Building bigger biceps is as simple as choosing the right exercises, performing them properly, and designing an effective workout. I’ll teach you how to do just that so that you can build the arms of your dreams.
The 10 best dumbbell bicep exercises you can do to build bigger arms:
- Dumbbell Bicep Curl
- Dumbbell Drag Curl
- Dumbbell Preacher Curls
- Dumbbell Wide Curls
- Dumbbell Hammer Curls
- Incline Dumbbell Curl
- Incline Dumbbell Hammer Curl
- Spider Curl
- Waiter Curl
- Zottman Curl
I’ll break down all of these exercises and teach you how to build your own bicep dumbbell workout to maximize your muscle growth and arm size. I’ll also share a sample 2-day program that you can use to get started today.
If you want to build bigger arms and more defined biceps, let Fitbod help. On average, a new Fitbod user who trains 3 times a week for about 45 minutes will see a 34% strength increase after 3 months. Try Fitbod for free.
The bicep runs along the entire front of the arm from the shoulder to the elbow and is responsible for bending the elbows as well as turning the palms upwards (supination).
The bicep muscles can be broken down into two different sections (heads), each of which can be isolated slightly more based on your grip and how much you rotate the wrists.
The long head of the biceps is the bigger of the two sections and therefore contributes to most of the size and shape of the bicep muscles and is recruited the most during bicep exercises.
It lays on top of the short head and is isolated with most curling exercises that have the elbows by the sides rather than in front of the body (and palms facing forward).
The most common exercises for the long head are incline dumbbell curls and standing curls (which I’ll outline later on).
The short head is the smaller of the two muscles and lies underneath the long head.
Targeting the short head can be done by performing curls that place the elbows in front of the shoulders, such as spider curls, preacher curls, or any curl where you are also lifting your elbows in front of the body.
- Related Article: Outer Bicep Workouts: 5 Exercise Examples
Benefits Of Training Your Biceps With Dumbbells
Below are the three main benefits of training your biceps with dumbbells.
Sure, you can grow your biceps with barbells and machines too, however, dumbbells offer you the ability to work around joint discomfort (see below), to change your grip, to add more variety to your workouts, and train the arms more frequently (because you aren’t just doing the same workouts all the time).
You could get great results just by doing barbell curls and machine curls a few times a week, as many do. However, if you are someone who isn’t motivated to work out when doing the same exercises week after week, adding some dumbbell bicep exercises can help keep you motivated and improve your results.
Address Muscle Imbalances
Dumbbells allow you to train each arm independently from the other, which allows you to strengthen each bicep separately. This is extremely helpful as barbells and machines do not allow you to address any muscle imbalances that may be present because your stronger arm will always take over, leaving the weaker arm wanting more.
If you happen to have one arm that is more developed or stronger than the other, dumbbells will help you even it out over time.
Customize Angles and Grips Better
Unlike barbells or machines, dumbbells allow you to change angles and grips to suit your individual needs. Sometimes a barbell curl can create wrist pain for people who have wrist issues or prior injuries. Dumbbells allow you to fine-tune your wrist positioning to work around odd joint pains and discomfort.
Dumbbells also allow for a wider variety of bicep exercises because you can easily change the angles of your curls, whereas with barbell curls you’re limited in the variations you can do.
By changing angles, you can place more emphasis on various areas of the biceps to ensure you’re shaping them as desired.
10 Dumbbell Bicep Exercises For Bigger Arms
Below are 10 of the best dumbbell exercises you can do to build bigger biceps and increase overall arm size.
1. Dumbbell Bicep Curl
The dumbbell bicep curl is the dumbbell variation of the barbell curl and allows you to train the biceps with heavy loading. This exercise primarily targets the long head of the biceps and is a staple of any great biceps workout program.
When doing these, you want to make sure that you are controlling the movement and lowering the weights all the way to stretch the muscle. Keep tension on the biceps, and don’t rest between reps.
How To Do It
- Stand in an upright position with dumbbells slightly in front of your thighs, with the elbows hanging below and slightly in front of your shoulders.
- With your palms facing forward, bend at the elbows to lift the weight without letting your elbows move backward (they should not be behind the shoulders from the lateral view).
- Curl the weights up to the chest level, making sure you do not lose tension or rest at the top.
- Slowly lower the weights by extending the elbow, keeping the elbow in place to make sure it does not move backward.
- Fully straighten the arm at the bottom without letting the dumbbells rest on your thighs (don’t relax between reps).
