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A Dumbbell Biceps Workout That Will Hit Your Abs at the Same Time
Let your arms routine play double duty.
From Self Magazine-By Jenny McCoy-Reviewed by Christa Sgobba, C.P.T.
From carrying groceries to putting dishes away to picking up your child, your arms work hard to get you through life. With a dumbbell biceps workout, you can give them the attention they deserve.
Your biceps brachii, known more casually as your biceps, is the muscle on the front of your upper arm. It contains two “heads,” or parts. The “short head” is the inner part of the muscle that’s closest to your body, and the “long head” is the outer part, ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, CPT, owner of Strong With Sivan, tells SELF.
A good biceps workout will include different biceps exercises to target different parts of the muscle. A wide-grip biceps curl, for example, places more emphasis on the short head, while a close-grip curl places more emphasis on the long head. A regular biceps curl, by contrast, works both heads of the muscle fairly evenly. With all three variations, you’ll be hitting the biceps in each, “but you’ll hit one part of the muscle a little bit more compared to another variation,” says Fagan.
This variety is important. “You always want to have different variations of a certain exercise because it just hits the muscle fibers a little bit differently,” says Fagan. And by hitting the muscle fibers differently, you can promote full development of the muscle and stability of the joints while reducing your risk of injury, she explains.
The below biceps routine, which Fagan created for SELF, includes both a wide-grip bicep curl as well as a single-arm, regular grip bicep curl. It also features two variations of the row, a classic upper-body move that works your biceps as well as your back. While a row is a compound movement that works various larger muscles, your biceps play a big role in assisting the move.
Importantly, two of the four moves in this workout are single-arm or unilateral, meaning just one arm is working at a time. Compared to double-arm or bilateral exercises, where both arms are working together, single-arm exercises demand more core stability, since your core muscles have to engage in order to keep your spine from rotating. So while single-arm moves mostly target your upper body, they also squeeze in sneaky work for your abs and other core muscles as well.
Another benefit of single-arm exercises is that they allow you to challenge your muscles more. “You’ll always be able to hold more weight on one side compared to when you do both at the same time,” explains Fagan. At the same time, double-arm exercises, like traditional rows and curls, are important too for overall functional strength, which is why this routine includes two double-arm moves as well.
The below routine works well as a finisher to a cardio session, a lower-body workout, or an upper-body push workout that’s focused on the chest, shoulders, and triceps. It could also be a standalone workout on days when you’re really tight on time, says Fagan. In that case, just know it would be considered more supplemental strength work, rather than a super comprehensive upper-body routine, since it focuses on just the biceps and back. A more well-rounded upper-body routine, Fagan explains, would hit the chest, triceps, and shoulders in addition to the back and biceps.
If you do choose to do this routine as a standalone workout, make sure to first do a quick warm-up–literally two minutes will suffice–so you don’t start with cold, stiff muscles.
Ready to get started with this dumbbell biceps workout? Keep on reading to learn everything you need to know about it.
What you need: Two sets of dumbbells: one medium pair for the first superset and one light pair for the second superset. You’ll also need a bench, chair, trunk, or other sturdy elevated surface for the bench-supported single-arm row.
- Bench-supported single-arm row
- Single-arm biceps curl
- Bent-over row
- Wide-grip biceps curl
- For Superset 1, do 12–15 reps per side of each move without resting in between exercises. Rest 1 minute after both are done. Complete 3-4 rounds total.
- For Superset 2, do 12–15 reps of each move without resting in between exercises. Rest 1 minute after both are done. Complete 3–4 rounds total.
Demoing the moves below are Sarah Taylor (GIF 1), a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor, and plus-size model in Toronto; Nathalie Huerta (GIF 2), coach at the Queer Gym in Oakland; Francine Delgado-Lugo, cofounder of FORM Fitness Brooklyn; and Denise Harris (GIF 4), a NASM-certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor based in New York City.
- Stand in front of a bench (or chair, trunk, or other sturdy elevated surface) with your feet hip-width apart in a staggered stance. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand with your arm at your side.With your core engaged, hinge forward at the hips, push your butt back, and keep a soft bend in both knees, making sure you don’t round your shoulders. (Your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility will dictate how far you can bend over.) Place your left palm on the bench, arm straight.Gaze at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position. This is the starting position.Pull the weight up toward your chest, keeping your elbow hugged close to your body to activate your back muscles, and squeeze your shoulder blade at the top of the movement.Slowly lower the weight by extending your arm toward the floor to return to the starting position. As you lower the weight, make sure your non-working shoulder stays level.That’s 1 rep. Do 12–15 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in your right hand with your arm in front of your body, palm facing forward. Left arm is resting by your side. This is the starting position.Slowly curl your right hand up toward your shoulder, squeezing your biceps. Keep your elbow tight to the sides of your body.Slowly lower your weight to the starting position, making sure you fully extend your arm.That’s 1 rep. Do 12–15 reps, then switch sides and repeat.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides.With your core engaged, hinge forward at the hips, pushing your butt back. Bend your knees and make sure you don’t round your shoulders. (Your hip mobility and hamstring flexibility will dictate how far you can bend over.)Gaze at the ground a few inches in front of your feet to keep your neck in a comfortable position. This is the starting position.Do a row by pulling the weights up toward your chest, keeping your elbows hugged close to your body and squeezing your shoulder blades for 2 seconds at the top of the movement. Your elbows should go past your back as you bring the weight toward your chest.Returning to the starting position by slowly lowering the weights by extending your arms toward the floor.That’s 1 rep. Do 12–15 reps.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.Hold a dumbbell in each hand and hold your arms wide at your sides with your elbows pushing in toward your ribs, palms facing up.Perform a wide-grip biceps curl by bending at the elbows.Extend your arms to lower the weight back down.That’s 1 rep. Do 12–15 reps.