Trying to get huge biceps?
Fortunately for you, the bicep responds very well to strength training so huge biceps can easily be in your future!
But because of this, those who decide to focus on their arms can end up using poor technique which can ultimately delay the wanted bicep look. For instance, weight trainers who swing the weight as opposed to slowing down and actually using the bicep to curl, miss the benefits of focusing on isolation of the bicep because they just want the “pump!” My advice for above average bicep training, then, is to focus on form as opposed to how huge your arm can get. With form will follow fitness!
If you identify as a woman and you’re reading this, you may be concerned that you’ll bulk up too much. If that is your personal concern, fine, but if someone told you women shouldn’t be bulky, just “toned,” they can sit right back down. Your arms are your own and if you want defined biceps, you go get those defined biceps! Moving on.
Bicep Calisthenics Exercises
A lot of the calisthenics exercises that target the biceps use a bar.
This can come at a disadvantage for those who do not have access to a bar at home or can’t get to a gym.
Never fear! I’ve included some that have no need for the bar. If you start to get discouraged thinking that maybe you should just lift weights, stop right there.
Typically, bicep calisthenics require lifting your own weight; between how heavy you are and gravity, that’s quite the resistance.
If you see someone lifting a 50 lb. weight, it’s okay. When you do chin-ups you’re probably lifting closer to 150 lbs, or however much you weigh. Many of these calisthenics exercises also target your back and chest; the ones chosen focus mainly on bicep.
1. Push-Up Variations
Push-ups are a great compound workout that really target the biceps and lends itself to repetitions, time under tension technique, and strength advancement.
To execute a traditional push-up, start with your hands on the ground a shoulder-width apart, and legs back. Keep your back straight, head up, and eyes forward. Slowly lower yourself to the ground and push yourself up, keeping your toes on the ground and elbows tucked in. There are a few variations to increase or decrease the level of intensity depending on your skill level. Each still target the biceps.
To perform this push-up, face a wall with your legs together. Place your palms against the wall a shoulder-width apart and bend at the elbows. Go until your forehead “touches” the wall. Push yourself back.
Start in a traditional push-up pose. Adjust your weight into the arm you would like to start with. Do not shift the weight to the outside or inside of your chest, but straight through the arm. Bring your resting hand back to the small of your back. Now lower yourself to the ground and push back up. Control is key. Focus on form and the strength will follow.
Begin with the push-up position. Take a ball—a basketball could work—and place it under one hand. As you lower yourself the ball, and your arm, will move to the side. Hold this lowering position for a few seconds before pushing yourself back up. Because you have a “wheel” you are working with, it is extremely important to take your time and keep your body in check. Losing control can mean injury!
After much research on the chin-ups versus pull-ups debate, it would seem that chin-ups are the better for your biceps! It all has to do with the way you grip the bar. Pull-ups use an overhanded grip, or wide-grip, while chin-ups use the underhanded grip. This underhanded grip uses more bicep to pull you up—kind of like a bicep curl.
Grip the bar—I suggest wearing some workout gloves to avoid bar burn—shoulder-width apart, and pull yourself up so your chin is over the bar. Hold. Be careful when lowering yourself down that you do not accidentally hit your chin. Repeat.
3. Clutch Flag
This one is pretty impressive and popular in street calisthenics. You will need a sturdy vertical bar, really a pole, for this and lots of patience as it may not come naturally at first. A strong core will assist you in this bicep building exercise.
First, wrap your top arm around the bar, with the bar tucked in your armpit. Your thumb should be pointing downwards. Your second arm should bend by your side with the elbow tucked in towards the belly button. Grab the bar with the thumb pointing downwards. Now here comes the lift. Put force into the bar as you activate your core and lift the hips into the air. Hips—not legs! Hold the position once you’re up and repeat 4-6 times.
4. Weightless Bicep Curls
This is an isometric exercise. An isometric exercise works a muscle using tension, but without contracting the muscle. To use the term “curl” is a bit misleading, as there is no true curling motion of the arm. You instead will be preventing the curl. Stand straight with your right arm at a 90 degree angle, palm facing upwards. Take your other hand and press against your right palm, applying force. At the same time you do this, apply force against the left hand with your right hand. Think of it this way: you are not allowing your left hand to push down your right hand. Press down hard and hold for 10-15 seconds. Repeat and switch arms.
Why Should You Train Your Biceps with Calisthenics?
The biceps control the movement of the arm from the shoulder to the elbow. Without proper bicep strength you can lose the ability to effectively push, pull, and move over time. Consider the incredible health and mobility benefits of strengthening this muscle. Calisthenics by nature can tap you into the force of the bicep and therefore provide an excellent way to maintain this necessary strength throughout your life.
Time Under Tension
You can achieve defined biceps with calisthenics just like you can with weightlifting, but you need to know how. Lifting weights is the faster option, but calisthenics the more convenient and masterful (in my opinion). The key is to incorporate multiple repetitions with gradually increasing weight. However, balance is key and can be hard to find! If you are dealing with a heavier weight or higher performance difficulty, you won’t need to do as many reps/sets. If you are doing lighter work, then you may want to incorporate more reps/sets.
To help you find this balance, I’d like to mention a concept called “time under tension.” This refers to the amount of time a muscle is under strain. For weight trainers, it is suggested that a set of repetitions should last 30-40 seconds, putting more time into the lowering of the weight. Most of the muscle tears occur on this lowering, or eccentric motion. When these tears repair, you get more muscle. We can apply this concept to calisthenics exercises as it will help you perfect form and understand how to best enter and exit the holds for which calisthenics are known. Remember to increase difficulty as you get used to the exercise as well and give yourself enough recovery time. Keep those muscles working but give them a rest, too!