The goal here is to keep constant tension on the biceps. A lot of people fail to keep tension on the muscle at the top of the curl and at the bottom. I find it helpful to actually flex my bicep at the top of the curl and not to let the dumbbells rest on my thighs at the bottom.
2. Dumbbell Drag Curl
The dumbbell drag curl is a variation that allows you to overload the biceps and work the bicep in a limited range of motion to target the long head.
While this exercise is not a substitute for the dumbbell curl, it can be used to help expose the muscles to heavier loads and add extra definition to the biceps peak.
How To Do It
- Stand in an upright position with dumbbells by your sides, palms forward, and your elbows hanging below the shoulders (not in front)
- Curl the weights up as you push your elbows back behind you. The dumbbells should drag up the body.
- Once the dumbbells get as high as they can on your body without your shoulders rolling forward, pause for 1-2 seconds and flex your biceps, then slowly lower them back down to the starting position.
This exercise is done in a shorter range of motion than normal dumbbell curls, so make sure to take advantage of the squeeze at the top and avoid losing tension at the bottom. Work to keep your shoulders back at the top of the lift so they don’t roll forward.
3. Dumbbell Preacher Curls
The dumbbell preacher curl can be used to target the biceps without any involvement of the shoulders. Using the preacher curl pad (which most gyms have) you can place your elbow in front of your shoulder joint, removing the ability to use the front deltoids (shoulders) to lift the weight.
This is especially helpful for beginners who fail to isolate the biceps due to poor control and coordination. By securing the arm in position, you can isolate the biceps more easily.
You can also do these one arm at a time, which can help you place more focus on the bicep as you are performing it to address any muscle imbalances or loss of focus on the muscles working when doing both arms at once.
How To Do It
- Sit down and adjust the preacher curl pad so that the back of your arms are resting on the pad and your armpits are at the top edge of the pad.
- Grasp both dumbbells, one in each, and fully extend your biceps so that the palms are facing upwards and your elbows are in line with your shoulders.
- Contract the biceps by lifting the dumbbells up while keeping the elbows on the pad.
- Bring the dumbbells up to face level, and then slowly lower them back down, getting a full stretch of the biceps at the bottom.
I find it best to stop just shy of fully straightening the elbows, as this may cause a lot of stress to the biceps tendons. Be sure to use slow and controlled movements as you lower the weight.
4. Dumbbell Wide Curls
Dumbbell wide curls, also called W curls, are great for building the inner head of the biceps.
When doing dumbbell wide curls, you want to make sure that you are not letting the elbows move around too much as you curl the weights up and out.
How To Do It
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and grab dumbbells in each hand.
- Position your hands so that your elbows are rotated towards your body and the palm and underside of your forearms are forward.
- Contract the biceps to curl the weights up and outward. The dumbbells should be outside shoulder-width at the top of the curl.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position without losing tension, and repeat.
The key here is to pull your shoulder blades together and turn the palms out to start the lift. From there, keep those two things in place and curl the weights up by bending at the elbows.
5. Dumbbell Hammer Curls
Dumbbell hammer curls are done to target the outer areas of the biceps, as well as add extra grip strength training.
This will also mean that you can improve your wrist strength and train the wrist joint and forearm muscles while also doing curls. This is ideal if you want to build stronger biceps and improve your overall grip strength.
How To Do It
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells in each hand.
- Turn the palms so that they are facing the body, and move the wrists forward so that the dumbbells are underneath the shoulders or slightly in front (never behind).
- Keeping your wrist neutral, lift both dumbbells up by lifting the thumb to the biceps level, making sure the elbows do not move backward.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the start posting position after you have curled them to chest height.
It is easy to let your elbows move back in the curl, but this will take the load off the biceps and put more on the forearms. It can be helpful to stand in front of the mirror to watch your form and ensure your elbows are staying in line with your body.
6. Incline Dumbbell Hammer Curl
Dumbbell incline hammer curls are done to increase the range of motion of the hammer curl and also to help keep the shoulders out of the movement.
This can be very helpful for beginners who need help isolating the biceps, and for advanced lifters who want to train the outer biceps as well as develop the peaks of the biceps.
How To Do It
- Lie on your back on a bench set at a 45-60 degree angle, placing your feet firmly on the ground below you
- Grasp dumbbells in each hand, and turn the palms so that they are facing you, making sure to keep the wrists under the shoulders (never behind).
- Curl both weights up by bending at the elbows until the thumbs get to chest level, then pause and contract the biceps for 1-2 seconds.
- Slowly lower the weights until the arms are straight and the elbows are under the shoulders, then repeat.
