It’d be safe to say that a majority of lifters want bigger biceps, which is why biceps are one of the most loved muscles groups to train in gyms around the world. However, very few individuals possess guns worth showing off.
An ineffective workout program is probably the biggest reason for this disparity. If you are not seeing desirable results, it’s time you step back and reassess your training methods. For example, most beginners perform barbell curls at the beginning of their arm workouts but have no results to show for them.
It reminds one of Einstien’s Parable of Quantum Insanity, which said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” If barbell curls are not doing the trick for you, it is time you ditch them for something more effective.
If you have ever wondered if dumbbells are better than barbells for training arms, this article is for you. Also included are a couple of dumbbell biceps workouts you can do in the comfort of your home or the gym. raining routines
How are Dumbbells Better than Barbells?
Barbell biceps curls are arguably the most popular biceps exercise done in gyms. However, its sibling — the alternate dumbbell biceps curls might be the best movement for your pythons. Here’s why —
1. Unilateral Training
When you use a barbell you cannot train each arm independently, also known as unilateral training. But why is that important, you ask?
Each of us has some degree of muscle and strength imbalance between our left and right sides of the body. However, when you train with a barbell, you cannot work each side in isolation. As a result, your stronger side will compensate for your weaker side, which can make the imbalance worse. Using dumbbells for arms training is a great way of fixing muscle and strength imbalances.
2. Bicep Contraction
When doing barbell biceps curls, you cannot supinate your wrists more than the barbell allows you. On the other hand, you can ensure optimal biceps fiber recruitment while performing the dumbbell biceps curls by curling the dumbbells as you move through the range of motion. Your palms should be facing your thighs at the bottom, and your pinkies should be pointed towards the ceiling at the top.
Additionally, the ability to rotate your palms as you execute the dumbbell curl places less strain on your wrist and elbow joint than on barbell curls, which makes dumbbell exercises more joint-friendly.
How To Get a Better Biceps Pump?
Many guys who struggle to bring up their biceps complain they cannot experience muscle pumps while training their guns. A poor mind-muscle connection is one of the biggest issues behind this problem.
If your neuromuscular efficiency is not very good, you will struggle to create the type of intense contractions that stimulate the muscle. You also won’t be able to induce a muscle-ripping pump by flushing your pythons with blood and lactic acid.
Two of the best ways to improve neuromuscular efficiency are — unilateral exercises with dumbbells and static contractions. When you do a single-arm dumbbell curl (unilateral exercise), you might experience greater muscle activation than if you were to do a two-arm curl with either a barbell or dumbbells.
Static contraction involves holding a weight in the muscle’s fully contracted position for as long as you can. If you can hold it for more than 30 seconds, you should increase the weight.
The Ultimate Dumbbell Biceps Workouts
- Underhand Close Grip Chin Ups — 3 x 10, 10, 10 (static hold)
- Incline Bench Dumbbell Curl — 3 x 10-12
- Standing Biceps Dumbbell Curl — 4 x 30, 20, 15, 10
- Dumbbell Hammer Curl — 3 x 12
- Dumbbell Concentration Curl — 2 x 12
Here is how to perform the exercises —
1. Underhand Grip Chin-Up
Although having just laid out the case for using dumbbells rather than barbells in your biceps training, we’re going to detail a bicep workout that doesn’t being with dumbbells. You’ll be kicking into this workout with one of the best compound biceps brachii exercises that exist — the underhand grip chin up.
When you do this exercise use a slightly narrower than shoulder-width grip and pull up until your chin clears the bar. Be sure to get a full range of motion from a dead hang all the way up to a peak bicep contraction at the top.
Avoid the tendency to ‘kip’ or otherwise swing to bring momentum into the movement when doing this biceps exercise. Your goal here is to contract your biceps as hard as you can.
Aim to get three sets of 10 reps. If you cannot hit those numbers, just go to the point of failure. On the last rep of each set, contract and hold for as long as you can — aiming for 30 seconds. Your rest between sets on this exercise should be 45-60 seconds.
