In today’s video we look at the best dumbbell exercises for biceps. We’re going to focus on several areas of training: from strength, to power as well as hypertrophy and a few others you’d expect along with the best way to train the brachialis muscle of the upper arm, which supports the size and appearance of the biceps.
First we cover strength. The key, just like in our chest video, is that there are two non dumbbell exercises that fit perfectly here and that is the barbell curl and the weighted chinup. As we know from the dumbbell bench press however, there is a drop off in the amount of weight you can lift when you move from a barbell curl to individual dumbbells. That is, unless you split them up into alternating arms. Here your core doesn’t have to work as hard to stabilize the upward motion of the dumbbells and you can handle more weight for an easier progressive overload.
That said, I don’t believe this is the only option when it comes to building the strength of the biceps. I would suggest you also do the weighted chinup. Unlike the barbell bench to dumbbell bench however, you don’t have to experience a drop off in the weight you use just because you switch from weight plates to a dumbbell. Just hook the dumbbell up the way I show you and you are all set and ready to perform the weighted chinup and load up the biceps for growth.
Next we focus on power. The element of speed is critical to maximizing the effect of power training for our biceps. Here as well, you want to try and find a way that you can release the load during the repetition to realize true power development. The best way to do this is with the weighted plyometric chinup. The goal is to explode your body up and over the bar with a quick catch and release of the cross bar. If you cannot handle the additional weight around your waist, use the dumbbell as a step up to the bar.
The goal, as with any power development training, is to stay sub maximal in your effort and focus on moving as much weight as you can control with an increased rep velocity. If you find that the weight you select is so heavy that you have to either cheat the form too much or you cannot maintain proper speed, lower the weight used and start again.
For hypertrophy you want to explore eccentric muscle damage. The best way to do this is with the seated incline curl. Pick up a pair of dumbbells and curl them but don’t forget to actively contract the triceps at the bottom of every rep to enhance the stretch reflex and strength of contraction on the biceps. You can see me do this on every rep in the video demonstration. Once you reach failure, one of the most effective things you can do is take the reps beyond. You can do this with an eccentric only rep performed by sitting up at the end of the bench and then slowly lowering your body and the dumbbells back down.
A slight variation on this is shown to achieve a metabolic stress as well. Here you want to establish a burn in the working muscle and try to keep it there for as long as possible. I use an additional position that allows me to get some drag curls in at the end of the combination to do this really well.
We always want to keep an eye on the correctives on this channel as well. In the case of the biceps, we focus on maintaining health of the elbow. As anyone who has had issues with medial elbow pain while curling or doing any pull movements for that matter can tell you, it can hamper your ability to get results. Remember to load the dumbbell deep in the palm of your hand to avoid overstressing of the distal finger tendons. This can be achieved through either a dumbbell wrist curl if you can handle lighter weights only or a carry if you are up to the task of heavier weights.
Included are a few other exercises to emphasize the brachialis. This muscle lies underneath the biceps and can be trained with some modifications of the curl to lessen the contribution of the biceps slightly. Here I show you a cross body variation of a hammer curl that will help to add width to the upper arm and can be performed with just some dumbbells.
Give these exercises a shot whenever you don’t have access to the standard barbell moves or just want to an extra challenge. If you are looking for a complete program that will help you to not only build strong, muscular shoulders but also develop a complete athletic body, be sure to hit the link below and grab one of the ATHLEAN-X Training Systems.
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What’s up, guys?
Jeff Cavaliere, ATHLEANX.com.
Today I’m going to show you the best exercises
for your biceps.
As we’ve been doing in this entire series,
I’m going to restrict my selections of these
exercises to the use of just dumbbells.
That doesn’t mean that I have to sacrifice
As a matter of fact, as you’re going to
see in this video, I’m going to show you
some superior selections.
Provided I get the opportunity to provide
context to my selections.
As we’ve been doing all along here, we’ve
been taking exercises that fit different purposes
We’re going to do the same thing here as
I’m going to show you the best options if
you’re training for power; for strength;
for hypertrophy with an eccentric overload
as your focus or method, or a metabolic stress
as your method of hypertrophy.
I’m going to cover them both.
I’m going to show you a corrective exercise
you can do.
