When you want to build killer biceps, your thoughts might go immediately to the bench press, cable machine, or preacher curl machine.
But there are plenty of other ways to build muscle mass in your upper arms even if you don’t have access to heavy weights, barbells, or large machines. Bodyweight exercises are highly effective and less likely to cause injury. With the addition of a few lightweight accessories like dumbbells or resistance bands, your biceps will be under strain throughout the exercise.
In many cases, the strength gains from bodyweight exercises are comparable to what you’d get from a gym routine. Read on to find out more about the many benefits of bodyweight training and learn which ones are the best for building huge biceps.
Big biceps and toned arm muscles look great, but there are other benefits to having strong biceps. Understanding their functional role in the body will help illustrate why the bodyweight exercises later on in this guide are so effective. Formally called the biceps brachii, your biceps are made up of two heads that run from the elbow to the shoulder.
The long head of the biceps is on the inside of your upper arms and the short head is underneath it. Both heads of the biceps brachii are responsible for flexion of the elbow and supination of the forearm. In basic terms, elbow flexion is bending at the elbow and forearm supination is the rotation of the forearm.
Each head of the biceps controls opposite movements. They complete the full range of motion of both elbow flexion and forearm supination. The long head of the biceps pulls the arm away from the torso and turns it inwardly while the short head of the biceps pulls the arm back to the torso. The triceps help with this movement as well.
Although the primary function of the biceps is to move the elbow and forearm, they also have a secondary role in helping the anterior deltoid lift the shoulder. That means strong biceps can prevent rotator cuff injuries that might spell an end to your fitness routine for weeks or even months depending on their severity.
From this basic description of the essential functions of the biceps brachii, you can imagine the kind of movement required to reach full exhaustion and promote muscle growth. The bodyweight exercises in this guide promote movement of the bicep throughout its full range of motion so you can build toned muscles as well as functional strength.
Stress and overuse can cause damage to the biceps over time. These injuries may not be apparent until they reach a significant level, so it’s important to pay attention to your form and avoid overworking your biceps.
Mixing isolation and compound exercises is the best way to reach full muscle exhaustion and increase hypertrophy, but make sure you go in the right order.
Start with compound exercises and then use isolation exercises to target the biceps until they’re fully exhausted. If you start with isolation exercises, your biceps could fail during a compound exercise and sustain a serious injury.
The biceps are integral to almost all arm movement so they’re much more likely to strain or tear. Even when you aren’t working out, your biceps could sustain an injury. Make sure you don’t overdo sports activities like tennis when you’re giving your biceps a rest day from regular exercise.
Before we explain the best bodyweight exercises, let’s take a look at some simple warm-ups to prime your arms for a workout routine. Even though bodyweight exercises have a much lower risk of injury than strength training exercises with heavier weights, you should still go through a brief warm-up to get the blood flowing.
Arm circles are the perfect start to a morning biceps workout. You can also use them as part of a cooldown when the workout is finished.To start, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and extend your arms out to each side so that they’re parallel with the floor.
Make very small forward circles with each arm, slowly increasing the size of the circles until you feel a stretch. Keep reversing the direction of the circles every 10 seconds or so.
This warm-up exercise is a fantastic way to prime your shoulders, biceps, and chest. First, interlace your fingers so that your hands are together behind your back.
Straighten your arms and turn your palms toward the ground. Raise your arms as high as you can, hold the top position for about 10 seconds, and then return to the starting position. Repeat the stretch 10 times.
Also a nice chest stretch, this single-arm warm-up exercise allows you to target each arm individually. If one is tighter or more sore than the other, you can do this simple doorway stretch to rectify the issue.
Find a doorway or a clear space on a wall. Lift your left elbow to shoulder height and then place your palm flat on the doorway. The elbow should be bent at a 90-degree angle. Take a half-step forward with your left foot and bend the left knee slightly so that your weight moves forward.
Rotate your trunk while your weight moves forward. You should feel the stretch in your arm and shoulder. Make sure you do the same number of stretches on each side of your body unless you’re trying to target one side specifically.
For an alternative warm-up stretch, you can also stand a bit further from the wall and extend your arm without the bend in the elbow. This change in form will stretch the shoulder more.
These bodyweight moves are perfect for building bigger biceps and functional strength in your arms. Run through 3 or 4 of them for a great biceps bodyweight workout.
Traditional push-ups are a great workout for your chest and arms. Adding some elevation beneath your feet with the decline variation moves more of the load to your upper body, thus giving your biceps an even greater workout. You’ll need some kind of elevated platform to do these decline push-ups.
The platform just needs to lift your feet above your head, but if you move the platform even higher then the move is more challenging. Lifting your lower body very high can lead to form mistakes, so be cautious if you’re trying to get more than a foot above the ground.
The rest of the exercise is pretty much the same as a normal push-up. You might want to start just slightly elevated so you can get used to the feeling of a decline push-up.
Start on your knees in front of the platform. Place your hands on the floor in front of you about shoulder-width apart, then lift your feet behind you and place them on the platform. Your body should form a straight line.
Make sure your hands are directly underneath your shoulders and your wrists are beneath your elbows. Straighten your arms until the elbows are completely straight to get into a starting push-up position.