2. Incline Bench Dumbbell Curl
The incline bench dumbbell curl is a stricter version of the curl than when you are standing. That’s because it takes the lower body out of this biceps brachii exercise so that you cannot buck your hips to create momentum.
Set the incline bench to a 45-degree angle and choose a pair of dumbbells that will allow you to do no more than 12 reps. Lie back on the bench so your glutes rest firmly against the seat and plant your feet on the floor.
Hang your arms down so that they are perpendicular to the floor. In this position, your biceps should be in a full stretch, and your palms should be facing forward.
Begin by breathing in and curling one arm directly up toward your shoulder. Exhale as you reach full elbow flexion. Squeeze the bicep tightly in the top position. Lower under control. Do not start to curl with the other arms until you have returned to the start position.
3. Standing Alternate Dumbbell Curl
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and a pair of dumbbells in your hands, hanging at your sides. Maintain a neutral spine position. Your palms should be facing your thighs.
Keeping your elbows in at your sides, supinate your right wrist with palms facing forward as you curl that arm up to the shoulder. Do not use momentum by swinging to get the weight up.
Reverse the action to return the right arm to the start position. Now repeat with the left arm.
With this exercise, you will be doing four sets, ranging from 30 reps down to 10 reps. Choose a weight that will be challenging for the last few reps. On your last set, the weight used should be your 10 rep max.
4. Dumbbell Hammer Curl
The hammer curl allows you to target the brachialis, which lies underneath the biceps brachii and shows up on the outside of your arm. It also works the brachioradialis in the forearms.
Grab a pair of dumbbells that will make you struggle to get 12 reps on hammer curls. Stand with the weights held at your sides with your palms facing toward your thighs in a neutral grip. The position of the dumbbells in your hands will resemble a hammer, hence the name of this exercise.
Curl the right dumbbell up to your shoulder level. Be sure to keep your elbows pinned to your side as you do so. Maintain the neutral grip throughout, and lower the weight under control.
Do not let your elbows come forward as you curl up. Doing so will take tension off the biceps, which is the opposite of what you want to achieve when doing hammer curls.
The Zottman curl, which features an overhand grip with palms facing the floor, is a variation that also targets the forearm muscles.
5. Dumbbell Concentration Curl — Dumbbell Biceps Workouts
The dumbbell concentration curl is considered a shaping movement for biceps and has been used for decades to build mountainlike bicep peaks.
Concentration curls target the outer head of the biceps, which is the head that adds height when the muscle is flexed.
To perform the exercise, sit at the end of a flat exercise bench. Grab a light dumbbell in your left hand, and place your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
Bend over at the waist so that you can brace the triceps of your left arm against the inside of your left knee. Rest your free hand on your right leg, or you can use it as a brace behind your left arm.
Straighten your left arm fully, and be sure your arm is down at the start of the movement. From this starting position, slowly curl the dumbbell up to your shoulder, supinating your hand in the process.
Biceps Training Tips
Below are a few python training tips to make the most of your workouts —
1. Full Range of Motion
For optimal muscle fiber recruitment, you need to move the muscle through its full range of motion. That means going all the way up and down. Be sure to squeeze the biceps at the top of the movement. 
2. Focus on Form
Many people tend to allow their shoulders to drop forward while doing bicep exercises. Instead, squeeze your shoulder blades back during a rep and focus on contracting your biceps.
Also, avoid the tendency to come forward as you raise the dumbbells. Stop the ascent at the point where your forearms go perpendicular to the floor at the top, or you will decrease the tension on the biceps.
3. Vary the Set Structure
You should cycle your set structure by mixing it up between straight sets, pyramid sets, and drop sets. Anything you can do to keep the muscles guessing is welcome.
4. Don’t Twist Your Torso
We have already explained why working each arm unilaterally is better than doing them both together. However, there is a tendency when doing unilateral bicep curls to contort your torso by twisting to the working side to help get the weight up. You should resist this tendency. Keep your torso square onto the mirror in front of you throughout the entire movement.
