Remember when it was enough to have those classic (and comical) rounded biceps? If it looked like you were walking around with a cantaloupe under each arm, then you were winning.
It’s a little different today.
If you wanna show off your guns, it’s no longer enough to have that bloated big arm look. You want definition and strength to match size.
Are you still doing the same boring biceps workout? We’re going to breakdown the anatomy of the biceps muscle as well as the best dumbbell biceps exercises to increase size, separation, and strength. We’ll even throw in a few biceps workouts to get you started today.
Anatomy of the Biceps Muscle
If you read our article on the best dumbbell triceps exercises, this will sound familiar since the “tri” in triceps refers to the three heads: long, lateral, and medial.
The biceps brachii muscle is made up of two heads, hence the “bi” in biceps. You have the long head and the short head.
You can find the long head of the biceps muscle on the outside of your upper arm. It serves to stabilize the humerus during elbow flexion and forearm supination.
Studies found that the long head was so important for this function that, if severed or compromised due to injury or surgery, there was a great deal of instability and dysfunction in the arm and shoulder on that side of the body even after rehab and recovery. 
Found on the inside of the upper arm, the short head of the biceps muscle runs underneath the long head.
As the name implies, this muscle is shorter than its long head counterpart; however, it’s equally as important for flexion and supination of the elbow joint. It also helps with turning the humerus in towards the body.
Best Dumbbell Bicep Exercises
Just like in our triceps exercises article, we’re going to breakdown the best dumbbell biceps exercises by which of the two heads is primarily activated.
Keep in mind that both heads will be activated in all of the following exercises; however, certain exercises and hand positions will activate one head more than the other. And every biceps workout needs a combination of both types of exercises as this will help you develop well-balanced biceps.
We’ve included a bodyweight exercise as well for each head of the bicep. Bodyweight exercises are excellent for reaching complete fatigue in the muscle.
You can use them to pre-exhaust the muscle before weighted sets, add some variety in between dumbbell exercises, or empty the fuel tank at the end of your workout. We’ll demonstrate each in the section on dumbbell biceps workouts.
Exercises for the Biceps Long Head
In general, exercises that allow you to maintain a straight or narrow grip will activate the long head of the biceps muscle. Below, you’ll find some of the best dumbbell bicep exercises for the long head.
Exercises for the Biceps Short Head
As you’d expect, exercises that force you to use a wider grip are going to be better suited for going after the short head of the bicep muscle. Below, you’ll find the exercises we recommend to target the biceps’ short head.
Please note that the wide-grip incline dumbbell curls exercise requires you to maintain a wide arc throughout. This is different from the traditional incline dumbbell curl, which is straight up and down.
Dumbbell Biceps Workouts
As mentioned above, we’ve thrown in the bodyweight exercises, utilizing them at a different point in each workout. This will give you variety but also some ideas for how to change up your workout when the time comes.
This beginner dumbbell biceps workout focuses on the foundational movement: the curl.
We recommend a few exercises that stress the importance of form. In this way, when you’re ready to progress, there will be no doubt that you’re doing the exercise correctly.
You’ll also use the bodyweight exercises as a warm-up and method for pre-exhausting the bicep muscles.
- Close-Grip Chin-Ups: 2 sets of 10 repetitions (use a chair for assistance, if needed)
- Narrow Grip Dumbbell Curls: 3 x 15 – 20
- Dumbbell Concentration Curl: 3 x 12 – 15
- Dumbbell Preacher Curls: 2 x 8 – 12
This intermediate workout includes bodyweight bicep exercises in between dumbbell exercises to provide variety and keep the building number of metabolites high throughout the working sets.
- Traditional Incline Dumbbell Curl: 2 sets of 10 repetitions
- Close-Grip Chin-Ups: 3 x 15 (use a chair for assistance, if needed)
- Wide Grip Dumbbell Curls 3 x 8 – 10
- Wide-Grip Chin-Ups: 2 x 15 (use a chair for assistance, if needed)
- Dumbbell Preacher Curls: 3 x 8 – 12
Finally, if you’re ready for it, this is going to be one hell of a workout for anyone who wants bigger, stronger, and defined biceps.
We start and end the workout with bodyweight exercises to ensure maximum muscle fatigue, which will be ideal for goals of hypertrophy, strength, and definition.
One important feature of this workout is that we include two types of curls that will emphasize the lower end of the biceps muscle (towards the elbow), helping to provide lean muscle separation.
- Close-Grip Chin-Ups: 2 sets of 15 repetitions
- Cross Body Hammer Curl: 3 x 8 – 12
- Dumbbell Drag Curl: 3 x 8 – 12
- Wide Incline Dumbbell Curls: 2 x 8 – 12
- Dumbbell Preacher Curls: 2 x 8 – 12
- Wide-Grip Chin-Ups: 3 x failure (do as many as you can)
Biceps Training Schedule: When Should You Train Biceps?
The biceps muscle supports all of the movements that your back performs. So when you’re doing a barbell bent-over row, you’re using your biceps. Performing a pull-up? Yep, biceps are involved.
With that said, it’s important not to sabotage your back-focused training days on the quest for bigger arms.
In general, do not train your biceps the day before a back workout. Instead, train biceps on the same day at the end of the workout or hit the biceps a day or two after the back workout.
Assuming you’re following a traditional training schedule, here are two examples you can follow or model your own workout after:
Training Schedule Example One
- Monday: Chest / Shoulders / Triceps
- Tuesday: Rest
- Wednesday: Legs / Core
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: Back / Biceps / Core
- Saturday / Sunday: Rest
Training Schedule Example Two
- Monday: Chest / Shoulders
- Tuesday: Legs / Core
- Wednesday: Rest
- Thursday: Back / Core
- Friday: Biceps and Triceps
- Saturday / Sunday: Rest
Not All Dumbbell Bicep Exercises Are Created Equal
Wouldn’t it be great if one dumbbell exercise was enough to target both heads and strength the connective tissue?
Sure, you might be able to get away with standard dumbbell curls if you’re in a maintenance or general fitness program but if you’re serious about developing your biceps muscles, we recommend a solid dumbbell workout that focuses on both the long and short heads.
- Kumar VP, Satku K, Balasubramaniam P. The role of the long head of biceps brachii in the stabilization of the head of the humerus. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1989 Jul;(244):172-5. PMID: 2743659.
Build Bigger Biceps Faster with these Dumbbell Biceps Exercises is written by David Sautter for ironbullstrength.com