Biceps and Triceps Workouts: Building bigger and stronger arms

By Allison-mhangoh | Health nuggets | 20 Apr 2021

For most men, going to the gym means building bigger and stronger arms, alongside a super chest and a breath-taking six pack. Although the typical moralist may consider the motive rather petty, there is actually nothing wrong with this. Stronger arms are important for your overall physical capacity, and bigger arms are a must for a great physique. This is why arm workouts should be a staple in any strength and body building program.


The Biceps and Triceps make up the larger portion of the muscle bulk of the arm. The consequence is that most muscle building workouts target these two muscle groups. However, there are a lot of grey areas pertaining to the best approaches for maximal results. This article will look at how you can effectively build both size and strength in your Biceps and Triceps as part of your strength training program. We’ll first look at the principles before we jump into some of the best exercises for building size and strength in these muscle groups.


Muscle Building Principles for the Biceps and Triceps


There is one key principle you need to know in order to understand why you should choose a particular workout and how to go about fixing it in your routine. There are too many workouts around with all sorts of lofty promises. The truth is that you can easily sniff out mediocrity from the haystack with a basic knowledge and understanding of the principles relating to how muscles respond to regular physical exercise.


Progressive Overload


Simply put, this principle states that muscles can only continue to improve in strength and size if they are loaded beyond their accustomed limits in a progressive way. For instance, if a 5kg load or weight is consistently imposed on a muscle that’s accustomed to 1-2kg loads, the necessary changes are made within the muscle to adapt to the new load. Further adaptation will occur following increments to the load.

Determining the Initial load: Where to start from…


Determining the initial load starts with knowing just how much weight your Biceps and Triceps muscles can handle.  Firstly, for a given exercise, you need to know the maximum load you cannot lift beyond once before a break in form or complete failure. The fancy term for this load is known as 1 Repetition Maximum (1RM).

According to general recommendations, the ideal starting load should be 75-85% of the 1RM if you want to maximize your results. However, the recommended values can be too-much-too-soon for most beginners. The good news is that you can still start with lower loads, say 40% of the 1RM, and work your way up to the 75-85% to maximize your results.


Exercise Volume


Proper exercise goes beyond the actual weight or load. You also need to give a little more thought to other factors such as the number of repetitions, sets, and weekly frequency to end up with worthwhile results.  Training for strength and muscle size requires a high-load, low-rep approach. You don’t really need to exhaust all your energy coffers to get results.

In other words, you only need a few number of reps if you are using high loads within the 80-85%RM. 4-8 reps are enough to trigger the necessary changes needed to build strength and size. This also applies to mid-range loads (60-80%).

Remember, strength is about your muscle’s ability to generate force per contraction. Racking up hundreds of sets at low loads builds muscle endurance, not strength and size.

The Biceps and Triceps: A look at the general Structure and function


Understanding the basic structure and function of the Biceps and Triceps goes a long way towards understanding how these exercises work. Most importantly, it helps you to wisely handpick from the ocean of exercises out there for a workout program that works for your needs.



The Bicep is a two-headed muscle located on the front surface of the Humerus (Upper arm bone). The muscle connects the forearm to the upper part of the arm and the Shoulder Blade. On the surface, it’s the muscle bulge that comes up on your arm whenever you bend/flex your elbows. By virtue of its attachments and insertions, the Bicep crosses the shoulder and elbow joints, and contributes to movements of both the Shoulder, Elbow and Forearm.

Its primary function is to flex/bend the elbow and Supinate/turn the palm and forearm outwards to the side. It also has a limited contribution in flexing/raising the arm upward and forward relative to the shoulder joint.






The Tricep muscle is the opposite/antagonist of the Biceps. As the name suggests, it’s a three-headed muscle at the back of your upper arm which connects your forearm at the bottom to the upper part of the Humerus and a portion of the Shoulder Blade up top. A well-built Tricep takes the shape of a “Horse Shoe” at the back of your arm.