Make sure to keep the wrist neutral throughout the movement as any bending of the wrist can impact how the movement feels and limit muscle activation of the biceps.
7. Incline Dumbbell Curl
Incline dumbbell curls are similar to the dumbbell curl, however, they have you perform the curl in a larger range of motion.
By doing larger ranges of motion, you’re able to add more tension and mechanical stress to the muscle without needing to go as heavy, which can be helpful for lifters who may not have access to heavier loads or want to progress slowly with weights.
By adding the incline, you also help target more of the upper bicep muscle fibers, as this exposes more of them by opening up the front of the shoulder more. Lastly, you minimize the ability to involve the shoulders in the curling movement, much like you do in a preacher curl.
How To Do It
- Lie on your back on a bench set at a 45-60 degree angle, placing your feet firmly on the ground below you.
- With dumbbells in each hand, let them hang under your shoulders with your palms facing forward.
- Curl the weights upward without letting the elbows move back behind the shoulder.
- Lift the weights to chest level, and then slowly lower them back down to the starting position.
I find it helpful during this exercise to stop just short of touching the dumbbells to my upper chest/shoulders, as this helps to keep the shoulders out of the movement and also keeps maximum tension on the biceps at the top. If you go too high, you may notice the biceps are able to relax which is not what you want during the set.
8. Spider Curl
The dumbbell spider curl is a biceps exercise that allows you to train the short head of the biceps, which contributes to developing the peaks of the biceps. By doing these on an incline bench, you also minimize the ability to use the shoulders to lift the weight.
This can be a tricky exercise for some lifters as you need to ensure you are not swinging the weights around. It is best to think about keeping your elbows slightly in front of your shoulders as you curl and lifting them upwards in front of you as you lift the weights.
How To Do It
- Position yourself on an incline bench (30-45 degrees) with your chest facing the bench so that the middle of your chest is touching the top of the incline bench pad.
- With dumbbells in each hand, let the arms hang down towards the floor and turn your palms forward.
- Move the hands forward to place the elbow under the shoulders (or slightly in front) when looking at it from the side view.
- Curl both weights upwards as you lift your elbows slightly upwards, then pause at the top and squeeze the biceps.
- Slowly lower the weights and repeat.
You will want to make sure that you do not let the elbows move backward on the way down, as this will unload the biceps. I find it helpful to think about keeping them in front of my shoulders at all times, which may be easiest to learn with a partner blocking your elbows from moving back.
9. Waiter Curl
The waiter curl is a dumbbell exercise that trains the outside of the biceps as well as the forearms, similar to the hammer curl.
When doing these, you want to make sure that you are keeping the elbows pinned into the body, as the narrower grip on the weight is used to target the outer head of the biceps, so you don’t want to negate that by letting the elbows flare outwards.
How To Do It
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and hold a single dumbbell with both hands so that your palms are facing upwards.
- Curl the weight upwards making sure to keep the shoulder blades together and elbows tucked into the sides of the body.
- Pause at the top for 2-3 seconds once the weight gets to your chest level, and flex the biceps.
- Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position, and repeat.
You can also do this on a preacher curl pad to increase the range of motion and minimize the shoulders getting involved. This can be particularly helpful when training this to failure or with beginners who struggle to keep their form correct during the movement (not keeping the elbows from moving back behind the shoulders).
10. Zottman Curl
The Zottman curl is a curl that trains the entire forearm and biceps in each rep. This exercise has you perform a partial reverse curl and a normal curl for the biceps in the same repetition, so it feels like a 2-in-1.
While this exercise trains both muscle groups in one movement, it is best used at the end of the workouts after you attack the biceps directly. It is not an ideal way to train the biceps for massive growth, however, it can be a good supplement to finish off a good biceps to add more time under tension.
How To Do It
- Stand in an upright position and grab dumbbells, one in each hand.
- With your palms facing forward, perform a biceps curl, turning your hands towards the floor once you get to the top of the movement.
- Lower the weights downwards with the palms facing down, keeping your shoulders in.
- Rotate your palms so that they are facing forwards again, and repeat.
You need to make sure that your elbows remain at your sides during the entire curling movement, otherwise, you will not place as much emphasis on the biceps (and use more forearms and shoulders).
Related Article: 12 Killer Arm Exercises to Build Bigger Arms
How To Plan The Best Dumbbell Bicep Workout
Below are general recommendations on the best way to plan your biceps workout.