5. Add in Cables
Adding in a few sets of cable curls in addition to your dumbbell work is a good idea. Cables change the angle of resistance so that it is more in line with the direction of the muscle fibers.
Cables also provide resistance in the start and finish position of the movement. Another benefit of using cables is that they better follow the strength curve of the biceps, which is heavier at the start and lighter at the end of the curl.
Dumbbell Biceps Workout at Home
Contrary to what gym bros might tell you, you don’t need a gym membership to build great biceps. Here’s a super productive gym-quality workout you can do at home with nothing but a pair of adjustable dumbbells, an exercise ball, a chair, and a towel.
- Seated Alternate Dumbbell Curl — 3 x 10
- Exercise Ball Incline Dumbbell Curl — 3 x 10
- Alternating Cross-Body Hammer Curl — 3 x 10
- One Arm Exercise Ball Dumbbell Preacher Curl — 3 x 10
- Towel Grip Dumbbell Curl — 3 x 10
- Reverse Grip Dumbbell Curl — 3 x 10
Dumbbell Home Workout — The Program
In this program, you will do arm exercises 1-3 on day one. You then rest for 48 hours and do exercises 4-6 on day two. Rest another 48 hours and then perform exercises two, three, and five on day three. Rest for 72 hours and then cycle through the workout again. On day three of the second cycle, do exercise one, four, and six.
In the first cycle, choose a weight that allows you to complete all 10 reps without failing, then gradually increase the weight in subsequent cycles.
Rest periods between sets can have a big impact on the demands you place on your body and the changes that occur as a result.
Since this is a high-volume workout designed to enhance hypertrophy, time under muscle tension and maintaining a good pump is critical. When building size is your goal, limit your rest periods to 40-60 seconds.
This program can be modified in several ways. Advanced trainers can use strength bands to make the exercise more demanding. Combined with dumbbells, bands create an intense challenge that focuses on peak muscle tension at the top of a movement. You can also attach a strength band to the bottom of a door to provide a unique angle of pull, similar to using cables.
The Biceps Exercises
Here are how to perform the exercises —
1. Seated Alternate Dumbbell Curl
- Sit upright on a chair and lean forward slightly. Hold a dumbbell in each hand using a neutral grip (palms facing your thighs) with your arms hanging loosely toward the floor.
- Curl the right-hand dumbbell toward your shoulder. As the weight approaches the halfway point, rotate your wrist so your palm faces up at the top.
- Squeeze your contracted bicep for a two-second count, then slowly lower the dumbbell along the same path so that your grip is neutral back at the full-arm position.
- Alternate sides for reps. Do not swing the dumbbells and keep your form strict.
2. Exercise Ball Incline Dumbbell Curl
- Sit upright on an exercise ball with a pair of dumbbells in your lap.
- Slowly walk your feet forwards and lie back on the ball so that your hips are lower than your shoulders.
- Grasp the weights with a palms-up grip at your sides so your triceps are resting on the ball.
- Contract your biceps to curl the dumbbells toward your shoulders.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells to a count of three.
- Be sure to keep your triceps against the ball throughout the movement. Do not lean forward to raise your arms off the ball.
3. Alternating Cross Body Hammer Curl
- Stand upright while holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides with a neutral grip.
- Curl one dumbbell to the opposite pectoral, pause, and contract at the top before lowering the weight to the starting position.
- Alternate side for reps, maintaining a slow, controlled tempo.
4. One Arm Exercise Ball Dumbbell Preacher Curl
- Place a dumbbell in front of an exercise ball, then kneel behind it so that your chest and shoulders are supported.
- Extend your right arm on top of the ball, palms up.
- Spread your knees and push your left hand into the top of the ball to keep it from rolling during the exercise.
- Roll forwards to grasp the weight, then return to the start so that your triceps are supported.
- From this starting position, curl the dumbbells towards your shoulder, squeeze your biceps and slowly lower the weight.
