How strong are your biceps and what are you doing to make them stronger? It’s easy to get into a biceps training rut! One reason this happens is that we focus too much on biceps curls! When you’re trying to build biceps, curls are likely the first exercise that comes to mind. However, curls are an isolation exercise that hammers the biceps but doesn’t work other muscles. You’ll get more benefits if you introduce some compound exercises into your routine that also work your biceps.
Compound exercises are those that involve movement around more than one joint simultaneously. As such, these exercises work more than one muscle group at the same time. In contrast, biceps curls are an isolation exercise that works a single joint and works one muscle group, the biceps. You’ll get more benefits and save time if you add more compound movements to your routine since they burn more calories and teach muscles to work more efficiently together. What are the best compound exercises for the biceps?
Reverse Grip Row
Rows, in general, are compound exercises because they work the muscles in your arms, upper back, and lower back. They also target your biceps, but some rows are better than others for working your biceps. One of the best is the reverse grip row. If you have a barbell handy, you’re ready to do one. Here’s how:
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Place your hands on the barbell in an underhand grip. They should be about shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your knees to lower your pelvis until it’s almost parallel to the floor. This is your starting position.
- Holding this position, pull the bar up and toward your body. The bar should almost touch your lower chest.
- Hold for a second and lower the barbell back to the starting position.
Chin-Ups and Pull-Ups
Chin-ups and pull-ups are tough exercises to execute but if you can manage to do even a few, you’re in an elite category! When you do chin-ups, you work the muscles in your upper back along with your biceps, but the exercise is so challenging that your whole body gets a workout. Plus, doing chin-ups can improve your grip strength too. Grip strength, for some people, is a limiting factor in how much they can lift. Pull-ups are another challenging exercise that works the upper back muscles along with the biceps.
What’s the difference between a pull-up and a chin-up? Each uses a different grip. To do chin-ups, you grip the bar with an underhand grip so that the palms of your hands face your body. The opposite is true with a pull-up. Your wrists point away from you in an overhand grip.
If you can’t do chin-ups, and many people, can’t, you can work the same muscle groups with lateral pulldowns. Another way to make pull-ups and chin-ups easier is to place a stool underneath the bar and use it for the push you need to get our chin up over the bar. Over time, work toward doing a few unassisted chin-ups or pull-ups. If you have access to an assisted pull-up machine, start with that. Pull-ups and chin-ups aren’t for the faint-hearted!
Reverse Hand Push-Ups
Standard push-ups don’t target the biceps. Rather they work the chest, deltoids, and the muscles that oppose the biceps, the triceps. However, there are ways to get the biceps to do more work when you do this exercise. One is to place your hands closer together and do close-grip push-ups. An even better, although advanced, alternative is to reverse the position of your hands so that your fingers face in the opposite direction. Here’s how to do one:
- Get into a standard push-up position but turn your hands so that your fingers point toward your feet.
- Lower your body down in the same manner as for a standard push-up. Keep your elbows close to your body.
- Once your chest is close to the ground, push your body back up to the starting position.
Seated Cable Row
For this exercise, you’ll need access to a seated cable row machine. To do it, sit on the bench that’s part of the cable row station with your feet placed on the platform in front of you. Then, pull the bar back toward your torso while holding your torso stationary. Pause for a second and then release the bar back to the starting position. Keep repeating as you feel the burn in your biceps and upper back. Being a compound exercise, this exercise will also build firm, strong back muscles.
Inverted Row with Underhand Grip
Inverted rows work the muscles in the upper back and the muscles that “pull.” By switching to an underhand grip, you force your biceps to work harder. For this exercise, you need a bar that’s sturdy enough for you to pull your body up to. Here’s how to do it:
- Grasp the bar with an underhand grip so that your palms and fingers are facing your head. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart.
- Slide your body underneath the bar so your legs are stretched out in a straight line in front of you as you hang with straight arms from the bar.
- Use your arms to pull your chest up toward the bar. Hold for a second.
- Lower your body back down to the starting position in a slow, controlled manner.
Vary Your Biceps Exercises
Most people focus on standard biceps curls when they train their biceps. Along with these compound exercises that work your biceps, do a variety of curls. There are many to choose from! Switch dumbbells for a barbell and do barbell curls. You can even use resistance bands for curls to work your biceps through their full range-of-motion. If you have access, use a cable to curl too. Change the tempo and do curls on one side only and then switch. Do hammer curls, concentration curls, preacher curls, Zottman curls, and reverse curls too. Change the tempo too. Don’t let your biceps workouts get stale. Stagnation stymies growth!
The Bottom Line
Hope this will motivate you to vary your biceps training by adding more compound exercises that work your biceps. Don’t give up curls but don’t make them the only exercise you do for the front of your arms. Include some of these compound exercises that work other muscle groups too.