You can then refer to the sample workouts I have provided below to use as a training template. You can even make your own workout using the Fitbod app, and then let the Fitbod app progress your workouts every week to take all the guesswork out of your training.
Each biceps workout should consist of 8-12 hard effort sets per workout. This means that if you are doing 3 exercises, each would be done for 3-4 sets.
More advanced lifters may even be able to bump this up to 12-15 total sets per workout, however, this may minimize the intensity of the early sets (which is counterproductive).
For best results, progressively increase your total sets per workout over the course of a few weeks to increase training volume (amount of work).
For example, in week one you can do 3 exercises for 3 sets each. In week 2, do 4 sets with one of those exercises (and three sets for the other two). In weeks 3 and 4, you can bump up your workouts and do 4 sets for each exercise. This would bring your total sets from 9 in the first session of the first week to 12 in the last week of the 4-week progression.
Reps (and Loading)
When training biceps, it’s best to train them in both heavier (5-10) and moderate-to-high (10-20) rep ranges.
The biggest thing is to train the biceps to failure, so if you don’t have access to a variety of loads, then work with what you have. If you have lighter weights, do more reps’ if you have heavier weights, do fewer reps.
When it comes to loading, you always want to train with as much weight as you can, while still performing the movement with good technique AND staying in the rep range you are wanting to train that day.
Related Article: Rep Ranges For Arm Workouts? (Everything You Need To Know)
I suggest you train your biceps directly twice per week, as this allows you to train them hard while providing ample opportunity to recover before your next session.
Assuming you are also training other muscle groups and movements, like back workouts, pull-ups, deadlifts, and rows, two workouts should suffice as your biceps will also be worked in those movements to assist other muscle groups.
If you really struggle to see size and growth, despite training twice per week with the highest amounts of intensity, then you could add a third biceps workout in the week.
However, more often than not, those not seeing growth just aren’t training with enough intensity on the two days they are training biceps directly.
Related Article: How Often Should You Train Arms? (5 Things To Know)
If you want to get bigger arms, then you want to train biceps exercises first in your workout. Prioritizing what is most important in your program is key, as this will allow you to attack the muscles from the freshest state.
If you are doing multiple exercises (like you should be), choose the exercise that has you lifting the most amount of weight (lowest rep ranges first), as you want to attack your strongest muscle fibers first to fatigue them out. Then, you can attack “weaker exercises” to work your less-developed muscle fibers and improve them.
Related Article: How Many Exercises Make An Effective Arm Workout?
Sample Dumbbell Bicep Workouts For Bigger Arms
Below is a sample 2-day dumbbell biceps workout plan to help you grow bigger arms. All the exercises in the workouts can be found in the Fitbod app, however, this exact workout is not.
You can use the below sample workouts as a template to build your own in the Fitbod app. Once built in the Fitbod app, the app will help you progress your workouts over the long term to help you get better muscle growth and results.
This workout has you lifting in the lower rep ranges (5-10) to increase the strength of the biceps. By increasing your strength, you will also be able to use heavier loads in high-rep workouts. Both are necessary (low and high-rep workouts) to progressively build muscle.
- Incline Dumbbell Curl: 3 sets of 6-8 reps, then 2 sets of 8-12 reps. Rest 90-120 seconds between sets.
- Dumbbell Hammer Curl: 3 sets of 6-8 reps, then 2 sets of 8-12 reps. Rest 90-120 seconds between sets.
- Dumbbell Zottman Curl: 3 sets 8-12 reps. Rest 90-120 seconds between sets.
This workout is all about pushing intensity in higher rep ranges. The goal is to keep constant tension on the muscles for 30-60 seconds, which is why rep ranges are 12-20 reps (each rep should take 2-3 seconds).
- Dumbbell Spider Curl: 3 sets of 12-15 reps. Rest 60-90 seconds between sets.
- Dumbbell Wide Curl: 3 sets of 12-15 reps. Rest 60-90 seconds between sets.
- Zottman Curl: 3 sets of 15-20 reps. Rest 60-90 seconds between sets.
Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Build Biceps With Just Dumbbells?
Yes! Dumbbells are a great tool to use to train each bicep separately to ensure balanced growth. You are also able to change angles as well as the amount of wrist rotation (pronation and supination) to target all heads of the bicep.
What Dumbbell Workout Is Best For Biceps?
The best dumbbell workout will include 2-3 exercises that allow you to target all heads of the bicep. You will want to make sure you do an exercise where your palms are forward (dumbbell curl) as well as one with the palms facing towards your body (hammer curl) as this will ensure you hit all heads of the bicep.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.