There isn’t a bodybuilder alive who doesn’t want bigger, more muscular biceps. Ask any bodybuilder to flex a muscle, and invariably they’ll throw up their arms and do the classic double biceps pose!
Kids do this too. The biceps are the most famous muscle in the human body, and even non-bodybuilders can identify it.
Given that the biceps are such an important muscle, and training time and energy are so limited, it would be helpful to know which exercises produce the best results.
After all, who wants to waste time on unproductive workouts?
Good news; a study by the American Council on Exercise has revealed what they believe are the best biceps building exercises.
Using wireless electromyography (EMG), The American Council on Exercise (ACE) and scientists at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse measured the activity of the biceps brachii during eight popular biceps exercises to determine which one was best.
The ACE study was done using 16 participants, six males and six females, all of whom had some strength training experience. While this was not a particularly large cohort of subjects, the results may still help you choose which exercises to include in your biceps workouts.
In this article, we reveal the results of the study and how to use this information to build your best biceps ever!
The Best Biceps Exercises According to Science
Not sure which exercises are best for building monstrous biceps? Here, in reverse order, are the eight best biceps exercises according to science. Including any of these exercises in your arm workouts should help you fill your sleeves with quality biceps mass.
8. Preacher Curl
Larry Scott, Mr. Olympia in 1965 and 1966, had some of the best biceps in bodybuilding history. He attributed much of his incredible arm development to preacher curls, an exercise he learned from golden-era bodybuilding coaching legend Vince Gironda.
In fact, Scott was photographed doing preacher curls so often that this exercise soon became known as Scott curls.
Preacher curls involve resting your upper arms on an inclined bench which stops you from cheating the weight up. The angle of your arm also decreases anterior deltoid activation. This makes preacher curls a very strict biceps exercise.
On the downside, biceps tension all-but vanishes as your forearms approach the vertical position, which is probably why this popular exercise came in at #8 on the ranking of best biceps exercises. Still, done using a cable instead of freeweights, preacher curls could be an even better biceps builder.
7. Incline Dumbbell Curl
Incline dumbbell curls are a challenging exercise. Leaning back on an incline bench puts your biceps in a very stretched position, which means each rep starts from a place of weakness. This reduces the amount of weight you can lift.
However, because you can’t swing the weights up, and there is tension on the biceps from the start to the end of each rep, the incline curl is a popular and effective biceps isolation exercise. Like preacher curls, this exercise also decreases anterior deltoid activation, so your biceps end up doing more of the work. A 75-degree angle is apparently best for incline dumbbell curls.
6 & 5. EZ Curl (narrow grip & wide grip)
EZ curls are done using a cambered or EZ bar with angled handles. Placing your hands in a semi-supinated position helps take the stress off your elbows and wrists so you can train your biceps in relative comfort. The EZ curl is a good option for anyone who finds straight barbell curls cause elbow or wrist pain.
As an added benefit, the semi-supinated grip increases biceps brachialis and brachioradialis engagement which are muscles below the main biceps brachii. Building these muscles will enhance the size and shape of your upper arms.
According to the ACE study, wide grip EZ curls result in more biceps activation than the narrow grip variation, but the difference is marginal.
4. Barbell Curl
The fourth best biceps exercise, according to science, is the standard barbell curl. This classic exercise allows you to lift plenty of weight and really overload your muscles. As such, it’s an excellent exercise for building muscle mass and strength.
However, if you go too heavy, you may find your anterior deltoids and lower back working harder than your biceps. It’s generally best NOT to swing the weight up as doing so takes stress off your biceps.
Some lifters do find the fully supinated grip used for barbell curls causes elbow and wrist pain. If you’ve got tight biceps or forearms, barbell curls may be uncomfortable. If that’s the case, doing curls with an EZ bar should alleviate any discomfort, leaving you free to focus on building bulging biceps.
No, you haven’t inadvertently wandered onto an article about the best back-building exercises! The chin-up IS a great lat exercise, but it’s a very effective biceps builder, too. In fact, it’s #3 on the list of best biceps exercises.
If you take a moment to analyze chin-ups, it’s easy to see how they can be a valuable biceps builder. The movement is a lot like barbell curls, but instead of curling a barbell up to your shoulders, you have to curl your shoulders up to the bar.
So, short on time and want to build a bigger back AND biceps? Chin-ups are the exercise for you!
2. Cable Curl
A lot of lifters use cable curls as a finishing exercise, but, according to the study, it looks like this exercise could be a valuable move for building biceps size and strength.
Cable curls are effective because they keep your muscles under constant tension. They’re also ideal for doing pump-inducing drop sets as you can lower the weight quickly to extend your set well beyond failure.
While the ACE study didn’t specify whether they used a straight or EZ bar for cable curls, both options should work well because the freeweight versions produced very similar EMG results.
1. Concentration Curl
Concentration curls are one of those exercises that a lot of bodybuilders dismiss entirely or only use as workout finishers. Why? Because they don’t let you use a lot of weight.
When you do concentration curls, your upper arm is vertical and pressed against your inner thigh. This makes for a very strict movement with little opportunity to swing the weight up. With no chance to cheat and minimal anterior deltoid activation, all the work must be done by your biceps, resulting in an intense biceps contraction.
You can also use your free arm for assistance and crank out a couple of forced reps beyond failure, making this exercise even more effective. Concentration curls also reinforce the mind-muscle connection, which studies suggest (2) is important for muscle growth.
More Biceps Exercises and Workouts:
- Best Bicep Workouts
- Bicep Gains With Spider Curls
- Biceps Development with Curl Variations
- Bicep Exercises For Sleeve-Stretching Gains
- Bicep Curl vs. Hammer Curl
- Rules of Arms Workout By Lee Priest
Any of the eight exercises included in the ACE study will help you build bigger, more muscular biceps. There are also several other biceps exercises that may be similarly effective but didn’t make it into the study, such as spider curls, alternating dumbbell curls, drag curls, and Zottman curls.
However, it seems that, in terms of bang for your buck, concentration curls, cable curls, chin-ups, and barbell curls are the best biceps builders, with EZ curls, incline curls, and preacher curls coming in close behind.
Building your biceps workouts around these exercises should ensure that you get the results you want from your training. However, even though they came out on top, don’t just do concentration curls and forget the rest.
Studies have shown that exercise variety is essential for building muscle (3), so make sure you include several different exercises in your biceps workouts and change exercises from one training cycle to the next.
1. American Council on Exercise (ACE): ACE Study Reveals Best Biceps Exercises
2. PubMed: Mind-Muscle Connection Training Principle: Influence of Muscle Strength and Training Experience During A Pushing Movement https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28500415/
3. PubMed: The Effects of Exercise Variation in Muscle Thickness, Maximal Strength and Motivation in Resistance Trained Men https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6934277/