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2 Effective Dumbbell Bicep Workouts to get Large Muscular Arms

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What are Your Biceps? How do They Function? 

Ah, biceps – one of the most desired muscle groups in existence. Next to an armor plate chest and washboard abs, building a set of cannonball biceps is a goal of many trainees. But despite the muscle’s seemingly simple appearance, optimized training is a bit more complex than, “Just do a bunch of curls.”

Situated on the front side of the upper arm is the bicep, which produces elbow flexion (bending the arm). For example, if you grab a dumbbell and curl it, your bicep will do most of the work (1). The bicep also assists with wrist supination (rotating your wrist out and having your palm facing the ceiling), which you can add near the top of a bicep curl.

As its name suggests, the bicep has two heads – the long outer and short inner. Both heads originate from the scapula, cross the shoulder joint, and insert into the elbow and forearm. Because of their origin point, our shoulder position influences the bicep (2). For instance, bringing your arm back lengthens the bicep, leading to a better stretch. The bicep muscle group is also home to the brachialis – an independent muscle that assists with elbow flexion (3). The brachialis is relatively large but is situated underneath our biceps, which is why we can’t typically see it. The muscle is primarily visible on the outer side of the arm (between the bicep and tricep) when the person is relatively lean.

A pair of solid biceps is beneficial because the muscle group plays an essential role in elbow flexion. Most notably, this means we can curl more weight, allowing us to grow more and do more pull-ups. For instance, in one paper, researchers found that pre-exhausting the bicep resulted in significantly fewer repetitions in a pulldown exercise (4). Pre-exhaustion is about tiring out a muscle group before immediately jumping into another exercise. So, it’s logical to assume that the bicep plays a vital role in back training. We often see workouts that cover both the back and biceps because they work together in many pulling movements.

Beyond that, building our biceps is incredibly beneficial for visual reasons. Though marginally smaller than the tricep, the bicep contributes to the overall arm size and looks great when developed. Dumbbells are a fantastic choice of bicep training equipment because of their immense versatility. We can pick from numerous loads, do many unique exercises, vary the angle of attack, and manipulate the range of motion to some degree.

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How to Get Bigger Biceps: 4 Proven Tactics

1. Warm-Up

Warming up well is essential because it primes you for physical work, reduces the risk of an injury, and optimizes your performance (5). As little as five minutes of low-intensity cardio and dynamic stretching can be enough. After that, do some lighter sets to warm up your biceps and begin your working sets.

2. Train with a Full Range of Motion

Training your biceps with a full range of motion allows you to stretch and shorten the muscles as best as you can. Plus, it will enable you to get more out of each repetition. So, make sure to extend your elbows fully and bend them slightly beyond 90 degrees on each repetition.

3. Avoid Using Momentum

Momentum might seem like a great idea because it allows us to lift more weight. But swinging the weight up and down takes the tension away from the bicep, which defeats the purpose of bicep training. Instead, you should move the weight slowly and control it at all times.

4. Add Variety To Your Training

You can achieve decent results with a single type of curl. But, like most other muscles, the biceps also benefit from a varied approach. So, include different types of curls, and don’t be afraid to change things up periodically. Variety will keep your training fun and allow you to stimulate your biceps optimally.

12 Best Dumbbell Exercises to Build Powerhouse Biceps 

Exercise 1: Hammer Curls

The hammer curl is a neat bicep exercise that overloads the muscle group with more weight and involves the forearm.

man hammer curl dumbbell

Muscle groups: Biceps and Forearms
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells, position your arms to your sides, have your palms face your thighs, and stand tall.
  • Bring your chest out, squeeze your glutes, and take a breath.
  • In one motion, curl both dumbbells up while keeping your elbows anchored to your sides.
  • Lift the weights until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows, and hold the contraction for a moment.
  • Lower both dumbbells to the starting position, making sure to extend your elbows fully. Exhale on the way down.

Exercise 2: Spider Curls

The spider curl is a fun and challenging movement you can add to your arsenal to force new bicep growth and check your ego at the door.

Muscle groups: Biceps
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells and Adjustable Gym Bench

Step by Step Instructions:

  • Set a gym bench at an incline of roughly 45 degrees.
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and carefully position yourself on the bench with your stomach against it.
  • Plant the balls of your feet firmly on the floor. Your stomach and chest should be against the bench.
  • Allow your arms to hang directly down with your elbows fully extended and palms facing forward.
  • Engage your abs, bring your shoulders back, and squeeze your glutes.
  • Take a breath and curl both weights up until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows.
  • Lower the weights while keeping your elbows steady and exhale on the way down.

Note: It can be tricky to set yourself up. If the above recommendations don’t work for you, have a friend hand you the dumbbells once you’ve set yourself up.

