Have you ever wondered what are the best bodyweight bicep exercises?
I had the same problem a few years ago. I was constantly looking for exercises to develop my arms...
And you know why?
I was doing my chin-ups and inverted rows A-ok...
However, I was not gaining any mass in my arms, especially the biceps.
I used to go to the store to buy a shirt and have difficulties: it was too tight for my upper torso, yet too loose for my arms.
Sizing up was not an option. Nor sizing down.
Now I am over that issue and, in this article, we’ll discuss which are the best bodyweight exercises to develop your bicep, as well as some of our recommendations.
How does the biceps work
The biceps brachii is the most superficial muscle of the anterior side of our upper arm.
It lays above two other muscles, the coracobrachialis and the brachialis. In the following lines, we’ll discuss the anatomy and function of the biceps.
We’ll also discuss the importance of the brachialis in the size development of our arms.
Knowing this information, especially the function of the bicep will help you understand why certain exercises activate the muscle and what you can do to get a better activation.
The bicep has two distinct heads (or fibers) that join to form the muscle belly, then attach in the medial side of the radius (one of the forearm bones) in a single tendon.
The two heads have different origin points, as follows:
- The short head originates at the top of the scapula
- The long head originates above the shoulder joint
The short head is the inner part of the muscle. These fibers give the peak look whenever we flex the arms.
The best way to work these fibers is with your arms in front of the body - think about preacher curls.
The long head is the outer part of the muscle.
Focusing on the development of this part will help you with strength in pulling exercises, as well as arms size.
The best way to work these fibers is with the arms by your side - think about hammer curls.
There are three main functions of the biceps brachii:
- 1. Flexion of the elbow
- 2. Supination of the forearm
- 3. Flexion of the shoulder
With all this information in mind, you can already start to imagine the movement of the arms during certain exercises.
You may be able to understand what is the movement that activates the biceps and why it contracts.
Let’s take an example: pull-ups -pronated, palms facing away from you vs. chin-ups - supinated, palms facing you.
During pull-ups, the biceps engages but it is placed in a mechanical disadvantage.
However, in a chin-up it is placed in a mechanical advantage and can activate properly.
That mechanical advantage is the supination of the forearm.
Both variations flex the elbow; therefore, there will be some kind of activation regardless of which one you’ll be doing.
However, the chin-up will only place the biceps in an ideal position.
Before getting to our list of bodyweight bicep exercises, there is one more thing left to address.
A word on the brachialis
Even though the brachialis is a different muscle altogether, it may make you question your progress.
You can find this muscle under the biceps, but a small part of it will be visible on the outer part of your arm, between the biceps and the triceps.
If you do not develop the brachialis, there will seem to be a hollow spot at the side of your arm.
I used to think that I need more biceps exercises but what I needed really was to work the brachialis.
So how do you develop it?
The best exercises to develop it are those performed with a neutral grip: commando pull ups, hammer curls, or cross-body hammer curls.
Bodyweight bicep exercises
Bodyweight fitness is packed-full with compound exercises...
But there are close to no isolation exercises.
Compound movements are those performed with more than one muscle group and more than a joint. Usually, with such movement, the big muscles - lats for example - do most of the heavy lifting.
With the following exercises, we’ll try to emphasize the biceps and brachialis as much as possible.
The chin-up has to be the most popular bodyweight bicep exercises.
However, this time you will be doing them a little bit differently.
You will never hear us tell you to compromise the range of motion of an exercise…
...unless it helps you target a specific muscle that you want to target. But this is what we are going to tell you regarding the chin-up.
How to perform the exercise:
- 1. Grab the bar and pull yourself to the middle portion of the chin up
- 2. Do not go all the way up, nor all the way down
- 3. Pull yourself up and descend, staying in the range of motion where the elbows are in front of your body
Why the decreased range of motion?
When you reach the top and bottom positions of a chin-up, your biceps is no longer under tension.
This is an issue because the muscle has to be under tension throughout the entire movement if you want to get strength or hypertrophy adaptations.
