6 Best Dumbbell Bicep Exercises For Growth And Strength


How can you work out your biceps with a set of dumbbells and limited other equipment? Here are the six best exercises and how you can do them. At the bottom of this article you can also find some tips on how to optimize biceps growth.

In the list below you can find the exercises that really target the biceps. They are mostly isolation exercises that don’t involve much of the rest of the body. Most pulling exercises like pull-ups and rows also use the biceps. However, those exercises are usually not targeting the biceps enough to really get them to grow. For overall strength those exercises are much better though. 

These are the movements that target different parts of the biceps/front of the arms to get your biceps to grow but also make them stronger.

1. Incline Dumbbell Curl

In my opinion, the incline dumbbell curl is the best dumbbell exercise you can do for your biceps. 

For this one, you’ll need an adjustable weightlifting bench. Any gym will have them and if you’re working out at home and don’t have one, consider getting one. They’re not very expensive and increase the amount of exercises you can do dramatically. 

The incline curl has you lay down on a bench with the backrest on an incline. The arms hang down. That means there is a stretch on the long head of the biceps in the starting position which normal curls don’t have. The long head runs over the shoulder which is why it gets stretched. When you contract a muscle from a stretch, it has been shown that you can contract that muscle with more force. That means more strength and size gains. 

Also, the bench stabilizes the body which takes some chance to ‘cheat’ out of the movement. With a standing curl, you can throw your body around a little bit to get the weight to move easier. 

For those reasons, the incline dumbbell curl is a great exercise and in my opinion better than the standing dumbbell curl. 

How To Do It:

  • Set the backrest of a bench to a roughly 60 degree angle. 
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells
  • Lay down on the bench. Put your feet flat on the floor, about shoulder width apart.
  • Let the dumbbells hang straight down, arms straight, hands in neutral position. (Neutral position means the heads of the dumbbell are pointing to the front and rear, not side to side)
  • Curl the dumbbells. Either do normal or hammer style. (Normal means twisting the lower arm at the top so the dumbbells point side to side, hammer means keeping the lower arm in the same position.)
  • Make sure to keep your upper body and elbows in the same position. 

You can do this curl in the ‘normal’ way or do hammer style. Either way, doing the incline curl has the same benefits over standing curls. 

2. Dumbbell Bicep Curl

The standard dumbbell bicep curl is the standard exercise everyone goes to for bigger biceps. And while it’s not the end all and be all, it’s a very good exercise for most peoples purposes. 

The standard dumbbell bicep curl is easy to explain and do and it puts a focus on the long head which creates that height on the bicep. That’s the look people want from their bicep so that’s what they train. For that reason it’s a great starting place for bigger and stronger biceps. 

The benefit of the standing bicep curl over a seated or incline curl is that you stand on your feet. This requires you to stabilize your whole body and integrates your biceps strength into your whole physique. 

Also, the chance for ‘cheating’ on the exercise is both a pro and a con. Most of the time, it’s better to be very strict with your movements because you want to actually train the muscle you’re targeting and not another one. However, with the standing curl, it’s quite easy to throw your body in a way that helps move and curl the weight. Throughout most of your sets and reps, that’s not a good thing. However, this can be useful to get out a few extra repetitions at the end when you can’t lift the weight with strict form anymore. You can throw the weight up and carefully lower it down for a really good eccentric stretch. 

How To Do It:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells 
  • Stand up straight, feet shoulder width apart
  • Hold the dumbbells next to your body with the hands in a neutral position.
  • Brace the core and squeeze the glutes. Keep the shoulders pinned down and back. 
  • Curl the dumbbell on one side. 
  • Keep the elbow in the same place close to the body while curling.
  • During the curl, twist the dumbbells a bit more than a quarter rotation
  • At the top of the curl, pull your pinky towards your body a bit further than your thumb.
  • Slowly return to the starting position. 

3. Dumbbell Hammer Curl

This is a common modification of the normal curl and that’s for a very good reason. The hammer curl is an exercise that targets the short head of the biceps more where the normal curl targets the long head more. It’s a very simple change to make from the normal curl so you should definitely be doing both. 

The setup and exercise is very similar to the normal curl. The only change you make is that you don’t twist your lower arms throughout the curl. At the lowest position, your hands are in a neutral position which means the dumbbells are perpendicular to the body. Now you curl the dumbbells and keep your hands in that same neutral position. In the top position the dumbbell heads point forward and backward instead of side to side. 

How To Do It:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells 
  • Stand up straight, feet shoulder width apart
  • Hold the dumbbells next to your body with the hands in a neutral position.
  • Brace the core and squeeze the glutes. Keep the shoulders pinned down and back. 
  • Curl the dumbbell on one side. 
  • Keep the elbow in the same place close to the body while curling.
  • Keep the hands in the same neutral position throughout the repetition. 
  • Slowly return to the starting position. 

4. Dumbbell Reverse Curl

The reverse curl is a variation many people forget. If you care about complete arm development, you really should do this exercise though. While it does target the biceps a little bit, the important part here is that it really targets the Brachii and Brachialis much harder than the normal curls. For that reason some form of reverse curl deserves a spot in your routine. 

You’ll see the biggest results in the lower arms but a part of the Brachii is in the upper arm as well. Overall, it results in bigger looking arms. Don’t underestimate how important the lower arms are for looks but also strength. 

How To Do It:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells. (You’ll likely have to go a bit lighter than with normal curls.)
  • Stand up straight, feet shoulder width apart
  • Let the arms hang down straight with the dumbbells next to the body. 
  • Twist your hands so the knuckles are pointing forward. 
  • Brace the core and squeeze the glutes. Keep the shoulders pinned down and back.
  • Curl the dumbbells while keeping the hands with the knuckles forward/up. 
  • Keep the elbow in the same place close to the body while curling.
  • Slowly return to the starting position. 

