Are you looking to get a good biceps workout at home? No problem. Although you do need some type of apparatus to really train this powerful pulling muscle in your arm, you don't need fancy gym equipment.
Meet Your Biceps Brachii
Your biceps brachii is the obvious muscle on the front of your upper arm. It's a powerful player in almost any pulling motion you perform, but it also helps out with forearm supination (turning your palm to face forward if your elbow is straight, or turning your palm to face up if your elbow is bent) and assists a bit when you flex your shoulder forward or across the front of your body.
With all that said, the primary job of your biceps is to pull — and that's why you need some sort of equipment to work it. Although dumbbells are among the easiest equipment to get your hands on for home use, you can also do biceps workouts without weights. Some of the best options for doing at-home arm workouts without weights include elastic resistance bands, a pull-up bar and objects that can be temporarily put to use as hand weights and then returned to their everyday lives.
Best Biceps Workout at Home
If you want to identify the single best exercise you can do for your biceps at home, an independent study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise provides the answer. Exercise scientists at the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse, recruited 16 male and female volunteers to perform eight common biceps exercises.
After testing with wireless electromyography, or EMG, researchers determined that the single best workout for the biceps is the concentration curl, which generated well over 90 percent muscle activation when compared to the study's benchline. The next-best exercises, the cable curl and chin-up, generated about 80 percent as much muscle activity as the benchline. You can do all three of these biceps exercises at home.
Whichever exercise you choose, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that doing one to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions with each major muscle group, performed twice a week, is adequate if you're lifting for health.
1. The Concentration Curl
Although you do need a few basic pieces of equipment for these workouts, you don't need any of the expensive, bulky machines you'll find at the gym.
To do the concentration curl, you need a chair with no arms and a single dumbbell. Or, if you're just starting out, you can substitute household objects such as a water bottle filled with sand or even a large soup can. However, don't fall into the trap of thinking that you can lift water bottles and soup cans forever. As your body gets stronger, you'll need to give it increasingly greater challenges if you want to continue building strength.
- Sit in the chair and plant your feet on the floor, a little wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the weight in your right hand. Use your left hand on your left thigh or knee to support your torso as you lean forward from the hips, tucking your right elbow against the inside of your right leg.
- Focus on keeping your entire body still — don't twist your torso — as you bend your right arm, curling the weight up toward your shoulder. Keep your right arm snug against your thigh, but don't use pressure from your thigh to help lift the weight; that is entirely the job of your biceps.
- Extend your right arm, lowering the weight back to the starting position to complete the repetition.
You can substitute a bench — the sort you might have in your entryway or at the foot of your bed — if you don't have a suitable chair with no arms.
2. Resistance Band Cable Curls
In a gym, you'd use the low pulley on a cable machine to do cable curls. But at home, you can use an elastic resistance band with a handle on each end to get a very similar effect.
- Stand with your feet about hip-width apart with one handle of the resistance band in each hand. Slip the midpoint of the band beneath your feet; make sure it's well and truly secured.
- Adjust your grip, if necessary, so that you feel slight tension in the band when your arms are straight.
- Stand up straight and contract your core muscles to stabilize your torso as you bend your arms at the elbows, bringing your hands up toward your shoulders.
- Extend your arms, returning to the starting position with a smooth, controlled motion. This completes one repetition.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you always inspect your elastic resistance band for cracking, fading or other signs of wear before use. If you see any such signs of wear or fatigue, retire it in favor of another band.
3. Chin-Ups for Biceps
If you have access to a chin-up bar, you can put it — and your biceps — to work in the third-best exercise from the aforementioned ACE study.
- Stand facing the bar and grasp it in an underhand grip (palms facing toward you).
- Pull your body up to the bar; it might help to think of pulling your elbows down or your shoulders up, or "zipping" all your back muscles together as you pull.
- Complete the repetition by lowering yourself back to the starting position with a smooth, controlled motion.
Many people won't have the strength to pull themselves up to the bar unassisted — but depending on what type of chin-up bar you're using, you have some options for giving yourself a boost. If it's possible to set the bar lower to the ground, you can use your legs to help push you up to the bar.
Failing that, you can place a sturdy bench or chair beneath the bar and then stand on that and use the pressure of your legs to help you lift your body to the bar. Needless to say, choose a stable piece of furniture and proceed very carefully. If you're at all unsure of your stability, it's better to choose a different exercise.
4. Inverted Body Row
Speaking of furniture, here's another exercise that, although not included in the ACE study, does provide an excellent biceps workout. To do an inverted body row, the only piece of equipment you need is a sturdy table with legs at the corners (as opposed to one central leg) and an edge that you can securely hold onto from underneath.
- Sit underneath the table, facing out through an opening between the legs.
- Reach up and take the edge of the table in an underhand grip. Use this to support your body as you walk your legs out in front of you until your body is straight from head to heels.
- Lift your chest up toward the underside of the table.
- Lower yourself back down with a smooth, controlled motion. This completes one repetition.
Can't quite do an inverted body row? Try keeping your feet planted flat on the floor and only walking them far enough out that your body is straight from head to knees. Your torso and thighs will be horizontal, which gives you room to do the row without hitting your head, but having your feet a little closer will somewhat reduce the amount of weight you're lifting.
5. Suspended Biceps Curls
If you have a suspension trainer available at home, you can also do suspended biceps curls — something of a cross between a chin-up and the inverted row just described. Although a suspension trainer might sound like an extravagant piece of equipment to have at home, you can find relatively inexpensive versions that mount in a doorway with no carpentry or exposed beams needed to support it — as long as your door and doorway are appropriately sturdy.
- Position yourself facing the anchor of your suspension trainer. Hold one handle in each hand, using an underhand grip.
- Bend your arms and let your elbows swing forward until your hands nearly touch your forehead; this will be the starting position for your exercise. Walk back until the trainer becomes taut; you might need to adjust the length of your suspension trainer's straps.
- Move your feet slightly forward, so that your arms support your body weight.
- Squeeze your core to keep your body straight from head to feet as you slowly straighten your arms. Your biceps will help control your body's movement as it slowly sinks backward.
- Once your arms are straight, reverse the motion to bring your body back up to standing again. This completes the repetition.
You can adjust the difficulty of this exercise by changing where you place your feet; the farther back you lean at the starting position, the harder the exercise will be. You can also soften your knees and use pressure from your legs to help control your body movement.
Work Your Whole Body
Although doing a biceps workout at home is an important part of any fitness program, don't get so caught up that you forget to work your other major muscle groups. To meet the recommendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for good health, you should work all your major muscle groups twice a week. That means not just your biceps and triceps (the opposing muscle on the back of your upper arm), but also your chest, back, abs, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.
Sound overwhelming? It doesn't have to be, especially if you use compound exercises that work multiple muscles at once. You can do squats, lunges and calf raises to work your entire lower body; then do push-ups or chest presses to work your chest muscles, overhead presses for your triceps, pull-ups or rows for your back, and crunches, bicycle crunches, planks and side planks for your abs.
And finally, strength training isn't the only type of exercise the HHS recommends. To really stay healthy, it also suggests doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. You'll get even more health benefits if you double that amount. Examples of activities you can use to satisfy this requirement include walking, running, hiking, jumping rope, using cardio machines in the gym, dancing, kayaking and biking with friends.
- ExRx.net: "Biceps Brachii"
- American Council on Exercise: "ACE Study Reveals Best Biceps Exercises"
- Health.gov: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition"
- ExRx.net: "Dumbbell Concentration Curl"
- ExRx.net: "Cable Curls"
- TRX Training: "5 TRX Bicep Exercises You Should Be Doing Right Now"