I’m even going to show you a total body
Yes, they do exist when it comes to biceps.
Finally, that miscellaneous category, we’re
going to cover an exercise that hits, not
just the biceps, but more importantly, the
muscle underneath the biceps, the brachialis.
That will help you get more rips on your upper
The fact is, the selections are based on science
and the selections are based around that context.
Most of all, you’re going to be armed with
the best exercise selections, no matter the
purpose or goal you have in your training.
So, let’s get started.
So, we kick it all off here with strength
and if you haven’t already done so, you’re
definitely going to want to watch the chest
edition in this series because the selection
process of how we got to these strength exercises
was very similar.
It’s based on the lack of stability when
we move from a fixed hand position on a barbell
to separate hands controlling dumbbells.
Now, how does that play into this?
Guys, again, if I had options for a barbell,
I’d go right to the barbell curl, as you
see me doing here.
Whether I’m using a straight bar or an easy
bar I love this variation of a curl.
I think it allows us to add the most weight
to the bar to get the most strength benefits.
But I’ve also covered, in great depth, many
times on this channel, how much I like the
You can see me doing those here.
I know I can overload the biceps, once again,
because I not only have the additional weight
around my waist, but I’ve got the weight
of my own body that I’m using to overload
But that’s not the name of the game because
we’re using just dumbbells here.
So, I have to make my selection.
But what I do here is I use that same criteria
as I did with the bench-press, moving to the
We know that 300lb bench-pressers don’t
automatically become 150lb dumbbell bench-pressers.
That’s because the stability required at
the shoulder becomes compromised and winds
up undercutting your strength performance
on the exercise.
So, the dumbbell variation is not always the
In the similar case of the dumbbell curl,
when I go to move that weight up, I have to
be able to counteract that weight coming up.
I have to be able to stabilize that with my
core because of the posterior driven force
of the dumbbells coming up and back, requiring
my core to be engaged to do that.
So what happens is, if you’re a 130lb barbell
curler, you may not be a 65lb dumbbell curler
for that very same reason.
But you can do something different.
You can lift one dumbbell at a time.
What we’ve done is halved the requirements
of our core for having to stabilize that much
weight coming up and backward.
Only 65lbs at a time.
You’ll notice you can maximize your strength
using a dumbbell one at a time.
Again, if I have my overall choice from athleticism,
trying to integrate as many areas as possible,
I would go with the double handed version
The simultaneous curl.
But we’re looking for just strength here,
That’s what leads me in the direction of
the unilateral curl.
But I’m not going to abandon the weighted
I don’t have to.
I have two winners here, guys.
The beauty of this exercise is that I don’t
have to sacrifice the weight that I use.
Instead of using plates as my form of resistance,
all I have to do is take, in this case like
I do here, wrap a dog leash around a single
dumbbell, and then wrap it around my waist.
I jump up on that bar and I’m good to go.
I haven’t had to sacrifice the load that
I’ve been using if I’ve been using plates
in its place.
The fact is, when we’re looking for strength
overload is the key.
And these two exercises give you the best
opportunity to do just that.
Next up, we move onto power.
What that should automatically trigger in
your head by now is if you want to develop
power you not only want to be able to move
some weight, but you want to be able to move
that weight rather quickly.
You want to have a speed component, or velocity
component, to the weight that you’re lifting.
When it comes to developing your biceps there’s
one exercise I still choose.
It’s going to look very similar to one we
That is the weighted plyometric chin.
Again, we don’t have to weight it as heavy
as we did before because we know that velocity
is still key.
We need to be able to explode through the
concentric portion of the rep.
Not only that, as I covered in our chest edition,
you want to be able to find an exercise that
optimally does not restrict you, in terms
of your ability to explode through that concentric.
You don’t want to be slowing down dumbbells
in the case of a dumbbell bench-press in order
to come back down to the bottom and repeat
You’re decelerating at the moment you want
Here, if you can get your body moving through
the bar on a weighted chin, you’re doing
exactly what you need to do.
Again, you don’t have to use that much weight
As a matter of fact, guys might find this
so challenging that they use no weight at
But guess what?
