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Earn Strong, Toned, Tank Top-Ready Biceps With the Best Biceps Workout For Women
Few muscles get as much buzz as the good old biceps. When someone says to “flex your muscles”, what do you immediately think to do? Why, flex those biceps, of course! So let’s stop fooling around with ineffective arm training and get you the bodacious biceps you would like to achieve.
Solid biceps not only make you look fabulous in a tank top; you’ll also find that your overall upper body strength improves if you train them correctly and make smart workout choices. The best biceps workout I will share with you today goes way beyond boring old biceps curls. You’ll learn the most effective AND most functional movements for getting stronger while building firm, sculpted upper arms.
This article will be geared toward most of the female clients I have come across in my work as a personal trainer: those who are looking to firm, define, and get stronger WITHOUT adding a lot of bulk. My clients are generally looking to lose some (or a good deal) of body fat as well during their workouts to improve their body composition while they are building that lean muscle that is essential for the functional strength as well as the aesthetic appeal of the body.
If the above paragraph describes you, then you have absolutely come to right place to learn all about biceps building. Keep reading and we will go over strategies for muscle building in the biceps, back, and core; nutritional tips for supporting lean muscle tissue while losing body fat; tips and tricks for getting the most out of your strength training, and more!
First, a Disclaimer! If you landed on this article hoping to find out how to burn fat directly off the upper arms, please know that it is impossible to spot reduce fat in this way. While you can absolutely firm and tone an area through strength training, if you have extra body fat to lose on the upper arms or anywhere else, you will benefit most from doing full body strength training and cardio training rather than isolating the biceps.
Bicep workouts can absolutely be part of a full body training plan, but they should not be your first priority. Working the biceps dovetails nicely with back workout day, upper body workout day, or full body workout day. More on that later! Let’s dig into tips and guidelines for getting the most out of your biceps workouts (many of the tips will carry over to your other strength training as well).
Tips & Guidelines for the Best Biceps Workout for Women
- For the first month to two months, do 12-15 reps to work muscle endurance
- For the following month to two months, do 8-10 reps to work muscle strength
- Cycle your rep range every month to two months to avoid plateau
- For the best results, you’ll want to do the best biceps workout 2-3 times per week
- Always rest 48 hours in between workouts for the same body part
- Do at least two sets of each exercise
- Rest about a minute between sets
- Choose a weight that will thoroughly fatigue your muscles within your desired rep range (12-15 for muscle endurance, 8-10 for muscle strength)
- Choose a weight that is manageable enough to allow you to maintain form throughout the set
- Picking the right weight may take some trial and error; for safety, start on the lighter side and add more weight next time if it was not challenging enough
Overview of the Best Biceps Workout for Women
- Pull Up Assist: 12-15 reps, rest one minute and repeat
- Seated Cable Row: 12-15 reps, rest one minute and repeat
- Barbell Biceps Curl: 12-15 reps, rest one minute and repeat
- Hammer Curl: 12-15 reps, rest one minute and repeat
- Incline Biceps Curl: 12-15 reps, rest one minute and repeat
Further Details on Each Exercise
1.) Pull Ups
You might be surprised to see an exercise traditionally used for training the back mixed into this workout, but hear me out. Pullups are not only excellent for building upper body muscle and strength, they also burn a lot of calories by recruiting a large muscle group. Caloric burn during exercise goes a long way toward burning body fat, which is necessary to actually reveal the arm muscle you are building in this workout.
Another and perhaps more obvious reason to include pull ups is that the biceps and other upper arm muscles are major synergists in the movement, so it does directly work the biceps.
How to do a pull-up:
There are many pull up variations, but the best choice for simultaneously burning calories while building biceps muscles is the neutral grip pull up. In neutral grip, your palms are both facing each other, rather than facing in toward your body as is done in a chin up or facing forward away from your body as is done in the classic pull up. Most gyms will have a pull up assist machine that makes it easy to do any of three grip options.
Until you get strong enough to pull your body weight, which will likely take a while, do use the pull up assist machine with however much assistance you need to complete your desired amount of reps. Set the assist level and grip the handles with a neutral grip (palms facing each other). As you lower yourself into the bottom of each rep, be sure to keep your shoulders “plugged in” to their sockets and NOT overly stretched with shoulders rising toward ears. As you raise yourself up to the top of each rep, tighten your core, breathe out, and look slightly upward. Don’t allow your elbows to cave inward or to flare out. Forearms should stay vertical. Start with 15 reps for the first month or so to help build endurance. Choose a level of assistance that fatigues your muscles by the end of the set while still allowing you to maintain form.