Exercise 3: Dumbbell Bicep Curls

The classic bicep curl is among the most uncomplicated movements you can use to build a pair of impressive biceps.

man bicep curl dumbbell

Muscle groups: Biceps
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells, have your arms to your sides with palms facing your thighs, and extend your elbows fully.
  • Bring your shoulders back and squeeze your glutes.
  • Take a breath and curl both weights up. As the dumbbells are halfway up, begin to rotate your wrists out, which will allow for your palms to face the ceiling at the top of the curl.
  • Lift the weights until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows, hold the top position, and slowly lower them back to the bottom.
  • As you lower the weights, rotate your wrists inwards so your palms face your thighs at the bottom.
  • Exhale on the way down.

Note: Similar to hammer curls; you can do these standing or seated – whichever you prefer.

Exercise 4: Alternating Bicep Curls

Similar to classic curls, this variation is also excellent for bicep growth. But, thanks to the slight pauses between repetitions, your biceps get to rest for a bit, which can lead to more total repetitions.

Muscle groups: Biceps
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells, stand tall, and have your arms to your sides with palms facing your thighs.
  • Bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, squeeze your glutes, and take a breath.
  • Curl the right dumbbell up. As you’re halfway up, rotate your wrist in so your palm faces up at the top.
  • Raise the dumbbell until your wrist is slightly higher than your elbow and hold for a moment. Exhale at the top.
  • Begin to lower the dumbbell, rotating your wrist back to a neutral position.
  • As you near the bottom, take another breath and curl the left dumbbell in the same fashion.
  • Keep alternating between left and right until you’re finished.

Exercise 5: Incline Bench Curls

The incline bench curl effectively trains the bicep through a significant range of motion and prevents momentum.

Muscle groups: Biceps
Equipment: Adjustable Bench and Pair of Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Adjust the bench at an incline of around 60 degrees (almost upright).
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells, sit at the base of the bench, and lie back.
  • Have your arms to your sides and hanging down with your wrists pointing in.
  • Bring your shoulders back and legs close. Engage your abs, and take a breath.
  • Curl both dumbbells until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows.
  • As the dumbbells travel up, begin to rotate your wrists out, so your palms face up at the top.
  • Lower the dumbbells to the starting position as you rotate your wrists in, having them in a neutral position at the bottom.

Exercise 6: Spider Hammer Curl

The spider hammer curl is one of the best exercises for preventing ego lifting and forces your biceps to work hard on each repetition.

Muscle groups: Biceps and Forearms
Equipment: Adjustable Bench and Pair of Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Set an adjustable bench at roughly 45 degrees.
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and position yourself against the bench with your stomach facing it.
  • Your stomach and chest should be flat against the bench and have the balls of your feet planted on the floor.
  • Have your arms hang straight down with elbows extended and palms facing in.
  • Squeeze your glutes, engage your abs, and take a breath.
  • Curl both dumbbells up until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows. Don’t rotate your wrists throughout the repetition.
  • Hold the top position for a moment and lower the dumbbells slowly, exhaling on the way down.

Exercise 7: Concentration Curls

The concentration curl is a valuable and straightforward movement you can use to isolate your biceps well and prevent your shoulders from engaging.

Muscle groups: Biceps
Equipment: Dumbbell and something to sit on

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Grab a dumbbell and sit on a stool or gym bench.
  • Spread your legs apart and have your feet flat on the floor.
  • With the dumbbell in your right arm, place your right elbow against the inner side of the thigh. Your arm should be straight and in a vertical position, with the elbow directly under the shoulder.
  • Take a breath and curl the dumbbell until your wrist is slightly higher than your elbow.
  • Hold the top position for a moment and lower the dumbbell, fully extending your arm and exhaling at the bottom.
  • Once finished with the right bicep, grab the dumbbell with your other hand, and repeat for the same number of repetitions.

Exercise 8: Preacher Curls

Anchoring your triceps against a preacher bench takes every muscle out of the equation and forces your biceps to do all the work.

Muscle groups: Biceps
Equipment: Dumbbell and Preacher Bench

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Adjust the preacher bench seat. As you sit down, you should be able to have your arm over the pad comfortably.
  • Grab a single dumbbell, sit down, and place the back of your upper arm against the pad.
  • Engage your abs and take a breath.
  • Lower the dumbbell until your elbow is almost entirely straight.
  • Curl the weight up until the angle of your elbow is slightly past 90 degrees. Exhale near the top.
  • Once finished with one side, grab the weight with your other hand, and do the same number of repetitions.

Exercise 9: Seated Hammer Curl

Seated hammer curls are fantastic for overloading your biceps and forearms with more weight. But, because you’re seated, the risk of swinging the weight and using momentum is minor.

Muscle groups: Biceps and Forearms
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells and Gym Bench or something else to sit on

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit at the base of a flat gym bench.
  • Have your arms to your sides with elbows straight and wrists pointing in.
  • Bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, and take a breath.
  • Curl both dumbbells up until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows.
  • Hold the top position and lower the dumbbells, fully extending your elbows and exhaling.