Lower your body by bending your elbows. You’ll need to lift your head to look ahead of you to go through the full range of motion. Prevent your back from arching when you lift your head.
Push through your palms to return to the starting position and complete one rep. Continue for 10 -15 reps.
The biceps curl is by far one of the most well-known arm exercises. It’s also one of the most straightforward, making it optimal for home workouts or quick fitness on the go.
You’ll need to get a resistance band to complete this arm workout. You can get the kind with handles or you can use a large loop band, whichever is more convenient and comfortable for you. If you’re new to using resistance bands, start with a more elastic one and work your way up to ones with more tension.
To start, step on the middle of the resistance band with your feet about shoulder-width apart. If you’re using a loop band, stand on one side of the loop and bring the other side up with your hands.
Take a section of the band (or the band’s handles) in your hands with an underhand grip. That means your palms should be facing the ceiling. They should be at your sides near your hips.
Slowly bring your hands toward your shoulders. Both arms should be moving simultaneously. When you can’t raise your arms any higher, return to the starting position. Continue with these reps 10 1- 15 times.
Just like traditional chin-ups, the isometric variety is great for many muscle groups throughout the entire body. The movement of a traditional chin-up puts strain on your muscles, but so does this isometric variety.
Isometrics involves straining muscles without extending or shortening them, i.e. without moving. So for people who can’t quite complete that first chin-up, this isometric variation is perfect. You can jump into position from a chair or platform and just hang in there for as long as possible.
You’ll need a chin-up bar for this exercise. If you don’t have an official chin-up bar, you can use any horizontal pole that is fixed in place and can support your full weight.
Start with an underhand grip. If you use an overhand grip, you’ll technically be doing an isometric pull-up rather than an isometric chin-up. The beginning of this move is almost the same as a normal chin-up. Stand beneath the bar, get your grip, then lift into a dead hang so that your feet are off the ground.
Next, lift your body until your chin clears the bar. Rather than lowering into the starting position, hold that position for as long as possible. If you’re using a platform or chair to get your chin over the bar, hold that isometric pause the same way.
This exercise also uses a chin-up bar, but it involves movement, unlike the isometric chin-up we just discussed. If you can get going fast enough, head bangers are a great way to add a bit of cardio to your biceps workout. However, you should also take care to build up speed slowly to avoid injury.
The movement of a head banger exercise is a bit strange, so it might take some practice to get right. If you need to, invest in a suspension trainer or TRX alternative to practice until you can complete this workout correctly.
Don’t mistake this for a simpler chin-up alternative - head bangers are an advanced version that are meant for people who have plateaued in their chin-up count or want a different challenge out of their arm workout.
Start under the chin-up bar and take an overhand grip, then raise yourself into a dead hang. Raise yourself until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Your chin should clear the bar just like it would in a standard chin-up.
Once your elbows are at a 90-degree angle, you want to move your body away from and then back toward the chin-up bar. It’s a bit like the motion of a bicep curl. Continue doing so until you can’t hold yourself up anymore.
A simple exercise that’s great for a small amount of cardio, the lateral plank walk adds full-body movement that’s rare in a standard bicep workout routine.
Despite its simplicity, this is a great workout for the biceps, triceps, and core. It works well toward the end of a routine or as an interval filler during a HIIT routine. To begin, you need to get into a push-up position with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your body forming a straight line.
Move your right foot and right hand out to the side simultaneously and then bring the left foot and left hand in the same direction to follow. You should be in the same position you started in a short distance to the right.
You can either continue this movement in one direction and then start back the other way or you can move in one direction and then the other if you have limited space available.
If you don’t have a chin-up bar available, you can still get some good bicep and back training in with the inverted row. You need a low bar that’s just high enough for you to be able to lift your body off the ground with your arms fully extended.
Many people can make DIY row bars with brooms or even use a sturdy coffee table to include this exercise in a home workout. It’s also a great back workout in addition to giving you bigger biceps.
Lie down underneath the low bar and then grip it with both palms facing up in an overhand grip. Your hands will ideally be a bit wider than shoulder-width apart. Your body must be off the ground (except your heels) and in a straight line when your arms are completely straight.
Squeeze your abs and glutes to keep your body in a straight line and then lift with your arms until your chest touches the bar. Repeat as many times as possible, ideally 10 - 20 reps per set.
Another isometric exercise, the side plank is a huge workout for your abs. Your biceps get just as much attention since they support your body weight. Best of all, it’s a single-arm exercise which means each arm gets a tougher workout.
Think of the side plank as a stationary sideways push-up. You can get into position by lying on your right side and then pushing yourself up with your right arm on the ground. If you need extra stability, you can extend your right foot forward for balance.
Once your right arm is straight and your body weight is being supported, you just need to hold that position for as long as possible. Once you’re exhausted, try pausing briefly and then going back up. Make sure you repeat the same number of planks on the left side to build even strength.
Building muscle mass in your biceps doesn’t require lots of gym machines or heavy equipment. With the bodyweight exercises in this guide and the right post-workout supplements, you can get toned biceps and build up tons of functional strength in your arms.
Working out your biceps will help prevent injury and improve your overall athletic performance. With the right shoulder, chest, and back exercises, you can build the perfect upper body with the bodyweight biceps exercises in this guide.