There isn’t a bodybuilder alive who doesn’t want bigger, more muscular arms. And while there are two significant muscles that contribute to arm size, it’s the biceps that tend to get most of the attention.
Ironically, the triceps are the larger of the two main arm muscles, making up about sixty percent of your upper arm mass.
However, if you want your “ticket to the gun show,” you’d better put plenty of effort into training your biceps. Invariably, this means doing lots of curls.
While a general arm workout should produce good results for most lifters, some may find that their biceps are high and peaked but lack width and thickness. Their arms look good from the side but virtually disappear when seen from the front.
While you cannot really shape a muscle, there are exercises you can do that may add more width to your biceps.
In this article, we not only reveal the best exercises for building wider biceps, but also provide you with an arm-widening workout to try!
Biceps Anatomy 101
While you don’t need an in-depth knowledge of the structure and function of your biceps to build better-looking arms, a lot of people find anatomy and physiology interesting. Feel free to skip this section if you aren’t one of them.
But, if you like all that stuff, keep on reading…
The biceps brachii, or biceps for short, is a two-headed muscle located on the front of your upper arm. It is a biaxial muscle, meaning it crosses and affects two joints – the elbow and the shoulder.
The three main functions of the biceps are:
- Elbow flexion (bending your elbow)
- Supination of the forearm (turning your palm up)
- Flexion of the shoulder (raising your arm forward)
The biceps have two origins that converge into a single muscle belly and then insert onto your radius, which is the thicker of your two forearm bones. This creates two sets of fibers or biceps heads.
While both heads work together, it is possible to emphasize one of the other by changing the position of your shoulder.
The long head, which is located on the lateral or outer part of your biceps, is responsible for your biceps’ peak.
In contrast, the short head, which is the medial or innermost biceps head, contributes more to the thickness of your biceps. So, to develop wider biceps, you should choose exercises that increase the tension on the short, innermost head.
Another muscle that can contribute to arm thickness is the brachialis.
Like the more famous biceps, the brachialis is an elbow flexor, so it’s responsible for bending your arm. However, unlike the biceps, the brachialis plays no role in shoulder flexion or forearm supination. It just flexes your elbow – and that’s it!
The brachialis muscle is located beneath your biceps and, therefore, less prominent. It’s about 50% stronger than the biceps, so it’s a crucial functional muscle. Stronger brachialis will allow you to lift heavier weights when you train your biceps and back, leading to more productive workouts.
Located beneath the lower portion of the biceps, developing your brachialis will help “prop up” your lower biceps and make it look wider.
So, the formula for thicker biceps is to emphasize the short head and brachialis. You can use the following exercises and workout to do precisely that!
The Best Exercises for Wider Biceps
Build wider biceps and thicker brachialis muscles with these proven exercises.
1. Preacher Curls
Larry Scott was the winner of the first ever Mr. Olympia title back in 1965. Famed for his amazing arm development, Scott was a HUGE fan of preacher curls and did many variations of this muscle-building exercise. In fact, Scott is so strongly associated with preacher curls that they’re sometimes called Scott curls in his honor.
With all types of preacher/Scott curls, you should keep your triceps pressed against the bench and stop just short of fully extending your arms to prevent elbow injury.
Also, only curl the weight up until your forearms are vertical to keep the tension on your biceps. Cable preacher curls and machine preacher curls have the advantage of letting you use a larger range of motion without any loss of tension at the top of each rep.
2. Hammer Curls
You do hammer curls with a neutral or palms-in grip. This emphasizes the brachialis and short head of the biceps. Hammer curls are so-called because, when you do them, it looks a little like you are hammering in a nail.
Each variation places your hands in a neutral position, allowing you to hit your brachialis and biceps’ short head HARD!
3. Close Grip Pull-up
Pull-ups are usually done using a medium to wide grip to target the back muscles. But, if you bring your hands in and adopt a close grip, this popular back builder becomes an excellent exercise for thicker biceps.
On the downside, it’s harder to adjust the intensity of your workout when training with bodyweight. Still, you can always do close grip lat pulldowns if this exercise is too challenging. Make it harder by wearing a weighted vest.
How to do it:
- Hang from your pull-up bar using a narrow overhand grip. Ideally, your hands should be about six inches apart. Bend your legs, so your feet are off the floor, brace your abs, and pull your shoulders back and down.
- Bend your elbows and pull your chin up and over the bar. Focus on driving your elbows down and back. Your upper arms should be tucked in close to your sides.
- Slowly extend your arms and repeat, taking care not to let your shoulders relax between reps.
4. Swiss Bar Hammer Curls
While there is nothing wrong with dumbbell hammer curls, using a Swiss bar may allow you to lift more weight and create more muscle tension. Your hands are locked into a neutral position, leaving you free to focus on raising and lowering the weight. Use this exercise to build thicker biceps and more muscular forearms.
How to do it:
- Hold your Swiss bar with your preferred parallel grip. Shoulder-width works well.
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, core braced, and shoulders down and back.
- Bend your elbows and curl the Swiss bar up to your shoulders. Try not to use your legs or back to lift the weight.
- Lower the Swiss bar under control and repeat.
5. Kettlebell Hammer Curls
Kettlebell hammer curl exercise provides your biceps and forearms with a unique challenge. Because the lever gets longer as you raise the weights, this curl variation gets harder as you near the mid-point of each rep. In fact, that contraction is INTENSE!
