Are you looking for a biceps workout you can do at home with dumbbells? If so, you’ve come to the right place!
Lets jump right into it.
The first thing you need to know is that muscle is built through the application of one simple concept— progressive tension overload. Forget what everyone else has told you. Forget about the drop sets, burn-out sets, and all that other crap. That stuff looks fancy, but it is not backed by any science. If you really want to learn the secret to building head-turning biceps, continue reading this article and implement what you learn.
So, what is progressive tension overload? Its basically the idea that muscle is built by forcing it to adapt to a tension that it hasn’t previously experienced.
In other words, to build muscle you must try your absolute best to periodically lift heavier and heavier weights.
Part 1: Exercise equipment for arms
Before jumping into the workout, we must discuss the issue of improper equipment. Without the right equipment, you wont be able to move up in weight and will be limited to a a few exercises.
If all you have is a pair of 15 lbs dumbbells- I’m sorry to say this- but that will not get you anywhere. The issue with using a single pair is that;
- you can’t properly warm up
- you are limited to a single resistance and thus can’t progressively increase the weight
- you can only target a few muscle. For instance, A 15 lbs dumbbell is heavy enough to hit biceps and triceps, but that’s about it. If you can curl 15 lbs, you probably need 1.5 times that amount for shoulders and twice that amount for chest. This article will focus only on biceps, but there’s no point in working out if you are going to neglect others muscles. Doing so would produce a very unsymmetrical look, which is unattractive. Not to mention muscle imbalances are not healthy.
Fortunately, there are tons of reliable and cheap equipment options for those who want to workout at home.
In terms of dumbbells, you have two options:
Option A: Purchase a pair of dumbbells for each weight you need.
CAP Rubber Hex Dumbbell Weight Set
Or a set as shown in the following picture. This option is good for those who have the space and money for it. Its the most expensive option, but its convenient as everything you need is in front of you and you don’t need to fiddle with anything. You simply pick up the weight you need, complete the exercise, and rack it back.
If this sounds appealing to you, I would suggest going with the CAP Barbell 150-lb Rubber Hex Dumbbell Weight Set. I love CAP and usually get all of my home-gym equipment directly from them. The set comes with a pair of 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 lbs dumbbells and a sturdy steel rack. That should give you a good range of weights to start with, and you could always purchase additional pairs as you get stronger.
Option B: Purchase an adjustable dumbbell set
Yes4All Adjustable Dumbbells
Think of an adjustable dumbbell as a mini barbell that you can load plates on! This will save you allot of space as you can simply stack the plates in a corner or under your bed. The downside is that you have to reassemble the dumbbell each time you want to change the weight.
If you like the space-saving aspect of an adjustable dumbbell, but don’t want to waste time fiddling with it, check out the Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells. It has a pretty nifty mechanism that allows for rapid weight change (up to 52.5 lbs!), but is quite expensive.
A regular adjustable dumbbell set is more cost efficient. For instance, consider the Yes4All Adjustable Dumbbells (pictured to the right). For the half the price of the CAP dumbbell set, and 1/3 the price of the Bowflex set, you get a weight range of 2.5 – 52.5 lbs.
(Note: pick the “105lb pair” option if you want this weight range)
A dumbbell that can be adjusted up to 50lbs is great as it is heavy enough (for most beginners) to target all of the major muscle groups. You wont be limited to curls and could do exercises such a chest and shoulder press (although you would need a bench for this, more on this next), triceps extension, one arm dumbbell row, and so much more.
Optional: Ez Curl bar, adjustable bench, arm-blaster
With either of the two options above, you will have all you need to train arms. But if your spending this much money, you might as well purchase a few extra equipment that will help you target the rest of the muscles in your body. Here is a full list of exercise equipment you will need to train biceps, triceps, chest, shoulders, and back.
- Adjustable exercise bench: This will give you the best bang for your buck. A set of dumbbells limits your exercise range to a basic excersises. But with something as simple as an adjustable bench, you can do flat and incline dumbbell press and fly, shoulders press, seated front and side lateral raises, incline dumbbell curls, concentration curls, one-arm dumbbell row, and so much more.
- CAP Barbell Olympic EZ Curl Bar: Inexpensive and will allow you to do a few additional exercises such as the EZ bar military press, bicep curl, tricep extensions, and upright row. Definitely consider the adjustable bench press first.
- Arm Blaster: Some swear by it, others think they are a waste of time. I personally never gave it a shot.
Part 2: How to get bigger arms with dumbbells
Lets start with frequency.
I like to divide the muscles of the body into two groups— large muscles (chest, shoulders, back, hamstrings, and quads) and small muscles (biceps, triceps, calf’s, and forearms). The larger muscles should be trained 1-2 times a week (in other words, once every 3-7 days).
Small muscle groups recover more quickly, and thus can be trained every 2-4 days. How often you target each muscle depends on how fast you can recover.