Here’s another back/biceps exercise that you might not see in a traditional biceps workout. I include the row for the same reasons I include the pull up: back exercises burn lots of body fat to help reveal the tone of your biceps, and biceps are actually one of the main synergist muscles that help the lats complete the rowing motion. Rows are also excellent for your midback posture and core, and pretty much everyone could benefit from that!
How to do rows:
Also like the pull up, there are many row variations out there. The most functional row variation that is also great for targeting the biceps is the seated close-grip cable row. If your gym lacks a seated cable row setup, you can sub in the machine rows, though it’s not ideal. Sit tall on the seat and grasp the close grip handles (also known as the “double D” handles). Pull in your core and straighten your arms all the way without letting the shoulders get tugged forward out of their sockets. Keep them “plugged in” just like in the pull up. Breathe out and tighten your core even further as you pull the handles toward your belly, keeping elbows tight so that they graze your ribcage on their way back. Drive the movement with your back and biceps; don’t lean back from your hips. That’s cheating! Slowly and under control, return to the starting straight-arm position. Control it and don’t lean forward. Complete 15 reps to build endurance.
3.) Barbell Biceps Curls
After you do the pull up and the row, add in a classic biceps isolation that is great for building the lean mass of the biceps muscles. I recommend you do a standing curl as it encourages you to use your core and is more functional.
How to do barbell biceps curls:
Get a barbell of an appropriate weight and grasp it with an underhand grip (palms facing up). Stand tall with a tight core and ribcage stacked right over top of pelvis. Keep your elbows “pinned” to the sides of your ribcage as you use your upper arm muscles to pull the bar up to your chest. Don’t rock or use any body momentum to get the bar up there. It’s bad for your back, and like leaning back during a row, it’s cheating! If you can’t get the bar up there for your desired number of reps, choose a lighter weight. Lower the bar down slowly back to the starting position, feeling that stretch in your biceps as you straighten your elbows all the way. Make sure your wrists stay straight or curled slightly upward, never let them get dragged down by the barbell as it robs your arm strength and can also contribute to inflammation and repetitive stress injuries. Complete 15 reps, working that muscle endurance.
4.) Dumbbell Hammer Curls
Hammer curls are often overlooked by folks looking to build their biceps, which is sad! Hammer curls not only work the biceps, but also the brachialis, a powerful muscle that lies close to the bone under the biceps. Building brachialis gives the biceps a nice boost up. Your pull ups and rows will also benefit as a result of strengthening the muscles responsible for this particular movement pattern. Be sure to keep your palms facing each other throughout your set, also known as a “neutral grip” like the pull ups and rows variations we’re doing. A neutral grip is what differentiates the hammer curl from the traditional biceps curl (above), which always uses an underhand grip.
How to do Dumbbell Hammer Curls:
Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and stand tall with a tight core, stacking ribcage right over top of pelvis. Hold the dumbbells at the sides of your thighs with palms facing inward. Use your biceps and brachialis to curl the weights up to the fronts of your shoulders, keeping your forearms evenly spaced the whole time. Don’t let your hands cave in toward each other or fall out to the sides. Return the weights slowly to the starting position, feeling that good stretch between each rep as your arms fully straighten. To build your muscle endurance, complete 15 reps.
5.) Incline Biceps Curls
Here is a unique biceps isolation variation: the incline biceps curl. The point of adding this variation is the way the long head of the biceps is stretched in the bottom position. This stretch causes a more powerful contraction of the long head, which helps build the outer bicep and give you that “peak” typical of nicely toned and built biceps. Only do this variation if you have healthy shoulders; incline biceps can cause undue stress on weak or injured shoulders.
How to do Incline Biceps Curls:
Get a bench set up at a 45 degree angle backward. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and sit back into the bench. Under control, allow your arms to fully straighten, allowing the biceps to stretch. Keep your palms facing upward throughout the exercise. Contract the biceps strongly and fully as you pull the weights up to the front of your shoulders. You can do the arms together, alternate each rep, or work one arm at a time. It’s essential that you fully straighten the arms at the bottom of each rep and feel that stretch in the long head (outer part) of the biceps; otherwise, you’re missing the point of this variation. Like the barbell biceps curl, always keep your wrists straight or slightly flexed. Never let the weights pull them backward. Do 15 reps for each arm.
Fitting the Best Biceps Workout for Women into Your Fitness Plan
There are many ways to fit the best biceps workout for women into your overall balanced workout scheme. Let’s go over a couple options.
Unless you have a VERY specific goal, biceps workouts should not be the main focus of any workout day. It’s a waste of your time to spend too much time and energy on biceps alone when you could be doing so many more productive things. I would recommend doing biceps on the same day as your back workouts. That being said, since this workout utilizes pull ups and row (the two essential back exercises if you were to do nothing else), this workout could stand for back day as well. If you were to do that, adding two sets each of wide grip pull ups and back flies would be beneficial to full work the back.
