5 exercises that are better than bicep curls to add inches to your arms

Switch up your regular curl routine with these five alternative exercises

Man performing bicep curls
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If there’s an exercise that dominates the gym floor when it comes to building bulging biceps, it’s the bicep curl and, rightly so. Not only is it incredibly effective, hitting the biceps brachii muscles (the long and short head of the biceps), to improve their roundness and strength, but it’s also a suitable exercise for the beginner through to the well-versed athlete.

The only problem is that constant bicep curls can get a little, you know...boring. This can often lead to you not giving them 100% effort during each training session, leaving serious gains on the table. If this sounds familiar, then maybe it’s time to swap your regular curls with some fresh new exercises instead. These are our favourites…

1. Zottman curls

T3 Active Writer doing Zottman curls

(Image credit: Future)

We previously wrote about why we love the Zottman curl and it's not just because they will leave your biceps with a serious pump, but they'realso brilliant for building your grip strength and forearms. Using an overhand and underhand grip through the movement helps target different areas of the arm, so you get more bang for your buck. Just don't reach for the pair of dumbbells you usually do your curls with, as these, are far more challenging.

2. Chin ups

indoor training tips

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This compound movement not only targets your biceps, but pretty much your entire upper body as it also works your forearms, shoulders, lats and core. They're slightly easier than pull-ups too, which require more lat strength and elbow flexion. Your biceps are guaranteed to be popping after you've done a couple of chin up sets. Plus, you can increase the difficulty by wearing a weight belt.

3. Incline dumbbell curl

Man doing incline dumbbell curls

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Ok, so this may be a bicep curl, but performed on a weight bench at an incline can make a massive difference. By doing this exercise in an incline position you get a greater range of motion as your arms go behind your torso, so it places more emphasis on the longhead of the bicep. It's an exercise that you can also train unilaterally (doing one arm at a time), making it a good option to reduce any muscle/strength imbalances.

4. Barbell bent over row

Woman performing bent over barbell row

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This isn't just great for the biceps, it also hits your major back muscles, shoulders, spinal erectors, forearms and core. As it's a compound exercise, using lots of upper body muscles rather than isolating a single muscle group, you should be able to load up the barbell and go a lot heavier than you would doing a regular bicep curl.

5. Hammer curls

Woman doing dumbbell bicep curl

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you don't want to stray too far from your regular dumbbell curls, the hammer curl is an easy switch-up. As well as targeting your biceps, the hammer curl also works the brachialis (the muscle underneath the biceps which aids elbow flexion) and the brachioradialis (one of forearm muscles that support elbow flexion). This is due to holding the pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other). It will therefore work your forearms and also improve your grip strength to a far greater degree than the regular bicep curl. Plus, it also works your deltoids.

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.