Exercise 10: Reverse-Grip Curls

The reverse-grip curl is good for bicep growth, but it does a better job of emphasizing your forearm muscles (6).

man reverse bicep curl dumbbell

Muscle groups: Forearms and Biceps
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand tall.
  • Position your arms to your sides with elbows extended and wrists pointing forward.
  • Bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, and take a breath.
  • Curl both dumbbells up without rotating your wrists.
  • Raise the weights until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows and hold for a moment.
  • Lower the weights, making sure to extend your elbows and exhale.

Exercise 11: Seated Dumbbell Bicep Curl

Similar to standing curls, the seated variation is fantastic for building up your biceps. The advantage here is that you can’t use as much momentum, which will force your biceps to work harder.

Muscle groups: Biceps
Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells and Gym Bench or something else to sit on

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit at the base of a flat gym bench.
  • Have your arms to your sides with elbows extended and wrists pointing in (neutral grip).
  • Bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, and take a breath.
  • Curl both dumbbells up. As you’re halfway up, begin to rotate your wrists out, so your palms face forward at the top of the repetition.
  • Lift the dumbbells until your wrists are slightly higher than your elbows, and hold the top position for a moment.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells, rotating your wrists back to a neutral position and exhaling.

Exercise 12: Hammer Curl Across The Chest

The curl across the chest is a neat variation of the classic movement. The main difference is that this variation places more emphasis on the long bicep head.

Muscle groups: Biceps and Forearms

Equipment: Pair of Dumbbells

Step by Step Instructions: 

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand tall.
  • Straighten your arms and position them to your sides with wrists pointing in.
  • Bring your shoulders back, engage your abs, and take a breath.
  • Curl one dumbbell up and in, so it travels in front of your chest as opposed to straight ahead.
  • Raise the weight until your wrist is slightly higher than your elbow and hold the top position for a moment.
  • Lower the dumbbell, extend your elbow fully, and exhale.
  • As the dumbbell is near the bottom, immediately begin to curl the other weight in the same way.
  • Alternate between left and right until you finish the set.

2 Dumbbell Bicep Workouts 

Workout 1: 

Workout 1 is straightforward: you have three movements in a reverse-pyramid formation. The workout begins with heavier dumbbells and gradually moves to lighter weights for more repetitions. Reverse-pyramid works great because it allows you to cause significant mechanical tension early on, then move on to metabolic stress (7). All three movements do a great job of training the bicep. The first and last exercises put greater emphasis on the forearms, resulting in better overall arm development.

  • Hammer Curls – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
  • Incline Bench Curl – 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps
  • Reverse-Grip Curl – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

Workout 2: 

Though a bit different from the first workout, this one is similar in some ways. For one, you get to do the same amount of work: three exercises for nine total sets. You also take advantage of a reverse-pyramid formation, where you begin with slightly heavier weights and progressively increase the repetition range. 

These three movements work great because they complement each other. First, we have a classic movement that emphasizes your biceps. Then, we move to an exercise that also involves our forearms. Finally, we have a fantastic isolation movement that takes the momentum out of the equation, forces our biceps to work extra hard, and burns them out.

  • Dumbbell Bicep Curl – 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps
  • Spider Hammer Curls – 3 sets of 12 to 20 reps
  • Preacher Curl – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

These biceps workouts can be added to any workout plan, such as the 5 day split or upper/lower split program.

Conclusion 

Let’s do a quick recap of the main points before moving to the Q&A section:

  • The bicep is a two-headed muscle responsible for elbow flexion and wrist supination (1).
  • Since the bicep crosses the shoulder joint, our arm position influences the muscle (2). Meaning, that different exercises cause unique types of stress to the muscle.
  • Four of the best things you can do to improve your results are to warm up well, train through a full range of motion, avoid using momentum and do multiple exercises.
  • As you saw, there are plenty of great bicep exercises you can do, even if you have nothing but a pair of dumbbells.

Find more bicep exercises on Hevy workout tracker or create your own custom exercises.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own dumbbell biceps workout with Hevy, and track your progress – for free

Frequently Asked Questions 

What to avoid when doing a dumbbell bicep workout? 

You should mostly avoid using momentum and swinging the weights up and down. Remember, the goal is optimal muscle activation, which means focusing on the bicep and forcing it to do all the work.

How often should I work out my biceps? 

Our biceps are relatively small muscles, which means they tend to recover quickly. Two weekly sessions should be the sweet spot for most people.

Why are dumbbells a valuable tool for biceps workouts? 

Dumbbells are fantastic for bicep training because of their versatility. You can adjust the load across different exercises, choose between many great activities, and train your biceps through a fantastic range of motion.

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