If you plan to do this workout as part of a full upper body day (which works fine too), you should add wide grip pull ups and back flies as described above, but moreover, you MUST add chest exercises such as those discussed in our chest workout for women article. To bring balance to a full upper body workout, you need to include an equal amount of pushing (chest) and pulling (back) exercises. Don’t make the common mistake of overtraining one of those movement patterns while neglecting the other.
A third option (and the smartest choice if your main goal is fat loss and system-wide muscle toning) is to do your biceps exercises as part of a full body strength training program that you complete 3X weekly. If you choose that option, include the best biceps workout every time you work out. With this option, you can afford to leave out the incline dumbbell curl isolation if you’re short on time or energy.
No matter which option works best for you, be sure to leave 48 hours in between biceps workouts, or workouts for any one specific muscle or muscle group. Your muscles require time to recover between sessions. In other words, training one muscle group on Monday/Wednesday is fine, while doing the same muscles back to back (i.e., Monday/Tuesday) is ill-advised.
Cardio Tips for Bodacious Biceps (And Other Body Parts Too!)
As I mentioned in the introduction, biceps exercises are only part of the picture when it comes to toning and strengthening your upper arms. If you are like many women, you are seeking to lose some body fat from the area to help reveal the muscle tone beneath. For most women who are beginning to exercise, lowering body fat is essential to actually being able to see tone and definition in the muscles.
Full body strength training and CARDIO need to be priorities if the above notes describe where you’re at now. You need to strike a balance between working specific muscles and muscle groups and doing cardio training to increase caloric burn.
Adults need at minimum 90 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardio spread throughout week to stay healthy. If you are seeking to lose body fat, you will want to dial your cardio up to 120-150 minutes per week. It works best if you spread your cardio out over several alternating days so your metabolism stays high all week rather than trying to get it all done for the week in one or two fell swoops. So go for several intense 30-45 minute sessions spaced out rather than marathon sessions only once or twice a week.
If you’re an outdoorsy person, cardio can be done out and about such as through hiking, biking, jogging, brisk walking, or running. It can also be accomplished 100% in the gym (ARC trainer, elliptical, treadmill, stairclimber, stationary bike, group fit classes, etc) if circumstances don’t allow you to work out outside. Many women find success by doing some combination of outdoor cardio and gym cardio. For many people, myself included, variety is the key to staying motivated on their cardio plan. So mix it up, exercise with friends, walk on work breaks, take the stairs whenever possible: make cardio a part of your everyday life and it will become a habit just like anything else.
Nutritional Guidelines for Muscle Building and Fat Loss
It can never be denied that nutrition is absolutely essential to getting the fitness results you desire. Unless you are genetically blessed with a ridiculous metabolism and abnormally toned & strong muscle fibers, your eating needs to be on point to build defined biceps or any other body part.
For one thing, to build muscle, you must get enough protein. Think one gram of protein every day for every pound of lean mass (everything in your body excluding body fat). For example, a 140 pound woman who has 25% body fat will have 105 pounds of lean mass and 35 pounds of body fat. Therefore, she will need to shoot for about 105 grams of protein per day. Lean meats and greek yogurt are the easiest dietary sources of protein. If you are a vegetarian, vegan, or struggle to fit that much protein into your diet for any reason…protein supplements may be a good choice for you. Whey protein isolate is effective and pure if you buy the right brands. If you don’t do dairy, there are vegan protein supplements available as well. Just read food labels and do the math to make sure you are near your goal of 1 gram of protein for every 1 pound of lean mass.
Another piece of the fitness nutrition puzzle is eating in such a way that your body is able to burn fat. The simplest way to talk about this is to remember calories in versus calories out. If you are consuming more calories than you burn throughout the day, you will gain weight. If calories in are equal to calories out, you will stay at roughly the same weight. If you eat fewer calories than you burn, you are set up to lose weight.
This is the #1 stumbling block for most female exercisers who don’t see the progress they desire. So be smart about your food choices. Even if you don’t do it forever (and I recommend NOT obsessing on calorie counting, for your mental and emotional health), it can be helpful to keep a food journal for several days or several weeks and being scrupulously honest with yourself about where your calories are coming from and how many you are consuming. Watch out for those sneaky liquid calories in juices, fancy coffees, and alcohol! They add up fast and can totally sabotage your fat loss progress.
Best Biceps Workout for Women: The Bottom Line
Thanks for reading my article all the way to the bottom. By now, you know everything you need to know to get bodacious biceps through the right workout and training approach. Train right and keep after it and you will be rewarded with strong and sculpted upper arms. Did we miss any of your favorite biceps exercises or biceps building tips for women? We always love hearing back from readers, so let me know in the comments below!