The biceps are a large muscle on the front of the arm that works in flexion at the elbow and the shoulder.
What many people call the “gun show” is actually a fundamental set of muscles that help in many of the daily exercises and movements you complete.
Picking up your cup of coffee, opening a door, washing the shampoo out of your hair – these are all movements that require the biceps muscle to function properly.
The question is, how do we train these muscles through bodyweight biceps exercises?
In this detailed guide, we are going to break down everything you need to know about bodyweight bicep exercises.
We will cover the most effective exercises, brief anatomy of the muscle and even provide you with a basic workout that you can do at home to grow your muscles and develop strength.
Bodyweight Training 101
Bodyweight, or calisthenics as it is sometimes called is the practice of training your body only using your bodyweight as resistance.
Instead of using free weights like dumbbells or barbells, you train your muscles through somewhat simple movements that only require your own weight as the mode of training.
Most people think that you cannot put on size with bodyweight training, but that simply is not true.
As we have covered in some of our other bodyweight guides, there is not only a plethora of exercises you can use to train specific muscles, but there are many methods you can use to actually increase size and strength.
Bodyweight exercises can also increase in difficulty far past traditional barbell training.
In bodyweight training, if you can complete 20 pushups, there is really no sense in doing 30. Instead, you make the movement more difficult – like using a diamond pushup.
In this way, bodyweight training will consistently become more difficult and will always provide different stimuli for your training.
Let’s delve into some of the ways you can specifically develop your biceps through bodyweight only training.
Bodyweight Only Biceps – How to Build Strength and Size
Before you get hyped about bodyweight bicep training, there are a few essential training methods you need to consider.
The training methods below can be used to create adaptive environments for your muscles.
Just as you would increase the weight every week or so with free weight training, in bodyweight training, you can use these principles below to increase the difficulty and resistance to maintain and improve strength.
Method #1 – Time Under Tension
The first training method you need to consider is time under tension.
That is, the amount of time (in seconds) that you contract the muscle for each set.
Say for example you do ten pull-ups really fast. This might only take you 15 seconds.
This means your time under tension, or the amount of time your muscles are working is not very long.
Instead of having a low time under tension, we want to have a long time – especially for biceps training.
Next time you are doing pullups, do your best to slow down the movement to increase the time under tension.
This will help to stimulate the muscle more for growth and will help you to avoid injury in the long-haul.
Method #2 – Tempo Training
Tempo training follows the same type of principle as time under tension but adds another element of recording your results.
Take for example the average lifter who does a set of bench press for eight reps by three sets.
This is perhaps the only recording method they have for seeing progress – aside from the weight that is being lifted.
Tempo training works through a sequence of 4 numbers. Each number represents a second in the contraction of a muscle during a movement.
Here's an example of a pull-up using a 4021 tempo.
- 4 – eccentric contraction for 4 seconds (lowering your body from the bar)
- 0 – no pause at the bottom range of motion (dead hang)
- 2 – concentric contraction for 2 seconds, slowly lifting yourself to the top position (chin over bar)
- 1 – one-second pause at the top range of motion (holding your chin over the bar)
Using tempo training, you can track ever bodyweight biceps exercise you have and see improvement – especially since you likely will only be using your own weight as resistance.
The easier the exercise, the lower the tempo (fewer seconds under tension) and the harder the exercise, the greater the tempo (longer seconds on each contraction).
For most bodyweight exercises (especially for the biceps) you want to have a longer tempo scheme. This will help to promote blood flow and growth to the area.
Method #3 – Volume
The last and perhaps most forgotten element of biceps training is the use of volume.
In this sense, we mean the number of total reps and sets you complete.
Charles Poliquin, a famous strength coach, pioneered a method of training called German Volume training which has helped many people put on mass and size using low weights and high sets.
You can use this same method (and its included in your free workout below) to help promote size and strength.
The principle is rather simple. Train the first two exercises of your workout for ten sets each and ensure slow movement speed and lighter resistance.
This will allow your muscles to adapt to a different training stimulus, and when combined with your time under tension and tempo training you have a recipe for success.
The biceps is a large set of muscles on the anterior portion of the arm.
Comprised of two muscles (biceps, meaning two), the biceps work mainly in flexion at the elbow, flexion at the shoulder and supination at the wrist.
The biceps are composed of the short head and long head, differentiated by their origin (attachment in the shoulder).
While the short head attaches closer to the upper arm, the long head attached back into the shoulder – this is how it helps in some shoulder movements.
To best train these two muscles we must ensure we are doing the following movements.
A. Flexion at the elbow (biceps curl, supinated pullup)
B. Flexion at the shoulder (isometric holds, front raises)
C. Supination (twist curls, supinated holds)
Now that you have a concrete understanding of how this set of muscles work let’s delve into some of the best bodyweight biceps exercises.
Bodyweight Biceps Exercises
The king of all biceps and back exercises has always been, and always will be the pullup. This exercise demands strength, control and maximum effort to do correctly.