When compared to the Biceps, Triceps are more powerful, and considerably bulkier; contributing to around 50-70% of the total arm size. This goes against the common practice of emphasizing the Biceps rather than the Triceps for building muscle size.

The Biceps may be more impressive aesthetically, but well-developed Triceps make your arm more physically imposing. Additionally, they can also add to top notch strength and power in other workouts or general physical activities which involve extending/straightening the elbow joint.



Unlike the Biceps and Triceps, the Brachialis is a single-joint muscle connecting the Humerus to the forearm. The muscle’s sole purpose is to bend the elbow joint, and it’s considered to be a major contributor to this action compared to the Biceps. In other words, it provides a more powerful single joint contributor to elbow flexion.

The muscle is hardly noticeable from the surface in an average-sized arm. However, it can easily be noticed as a bulge between the Biceps and Triceps when it’s well developed. Additionally, it can also contribute to the overall size of the arm by providing that extra push to the Biceps on top. A bigger Brachialis lifts the Biceps on top for a bigger and better look in addition to greater power in other upper body exercises.

Now having spent a good number of minutes on principles and other nerdy stuff on the Biceps and Triceps, let’s get to some of the best exercises for these two groups of muscles. The choices have been made based on extent of individual muscle involvement/recruitment, safety and ease of execution. Let’s get to the fun.

Best exercises for the Biceps


The Barbell Curl



The Barbell Curl is not only effective, but also one of the simplest and easiest to learn exercises you can come across in the gym. The exercise is executed in standing or sitting position, with the aid of a specialized seat with a customizable armrest.

In standing position, make sure you have a tight grip with the palms facing forward at shoulder width. Lift the bar to the upper chest level and back while making sure that it’s a smooth and controlled motion on the way back.

Key points

  • Maintain a straight back throughout the range of movement.
  • Make sure you are not swinging the weight. Isolate movement to the elbow joint.
  • Master the form first, start with a lighter load before you move to the predetermined load based on the 1RM.


Alternating Dumbbell Curl


This is perhaps the most famous of the Biceps Curls, probably due to the popularity of the Dumbbell. The principle is the same as the Barbell Curl only that you use the Dumbbells on each side, but in an alternating fashion. The advantage of this is that it helps you to isolate each muscle, which in turn helps you to address imbalances between the left and right sides. Additionally, it calls for more stability and control from other muscles of the body, which in itself is great for overall physical performance.

The catch is that they can be fairly more difficult to master compared to the Barbell.


Form should come first. Be sure to master the form first by using lighter weights although it may be tempting to start a little higher.


E-Z Bar Biceps Curl



This is similar to the Barbell Curl except that it uses a special bar designed to keep your wrist safe by putting it in a mechanically advantageous position.

Although some commentators say that the neutral wrist position shifts the workload towards the Brachialis rather than the Biceps, this exercise still recruits the latter considerably. The key movement is still identical to the Barbell Curl.


Consider the E-Z Bar if you have pre-existing wrist or forearm problems, or if you are simply looking for something that’s safer. You can also alternate the two in one session to reduce the chances of any strains or injuries.

The Chin-up



The Chin-up gets rid of the gimmicks that come with external weights and instead use the body weight. Though it’s mostly considered a back exercise, a closer look at the pattern shows that the Biceps are heavily involved during the lift. This makes it a great exercise for the Biceps as well considering that the body weight is usually enough for considerable gains in terms of strength and size.

There are different ways of introducing increments to the total load as a way of embracing the principle of progressive overload. You can use a weighted vest, Dip Belt, or simply add some cuff weights on your legs.


This can be a good multi-joint exercise at the beginning of the Bicep workout. However, it’s not prudent to force it into your program if you can hardly pull your own weight up, which is often the case for beginners.


The Hummer Curl



The Hummer Curl eliminates the forearm twist associated with the standard Biceps Curl to maintain a neutral wrist position. In other words, the Dumbbell and the arm move in space like a Hammer, hence the name.

