Bodyweight Bicep Exercises: How To Get Massive Arms Quickly

Skinny man standing in front of a wall with a painting of two muscular arms

Have you ever wondered what are the best bodyweight bicep exercises?

I was in the same boat a few years ago. I was constantly looking for exercises to develop my arms, and you know why?

I was doing my pull ups and push ups 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.

Anatomy

Picture presenting the position of the long and short head of the biceps, as well as the brachialis

The bicep has two distinct heads (or fibers) that join to form the muscle belly, then attach in the medial side of the radius 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, that gives 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.

Function

Diagram showing the elbow flexion movement and how to biceps reacts

There are three main functions of the biceps brachii:

  • Flexion of the elbow
  • Supination of the forearm
  • 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 - chin ups vs pull ups.

During pull ups, the biceps engages but it is placed in a mechanical disadvantage, whereas in a chin up it is placed in a mechanical advantage; therefore, it 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. The chin up will only place the biceps in an ideal position, however.

The difference in pronated and supinated grip in your bodyweight bicep exercises

Before getting to our list of bodyweight bicep exercises, there is one more thing left to address.

A word on the brachialis

Diagram showing the biceps, brahioradialis, and 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 an empty 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 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.

Chin ups

Man doing chin ups on a playground

The chin up has to be the most popular bodyweight exercise for your biceps. However, this time we’ll 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. Same goes for the chin up in this exact case.

How to perform the exercise:


  • Grab the bar and pull yourself to the middle portion of the chin up
  • Do not go all the way up, nor all the way down
  • 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.

Commando pull ups

Athlete doing 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 through the use of a neutral grip (see picture above), which is what you’ll be doing with the commando variation.

How to perform the exercise:


  • Grab onto the handles or the bar using a neutral grip
  • 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.

Bar curls

Daniel Vadnal performing bodyweight curls on a bar

Daniel Vadnal form FitnessFAQs.

Bar curls have to be one of my favorite bodyweight biceps exercises, thanks to their capacity 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 - links that may prevent you from doing your first chin up.

How to perform the exercise:


  • Find a bar that is sternum high or lower and position yourself underneath it
  • Use an underhand grip and make sure that there is a straight line from your head to your toes. You don’t want to any part of your body to sag
  • Make sure that your face is right underneath the bar, as opposed to an inverted row where the chest is under the bar
  • Pull from your biceps by flexing the elbow; do not pull from your lats by bringing the elbows down

It may be just a bit difficult to grasp the movement. Once you do, however, you will have found a great exercise for targeting your bicep by only using your own weight.

Headbangers

Picture of one of the best bodyweight bicep exercises - the headbanger

Thumnail of the video here.

The advantage of the headbangers is that they isolate the biceps really well. In our opinion, they come second, after the bar curls. However, there is a drawback.

The exercise is pretty tough. 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:


  • Get in the top position of a chin up, with your neck over the bar
  • Tighten the core and keep it tight until you finish the exercise
  • Push your body back by extending the elbow, then pull back towards the bar by flexing it

If you can get comfortable at the top position of the chin up, we highly recommend you to perform this exercise. While it may take some practice, your biceps will thank you for it.

​Pseudo planche push ups

Daniel Vadnal doing pseudo planche push ups

Daniel Vadnal from FitnessFAQs in the picture.

I know what you may be thinking. How can a push up help you with the development of your biceps? It sounds silly.

Well, I agree with you. That being said, the pseudo planche variation is the exception to that rule, if you take the time to make one small 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 perform the exercise:


  • Get in a high plank with your fingers pointing backward, protract the scapula, then lean forward as much as you can
  • When you find the maximum leaning point, descend to the bottom position of a push up, then push yourself back up
  • 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.

Our recommendations

Man doing curls on a machine

While it is easy to build a well-rounded, aesthetic physique using bodyweight exercises, 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 go ahead and skip it.

However, 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.

Even though bodyweight fitness is awesome, builds you up nicely, and is easy on your joints, there are certain drawbacks to this style of training too.

You should never identify with a certain style of training as 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.

​Conclusion

These are, in our opinion, the best bodyweight bicep exercises. If you do two or three of them in every training session you will start seeing results pretty quickly.

Moreover, 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. You got this.

Over to you.