The dumbbell still comes in handy because
all you’ve got to do is turn it on its end
and use it as a stepping stool to get up to
the bar and do these for bodyweight only.
The fact is, the plyo-chin-up is one of the
most explosive and best ways to train for
power when you’re trying to focus on your
Moving onto hypertrophy, we know there’s
more than one way to skin a cat.
Progressive overload is an option, but we
also understand – if we have any training
experience – that we wind up drying up on
that route because we know we can’t continually
add weight to the exercise.
Even the great ones that we’ve selected
The fact is, we need more options.
That comes in the form of the eccentric overload.
Eccentric muscle damage.
It’s a great stimulator for protein synthesis.
But what we do is select the right exercise.
Here, dumbbells come in handy.
We do the dumbbell incline curl.
But we’re not just doing the dumbbell incline
curl because you’ve probably done a lot
of them in your lifetime.
The fact is, we’re really trying to accentuate
the stretch on the biceps.
The eccentric overload of the biceps.
To achieve what we’re trying to achieve
We can do that in a better way by actively
contracting the muscle on the opposite side
of the elbow and the biceps.
That is the triceps.
You can see me doing that in the bottom of
It accentuates the strength of contraction
that I’m going to get from the biceps to
rebound from that bottomed out position.
That’s great, but we also know something
When I reach concentric failure I’m not
done because we know our muscles are setup
in such a way that eccentrically we are stronger
than we are concentrically.
So, even when we reach concentric failure
we’ve got some more to go.
If you’re really trying to build muscle,
if you’re trying to create hypertrophy,
one of the best ways to do that is not just
to take your exercises to failure, but through
I can do that with this drop set.
I sit up, I’m mechanically changing the
position of my body to an upright position,
I curl it, to cheat it up is going to be easier
from this position.
Then what I do is sink my body back to the
bench, slowly lower back down again to accentuate
that stretch, once again.
That eccentric contraction of the biceps.
This is a great combination, guys.
It employs a couple additional techniques
to the exercise you’ve probably already
done, and it will amplify the results you
see from this dramatically.
Let’s continue that theme we just built
on here because we’re now focused on a metabolic
Reveling in the burn, is what I say.
When we get to the burn, that’s when the
We can do that here.
We can utilize something called a mechanical
drop set to keep that burn going long after
we thought we’d have to quit.
You’ve probably seen this before as it’s
appeared in our Sore in Six Bicep workout.
It’s so damn effective.
You will not perform this and not burn like
hell by the time you’re done.
I promise you that.
So, what we do is start in the inclined position
We do our curls to failure.
Then what we do is sit up.
We don’t have to drop the weight or change
We simply sit up.
By changing our position of the dumbbells
relative to gravity, we’ve changed the strength
curve a bit.
Now we can complete a few more repetitions.
What we do is take it to failure once again.
With biceps, trust me, you’ll be burning
like hell at this point.
Again, this is where you test yourself.
How far can I go with the burn?
Now I can lean forward and perform a drag
The moment arm of the dumbbells is no longer
so long away from my shoulder.
Now I can get my elbows way back and keep
those dumbbells in close, which is going to
make the exercise easier.
Now, it’s not going to be easy because it’s
still in line here, and that burn has already
been set in a long time ago, but it’s still
going to allow you to crank out a few more
reps, with the goal being to get every, single
rep you can with that burn firmly in place.
This is such a great option for doing that.
Now it gets a little bit fun here because
we’re now going to cover a total body option
for your biceps.
Yeah, we’re going to use dumbbells and I
promise, it’s going to be more than just
the single joint focused bicep exercises that
you’re probably used to.
Here we do a dumbbell underhand dead row.
The exercise starts from the floor, it’s
ground based, it’s covering multiple joints,
it’s demanding a synchronization of those
joints from the ankles, to the knees, to the
hips, even to the elbows, and the shoulders.
You can see as we wrap around here it’s
obviously working the back as we go into the
row portion of it, and as we come back around
there’s no doubt the biceps are doing the
heavy workload here.
Especially because of the supinated grip.
Sometimes you’re short on time.
Sometimes you’re just doing a pull workout.
Sometimes you’re looking for one of those
big ‘bang-for-your-buck’ exercises.
This is the one you want to select.
