small portion of your workout, rather than an entire workout on its own. Here’s how I would structure the bicep-specific portion of your workout based on your experience level:

Beginner Workout

1. Seated alternating dumbbell curls28-10 per arm30-60s
2. Hammer curls28-10 per arm30-60s
3. Preacher curls26-890s

This beginner workout starts with the three seated biceps exercises.  Perform 2 sets of each exercise, taking the stated rest between each set. Choose weights that are challenging but allow you to maintain proper form for at least the minimum number of reps per set.

Build up to 3 sets as you progress.

Intermediate Workout

1a. Seated alternating dumbbell curls28-10 per armNo rest
1b. Hammer curls28-10 per arm60s
2a. Preacher curls26-8No rest
2b. Standing rope cable curls28-1060s

The intermediate workout introduces the first more dynamic exercise, the standing rope cable curls. Avoid using momentum from the hips, legs, or back to complete the rope curls. 

Exercises 1a and 1b are to be completed as a giant set with no rest between the two exercises (drop weight if needed to maintain good form on the hammer curls).  Take 1-minute rest between sets.

Then, move on to exercises 2a and 2b, which make the second giant set.  Move directly from the preacher bench to the cable station to begin the rope curls. Take 1-minute rest between sets.

Advanced Workout

1a. Seated alternating dumbbell curls38-10 per armNo rest
1b. Hammer curls38-10 per armNo rest
1c. Standing rope cable curls38-102 minutes
2a. Preacher curls46-8No rest
2b. Close-grip chin-ups4Until failure2 minutes rest

This advanced workout starts with a giant set of three exercises. Begin with the seated alternating dumbbell curls and move immediately into the seated alternating hammer curls (drop weight if needed to allow for good form on all hammer curl reps). Then move into the third and final exercise of the giant set, the standing rope cable curls. Take 2 minutes to rest between giant sets.

The second giant set combines preacher curls and close-grip chin-ups to failure. Move directly from the preacher bench to the chin-up bar to really blast your biceps.

Diet Considerations For Growing Bigger Biceps

If you want your biceps to grow, you’re going to need to eat enough protein to support muscle protein synthesis (a precursor to muscle growth).  Check out my lists of the highest protein foods and best foods for bulking.

It’s also easier to add new muscle tissue when you are eating in an overall calorie surplus (more calories than your body needs to maintain weight) so that there is no risk that your body will break down muscle tissue for energy (which can happen if you’re not eating enough).

In a calorie surplus, aim to eat approximately 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight.  

For example, a person who weighs 180 lbs would need 126 grams of protein.

How Long Will It Take To Build Bigger Biceps?

Building bigger biceps will take anywhere from 4-12 weeks, and even as long as 3-6 months, depending on your level of experience and your starting muscle mass. Novice lifters with a low amount of muscle mass are likely to notice gains more quickly; experienced lifters with an already high muscle mass will take longer.

About The Author

Lauren Graham

Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement.  Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete.  She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing. 

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