These are the 6 best bicep exercises for a seriously spicy upper arm workout

Curls really are for the girls.

A woman performing bicep exercises, including bicep curls
(Image credit: Getty Images)

News flash: bicep exercises aren't just for gym bros. Far from it - while bicep curls might be stereotypically associated with men in stringer vests pumping iron, we can all benefit from having strong biceps. 

Yep, really. You use your biceps in every pulling movement that you do, so there's much more to working your biceps than just looking impressive when you flex.

"Strong biceps are important for so many reasons," says personal trainer and coach Eleanor Heaton-Armstrong. "They help you perform functional everyday tasks from lifting and carrying heavy items to simply gesturing, plus they help with multiple other upper body resistance moves. They help improve shoulder stability and forearm and grip strength too."

When it comes to weight training for women, bicep exercises are best done alongside other pulling exercises that target your upper body day like shoulder exercises and back exercises. Alternatively, you could do them alongside tricep exercises for well-balanced arm strength. You don't have to be a pro to get curling, either: bicep exercises are a great one to include if you're a beginner, too. 

Unlike glute exercises, ab exercises and resistance band exercises which can be done anywhere, these bicep exercises are best done at the gym where you have easy access to weights (a bit like, say, dumbbell exercises or kettlebell exercises).

Ready to give it a go? Luckily, we have a panel of experts ready to share their go-to bicep exercises. The pro PTs include: 

Best bicep exercises: 6 to try tonight 

There are two different ways to strengthen the biceps: compound exercises or isolation exercises. Compound exercises are moves that involve more than one muscle group. Compound exercises that work the biceps will be pulling exercises that also work the back and the shoulders, like rows or pull ups. 

Isolation exercises target just one muscle group. To isolate the biceps, you might do bicep curls. 

There's no one best bicep exercise, but the exercise you choose will depend on your goals. For instance, if you want all-over upper body strength, you are best focusing on compound exercises. Alternatively, if bicep strength is particularly important to you, then adding isolation exercises that specifically train that muscle is a good idea. 

1. Bicep curls

The classic for a reason - bicep curls are a simple and beginner-friendly way to build bicep strength (if that's you - read our guide to strength training for beginners, here). They're also great for more experienced strength trainers though, just ensure that you keep yourself with the weights you choose. 

How to: Begin standing tall with a dumbbell in each hand and a slight bend in your knees. Turn your wrists so your palms are facing away from you. 

Bend your elbows to raise the dumbbells, letting your knuckles touch your shoulders. Slowly lower back down.

How long: Aim for 60 seconds or 12 reps.

2. Dumbbell curls

The best bicep exercises are done sat down, says Georgey. "Using the bench for this curl minimises your ability to swing the weights and get them up using momentum," she explains. "Instead, sit down and keep the weight light and the tempo slow."

Jess agrees, saying: "With these, it's important to focus on not swinging the dumbbell and going slow on the way down."

The incline of the bench means your arms can extend further down, extending how far you have to curl and making it even more of a challenge for your biceps. 

How to: Set up the back of your bench at a 45-degree angle. Grab a dumbbell in each hand and sit on the bench resting your back against the inclined pad. Let your arms hang down by your side with your palms facing forwards.

Bend your elbows to curl the dumbbell up to your shoulder, then slowly lower back down. The only thing moving should be your elbow, so don't swing your arm back and forward. 

How long: Aim for 60 seconds or 12 reps.

3. Hammer curls

"The hammer curl just edges it for me as the best bicep exercise as I can control the eccentric movement, go heavier and just generally find its the best movement for bicep growth," says Eleanor. 

Molly agrees, adding: "These curls help you maintain control over the dumbbell to build the overall size of the bicep and strengthen the arms." 

How to: Stand tall with your core braced and a slight bend in your knees. Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Let your arms hang by your sides with your palms facing in towards each other. 

Bend your elbows to bring the dumbbells to your shoulders. Your palms should be facing each other the whole way up. Slowly lower back down. 

How long: Aim for 60 seconds or 12 reps.

4. Elevated bicep curls

You might recognise this bicep exercise if you're big into barre. It's designed to challenge your balance and stability as well as build strength - the foundations of barre. By holding the dumbbell in an elevated position, you'll also be working the shoulders, so get ready for a burn.

How to: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and stand tall, drawing in your belly button to your spine. Lift your arms so they are straight in front of you, parallel to the floor. Bend the elbows to curl the dumbbells to your shoulders, then straighten them out. 

How long: Aim for 60 seconds or 12 reps.

5. Concentration curls

According to a small study by the people at the American Exercise Council, concentrated curls are the exercise with the most activation of the bicep muscles. “I think the reason is that you’re really isolating the biceps muscle more so than in any of the other exercises, as some of the other exercises called into play the front of your shoulder more,” said John Porcari PhD, head of the Clinical Exercise Physiology Programme at the University of Wisconsin. 

With this move, you physically can't swing or bounce the arm to engage the shoulder, so get ready for your biceps to be on fire. 

How to: Sit on a bench, sofa or raised surface with a dumbbell in your right hand. Take your feet out wider than hip-width and rest your right elbow on your thigh, letting your hand extend down to the floor with your palm facing out. 

Bend the elbow to bring the dumbbell to your right shoulder, then slowly lower back down. Make sure you repeat on the other side. 

How long: Aim for 60 seconds or 12 reps.

6. Chin ups

Chin-ups are a compound exercise, so your back and abs will be working hard during this exercise. But the underhand grip of a chin-up (unlike the overhand grip of a pull-up) means your biceps are still a predominant muscle used to pull you up. 

How to: Stand on a box or bench under a pull-up bar that is high enough for you to reach the bar. Grab the bar with your palms facing towards your face, then step off the box so you are hanging. 

Pull yourself up by bending your elbows until your chin comes to the bar, then slowly lower down. Don't swing your body but keep everything squeezed tight. To make the exercise a little easier, you can also wrap a long resistance band around the bar and place your foot into it - the thicker the band, the lighter you will be. 

How long: Aim for 60 seconds or as many reps as you can manage.

How many times a week should I work out my biceps?

Good question. This will depend on a range of factors, including your current base level of fitness, goals and so on.

That said, the NHS website advises you to do two to three strength-based workouts a week, of roughly 30 minutes in length.

It's important to alternate the muscles you're working, naturally, to give them time to recover from the session. A good recommendation for a beginner is one arms session, one legs session, and one full body session a week - that way, you're working all of the major muscle groups and improving strength all over your body.

Chloe Gray
Contributing Health Writer

Chloe Gray is a freelance journalist who writes and talks about health, fitness, and wellbeing through a feminist lens. She was part of the launch team for Stylist magazine's fitness brand, Strong Women, and has written for i news, Women's Health, Red magazine, Good Housekeeping, Refinery29, and more. She's all about building mental and physical strength, eating delicious food that fuels you well, and making the fitness industry more accessible and enjoyable. She's also a qualified fitness trainer and research nerd, so you can be sure everything you read is backed by proper science.