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The 15 Best Bicep Curls Variations For Bigger, More Defined Arms

By: Zack Mathews, NASM - CPT, CES, & PES, PN-L1

15 bicep curl variations

Asking what the best bicep curls variation is like asking what the best Marvel movie is.

There are just too many options to choose from!

When it comes to the best bicep curls variations, there are numerous exercise you can do that will:

  • Target the different muscles in the biceps.
  • Add a new stress on the muscle that you’ve never experienced.
  • Possibly make you sore if you’ve never done it.
  • Make your workout fun and more interesting.


That last point is worth discussing more.

One of the best ways to stay consistent and build momentum with your training is to make sure you are actually enjoying the workouts.

Often times I will add fun bicep curl variations into my in person and online coaching client’s workouts, not because it’s the absolute best exercise in the world, but because it’s fun and they enjoy trying these new exercises.

Here’s a list of the 15 best bicep curls variations to add into your training routine (with videos included).

Also…Infinity War (if you know you know).


Dumbbell Bicep Curl Variations

1.5 Rep Bicep Curls

One of my favorite ways to make lighter weight feel heavier is incorporating an extra half rep into each rep.

This is a great technique to add into bicep curls because it puts less stress on your wrists and elbows, but still gives you a great bicep burn.

This exercise can be done with either a barbell or dumbbells.  As you can see in the video, instead of going all the way down on the first rep, I stop at the half way mark and go back up.

You get a double contraction on each rep!

Hammer Curls

A hammer curl is similar to a tradition dumbbell bicep curl, but instead of having your palms facing up, they are facing each other.

The advantage of training in this motion is that you will work the brachialis muscle more, which is the bicep muscle on the outside of your arm.  Building this muscle will help push up your bicep brachii (the bicep muscle that most are familiar with) for an overall muscular, defined arm.

Regardless of what the best bicep curls variations are, it’s important to always have proper form.

The hammer curl seems like an easy enough movement, but many people still perform it wrong.

Check out the image below (full video right after) and look at my shoulder when I perform the curl.  As you can see, it’s not moving forward (shoulder flexion) while I curl.  Too many people bring their shoulder forward to help bring the weight up, which means the biceps aren’t doing all the work!

Best Bicep Curls Variations

Alternating DB Hammer Curls

Remember how I mentioned certain exercises are just for fun to do something new and exciting?

This is one of them.

If I have a client that has done traditional hammer curls for a period of time, I’ll throw these into their plan to mix things up.

It’s important to have fun with your training! If you notice you are getting bored, throw a few variations in there to keep things interesting.

DB Smash Spider Curls (My Favorite Biceps Curl Variation)

This is personally one of my favorite and best bicep curls variations.  I have to give credit to Joe DeFranco for this one!

You’ll set yourself up so you are hanging over the top of the bench which will completely isolate your biceps.  If you’ve ever done a preacher curl, this is the exact same thing except you are using a bench instead of having to have the actual machine.

Have fun trying to cheat on this one!

Additionally, you’ll smash the dumbbells together throughout the whole movement to create extra tension on your biceps.

That’s a win win right there!

Incline 1.5 Rep DB Bicep Curls

This is another fun one.  And yes, here’s another example of 1.5 reps.

Sorry not sorry!

For this exercise, you’ll be sitting back on a bench that is at at 60-75 degree angle.

Similar to the smash spider curls, you are isolating the biceps for increased difficulty.

The difference between this movement and the other 1.5 rep variations is that you’ll do your half rep from start, instead of when you are coming down.

Alternating DB Bicep Curls

Here’s the variation similar to the alternating hammer curls but with palms facing up.

Again, I would program this for a client to mix things up and have some fun.

As you can see in the video, I twist my wrist as I start to bring the dumbbell up.

That’s totally optional.  Do what feels good on your biceps, elbows, and wrists.

Cross Body Bicep Curls

This movement in our list of the best bicep curls variations is taking a play on a traditional bicep curl and a hammer curl.

Instead of curling the dumbbell up, you’ll be reaching it towards the opposite shoulder.

The benefit of this exercise is you will be working more of the bicep brachalis, just like you are with your hammer curls.

21's 3 Way (A Fun Biceps Curl Variation That Burns!)