You’ll also need to maintain a tight grip on the thick kettlebell handles to stop them swaying, which makes for even more muscle engagement. Be warned; this exercise is a lot harder than it looks!
How to do it:
- Hold your kettlebell(s) down by your side, palms turned inward.
- Without rotating your wrists, bend your arms and curl the weights up to about chest height.
- Lower the kettlebells back down and repeat.
6. Barbell Reverse Curl
Using a pronated or palms down grip increases brachialis activation. And, of course, reverse curls also emphasize the short head of your biceps. As an added benefit, this exercise also targets your forearm extensors. Training your brachialis and forearm extensors together will add a lot to your upper and lower arm size and strength.
Learn how to do barbell reverse curls here.
7. Zottman Curls
Zottman curls are an old-school hybrid exercise combining reverse curls and regular curls to train your biceps and brachialis at the same time. You can do this exercise seated or standing and using an alternating or simultaneous arm action as preferred.
How to do it:
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides, palms facing your legs. Make sure your torso is fully upright. Brace your abs.
- While keeping your upper arms close to your sides, bend your elbows and curl the weights up to your shoulders.
- Next, without lowering the weights, rotate your forearms, so your palms are now facing downward.
- Extend your arms and, keeping your hands pronated, lower the weights down towards the starting position.
- Repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.
8. Spider Curls
While this exercise won’t turn you into the Amazing Spider-Man, it is useful for targeting your inner biceps. Spider curls, also known as prone incline curls, are a cheat-free exercise as your body is supported by a bench, and it’s very hard to use momentum to help you lift the weight.
How to do it:
- Set an adjustable bench to about 45 degrees, and then lie face down, with your arms hanging down toward the floor.
- Use dumbbells, a barbell, or an EZ bar as preferred.
- Curl the weight up to your shoulders and then lower it again.
- Go light; this is a very strict arm exercise. Use a wide grip to really hammer those inner biceps.
9. Seated Barbell Curl
This unusual way of doing curls increases short head biceps activation by preventing you from extending your arms. It can be done using dumbbells or an EZ bar but works best with a straight barbell.
How to do it:
- Adjust your bench so that the backrest is close to vertical. Hold a barbell with a shoulder-width, underhand grip. Sit on the bench and rest the barbell on your thighs.
- Keeping your back against the backrest, bend your arms and curl the bar up to your shoulders.
- Lower the bar back to your legs and repeat.
- You can also do this exercise with a wider than shoulder-width grip to increase inner biceps activation even more.
10. Wide Grip Barbell Curls
Barbell curls are a classic mass exercise. Using a barbell, you can go heavy and really overload your biceps, making them great for building size and strength. They’re typically done using a hip to shoulder-width grip, which maximizes biomechanical efficiency so you can lift the heaviest possible weights.
However, if you move your hands out beyond shoulder width, you can use this exercise to emphasize your inner biceps. How wide is up for debate, but your hands should definitely be more than shoulder-width apart.
Move them out an inch or two to see how you respond to this exercise. Experiment with your grip width to find your short head sweet spot.
How to do it:
- Grip your barbell with an underhand, wider than shoulder-width grip. Stand up straight, brace your abs, and bend your knees slightly for balance. Pull your shoulders down and back.
- Without using your legs or back, bend your arms and curl the weight up to your shoulders. Keep your wrists straight.
- Lower the bar back down and repeat.
11. Concentration Curls
According to the American Council on Exercise, concentration curls are the best biceps exercise – ever (1)! While this recommendation should be taken with a pinch of salt, the concentration curl is a very effective way to emphasize the short head of your biceps and make your upper arms wider. Make it even more effective by doing concentration hammer curls.
You can read more about concentration curls here.
Workout for Wider Biceps
You can build wider biceps by adding any of these exercises to your current arm workouts. But, if you are serious about increasing the size of your biceps’ short head and brachialis, give the following workout a try.
Do it once a week, a few days after your usual arm workout. Yes, that’s right, we want you to train your biceps twice a week to shock them into new levels of strength and size!
|1||Close Grip Pull-up/Pulldown||4||6-8||2 minutes|
|2||Preacher Hammer Curl||3||10-12||90 seconds|
|3||Reverse Cable Curl||2||12-15||60 seconds|
|4||Concentration Curl||1||15, 12, 10, 8, 6*||N/A|
*For this exercise, choose a weight you can use for 15 good reps. Do 15 on your right arm, and immediately do 15 on your left. Then, without resting, do 12 on your right arm and 12 on your left. Continue in this non-stop back-and-forth style until you reach six reps per side or your arms are exhausted, and you cannot continue.
Wider Biceps – Wrapping Up
All biceps exercises work the long head and the short head. The heads work together to flex your elbows and supinate your forearms. But some exercises place a small but valuable emphasis on your short or inner biceps head. Developing this biceps head could help make your biceps wider.
Of course, muscle shape is primarily determined by your genetics, and focusing more on your inner biceps may not have much impact on your arm width. That said, you won’t know until you try!
So, use these exercises to target the short head of your biceps and your brachialis. Even if you can’t make your biceps a great deal thicker, you’ll still increase their general size and muscularity.
1- American Council on Exercise (ACE): ACE Study Reveals Best Biceps Exercises