You can either curl the dumbbells up in a straight line or move the hands slightly inwards across the body. Just make sure you keep the elbows in the same position. 

5. Dumbbell Concentration Curl

This movement goes by a few different names and you can do it in a few different ways. If you have a preacher curl bench, that is the better option but if you don’t have that bench, using your knee will work fine. 

With the concentration curl, you place the elbow on the inside of the knee. This fixes the elbow in place unlike the normal curl where the elbow is ‘free’. Keeping the elbow in place means you can really concentrate on contracting the biceps, hence the name. It also takes any ‘cheating’ out of the movement. Your biceps has to move it and the other muscles are taken out. 

If you’ve never tried this, you might be surprised that your biceps are actually weaker than you thought. In the long term, it will help you get a better mind muscle connection. Also, the concentration curl tends to keep more tension on the biceps throughout the set which leads to more hypertrophy. 

How To Do It:

  • Sit down on a bench or stool. It should be low enough that there is a good bend in the knees. Around 90 degrees is ideal. 
  • Spread your legs apart a good amount and put the feet flat on the floor.
  • Grab one dumbbell
  • Place the elbow of the arm holding the dumbbell on the inside of the thigh, just a little up from the knee.
  • Extend the elbow. 
  • Curl the dumbbell towards the shoulder.
  • Slowly lower it down until the elbow is fully extended again. 

6. Prone Incline Spider Curl

This is a funny looking exercise that has you belly down on an incline bench with your legs straddling it. 

The main benefit of the spider curl is that you have a full range of motion and constant tension on the muscles. It also mainly targets the long head of the biceps which is often neglected. And it’s being hit from a different angle which provides the body with a different training impulse. 

It’s not an exercise that a beginner should/has to do. It’s a good alternate exercise that you can switch out later on if you want to try something new. 

How To Do It:

  • Set an adjustable bench to a roughly 60 degree angle. 
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells
  • Lay belly down on the bench with the head and neck above the backrest
  • Let the arms hang straight down.
  • Twist the dumbbells so your knuckles face backwards
  • Curl the dumbbells towards the shoulders.
  • Make sure to keep the chest in contact with the backrest all the time throughout the set. 
  • Make sure to keep the elbows in the same position. 
  • Slowly extend the elbows until the hands are back in the starting position. 

Are Dumbbells Enough To Build Big Biceps?

Dumbbells are probably the best tool to build biceps. Dumbbells move separately from each other so the muscles of each arm have to lift the weight by themselves. They are easy to hold and use as well. As long as you get the training and recovery part right, the biceps will grow just using dumbbells. 

However, it is important to have a range of weights for the dumbbells. You want the resistance on every exercise to be optimal and if you only have one or two sets, you probably can’t get that on every exercise. 

The dumbbell weight you use should be heavy enough that you can JUST finish all the reps and sets with maybe a few reps left in the tank. It’s not necessary to go to failure every time but you should get close. 

For size, doing higher repetition sets (and thus with lighter weights) while for strength you should use lower reps but with higher weight. For biceps growth, use at least 12 repetition sets but more (up to 25) is possible. In general the higher repetition sets you do, the more you focus on hypertrophy (muscle growth) and less on strength. That’s why most people use 8-12 repetition sets. It’s a sweet spot between strength and size but if you want to focus on one over the other, you can adjust the amount of repetitions. As long as you also adjust the weights of course. 

How To Optimize Biceps Growth

Doing the right exercises is a great start but there are some other things to keep in mind as to optimize biceps growth. Here are the four most important ones. 

1. Train All The Muscles 

As you might have noticed, there are actually different muscles in the biceps area. It’s not just one muscle. And if you want to optimize growth, targeting all the different muscles in their own way is important. Different types of curls focus on different muscles. So if you always only do standing bicep curls, some of those muscles will be underdeveloped and you don’t have the size you actually could. 

2. Good Form

Using good form makes a difference. It means you’re using the muscles you intended to train. If you see people curling very heavy weights they clearly can’t handle and they’re moving them with their hips and bodies instead of biceps, do you think that is very effective? Not really, you only increase the injury risk because your body isn’t adapted to those weights but you don’t get any more biceps growth/strength gains because you aren’t actually using the biceps to move all that weight. 

Use weights that are light enough so you can end the set with proper form. The weight might be lighter but you’re actually doing everything with the biceps so they get hit just as hard or very likely harder than if you use a weight that’s too heavy. 

You can also film yourself during a workout and watch it back later. You might be able to see some things that go wrong with the form and correct it. 

3. Exercise Variety

Using different exercises doesn’t only target the different muscles in the biceps area, they also provide different training impulses and target the muscles from different angles. This helps provide different training impulses that help build muscle and strength faster.

Of course you don’t have to use completely different exercises every workout. Just cycling through exercises every few weeks/months is a good idea. Doing the same exercises every workout has it’s benefits. Mainly; you can use a linear progression and increase weight/reps/sets every workout and it’s easy to track. Your body also becomes better at the movements. So using the same workout for x amount of weeks and then changing it up provides a good balance. 

4. Recovery

While the biceps aren’t the biggest muscles and don’t take up too much recovery capacity, they’re probably not the only muscle you train. Your overall recovery has to be taken into account. Eating the correct amount of calories, macronutrients and micronutrients is very important for recovery as is sleep. Other things like supplements, sauna and massages can make a small impact. 

Take care of yourself and your body and muscle will grow faster/stronger if combined with proper training. Training is just one part of the puzzle. Recovery is an important other part. 

Matt

Hey, I'm Matt. Welcome to HomeGymResource.com. I've been going to the gym for about 15 years and am now looking to build my own. In the process I've learned many things I'd like to share with you.

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