If there’s one muscle group just about everyone wants to build, it’s got to be the biceps. Your biceps sit on the front of your upper arm and flex your elbow — they also happen to look awesome when developed.
You may already know how to hit the dumbbell rack and bang out some curls. Biceps training is, for the most part, beautiful in its simplicity. However, what do you do when you can’t make it to the gym?
What if you like to train at home; can you still grow those guns? Luckily, you can. Here are eight of the best biceps-builders you can do with just your own body’s weight.
Best Bodyweight Biceps Exercises
The best thing about chin ups is the versatility of the exercise: You can perform them almost anywhere with little equipment, and the exercise itself has an abundance of variations.
Benefits of the Supinated Chin-Up
- Builds great overall upper body strength.
- Creates transferable strength to sports and other strength-training exercises.
- Serves as an easy entry point to pull-up based training.
How to Do the Supinated Chin-Up
To perform the chin-up, you will need something to grab onto. Start by firmly gripping the bar with your palms facing toward you, about shoulder-width apart. Then, hang from the bar with your arms straight. Use your biceps and back to pull yourself upward until your chin clears the height of the bar itself.
Like the chin-up, the inverted row is a very versatile exercise that you can do almost anywhere. This exercise is much easier to perform than most pull-up variations and is likely better suited for beginners.
Inverted rows are a great way to build your biceps while also training your back and helping you coordinate your lower body. They serve as a great stepping stone to performing more difficult exercises such as the chin-up, while also crushing your biceps in the process if you work with an underhand grip.
Benefits of the Inverted Row
- Great for beginners to build general upper-body strength.
- Helps you develop solid pulling technique.
- Recruits your lower body muscles and core, isometrically.
How to Do the Inverted Row
To do the inverted row, you need a stable surface to hold onto, such as a barbell lodged in a rack or even the edge of a large table. Start by lying underneath whatever you’re holding onto with your legs straight.
Grab ahold of the surface — a barbell is preferable here — with an underhand grip and pull your upper body up to it. Ensure that your core remains braced and your legs stay straightened. Your feet should never leave the ground. To make the exercise more difficult, you can elevate your feet on a box or chair.
If you’re out of options with just your bodyweight, you’ll have to get creative with items around the house to train your biceps. Luckily, you can wrangle a towel to replicate certain biceps-friendly exercises.
Benefits of the Towel Row
- Allows you to train your biceps individually, one arm at a time.
- Improves your grip and crushing strength.
- You can customize your setup to bias either the biceps or brachialis muscles.
How to Do the Towel Row
To perform the towel row, you’ll need a towel and a fixed surface such as a column; in a pinch, hanging the towel over a door and then shutting it will work too. Grip the end of the towel with one or both arms with a neutral or palms-facing-upward grip.
Then, row your body forward with your arm. If you’re working one arm at a time and the towel is able to move, you can use your non-working arm to apply manual resistance to the working biceps. If you’re using both arms at once, make an effort to pull with your arms rather than your back.
Once you’ve mastered the humble chin-up, you can squeeze more juice out of it by working with a towel instead. Holding onto a towel, rather than squeezing a fixed bar, will bias different muscles in your upper arm while still ensuring you make great biceps gains too.
The towel chin-up is one of the best ways to isolate the biceps and build a better grip. And a stronger grip can enable you to train your biceps even harder in the future.
Benefits of the Towel Chin-Up
- Challenges your grip and builds your forearms.
- A great overall back strength movement as well.
How to Do the Towel Chin-Up
To perform the towel chin-up, you’ll need to drape a towel over a fixed surface such as a pull-up bar. Then, set up as you would for a standard chin-up by gripping the ends of the towel and hanging from it. You may have to bend your knees to avoid touching the ground.
Squeeze the towel hard and pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar, focusing on contracting your arms the entire time and crushing the towel in your hands as hard as you can. For a truly next-level challenge, you can perform the exercise with only one arm at a time.
Some bodyweight biceps exercises are more advanced or challenging than others. The headbanger chin-up definitely falls into the “harder” category, but it is still a great exercise for your arms.
If you have the calisthenics skills to suspend your entire body in the air and pull yourself up using only your arms, the headbanger chin-up might be right for you. On top of it all, it’s an amazing core exercise.
Benefits of the Headbanger Chin-Up
- Provides a “free” core workout.
- Helps you improve your bodily awareness or proprioception.
- Applies a lot of load and tension to the biceps without weights.
How to Do the Headbanger Chin-Up
You’ll need a pull-up bar for this one. Grab the bar with a supinated grip, palms facing toward you. Then, pull yourself into the top of a regular chin-up. Your head should clear the bar. Once you’re there, bend at the waist to raise your legs out in front of you, kind of like an L-sit. That’s the starting position.
