10 best dumbbell bicep exercises for big and defined arms
The secret to building bigger biceps is to have a range of moves in your training toolkit. You’ll also need to execute them with perfect technique. To help you do that, we’ve complied a list of the 10 best dumbbell bicep exercises that you can do whether you’re training at home or in the gym. Each one features a detailed form guide and an expert insight into how and when to use the move for best results!
Dumbbell bicep exercise tips
Use the tips below and any dumbbell bicep exercise you then do will feel slightly harder. Don’t worry: that’s a good thing! Why? Because you’ll be executing each rep more effectively. In short, you’ll be training smarter. And when you do that, you’ll make much faster progress towards building the bigger arms you want!
Pro tip #1: Squeeze the biceps at the top
Squeeze the biceps muscles hard at the top of the rep to get a “peak contraction”. You can do this for any biceps move and it maximise the quality of the rep.
Pro tip #2: Lower the weight slowly
Don’t just drop the weight. Lower it slowly so that your muscles, rather than gravity, are responsible for moving the weight.
Pro tip #3: Squeeze the triceps at the bottom
Fully extend your arm at the end of each rep and squeeze your triceps muscles. This sends a signal to your brain to start contracting your biceps muscles and improves the quality of contraction.
1. Standing dumbbell biceps curl
Best bicep exercises for beginners
• Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides with your palms facing forwards.
• Keeping your upper arms still, bend at the elbows to curl the weight up to the top.
• Lower under control and repeat the move.
The classic dumbbell biceps curl exercise is a good one to have in your training locker. Most guys probably over-rely on it as a biceps move but that doesn’t mean you have to ditch it. You just need to use other moves on this list too.
2. Alternating dumbbell biceps curl
Best bicep exercises when you’re getting tired
• Use the same start position as a normal biceps curl but only lift one dumbbell at a time.
This is an easier version of the main dumbbell biceps curl move because your muscles get a longer rest between reps. It’s popular is because it allows you to lift a slightly heavier weight than you can do if you curl both dumbbells simultaneously. But that doesn’t necessarily make it better. For most guys, the constant tension of a conventional biceps curl makes that a more effective move. You can switch to the alternate version if you’re struggling to finish a set.
3. Incline dumbbell curl
Best bicep exercises for a greater range of motion
• Set a bench at a 60-75 degree incline.
• Lie back on the bench with your arms hanging straight down, palms facing forwards.
• Curl the weights up to the top, lower and repeat.
This is one of the most accessible and useful dumbbell biceps exercises you can do. It’s so effective because your arms start behind the line of your body. That means you work your muscles through a larger range of motion, which has a positive impact on muscle growth.
4. Standing dumbbell hammer curl
Best bicep exercises for better elbow joint health
• Start in the same position as a biceps curl but with your palms facing inwards.
• Keeping your palms facing inwards, curl the weights up to the top, lower then repeat the move.
The dumbbell hammer curl is an important variation on the classic biceps curl. Why? The internally rotated wrist position makes it slightly kinder on your elbow joints. That makes it a good option for anyone who has experienced elbow niggles in the past.
5. Standing dumbbell Zottman curl
Best bicep exercises for forearm size
• Perform the first half of a normal biceps curl.
• At the top of the rep, rotate your wrists until your palms are facing down.
• Lower the weight and, at the end of the rep, rotate your wrists to return to the start position.
The dumbbell Zottman curl is one of those dumbbell biceps exercises that gives you two hits in one rep. On the way up, you emphasise your biceps. On the way down, you emphasise your forearms. It’s a useful alternative to throw in every now and again. Fun fact: the move was invented by nineteenth century American strongman George Zottman.
6. Standing dumbbell reverse curl
Best bicep exercises for forearm and grip strength
• Stand as if you were going to do a biceps curl but begin with your palms facing your thighs.
• Keeping your upper arms still, bend your elbows to raise the dumbbells with your plans facing down.
• Lower under control and repeat the move.
This move really emphasises your forearms. It does also work your biceps but you’ll find that your forearms will probably fatigue first. It’s a good addition to ensure that you get balanced muscle growth. You don’t want to build big biceps and have skinny forearms.
7. Dumbbell spider curl
Best bicep exercises for improving technique
• Set a bench at about 45 degree and lie on it chest down with your head over the top of the bench.
• Let your arms hang straight down then curl the weights up, taking care not to swing your upper arms forwards.
This is a deceptively tough exercise. If you do it properly it really isolates the biceps because you have nothing to push off and cheat to get you going. You’re also starting the rep from a slightly weaker position than a conventional biceps curl. It may not be easy but moves that are tricky to do also tend to be the ones that make a difference.
8. Dumbbell preacher curl
Best bicep exercises for isolating the biceps
• Position yourself on a preacher curl bench with your upper arms on the pad and a dumbbell in each hand.
• Curl the weights up to the top, lower under control and repeat.
This is good for isolating the biceps. Because your upper arms are in a fixed position, they can’t move forwards to assist the move. That means you know it’s all biceps and no front shoulders or momentum.
9. Preacher dumbbell hammer curl
Best bicep move alternative to the preacher curl
• This is the same as the exercise above but you hold the dumbbells with your palms facing each other in a neutral grip.
This gives you a similar training effect to a normal dumbbell preacher curl. Like a standard hammer curl, it’ kinder on the elbows, which can be stressed by preacher bench exercises.
10. Standing dumbbell 21s
Best bicep move for maximising time under tension
• Start as if you were going to do a biceps curl.
• Curl the weights halfway up before pausing and lowering to the start.
• Repeat that half rep seven times.
• On the next rep, curl the weights up to the top and lower to the middle.
• Repeat the middle to top portion of the rep seven times then lower back to the start and do seven full biceps curl reps.
This is one of the most effective dumbbell biceps exercises you can do. The time under tension is significant, and that will help you build bigger biceps. It also requires you to be in complete control of the movement. When you do that, you tend to get a better mind-to-muscle connection and a better outcome.
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