Skip to content
Home » Strength Training

5 Best Exercises to Build Thicker Biceps (Strength Coach’s Tips)

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted bigger biceps. Watching superheroes like Batman and athletes like Jerry Rice — yes, kid Jake idolized Rice not only for his athletic abilities but also for his “jacked” biceps.

Many lifters, myself included, initially believe that bicep growth will naturally come from back workouts or a couple of conventional dumbbell curls. However, this approach often falls short — especially when attacked with a lack of strategy.

To truly maximize biceps growth, we need exercises performed with high effort that stimulate the biceps heads through diverse ranges of motion. To help with this, I tapped my friend and strength coach, Austin Current, to take me through his biceps training strategy.

For context, Austin works with handfuls of bodybuilders and has competed at a pro level himself. He’s also written a book titled “Science of Strength Training,” which is a best seller!

We Need to Start With An Anatomy Lesson

Key Muscles Involved in Biceps Workouts

The biceps muscle, scientifically known as the biceps brachii, crosses two joints — the elbow and shoulder — and has two heads:

  1. Long head
  2. Short head

The long head originates at the supraglenoid tubercle of the scapula, while the short head starts at the coracoid process of the scapula. These heads merge to form a single muscle belly that inserts at the radial tuberosity of the forearm. In layman’s terms, there are two major biceps heads that we want to train.

Additionally, the brachialis and the brachioradialis muscles support the biceps during arm exercises. While the biceps brachii primarily handles elbow flexion and forearm supination, the brachialis focuses on pure elbow flexion, and the brachioradialis assists in forearm movement.

Biceps Anatomy With Austin Current

The Biceps Do More Than Curl

The biceps perform three main functions:

  1. Elbow Flexion: Elbow flexion involves bending the arm at the elbow, and it is commonly exercised through moves like the incline dumbbell biceps curl and the traditional dumbbell curl.
  2. Forearm Supination: Forearm supination refers to rotating the forearm so the palm faces upward. 
  3. Shoulder Flexion: The long head of the biceps aids in shoulder flexion, lifting the arm forward.

Incorporating different biceps exercises ensures all these functions are effectively targeted. For instance, a behind-the-back biceps curl can help emphasize the long head of the biceps.

While a Superman curl can engage both heads through a full range of motion, a supinating dumbbell curl will train the biceps and forearm muscles. By understanding and leveraging these functions, optimal biceps development is achievable.

Training Biceps With Different Ranges of Motion

Austin explained to me that he likes to utilize different ranges of motion when training the biceps. This not only helps leave no stones unturned and builds fuller biceps, but it can also be useful from a joint health context.

Think about it this way, if you’re training your back, you want to hit a range of exercises to build an even and healthy back musculature. The same logic applies with the biceps and all other muscle groups.

Range of Motion 1 | Arms Behind the Torso

1. Lean Away Cable Biceps Curl

What Is It/Benefits: The lean away cable biceps curl is fantastic for biasing the biceps’ long head. This can be useful from a performance and joint health point of view while providing a nice hypertrophy stimulus since we’ll be biasing the lengthening of the biceps.

Increased stretch on the trained muscles can typically lead to more fruitful hypertrophy gains.

Lean Away Cable Biceps Curl

  • Step 1: Set your cable’s handles low and stand a few feet in front of the machine.
  • Step 2: Lean slightly forward gripping the handles, allowing the biceps to stretch behind the torso.
  • Step 3: Lightly brace and start curling. Think about keeping your elbows relatively fixed. Remember, we want the arms to stay behind the torso to produce more stretch on the long head.
  • Step 4: Squeeze at the top and control the eccentric (lengthening) range of motion.

2. Incline Dumbbell Curl

What Is It/Benefits: The incline dumbbell curl is one of my personal ALL-TIME favorite exercises. It gives you a sick pump and stimulus and it doesn’t take much weight to get you there. This makes them great for times when you’re traveling and want to blast the long head.

Incline Dumbbell Biceps Curl

  • Step 1: Set your bench at a low incline height.
  • Step 2: Grab dumbbells and let your arms hang so they’re perpendicular to the floor.
  • Step 3: Keeping your arms in a fixed position (if they sway a little bit, that’s okay), curl the dumbbells and squeeze at the top.
  • Step 4: Slowly lower the dumbbells down and focus on keeping the elbows relatively fixed. Once lengthened, squeeze your triceps at the bottom, then repeat steps 1-3.

Range of Motion 2 | Arms Neutral With Torso

1. Dumbbell Curl

What Is It/Benefits: The traditional dumbbell curl is a beginner staple for training the biceps, and it will give you a well-rounded stimulus for the biceps heads, and it will help you passively train the forearm muscles as well.