- Repeat for 10 reps, then swap sides.
5. Standing Towel Grip Dumbbell Curl
- Fold a towel lengthwise to match the width of a dumbbell post. Place the weight in the center of the towel, squat down and grasp one end of the towel in each hand with a neutral grip.
- Stand upright, lifting the towel with the dumbbell suspended in the middle.
- From this starting position curl your hands toward your shoulders, maintaining a neutral grip. At the top, rotate your wrists and turn your thumbs out for maximum contraction.
- Reverse the move and slowly lower the weight until your arms are fully extended.
6. Standing Reverse Grip Dumbbell Curl
- Stand upright while holding dumbbells in front of you with a pronated grip, palms facing your thighs.
- From this starting position, curl the weights toward your shoulders, keeping your grip pronated and your elbows glued to your sides.
- Squeeze your biceps at the top, then slowly lower the dumbbells to full arm extension.
The One Dumbbell Biceps Workout
Only got a single dumbbell to use at home?
No problem — here’s a giant set you can do with just a single dumbbell. You’ll perform the giant set three times. Start with your weaker arm, then pass the dumbbell off to the stronger side.
You are not allowed to drop the weight until you have completed all three cycles. Your rep scheme is 10 reps on the first set, eight reps on the second, and six on the final pass-through.
One Dumbbell Biceps Workouts — Giant Set x 3
Dumbbell Drop Set Training for Biceps
Drop sets are a great way to finish a workout for any body part. They’re especially effective when training biceps. Try this four-step hammer curls drop set at the end of your next arm workout.
Line up four pairs of dumbbells in descending order — 40, 30, 25, and 20-pounds but feel free to adjust as needed.
Start by doing 10 reps on the hammer curl. Then, with no rest, put down the 40s and grab the 30s. Do another 10 reps, and then go directly to the 25s and then the 20s. On your final hammer curl set with the 20s, hold the dumbbells in the halfway position so that your elbows are curled at 90 degrees with your forearms parallel to the floor. Hold for 30 seconds before lowering.
How long should I rest between sets?
If your goal is to build muscle mass, you should not rest for more than 30-90 seconds between sets. For power and strength gains, rest for 1-3 minutes between sets. You should experiment within these ranges to find the ideal rest period to allow for recovery while maintaining intensity.
What is the best way to get bigger biceps?
The best way to get bigger biceps is to enter the state of muscle hypertrophy by doing 8-10 sets per workout, with 8-12 reps per set. Work your biceps twice per week, using a strict form and a weight that makes you hit failure by the last rep of each set.
What is the best way to tone my biceps?
The best way to tone your biceps is to do a variety of curls in the 10 and 20-rep range in every arm workout. Keep your rest between sets to around 45 seconds, and work your arms (biceps and triceps) twice a week.
What is the best weight for bicep curls?
The best weight for bicep curls should make you struggle to get the last 10 percent of your reps with proper form. So, if you are doing 10 reps, the last rep should be hard but achievable. If you’re doing 20 reps, the last two should be challenging. Do not use a weight that is so heavy that you have to cheat by swinging back and forth to bring momentum into the movement.
How do I make my biceps work harder?
You can make your bicep workout harder by introducing high-intensity advanced training techniques to your workout like dropsets, supersets, intraset stretching, blood flow restriction training (BFR), etc.
The key to making continual gains with dumbbell bicep workouts is to achieve a state of muscle hypertrophy in every training session. Concentrate on your form and get a great feel and pump in the muscle rather than just lifting heavyweight.
While it is important to constantly challenge yourself in your workouts, it should not come at the cost of your lifting form. Remember, your biceps muscles don’t know how heavy the dumbbell is; all they know is how hard they are working.
Train consistently, intensely, and smartly with the dumbbell bicep workouts laid out above, and you will be rewarded with bigger, stronger, and more defined biceps.
- Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J. Effects of range of motion on muscle development during resistance training interventions: A systematic review. SAGE Open Medicine. 2020;8:205031212090155.