It is hard to imagine a bicep workout without weights. Building big biceps is associated with hitting the gym and cranking out numerous sets of bicep curls. This is understandable since the only move that directly hits the bicep is the curling motion. Which is best employed using dumbbells or barbells. But what most fail to realize is that the curling motion occurs in many other moves.
You can also build bigger biceps from home by using bodyweight exercises. Just look at your average Olympic gymnast. These guys have biceps that would make most gym rats extremely jealous. And guess what? Their arms were built using nothing but their own body weight!
Here is a selection of bodyweight exercises that will help you build bigger biceps from the comfort of your own home:
Standard Pull Ups:
This classic bodyweight exercise targets the outer biceps head as well as the brachialis.
These are like chin-ups but the main difference is in the pull up bar grip. With chin-ups your palms are facing towards you, with pull-ups your palms face away from you. Also, with pull-ups you adopt a much wider grip (thus the term wide grip pull ups) that is shoulder width apart. In addition to working the biceps, pull-ups give the back muscles a great workout as well. Slowly pull yourself up as your exhale, and then inhale as you lower yourself (at an even slower pace).
Mix-up this back and bicep bodyweight exercise by experimenting with different grips. Close grip, wide grip, medium grip and reverse grip pull-ups all focus on slightly different muscle areas. Also change up the tempo every now and then to shock your body into action.
Towel Pull ups:
Roll up a towel and throw it over a beam or branch. Now you can do pull ups pretty much anywhere! This exercise targets the outer biceps and brachialis, as well as your forearms. If you haven't done any grip work, you will be surprised how this exercise will make your forearms grow.
Close Grip Chin Ups:
This move targets the inner head of the biceps.
To perform the chin-up, you require a pull-up bar or some sort of bar that will support your body weight. Installing a pull-up bar in your home is relatively inexpensive and you just need to place the bar between a sturdy door frames and screw it in place. You can see our review of the top pull bars on the market in this article.
Grip the bar with your palms facing towards yourself, and then slowly pull yourself up until your chin touches your fingers. Exhale as you pull yourself up and inhale on the way down. At first chin-ups can be very hard and you may struggle to do just a few. Start off trying to reach 6 reps, and slowly build up the reps over time.
After a few months, try working in assisted one arm pull ups, holding on to a towel with the non-working hand to add assistance when necessary.
One Arm Pull Up:
Once you can do close grip chin ups for around 10 repetitions, start including "uneven pull ups", where one arm grabs the bar/suspension trainer handle, the other hand grabs that hand's wrist. From this position pull yourself up as fast as you can and slowly lower yourself down. It should take you 4 to 5 seconds to lowers yourself down. This will really hit the biceps, as well as developing exceptional grip strength (one hand is supporting your entire bodyweight!)
Half Curls/Elbow Curls:
This weird looking exercise is the closest thing there is to an ‘official’ way to train your biceps without a bar.
To perform this movement, you start by lying on your side with your legs bent in front of you. Alternatively you can do this exercise standing up as shown in the video. Now you’re going to keep the arm you’re lying on straight, and tuck that hand underneath your legs against the floor. Now the idea is to pull against your leg, curling your arm as you do, and lifting your upper body upwards. If you feel a burn then it’s working. Repeat on both sides.
Curl-Grip Press Ups:
Again it’s not exactly a graceful looking exercise, but it’s enough to get the job done.
Basically here you’re going to use a press up but with your arms particularly wide apart (wider than shoulder width) and your fingers pointing outwards. Now you’re going to perform press-ups as normal, and what you’ll find is that you are training the ‘negative’ strength of your biceps as you go down.
Sitting Knee Curl:
Sit on a chair or flat on the ground with your legs extended out in front of you. Now tuck your hands under your knees or your hamstrings, and using your biceps pull your upper body down towards your knees. Provide resistance by ‘fighting’ your own biceps using your core to try and keep yourself straight.
Dynamic Self-Resistance/Static Contraction:
Two other methods you can use are to either pull down on your own arm with your free hand (dynamic self-resistance) or to simply tense your biceps for a count (static contraction). You can also tense your biceps while mimicking the motion of a curl in order to train through the entire range of motion.
How Many Sets, How Many Reps?
Experts tend to agree that doing sets of 8-12 repetitions is best for muscle growth. Personally, I like to start out by doing the most difficult exercise first (one arm pull up progressions) for a couple sets, stopping a rep or two before failure. After that, try doing two sets of each of the other exercises, for a total of 8 sets.
Should I Go To Failure For Each Set?
There are many opinions on this subject. Most fall into two camps - either the "going to failure" group or the "progressive overload" group. In my experience, progressive overload works best for most people.
The progressive overload theory says that in order to gain muscle, it is important to increase either the weight lifted or reps/sets performed for each workout.
So if your workout looked like this one week:
Uneven Pull ups- 4/4, 3/3 Towel Pull ups- 12, 10 Close Grip Chin Ups- 9,8 Standard Pull ups 8,8
Then the following workout (the next week) you should do at least one more rep in ONE of those sets.
Once you get past 12 reps for an exercise, add some weight by wearing a backpack filled with weight or hanging some weight from a belt.
These bodyweight home bicep exercises should be more than enough to get your arms popping out your t-shirt.