There is one implication to this movement. This position limits Biceps involvement in the exercise by eliminating Supination (turning the forearm), which is a key movement associated with Biceps muscle.


The Best Exercises for the Triceps


Now let’s move to the big boys at the back of your arm. Remember, Triceps can be stubborn, but with consistence, you are bound to have your own well-defined, horse shoe for a bigger and stronger arm. There are no shortcuts, sweat is inevitable if you are up for success.

Close-grip Barbell Press



As the name suggests, this is a variation of the classic Bench Press but tailored towards the Triceps rather than Chest muscles. The major difference lies in positioning of the grip and elbows relative to the Barbell. By setting the hands a little closer than shoulder width apart, you force the Triceps to take most of the load as the weight is being lifted. The Close-grip can easily be used to enhance your performance at the outer range of the Bench Press through enhancing overall Triceps performance.


This exercise should be considered a multi-joint exercise at the beginning of the Tricep workout due to moderate involvement of the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint and the girdle as a whole. Again, the key is in setting the right target Repetition Maximum (RM), and starting low to master the technique.

Triceps Pushdowns


The Pushdown furnishes an excellent option for complete isolation of the Triceps muscle. Unlike most presses, pushdowns are done on a Pulley system which allows you to pull on a load through a cable and handle.

Starting position

  • Hold the fully taut cable in standing position.
  • Keep the feet together, maintain an upright posture and keep the elbows in contact with your body on the sides.

The push

  • Extend the elbows by pushing down until the whole arm is straight. Be careful not to swing the arm back and forth. Make sure you stay in control during the upward movement to allow the muscle to stay active throughout the movement.

The Skull Crusher


The Skull Crusher is famous for a good reason. It presents another excellent isolation exercise for the Triceps. It’s somehow similar to the Close-grip Barbell Press but with modifications in terms of movement and limb positioning.

The position and lift

  • Lie down on the bench on your back in a similar fashion to the bench press.
  • Start with holding the weight at the end of the bench Press Position(with arms extended above the chest)
  • Bend the elbows, shift them backwards until they are behind your head. This puts the elbow in a 90-degrees position which serves as the starting position. You should feel a gentle stretch in the Triceps at this position.
  • Lift the weight until the elbow is fully extended. Movement should be limited to the elbow joint.


The Skull Crusher can easily supplement the Close-grip Press as a single-joint isolation exercise. It can be done before the Pushdowns due to some Shoulder muscle involvement. However, caution should be exercised relating to the number of repetitions and sets. Two sets should be enough for a single session, activity does not always equate to success.

Parallel Bar Dip


The Dip is the Triceps’ equivalent of the Chin-up for the Biceps muscle. It’s a way of utilizing your body weight to load your Triceps. This makes it effective as your body weight alone can be a great tool for enhancing strength and size in your Triceps.

In general terms, it is a body suspension exercise in which your Triceps are primarily recruited to lift the body as it is suspended between a pair of Parallel Bars.

Position and the lift

  • Take a firm grip on the Parallel Bars, extend the elbows as you suspend your body in space.
  • Bend and cross the legs behind for balance and proper alignment.
  • The elbows should be a little short of full extension.
  • The Chest and shoulder should be in neutral positions. In other words, keep the torso straight, avoid shrugging or curving at the beginning and throughout the movement.

       The movement

  • Lower your body until the elbows are about 90 degrees.
  • Lift the body back up to the starting position.


The Dip can be used as a multi-joint exercise, or a transition from multi-joint to single-joint exercises although there is one joint (the elbow) that’s moving. The reason is that a lot more muscles are involved as it needs a great deal of stabilization in the shoulders, back and core.

Another point worth noting is that the exercise is quite a heavy-short on the Triceps, which means more patience and practice to achieve perfection. If you can hardly maintain good form as a beginner, it’s prudent to start with the other more practical multi/single-joint exercises to build the required baseline strength and control.

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