man in gym barbell bicep curl best arms exercises

5 best barbell bicep exercises for bigger arms

Add these 5 influential barbell bicep exercises to your training arsenal to win the arms race and build bigger, stronger and more defined biceps, says New Body Plan founder and Men’s Fitness cover model Jon Lipsey

When trying to increase arm size, a lot of guys overlook barbell bicep exercises in favour of the dumbbell bicep curls, dumbbell hammer curls or even Zottman curls.

Don’t get me wrong: using dumbbells is a fine way to add arm size. It’s why I put together a list of the best dumbbell biceps exercises for bigger arms.

But to maximise the size and strength of your arms there are a few key barbell bicep exercises you should include in your training programme. Here’s what you need to know to start building the bigger, stronger and more defined arms you want!

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Should I use a barbell for biceps exercises?

You can use a barbell for biceps exercises. You’ll just need to supplement them with moves that use other tools, such as dumbbells and cables. If you’re a complete beginner, you may be better off starting with dumbbell biceps exercises. Once you build up a bit of strength you can progress to using barbell lifts.

What are the disadvantages of arms training with a barbell?

Because you grip the bar with two hands, you only use one wrist position. The benefit of dumbbells is that you can rotate your wrists and do curls from different angles. The wrist position with a barbell isn’t ideal for everyone. Some people may find that it gives them soreness in the elbow joint. Using unilateral (one-sided) kit, such as dumbbells, also ensures you get balanced growth. When your arms work independently they each have to do the same amount of work.

What are the big barbell bicep exercise mistakes?

Barbells can be heavy: a men’s Olympic bar weighs 20kg. The heavy load makes it tempting to swing the weight to aid movement. But when you do that you take tension off the muscles. So be strict with your form if you want to build bigger biceps.

How should I combine barbell bicep exercises with other biceps moves?

A great way to use barbell bicep exercises with other moves is to do supersets, where you do two exercises back-to-back. An example would be doing a barbell biceps curl in a superset with a dumbbell hammer curl, where your palms are facing inwards. Doing supersets is one of our favourite advanced training tactics for bigger arms.

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The best barbell bicep exercises for bigger arms

1. Standing barbell bicep curl

The best barbell bicep exercise for size and strength

This barbell biceps curl is one of the best exercises for taking advantage of your arm strength. The bar allows you to maximise the weight you can lift. But ensure you select the right weight to lift because you don’t go too heavy. Go as heavy as you can without using upper arm forward movement to power the rep.

How to do the standing barbell bicep curl

• Hold a barbell across the front of your thighs with your hands just wider than thigh-width apart.
• Keeping your upper arms still, curl the barbell up to your shoulders.
• Squeeze the biceps at the top of the rep, lower under control and repeat.

This is one of the best barbell bicep exercises for taking advantage of your arm strength. The bar allows you to maximise the weight you can lift. But don’t go too heavy. Go as heavy as you can without using upper arm forward movement to power the rep.

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2. Standing barbell drag curl

The best barbell bicep exercise for encouraging good technique

The drag curl forces you to focus the effort on the biceps. By eliminating forwards movement of the upper arm, all the work is done by the biceps muscles. You’ll lift less weight than for a standard curl, but you’ll get a great biceps workout.

How to do the standing barbell drag curl

• Start in the same position as a standard barbell curl.
• The difference in movement is that as you bend your elbows you ‘drag’ the bar up your body.
• Keep the bar in contact with the body throughout the rep.
The drag curl forces you to focus the effort on the biceps. By eliminating forwards movement of the upper arm, all the work is done by the biceps muscles. You’ll lift less weigh than a standard curl, but you’ll get a great biceps workout.

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3. Standing barbell reverse curl

The best barbell bicep exercise for building forearm size and strength

This is a great lift for building forearm size and strength. It’s a tough move, so you may struggle to do it with an Olympic bar. Like a normal curl, you want to eliminate upper arm involvement and put it all into the biceps and forearms.

How to do the standing barbell reverse curl

• Hold a barbell across the front of your thighs with an overhand grip.
• Curl the weight up to the top, lower slowly and repeat.

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4. Barbell spider curl

The best barbell exercise for isolating the biceps

This is one of the most challenging barbell bicep exercises you can do. The starting position means that you have to rely exclusively on biceps strength to move the weight. If you’re strict with your upper arm position, you can’t cheat it.

How to do the barbell spider curl

• Set a bench at about a 45-60 degree angle.
• Position yourself so that your chest is supported on the bench.
• Your head should be over the bench with your arms are hanging straight down, holding a barbell.
• Curl the weight up, squeeze at the top, lower and repeat.

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5. Standing barbell 21s

The best barbell biceps exercise for maximising muscular time under tension

This is arguably the king of the barbell bicep exercises. Why? Because the time under tension required to complete 21 reps gives your biceps a real challenge. It’s not one for beginners but it is one to work up to.

How to do the standing barbell 21s

• Start in the standard barbell curl position.
• Curl the bar halfway up before pausing and lowering to the starting position.
• Repeat that half-rep movement seven times.
• On the eighth rep, curl the bar up to the top then lower to the middle.
• Repeat that middle to top half-rep seven times.
• Lower the bar to the start and do seven full barbell biceps curl reps.

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