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Bicep workouts promise to define and strengthen your upper body - 6 that PTs do themselves

Don't neglect upper body strength


By Chloe Gray, 18th January 2024


Bicep workouts might sound like something reserved for bros at the gym, but trust us when we say: everyone should be adding bicep exercises into their strength training. 


A bit of background for you, first. Your biceps run down the front of your upper arm, on the opposite side to your triceps, and are mainly used to support your back muscles in "pulling" motions. In short, if you want to achieve a pull-up, tone your arms, or be able to open jars with ease, then building up your biceps can help. 


Working on your bicep strength is about far more than just aesthetic, with one  International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy study concluding that we're twice as strong at pushing as we are at pulling and highlighting how key bicep strength is for preventing injuries in everyday life, too.


In short, a bit like the best arm workouts, bicep workouts promise to boost your strength, tone, and muscle, too. New to working out and feel intimidated by the thought of heading to the gym? PT's assure that home arm workouts for beginners and arm workouts without weights promise to be just as effective as utilising the free weights at your local gym.


Similarly, tricep workouts are key for boosting shoulder health, strength, movement, and stability, solidifying the case for making upper-body sessions part of your weekly workouts.


Why should you listen to me? I'm Chloe Gray, a Health and Fitness Editor and qualified fitness instructor who teaches in-studio and chats to industry experts day in, day out. I've seen first hand how much of a difference bicep exercises make, not only because they build all over upper body strength that can help you break through a PB, but because they teach you how to move slowly and with control while maintaining mind-to-muscle connection. 


Keen to give them a go? Best home arm workouts, at the ready. Don't miss our PT-approved guides to the best shoulder workouts and how to get toned arms, while you're here. 


These are the best bicep workouts you can try, according to a top PT


WHY ARE STRONG BICEPS IMPORTANT?


"Biceps are fundamental muscles that contribute to your overall upper body strength," agrees personal trainer Nancy Best, founder of Ladies Who Crunch. "Building functional strength is all about replicating how you use your bodies in daily life. Whether you're pulling a heavy suitcase or carrying your shopping, upper body strength is fundamental."


She adds: "The more your body builds stability and power in functional movements, the more you minimise your chances of injury. Your bicep muscles are specifically important for supporting the flexion of our elbows and supination of our forearms." 



WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF DOING BICEP WORKOUTS?


Short answer: there are loads, and they're not just aesthetic. "Targeting your biceps with specific exercises like curls and focusing on progressive overload will help to grow the muscle fibres over time. Biceps are important in all upper body movement patterns, so the stronger we can make those muscles, the more stable and powerful we will feel when training our upper body," says Best.


Studies show that strong biceps can even help your running - a small 2021 study from the American Journal of Physical Anthropology found that running fired up the neuromechanical link between the brain and the arms, and suggested that the stronger that connection the better your running. That means working the area with a mind-to-muscle connection (a psychological side to working out which requires noticing each rep). 


Upper-body strength is also considered an indicator of overall health, with many studies using grip strength - which measures the force applied from your arms - as a predictor of mortality. And one study, published in JAMA, reported that men who couldn't complete ten push-ups were more likely to have a cardiovascular event. 


WHAT MOVES ARE INCLUDED IN BICEP WORKOUTS?


While there are loads of arm-focused moves to try, some of the best include:


  • Bicep curl

  • Barbell curl

  • Hammer curl

  • Pull-up

  • Overhead press

  • Inverted row

  • Bent over row.

DO YOU HAVE TO USE EQUIPMENT TO BUILD STRONG BICEPS?

The classic dumbbell curl tends to be associated with bicep strength - but do you need kit? "Resistance is key to building strength, so I would recommend using dumbbells as a priority," says Best. But don't fret if you can't purchase some weights right now. "Resistance bands are also a brilliant way to introduce resistance if you’re a beginner."


Do note, though: it’s important to continue to challenge your body with increased load if you want to keep seeing progress, so you’ll need to swap to dumbbells eventually, the PT adds.


Note, also: it's harder to lift heavy with our upper body than our lower body - something to bear in mind when opting for kit. If you are building your biceps using compound exercises - those that recruit a lot of different muscles - and upper-body pulling exercises such as rows, you can go heavier too. For isolation exercises that target your biceps alone, start training with around 3kg weights, then increase around 1kg at a time as you get stronger.


6 best bicep workouts to try now


1. SHY GIRL ARM WORKOUT BY CATHERINE JUNE


What? The "shy girl" angle simply refers to a workout move that you can do in the corner of the gym or from home - wherever you feel the most comfortable. Grab some dumbbells and get lifting. 


Why? Using dumbbells only, you'll work your biceps and their antagonistic muscle, the triceps, for total arm strength.


How long? Aim for three to four reps of ten to twelve sets.


2. KRISSY CELA'S UPPER BODY WORKOUT


What? A full upper-body workout that includes loads of pull movements, including pull-ups, rows and curls. 


Why? This workout is perfect for the more advanced lifter who wants to factor bicep-targeting strength into their routine while still working on compound exercises. 


How long? Ten to fifteen minutes.


3. BICEPS WORKOUT BY CARLY NEWSON


What? A bicep-isolation workout with five curl variations. 


Why? If you're bored of a classic curl, try these moves. By pulling the dumbbell at different angles you'll work different parts of the bicep for all-over strength. 


How long? Ten to fifteen minutes.


4. BANDED ARM WORKOUT BY BRITANY WILLIAMS


What? A banded biceps workout that proves you don't need heavy weights for aching muscles.


Why? A great workout for beginners or to follow when travelling - the higher rep range will work your biceps with bands alone. 


How long? Aim for ten to fifteen minutes.


5. 20-MINUTE BICEP DUMBBELL WORKOUT BY CAROLINE GIRVAN


What? A 20-minute bicep isolation workout. 


Why? This specifically targets bicep strength, so if you want to get acquainted with the muscle, start here. It's a good one to add to the end of compound exercises or perform from home on busy days.  


How long? 20 minutes.


6. 35-MINUTE PULL WORKOUT BY LINDSEY BOMGREN


What? The "shy girl" angle simply refers to a workout move that you can do in the corner of the gym or from home - wherever you feel the most comfortable. Grab some dumbbells and get lifting. 


Why? Using dumbbells only, you'll work your biceps and their antagonistic muscle, the triceps, for total arm strength.


How long? Aim for three to four reps of ten to twelve sets - around ten minutes or so.


WHAT WORKOUT IS BEST FOR BICEPS?


Is 3 bicep exercises enough? How to build biceps fast? How many exercises should I do for bicep day?


According to personal trainer Nancy Best, the "best" workout for you and your body will be one that you genuinely enjoy - after all, you're never going to stick at a workout that you don't look forward to. 


When it comes to upper arm moves, exercises like a barbell curl, pull up, overhead press and bent over row will all work your bicep muscle. Ready to give them a go?

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