Five good pull-ups are more effective than 20 mediocre lat-pulldowns.
Changing your grip to supinated pull-ups will ensure that you recruit biceps to assist in the majority of the work. This means your palms should be facing you (like a chin up).
An essential cue here is to focus on the lengthening of the muscle, or lowering yourself from top to bottom. The biceps will train very well through slow, controlled movements.
We suggest using a simple rep scheme like a 5×5 to start. In this way, you can begin to track your tempo and movement sleep with lower reps in a controlled setting.
As you grow stronger, begin to increase the sets and total reps until you are at a complete volume of 10 sets.
TRAINER TIP: Use longer rest times (more than 2 minutes) to ensure the highest quality and effort in each set. There is no sense in rushing your progress.
Aka – the bodyweight row. This exercise can be slightly complicated to do at home, but any good gym will have a squat rack or smith machine that is usable.
The goal here is to find a structure that will not move (a suspension device like TRX can work as well) where you can plant your feet as a lever and pull yourself towards the bar or handles.
This exercise will mostly target the back muscles, but a slight change in hand grips (moving to supinated or neutral) will allow your biceps to work in a synergistic way for optimal strength and size.
Since this exercise is much easier than a full body pull-up, you should be able to complete more sets with slower movement speed.
This is an exercise where you will want to focus on control.
If you are a complete beginner and are having difficulty with completing a pull-up, this is a great exercise to build your strength before getting onto the pull-up bar.
Time to start specifically targetting the biceps muscle. With a suspension curl, the idea is to use a TRX or bar (on a smith machine) and your own weight to train the biceps in flexion at the elbow.
The video below does a great job of showing the form that you want to achieve.
You will notice that the arm stays relatively straight – almost as if there is an imaginary line from the shoulder to wrist. Slow and controlled movements are essential here.
Keep your core tight, glutes flexed and focus on a complete range of motion – no half reps.
The most simple exercise we have to create the familiar biceps curl movement without any weight is the towel curl.
Here you will need a long beach towel or shower towel and a chair to elevate your body while you sit.
Take a moment to wrap the towel around itself a couple of times to create a spiral in length. Gripping the towel, wrap it around one foot.
Simply curl the towel towards your face while using the side around your foot as the resistance.
The best way to complete this exercise is with slow and controlled movements.
Be sure to have a long pause and contraction at the top range of motion. In this way, you will help to isometrically train the muscle as well.
Video description can be found below.
Everyone has a doorway. Whether at home or work, you can pump out a quick ten reps every time you walk through a door, you have some guarantee that you will grow stronger.
The doorway curl using the frame of the door as your grip structure and your bodyweight as the resistance.
Simply grip the door from with one hand, take a small step back until your arm is extended and use your grip, biceps and back muscles to curl yourself into the door – repeat.
NOTE: The resistance to this exercise is very low. Due to the low resistance, it is unlikely that you will be able to build larger muscles with this exercise. With that said, this is an excellent exercise for developing a baseline strength, warming up, and ingraining the curl movement in your muscle memory for your workouts.
Video explanation of the Door curl can be found here.
At Home Workout for Bigger Biceps
Check out our awesome beginner's workout that you can do at home with very little equipment.
|BODYWEIGHT BICEPS WORKOUT||REPS||SETS||TEMPO|
|Doorway Pull-ups (Supinated)||6||10||2111|
|Doorway Australian Row (Neutral)||10||10||3021|
|Towel Curl + Curl Hold||8+20s||3||2121|
TRAINER NOTES: Integrate Isometric and Isotonic Movements
You may notice that the 3rd exercise in your bodyweight biceps workout includes a “curl hold.” This exercise is an isometric hold, meaning you complete your required reps, but on the last one, you hold the top range of motion for 20 seconds. This includes both isotonic movements with isometric holds to create optimal blood flow, recovery and strength.
A Complete Guide to Bodyweight Bicep Exercises
Training the biceps will not be easy. They are large muscles that require attention to detail and a lot of training to grow.
With time, proper guidance, and consistent effort you will see results.
If you enjoyed this article and have found benefit from our free workout above feel free to comment below. If you have questions, do not hesitate to contact us personally.
What Exercise Works the Biceps Without Weights?
Flexion-based exercises will always have the greatest effect on both the long head and short head of the biceps.
Exercises like the towel curl or supinated pullup force both muscles to work overtime to grow stronger.
How Do I Make My Arms Bigger with Bodyweight?
Tempo and volume will help build strength.
With low resistance or low weight, you will need to force stress on the biceps through unique training parameters.
Use the explanation above on tempo and volume to help you build mass and strength.
Which Is the Best Exercise for Biceps?
My personal favorite is the spider curl.
This exercise isolates the biceps and makes them work more than any other popular biceps exercise.
All you need is a bench and some dumbells to create a unique training environment for strength.
Check out this video for a description of the spider curl.