I promise you; your biceps are not going to
They’re still going to benefit because this
is a great exercise selection.
Moving on now, we go to one of my favorite
areas of these videos, and that is the corrective
exercise selection because you can’t ignore
Just because they seem to be the more rehab-based
exercises, it doesn’t make them less important.
As a pre-habilitative exercise selection they’re
going to be super beneficial for you.
The fact is, when it comes to the elbow and
the biceps, what are you really trying to
While we have the option to target the shoulder
because of its attachment up here, what I
find more beneficial to those that are training
their biceps is to target the strength of
the forearms and the proper integration of
the muscles in the forearms when you’re
doing your gripping and bicep exercises.
Why is that?
I’ve covered it before in great detail how
the medial elbow starts to take the brunt
of the load when you improperly load or grab
a dumbbell or barbell in your hand because
you grab it too far down.
What winds up happening is it puts a whole
hell of a lot of stress on the medial elbow
and makes it almost impossible for you to
do bicep exercises.
You might not even be able to do any pulling
exercises at all.
That can’t be.
So, what we do here is – I have two choices.
If you can’t handle a heavy load, then what
I would have you do is this wrist curl variation.
This is the medial elbow wrist curl because
that’s what we’re trying to focus on.
All you have to do is do a normal forearm
wrist curl, but you have to grab the dumbbell
deep in your hand.
Not distally in your fingers because the main
root of that problem that’s causing all
this overload here at the medial elbow is
this overload of these distal finger tendons.
When the dumbbell is held too far out in the
fingers it creates a hell of a lot of stress
on a tendon that’s way too weak to handle
So, what you want to do is slide that dumbbell
back into the palm of your hand, grip there,
and then perform those repetitions.
But then we can do something even better.
We can take the load and make it substantially
heavier, which will probably have a better
carryover when you go back to your strength
That is to do this variation of a carry.
Again, what you’re trying to do is, not
just walk around the gym with the heaviest
dumbbells you possibly can hold until they
drop out of your hands.
Instead, you want to grip that dumbbell deep
in your hand.
You want to work on that forearm strength
in the proper position without letting it
start to fall.
As you see here, when I get around the gym,
if I’m fatiguing and I have to put the dumbbells
down, so be it.
Remember, this is a corrective exercise.
What I don’t want to happen is this: I don’t
want to be walking and have the dumbbell start
drifting down into those distal fingers because
that’s just going to create that stress
and load on the inner elbow that you’re
not going to like.
But either one of these things, depending
upon which one you can load heavier, will
be great options and things you definitely
want to integrate and not overlook because,
overall, they’re going to help you with
the longevity of your bicep training.
Finally, we saved this miscellaneous category
to address an exercise that doesn’t necessarily
fit into any of the others.
In this case we’re going to target a different
But it’s no less important.
That is the brachialis.
Because it’s situated beneath the bicep
and contributing to the overall upper arm
size, but more importantly, the width of the
arm; we know there’s something we can do
especially with dumbbells to target this are
That is the crossbody hammer curl done with
a pronate forearm.
Because we know one of the functions of the
bicep is to supinate the forearm.
We know that we can take some of that away
by pronating the forearm.
If we pronate the forearm and let it ride
up our body we’re going to get more of the
activation of the brachialis, or the brachial
radialis that runs down here in the forearm.
But if we want to shift it a little higher
into that brachialis, research has shown that
there’s a rate dependency on how fast you
move through the concentric portion of the
When we go slower, the brachialis has more
It’s more likely to contribute to the concentric
portion of that lift.
Of course, you still want to load this as
heavy as you can to try and get more of that
size and development.
But don’t allow the load to start allowing
you to swing the weight up because you’re
going to defeat the purpose of what we’re
trying to do here.
So, there you have it, guys.
My best exercise selections for your biceps,
regardless of whatever goal it is you’re
The fact is, you don’t have to make sacrifices
in the results that you want to see from your
training just because you might have to make
some sacrifices in the equipment that you
have at your disposal.
Guys, I will take you step by step through
any workout and help you get the most out
We call it ‘putting the science back in
I do that in all my programs.
They’re all available for you over at ATHLEANX.com.
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I’ll be back here again soon, in just a
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