The arms are one of the most desirable places to get sculped toned muscles.
Bodyweight bicep training is one way to make this happen with limited equipment, and offers unique benefits from toner arms to stronger pulling mechanics to a healthier shoulder joint.
Today we’re going to outline 8 exercises that you can do to improve your biceps with bodyweight training alone. And – yes – there’s something for everyone on that list, you definitely don’t need to be an Olympic gymnast to get started…
The arms are one of the most important and popular targets of training and exercise. They represent a simple push and pull split, between the triceps and biceps respectively.
Exercising your arms also means dealing the shoulders, the elbows, and then the wrists – which changes what we train and how we train the arms.
The biceps are on the front of the arm, and they are responsible for flexing – closing the elbow. These are opposed to the extension muscles, the triceps, and both are attached over the shoulder and elbow.
They’re also bordered by the rotators of the lower arm – which are an important factor in which exercises we use and how bodyweight contributes to overall arm strength, size, and health.
Bodyweight exercises are difficult to use for some people. They demand a level of body control and strength that most people haven’t developed. This is a demand and a benefit: you get better at these by doing them, and using exercises that are appropriate for your strength.
This also means using leverage and reps to drive progress. You can’t just add more weight or take it off, since you are the weight. This means that changing angles and experimenting with body positions is crucial to progress in bodyweight exercise.
Finally, some of them are just difficult!
Exercises for the biceps with bodyweight often involve pull-up style movements. Many people can’t do these, so we’ve tried to include a range of exercises for a range of strength and experience levels. This is key: start where you are with what you have.
Many exercises require either rings, a suspension trainer, or a barbell and rack to begin. Some can be performed at home with no equipment.
The most obvious and important factor is how an exercise recruits the biceps. The more closely it fits the role of the bice, the more directly it will stimulate the muscle to drive growth and strength gains.
This makes it an effective exercise. However, it’s not the only factor – often the recruitment of other muscle groups will change the ease or carryover of the exercise, two of the other most important factors in our choice of exercise.
It’s also important to remember that effectiveness goes beyond just the muscles. It also involves how effectively this trains movement – and especially movements that integrate the biceps with other muscles such as the scapular retractors or depressors (like the lats, rhomboids, or lower traps).
This refers to how well an exercise trains you in associated exercises. For example, how well it contributes to exercises like the pull-up or chin-up, which are both important training options and an intermediary in your bodyweight training development and progress.
These are important for long-term training development and offer you more ways to improve in future. They’re also the basis for gymnastic strength training and the development of movement control – not just singular muscles.
The ability to perform an exercise is essential to actually do it and benefit from it. Obviously.
However, the ability to train effectively at all levels of experience is important. We’ve tried to include exercises across the whole range of experience levels and strengths. This also offers options for more experienced trainees to use as ‘finishers’ when fatigue sets in.
This expand the training toolset, allowing for a whole session to develop with nothing more than bodyweight. As you get better, your old “difficult” exercises become easier and can be repurposed as finisher exercises.
Chin ups are te best bodyweight bicep exercise. They recruit the biceps directly, help you get stronger in pull ups, and have great variations – like the chin-up hold.
These are the most effective way to build biceps with bodyweight, as well as when adding weight.
Ring rows are amazing for building up bicep strength and size. They also help you get better at gymnastic exercises like chin-ups and pull-ups.
The grip requirements on the ring are amazing for building better forearm strength and keeping the elbow healthy. You can use both 1- and 2-ring variations, depending on your preference, too.
The pull up is one of the most effective exercises of all. It develops the upper back and arms like almost nothing else. It’s less bicep-specific than the chin-up – which is why it’s 3rd and not 1st.
Pull ups are quite challenging, however, so you may need to practice variations with holds, bands, or jumps to make them easier. Once you can perform pull-ups, they’re an amazing training tool!
Inverted rows are just like ring rows, but without the rings. They’re typically performed on a smith machine or a barbell in a rack.
They offer the same great bodyweight pulling exercise and transfer over to other exercises. They do lack some of the ring-stabilising benefits, but are a great way to build bodyweight strength without much equipment.
You can perform a door row with no equipment other than your weight and a doorframe. It’s like an L-sit, putting all the weight on your arms and rowing yourself towards a door.
This is a staple of calisthenics and bodyweight workouts, offering a simple at-home solution. It’s not as effective as others we’ve mentioned, but is easier to perform and can be used when you have no other training options.
Rope climbs are a fantastic exercise for building upper body strength with bodyweight. They can be performed with or without legs, offering a way to make them harder as you become stronger.
Rope climbs are one of the most underrated upper body pulling exercises. Try them and you’ll understand just how effective – and challenging – they can be.
Ring curls are like ring rows, but with a shorter movement that focuses on bending the arms. They’re low on our list because they’re quite tricky and often don’t have the same direct feeling as other exercises.
However, they do offer a great way to get more value from gymnastic rings. They’re also possible with 1- and 2-ring variations, so you can find the one you like. The stabilising in the shoulder is a challenge, so there’s a learning curve, but they can really fill out a bodyweight arm workout.
As with the door row, this is an exercise that is used in home workouts. It uses the biceps in a stabilising role, controlling the descent of your body. It’s a snake-like push-up, where you’re lowering yourself through your arms to put weight on the biceps.
The obvious benefit is that this doesn’t require any equipment. It also builds better tricep strength and helps the bicep and tricep work together, which is important for performance and elbow health.
You can make any of these exercises more challenging and effective by adding pauses. These can and should be performed at the top and bottom of the exercise, as well as at any point where the elbow is at a 90-degree angle. This is great for developing proper control and strength in the areas where it is most important and where the demand on the muscles are greatest.
This helps develop a stronger position and very-specific muscle strength gains. It’s a way to shortcut getting stronger at the area where you’re weakest.
Holds are like pauses – but easier to get started with. They’re a perfect way to build up strength and control in exercises you can’t complete yet.
For example, the chin up hold is one of the best ways to develop the strength to perform chin-ups. This is even more effective if you fight gravity and lower yourself as slowly as possible. This builds the movement control and strength you need, without having to be able to perform a full chin-up.
This is perfect for building bigger, stronger arms and more strength as a beginner to bodyweight training.
These exercises can be used in any way you’d like. The best way to train with bodyweight alone is often to begin with the most difficult exercise, do that until you can’t, and then proceed down to the next most difficult. This allows you to apply plenty of mechanical stimulus, which builds muscle and strength.
As you develop, this changes to meet your abilities and you’ll spend more time doing more difficult exercises. This allows bodyweight bicep training to track with your development and continues to be relevant as you become stronger.
You can also integrate these workouts into your other training – including weight training sessions. The best move is simply to add them at the end as dedicated arm training, especially when you’re feeling fresh and don’t have fatigued muscles. If you’ve already trained your arms, default to lighter and simpler exercises so you’re not over-stressing yourself.
Finally, make sure to recover effectively. This is where development happens, and under-recovery is the fastest way to both limit development and directly detrain your muscles. This is how you get worse over time, so make sure that diet and sleep get the same attention as your exercise.
Biceps are a muscle group that most people want to develop. When we use bodyweight exercises, we can develop big, aesthetic arms with a focus on how that translates to health and performance elsewhere.
With a smart approach and a little simple equipment, you can make great progress with just bodyweight. Be realistic with what you can achieve and start working through your bodyweight exercises based on what you think you can do now, and be willing to give it time to develop and grow. It can be challenging at the start – but is an incredibly rewarding way of training.
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