2. Commando pull-ups
As mentioned in the section about how the bicep works...
There is another muscle that you want to take into consideration if you want bigger arms.
Developing the brachialis will not only ‘fill’ the empty spot between your biceps and triceps, but it will also push these muscles apart, making your arms look larger.
The best way to engage the brachialis muscle is with neutral grip, which is what you’ll be doing with the commando pull-ups.
How to perform the exercise:
- 1. Grab onto the handles or the bar using a neutral grip
- 2. Use the full range of motion - all the way up, and all the way down
As opposed to the chin-up, you will be using the full range of motion of the exercise to develop the brachialis muscle.
3. Bar curls
Bar curls have to be one of our favorite bodyweight bicep exercises, thanks to their ability to isolate the biceps.
These can be done on the bar, using TRX equipment, or gymnastics rings.
They are as close to isolating the biceps as you will get with any exercise performed with your own body weight.
Furthermore, they are a great exercise to fix any weak links in your biceps - weaknesses that may prevent you from doing your first pull-up (tutorial here).
How to perform the exercise:
- 1. Find a bar that is chest high or lower and position yourself underneath it
- 2. Use an underhand grip keeping a straight line from your head to your toes
- 3. Keep your face is right underneath the bar, as opposed to an inverted row where the chest is under the bar
- 4. Pull from your biceps by flexing the elbow; do not pull from your lats by bringing the elbows down.
It may be a bit difficult to grasp the movement at first.
Once you do, however, you will have found a great exercise for targeting your bicep by only using your own weight.
Headbangers isolate the biceps really well.
In our opinion, they come second, after the bar curls.
However, there is a drawback...
The exercise can be pretty tough for a beginner. You need to be able to hold the top position of a chin-up with close to no effort.
Even though it is difficult, you may want to consider doing it if you are focused on the development of your biceps.
How to perform the exercise:
- 1. Get in the top position of a chin-up, with your chest to the bar
- 2. Tighten the core and keep it tight until you finish the exercise
- 3. Push your body back by extending the elbow, then pull back towards the bar by flexing it
If you can comfortably hold the top position of a chin-up, we highly recommend you to perform this exercise.
While it may take some practice, you will see good improvements in your biceps.
5. Pseudo planche Push-ups (PPPUs)
How can a push-up help you with the development of your biceps?
We know; it sounds silly.
And we agree with you.
That being said, the pseudo planche push-up is the exception to that rule; especially if you make one slight adjustment.
Instead of doing the push-up with your fingers pointing forward, do it with the fingers pointing backward.
This grip change, coupled with the mechanics of the exercise, will force your biceps tendon to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
How to do it:
- 1. Get in a high plank with your fingers pointing backward
- 2. Protract the scapula and lean forward as much as you can
- 3. When you find the maximum leaning point, descend to the bottom position of a push-up, then push yourself back up
- 4. Hold the lean throughout the entire movement
You will feel your biceps work and your anterior deltoid burning.
The pseudo planche push-up is a difficult exercise, but it’s certainly worth your while as one of the best bodyweight bicep exercises.
It is easy to build an aesthetic physique using bodyweight exercises but your arms may not always get the best training stimulus.
If you don’t have the necessary equipment to isolate your arms, you can certainly and skip it.
If you do have the means to do so, we highly recommend you to isolate the biceps, triceps, lateral and posterior deltoid, and the lower back.
Bodyweight fitness is awesome.
It builds you up nicely, and is easy on your joints.
However, there are certain drawbacks to it.
You should never identify with a certain style of training because it will limit you.
Better yet, identify with a healthy lifestyle, fitness in general, and healthy eating and you will get farther; both in life and in your training.
These are, in our opinion, the best bodyweight bicep exercises.
If you do one or two of them two to three times per week you should start noticing results.
Furthermore, you now have an idea of how the biceps works.
You now know that every exercise that is done with a pronated forearm, requires elbow flexion, or requires shoulder flexion, will offer some kind of stimulus to your biceps.
All that’s left to do is for you to apply this knowledge and start working out.
Over to you.