Start by doing your first 7 as tradition, full reps.  You'll have to use dumbbells for this.

The second 7 are hammer curls, hence while you need to use dumbbells.

The final 7 is an overhand grip and curling the dumbbells, making the forearms work overtime.

Bicep Curl Variations Using Other Equipment

Band Bicep Curls

Moving right along, we get to a band variation.

Barbells and dumbbells are my preferred method for the best bicep curls variations, but sometimes you have to use a band, and that’s ok!

Whether it’s because you are traveling, haven’t gotten equipment for a home gym, or are a little unsure about working out in a gym so you want to start at home, this variation is for you.

When using bands, it’s important to pick a resistance that will be challenging for you.  Usually I’ll go 15+ reps with a band so pick a resistance that gets difficult around that 15 rep range.

TRX Bicep Curls

Another non dumbbell / barbell variation here.

This is a cool variation to do towards the end of your workout.  When you are fatigued and want to get some extra work on those arms, blast out a couple rounds of high rep TRX bicep curls.

Bicep Curl Variations On Cable Machine

I could make a whole post of cable curl variations, but I decided to lump them into one.

Doing bicep variations like these are going to create constant tension since the weight is on a cable, allowing you to really focus on feeling the bicep.

I like to go slow on these and get a really good squeeze on each rep.

Similar to what I was mentioning earlier with shoulder position, I see way too many people doing cable bicep curls and throwing their shoulders forward on each rep.

Isolate the bicep and focus on feeling the muscle.

Barbell Bicep Curl Variations

Barbell Reverse Grip Bicep Curls

This play on the traditional barbell bicep curl has you take an overhand grip, rather than an underhand.

This will recruit more muscle fibers in your forearms, which you’ll be sure to feel after a few reps of these.

21's Bicep Burner

There can't be a list of the best bicep curls variations without the classic 21's!

21's means you are performing 21 reps (using either a barbell or dumbbell), but they are not all the same reps.

Start by performing 7 full reps.

Follow that up with 7 half reps from the top (or bottom).

Finish with 7 half reps from the bottom (or top).

Welcome to burn city!

Unique Variations Of Bicep Curls

Hinged Bicep Curls (An Isometric Alternative To Bicep Curls)

Alright, I might have one here for you that you’ve never done!

This is called the hinged bicep curl and I learned it from BJ Gaddour.

It’s what I call an overcoming isometric exercise, meaning the weight will stay in position the whole time, and it’s your job not to let it move.

As you hinge over in this position, it gets harder and harder to keep the weight near your chest.

Give it a try!  It’s definitely one of the best bicep curl variations that you don’t see everyday.

Arm Hold Triple Set

This is a 3 exercise movement that will target your biceps and shoulders.

I decided to throw it in because of the overcoming isometric portion, similar to the hinged bicep curls, and thought you would enjoy it.

This is a great movement to do at the end of your workout for 1 - 2 rounds.  Usually I’ll have my clients do 30 - 45 seconds of each movement and take no longer than 30 seconds rest between exercises.

Give it a try!

Frequently Asked Questions

How Many Variations Should I Do For Biceps?

For an effective upper body / arm workout, pick 1 - 3 variations of bicep curls and perform 3 - 4 rounds.  Anywhere in the 8 - 12 rep range is ideal.  Learn all about how many sets and reps of bicep curls you should do.

The frequency per week depends on your experience level and how important arm growth is to you.  If you have skinny arms and want to focus on them, 2 or 3 times a week is great.

Is It Better To Alternate Bicep Curls?

A dumbbell bicep curl variation is not any better or worse depending on if you alternate or do them both at once.

The advantage of alternating is that your off arm gets a break while you curl the other arm.

The disadvantage is that your total set takes long than if you did both dumbbells at the same time.

What Is The Best Curl Variation?

The best bicep curl variation is one that you enjoy and can perform with perfect form.

To target all areas of your bicep, a 3 exercise focus on these movements will help you grow your biceps.

  • DB Smash Spider Curls
  • Hammer Curls
  • Alternating Dumbbell Bicep Curls

That's The 15 Best Bicep Curls Variations

There we go my friend!  15 different types of bicep curls that you can play around with and see which ones you like.

Leave a message in the comments with your favorite!