If you are a beginner, train large muscle groups once every 7 days, and small muscle groups once every 4 days. After a few months, increase the frequency. If you discover that you are not recovering fast enough for this change, drop back down and work on your diet.
So, how do you determine if you are not recovering fast enough? When your strength gains stagnate.
For the most part, you should be getting stronger and stronger each week. If not lifting more weight, you should at least be able to push a few more reps. Your goal is to outperform last weeks numbers, even if just by a single rep.
As long as you follow the guidelines in this section , you will make progress. To visualize your progression better, I highly suggest keeping track of how much you lift (and for how many reps) with a good fitness planner. This is the one I use.
So, we are going to hit arms once every 3-4 days. But on which days, and with what other muscle groups should we do this? Like I mentioned above, its not good to focus on just a single muscle. It is important that you follow a good workout split. For beginners, I recommend a 5 day workout split, and for intermediate to advanced lifters, a 6 day workout split.
Here is how you get bigger arms with dumbbells:
The fundamentals of Building Muscle
- Train 1-2 muscle groups per day: Training more than 2 muscle groups per day is difficult when lifting heavy. You simply wont have the energy for it, and if you do it will take a long time to finish your session. Our goal is to be in and out of the gym within 45- 60 mins tops (while lifting as heavy as we can throughout the entire workout).
- Complete 5-8 reps for each workout: If can’t do at least 4 reps, you are lifting to heavy, and if you can easily hit more than 8, you are lifting too light. Focus on hitting 5-8 reps with maximum intensity. Doing so would accomplish the 60-75% of 1RM goal that so many scientific studies have proven to be most effective for building muscle. Forget the drop sets, burnout sets, and all that other crap. This is what you need to do to get ripped.
- Complete 10 sets per workout: If you feel up for it, do an additional 3 sets for a total of 13 sets. Doing more than 13 sets will likely result in over training. Most professional athletes complete allot more than 10 sets per workout, but you are not a professional athlete (or atleast not yet). What differentiates you from the professional athlete is knowledge and experience, but more importantly: DRUGS. No matter what they say, all bodybuilders use performance enhancing drugs that allow them to recover amazingly fast. This allows them to workout for hours a day without over training.
- Rest in between sets for as long as you need to lift optimally: According to research, the optimal rest time when doing 60-75% of your 1 rep max, is 3-5 minutes (3). If you are used to the 30 – 60 sec rest range, this is another change that will probably feel strange. You may have noticed that resting for very short periods of time does not allow for much strength retention. Hence why typical routines call for decrementing reps. Our goal is to lift as much weight as we can which requires at least 3 mins of rest after each set. This is typically how powerlifters train.
- Complete each workout in 45-60 mins: If you taking longer than 60 minutes to complete this workout, you need to up the intensity and drop the chit-chat and phone surfing.
- Train each muscle group once every 5-7 days: Each muscle group should be trained about once per week. Therefore if you did chest on Monday, you should wait until at least Saturday to hit chest again. As you progress in your fitness journey, you can start training muscle groups more frequently. I have been lifting for over 15 years and benefit most when I train large muscle groups (chest, back, legs, shoulders) every 4 days, and small muscle groups (biceps, triceps, calfs, forearms) ever 2-3 days. Professional bodybuilders usually train each muscle group up to 4 times a week as they can recover so well due to their drug use, perfected diets, and dedication.
Note that these guidelines are not specific for biceps and apply to all muscles.
Part 3: Biceps workout (at home) with dumbbells
Here are the 5 best dumbbell exercises for biceps. Familiarize your self with each.
- Alternating Dumbbell Curl
- Dumbbell Drag Curl
- Hammer Curl
- Zottman Curl
- Dumbbell Concentration Curl
Your number one goal when doing theses exercises is to left as heavy as you can for 5-8 reps. This can be an issue for those who suffer from tennis elbow. If you don’t suffer from this, lifting heavy weights without warming up can induce it. In either case, it’s important to thoroughly warm up.
Start with 5 lbs and complete as many raps as you can. Then go up by another 5 lbs and repeat until you reach your working weight.
If you are only working out biceps, complete 2 working sets for each of the 5 exercises (for a total of 10 sets).
If you are pairing biceps with back, warm up your biceps, complete your back exercises, then complete a total of 6 sets for biceps. (Pick your favorite three exercises from the list and do 2 sets each)
If you are pairing biceps with any other muscle group, alternate between a biceps and the other muscle.
The Bicep Workout
- Warm up: Take a 5 lbs plate and complete as many reps as you can without causing pain. Go up by 5 lbs increments and repeat until you reach your first working weight (the weight you can complete about 8-10 reps with)
- Alternating Dumbbell Curl | 2 working sets
- Dumbbell Drag Curl | 2 working sets
- Hammer Curl | 2 working sets
- Zottman Curl | 2 working sets
- Dumbbell Concentration Curl | 2 working sets
Adam is the founder and main contributor for Olympic Muscle. He is a full time pre-medical student majoring in computer science and chemistry.