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Essential Biceps Muscle-Building Routines

Updated on September 21, 2012
Strong arm flexors are essential many activities
Strong arm flexors are essential many activities | Source

Why you should be working your arms.

Building big arms is a functional and aesthetically rewarding endeavor. Often called the vanity muscles, the biceps and triceps and forearms assist in many movements, through conscious and unconscious activation.

Consider how hard it would be to pick up your groceries, load the laundry or carry any type of weight in your arms without the assistance of biceps and forearm flexors; or the difficulty you would have getting off the floor, out of bed or pushing a door open without the triceps.

Everyday activities will certainly be hampered by weak arms, but they are vital when working out. The arms assist in almost every movement from push-ups and bench press to bent-over rows and pull-ups.

So how does a person build strong, muscular and functional arms? The answer is a combination of compound movements and isolation movements geared towards these smaller muscle groups.

Extreme volume is not necessary, especially if your training program emphasizes compound movements like the clean, bench press, deadlift and bent-over row, but it should be intense.

Mix an intense high rep routine with a heavy routine twice a week (depending on the training schedule) and always start with a compound exercise. High reps should be 12-20 maximum, and difficult to finish. Heavy sets should be from 5-8 reps, with the last couple a struggle.

Straight barbell curls are a staple biceps builder.
Straight barbell curls are a staple biceps builder.
Hammer dumbbell curls emphasize the brachialis.
Hammer dumbbell curls emphasize the brachialis.

Here is an example of a big biceps workout utilizing this concept:

High Rep day:

General warm-up (e.g. 10 minutes cardio.)

1-2 warm up sets of first exercise, not to failure.


Underhand Pull-ups/Assisted Pull-ups: 2-4 x 12 +

One of the following:

Standing Barbell Curls


Cable Curls/Suspension trainer curls:

2-4 x 12+

One of the following:'

Reverse Barbell Curls or

Dumbbell Hammer Curls:

2-4 x 12+

Finish with joint rotations and stretching for the arm muscles.

For the Heavy Day, try the following:

*(you can choose the same routine above and increase the resistance until only 5-8 reps are possible with each exercise.)*

General warm up and specific warm-up as above, then:

Bent-Over Rows: 2-3 x 5-8

Standing Barbell Curls: 2-3 x wider than shoulders grip + 2-3 x closer than shoulder width grip.

Reverse Barbell Curls: 2-4 x 5-8

Finish with joint rotations for the arms and stretching for the arm muscles.

For maximum benefit, perform the high rep routine after heavy chest and back days; and do the heavy day when the arms muscles are well recovered. Dumbbell hammer curls can be substituted for reverse barbell curls, but only if the palm is pronated (towards the floor.) Choose your own exercises when these get tiresome, but always include a compound exercise to get every muscle in the arm activated. Stay consistent and the results will be impressive!

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TRX Suspension Training Pro Pack

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Alternatives to Free Weights

You can get a great workout without dumbbells or barbells. For that matter, you don't need a lat pulldown machine, preacher curl bench or any other such equipment. If time and space are limited, consider using suspension trainer straps or gymnastic rings. Find out more in the links below:

Odd Object Training

Using unbalanced odd objects adds an entirely new dimension to your training. Not to mention, it will shock your muscles into positive adaptations. Read the hub below for some awesome arm workouts using everyday objects you can find around the house. No formal equipment needed, thank you very much.

Before you buy new equipment for your home gym, do your research. From BowFlex to TRX, learn all you need to know to make an informed decision here:


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    • MosLadder profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Montgomery 

      7 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thanks Derdriu! I know what you mean, I find my heavy workouts become less and less frequent. But even light and moderate weight workouts are healthy for all ages. Aloha!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      MosLadder: What a concise, precise summary of strengthening those all-important arm muscles! Even though I do not lift big weights, I like to stay current on what the latest equipment and routines are.

      Thank you for sharing, voted up, etc.,


    • MosLadder profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Montgomery 

      7 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thanks Will1015, I know 21's. They are wicked. I usually start with a lighter than normal weight to make it through the whole set. If you want a once a week bicep workout, try doing 3 drop sets of 21's while accentuating the negative. Yikes! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • Will1015 profile image


      7 years ago from Brooklyn

      Good information for anyone looking to work on their arms. Nice article.

      Have you heard of a curling exercise known as "21s"? Great for isolating the biceps.

      seven half-reps (from rest position to 90 degrees at the elbow)

      seven half-reps (from 90 degrees at the elbow to the chest)

      seven full reps (7+7+7=21)

      All straight through with out rest. You'll want to go as heavy as you can handle with weight, since you will not be increasing the number of reps. I do 3 sets of these at the end of my arm workouts - when the muscles are already fatigued.


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