If you want to use weights to firm up your biceps, prepare to do a lot of curls. The simple motion of curling your arms up to your chest while holding a weight -- or weights -- is the most common method of strengthening your upper arms. A good workout routine should include a variety of exercises, of course, but there are several different ways to perform curls, as well as some non-curl options to keep things interesting.
If you walk into a gym and simply begin to lift weights, you’re asking for an injury. At best, you won’t be able to perform to your full potential. Instead, start your workout with five or 10 minutes of light aerobic exercise, such as running in place or pedaling a stationary bike. Then perform some dynamic stretching to loosen the muscles you’ll be working out. For example, sit on the floor with your weight evenly distributed between your rear end, your feet -- which are flat on the floor -- and your hands, which are set palms-down behind your back with your fingers pointed backward. Keep your hands and feet in place as you slowly slide your rear end toward your feet. Pause for about a second when you feel a stretch in your biceps, then slide back to the starting position to complete one repetition. Perform five to 10 reps. The move can also be performed as a static stretch by holding the stretch for 15 seconds, but don’t perform the static version until your workout is over.
You can perform curls with a dumbbell in one or both hands, or with a barbell. If you use a barbell, begin with your feet a bit closer than shoulder-width apart. Hold the barbell in front of your thighs with your arms extended and your palms facing away from your body. Exhale to lift the barbell to your chest, then inhale as you lower it slowly to your thighs. Keep your back straight and torso still throughout the exercise. To lift dumbbells, hold them at your sides with your arms extended and palms facing your body. Twist your forearms slowly as you raise the dumbbells, until your palms face your shoulders. You can perform dumbbell curls while standing or seated. If you get bored with curls, try triceps exercises such as the bench press or triceps extension, in which the biceps serves as a stabilizing muscle.
If you’d rather do your biceps work with machines, go ahead. But when you’re targeting the biceps, you’re still likely to be doing curls. For example, you can attach a bar to a low pulley and perform curls in the same manner as barbell curls. Or attach a small handle or stirrup to the low pulley to replicate one-arm dumbbell curls, but without the rotating forearm motion. Some machines may also allow you to perform curls while lying on your back. Cable rowing exercises and lat pulldowns are good machine alternatives to curls.
Static stretching is a good way to end your workout. You can also do static stretching on days when you don’t work your biceps. Perform static stretches by holding a stretch, typically for 15 to 30 seconds, without any movement. To stretch your biceps you typically brace your hands against a solid surface and move your body in the opposite direction. If you have a tall table or bench handy, stand straight with your back to the surface. Reach your arms straight back and place them palms-up on the bench or table. Bend your knees to lower your body slowly until you feel the stretch in your biceps. Alternative surfaces for biceps stretches include a wall, door frame or the floor.
M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.