You can supinate or perform these with a neutral grip, hammer grip. If you supinate, you’ll get more forearms (brachioradialis), if you keep your hand neutral, you’ll get a blend of both and it’s a little easier.

Dumbbell Biceps Curl

  • Step 1: Stand upright with dumbbells by your site in a neutral position.
  • Step 2: Start curling keeping your elbow relatively fixed. If you want more forearms, supinate when you’re halfway through your rep.
  • Step 3: Squeeze the biceps at the top of your curl.
  • Step 4: Slowly lower the dumbbells down and focus on keeping the elbows relatively fixed.

Range of Motion 3 | Arms In Front of Torso

1. Superman Cable Curl

What Is It/Benefits: The Superman cable curl is fantastic for training the biceps through a shortened range of motion. It’s also great for anyone who’s working around elbow discomfort from day-to-day life or training. I love programming these toward the end of a biceps workout.

Superman Cable Curl

  • Step 1: Perform these standing or kneeling, and you can also perform these with two arms or single-arm. If you go single-arm, it can be useful to brace with something.
  • Step 2: Start curling keeping your elbow relatively fixed.
  • Step 3: Squeeze the biceps at the top of your curl.
  • Step 4: Lower the cable slowly and let your arm fully lengthen focusing on keeping tension on the biceps.

Range of Motion 4 | Semipronated

1. Semi-Pronated Dumbbell Biceps Curl

What Is It/Benefits: The semi-pronated dumbbell biceps curl is fantastic for leveling up your forearm and biceps gains. This exercise is fantastic for lifters wanting to improve the mass of their forearms while passively improving their grip strength.

Semi Pronated Dumbbell Biceps Curl

  • Step 1: Stand with dumbbells in each hand by the side of the body. Semi-pronate the hands so the knuckles are facing upwards at a diagonal angle.
  • Step 2: Start curling keeping your elbows and grip fixed. You want to maintain this semi-pronated position.
  • Step 3: Squeeze the biceps at the top of your curl.
  • Step 4: Lower the dumbbells keeping the elbows and your grip relatively fixed. If your forearms are burning, then you’re doing these correctly.

Austin’s Favorite Biceps Training Tips

Tip 1: Train With Different Rep Ranges

Don’t get stuck in what me and Austin call, “The classic 8-10 mindset,” AKA only hitting biceps exercises for 8-10 reps. Treat your biceps and their respective exercises like your squat, deadlift, and every other exercise you vary with rep ranges.

It can be incredibly productive to train the biceps with low, moderate, and high rep sets and rotate through rep schemes based on different training blocks. For example, your training blocks could look like the following:

  • Block 1 (weeks 1-3): 3 x 10-12
    • Keep effort high through each week. I like to do ascending load sets at this rep range and start around 7/10 effort then work up to a top set at 9 or 10/10 effort.
  • Block 2 (weeks 4-6): 3 x 6-8
    • Keep effort high through each week. I like to do ascending load sets at this rep range and start around 7/10 effort then work up to a top set at 9 or 10/10 effort.
  • Block 3 (weeks 7-9): 4 x 4-6
    • Keep effort high through each week. I like to keep all of these sets higher regarding the intensity used. Maintain 8 or 9/10 effort throughout all four sets.

Tip 2: Control Your Reps

This tip is simple, don’t rush your reps.

Tempo can be an incredible tool when trying to ensure you’re creating a high stimulus on the biceps and keeping mechanical time under tension high. Start with trying out reps performed with a 2-second concentric and 3-4-second eccentric.

Outside of driving your time under mechanical tension high, tempo can also be useful for helping you to focus on your reps and how they’re performing them.

For example, tempo can help you stay stricter on lower effort sets, and then as effort goes higher, you can drop the tempo to finish reps and keep your intensity high. This can also be fun to give you a nice range of stimuli throughout sets. It’s okay to not be crazy strict all of the time.

Don’t forget to keep your effort high. Intensity paired with consistency can make a huge difference in overall biceps gains!

Takeaways Points

If you want fuller biceps, train them through different ranges of motion. This can be useful for everyone, whether you’re a seasoned recreational lifter, beginner, or sports athlete.

As you gain more experience and exposure to different biceps exercises it’s normal to find ranges of motion that you’re stronger and weaker in. It can generally be a good idea to shift the biceps exercises used in your training blocks based on where you’re strongest and weakest.

This will give you variety, keep your training fun, and help you make sure you’re covering all of your bases while building healthier joints.

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *