The Best Way to Work Your Biceps

Show Us Your Guns!

Woman doing biceps curls
Getty Images/John Fedele

Whenever I think of the biceps, I think of Tony Horton shouting, "Welcome to the gun show!" on one of his P90X Videos while making a muscle.  If you don't know who Tony is, you at least know what guns are - Those muscles in the front of your arm that do so much for you all day long.  Because they work hard, show them a little love by learning more about what your biceps do and how to work them more effectively.


All About Your Biceps


The biceps, the muscles that run from the front of the shoulders to your elbow, are actually made up of two parts:  A long head and a short head, although both are activated during bicep exercises. The biceps are responsible for elbow flexion, like when you curl your arm up and down, forearm supination (turning your arm in and out) and are also involved in shoulder flexion to a small degree.


Why Should You Work Your Biceps?


Aside from looking great in sleeveless shirts, your biceps are involved in hundres upper body activities you do each day like:

  • Picking up and carrying groceries
  • Pulling the handle on your car door to open it
  • Pulling on your dog's leash so he doesn't run hell for leather after a squirrel
  • Vacuuming
  • Drinking - Every time you take a drink of water (or beer, whatever), your biceps are working.  No, that doesn't take the place of doing that movement with dumbbells.  Sorry.

    The point is, you use your biceps all day, every day and they work a lot better when they're stronger.  Also, they look better when they're stronger, thus creating your own little gun show.

    You also need to work your biceps as part of a well-rounded strength routine.  You know this, but you should work all of your muscle groups, even the ones you don't necessarily care about.

      Keep in mind that your biceps muscles are fairly small, at least in comparison to other muscles like your chest and back, so you'll use a lighter weight.

    Another point - Your biceps also work when you work your back, so they might be fatigued if you work your back before your biceps. 


    How Often Should You Train Your Biceps?


    In general:

    • Work your biceps up to 3 non-consecutive days a week.  That means you want at least a day of rest between biceps workouts unless you're using really light weights.
    • If you're lifting heavy weights, (enough that you can only complete six to eight repetitions) you may need at least two days of rest before you perform the exercise again.
    • If you're goal is endurance/lean muscle, stick with one to three sets of 12-16 repetitions and at least one day of rest before you perform the exercises again.


    What Exercises Should You Do?


    Most bicep exercises are called 'pulling' exercises and generally involve curling your hand towards your shoulders as in bicep curls, but you want to include a variety of exercises that work your biceps in different ways.

    Your best bet is to choose 3-4 different biceps exercises, doing each for about 3 sets of 12 reps.  You can also do more of a circuit, doing one biceps exercise right after the other with no rest. You'll really feel the burn.

    Sample Biceps Workout #1

    1. Biceps Curls with Dumbbells - Don't be afraid to lift heavy here, enough that you can only do 12 reps.
    2. Preacher Curls on the Ball - Now you'll hit the muscles differently by putting your arms at an angle.  Gravity is not your friend here, so you may need to go lighter.
    3. Hammer Curls - Turning your palms so they face in will activate a bit more forearm.
    4. Reverse Curls - Finish things off with reverse curls which also target the forearms while working your biceps in a whole new way.

    Sample Biceps Workout #2

    1. Barbell Curls - You can usually lift more weight with a bar, so go for it here.
    2. Concentration Curls - Yep, these will fire up every muscle fiber in your biceps.
    3. Incline Curls on the Ball - You're at an angle, so you'll really feel gravity pulling at your biceps.
    4. Resistance Band Curls - Finish off your workout by changing to a resistance band.  It feels like a completely different exercise.

    You can do workout #1 two-three times one week, then switch to #2 for the next week, or you can do them both in the same week.

    More Bicep Exercises

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