Lower yourself down using only your arms by extending at the elbow. Then, reverse the motion and pull yourself back up and in using your biceps. You should figuratively pull such that you’re almost banging your head against the bar you’re hanging onto.
You may not have a TRX station in your home, so this exercise isn’t as widely-applicable as some others on this list. That said, working with TRX bands can really elevate your bodyweight training and make biceps-only exercises more practical and effective.
TRX bands are a great option for beginners who are just starting out with physical training, but you can tweak them to be relevant to your goals even if you have a few years of gym experience under your belt.
Benefits of the TRX Biceps Curl
- The bands allow for a variety of different grip positions.
- You can adjust your feet to make the movement easier or harder quickly.
How to Do the TRX Biceps Curl
You’ll need access to a TRX station for this one. Stand holding the handles at arm’s length. The closer to the fixture point you place your feet, the easier the movement will be. To add difficulty, set your feet such that your body is at an angle while holding the handles in front of you. Then, simply contract your biceps to curl the handles toward your face.
Anatomy of the Biceps
You probably know where your biceps are and, generally, what they do — but they’re more than quintessential mirror muscles. The biceps brachii tissue connects from your shoulder blade to your forearm. Its primary functions are to flex the elbow and supinate, or rotate upward, the wrist (think racquet sports such as tennis).
Your biceps also serve as essential stabilizers in many pushing movements (including the bench press and more) by co-contracting at the elbow. They help control how fast or slow you straighten your arm, even if they aren’t actively working.
How to Program Biceps Training
As your biceps are a smaller muscle than, say, your back or legs, you can get away with training them more often. However, you also have to keep in mind that your biceps get some stimulation during most back exercises. There’s a lot to consider when programming your arm work — keep these core ideas in mind:
When selecting exercises, always consider what you want to achieve by training a given muscle in the first place. For instance, if you’re a powerlifter, you don’t necessarily need massive biceps to perform well in your sport — you need strong arms.
As such, you might want to rely more on overall upper-body strength by including movements like chin-ups and rows, rather than endless sets of curls. If you need to put on muscle mass in a specific area (including your biceps), isolation exercises are invaluable.
Biceps Sets and Reps
Your biceps are like any other muscle; they’ll respond accordingly to how you train them. Much of that distinction comes down to your set and rep schemes.
- For Strength: In general, focus on performing 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 8 reps.
- For Muscle Growth: In general, focus on performing 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.
- For Beginners: Some bodyweight biceps exercises may be too difficult to start. Work on performing 1 or 2 reps at a time over a large number of sets.
Biceps Training Tips
In the muscle and strength game, the pathway of progress isn’t linear. As such, you shouldn’t be discouraged if you find your arms lagging behind or not growing at the rate you’d expect. Plenty of things can influence your rate of progress, including sleep and nutrition.
When it comes to training itself, you need to know how to get the most value out of your biceps training, even if you’re only working with your own bodyweight.
Find an Entry Point
As with any exercise, you’ll need to find the right dosage: A proper “entry point.” Calisthenics can be hard to gauge, so start slow and work your way up until you find the right difficulty.
You can use the RPE (that’s Rating of Perceived Exertion) scale here to great effect. For example, if you perform a set of towel rows, you’ll want to ensure that you hit an RPE of 7 or 8 — meaning, you can do, at most, two or three more repetitions.
Quality Over Quantity
Bodyweight movements may be difficult at first, but it’s common to get good at them quite quickly and start blazing through your reps. Instead, you should really focus on contracting the target muscle (your biceps, in this case).
There’s nothing wrong with performing reps quickly or even using momentum from time to time, but it can detract from the goal at hand. If you want to build big arms, you have to train with intent, even when you aren’t using weights. Make every rep count.
Don’t Overdo It
In the grand scheme of things, the biceps are a relatively small muscle. You can build your arms pretty well without ever training your biceps directly, in some cases. That said, just make sure that your biceps training doesn’t interfere or overlap with your other exercises. And, as awesome as it is to have a big set of guns, remember to train more than just your arms.
The best part of bodyweight training is its accessibility. No matter your experience level, or what equipment you have (or, in this case, don’t have), there’s something you can do to move you just a little bit closer to your goals.
Training your biceps without weights is possible if you work hard at it and pick the right exercises. On top of it all, calisthenics are great for building a more active and healthy lifestyle. Remember, something is always better than nothing when it comes to muscle growth.
Featured Image: mbframes / Shutterstock