Funny enough, while researching this article I wanted to use Popeye as the titular character that you want to look like.
I always remembered the Sailor Man as having giant biceps, thick upper arms. But, upon further scrutiny, I found that Popeye didn’t have big biceps–he had huge forearms!
That’s another article entirely. But I digress…
Instead, it’s Johnny Bravo. Machismo withstanding, the dude has some serious upper arms.
And it isn’t from incessantly chasing women around, trying out downright horrible pickup lines.
Most likely, it’s from doing some epic biceps exercises…bodyweight biceps exercises specifically.
Using your bodyweight to work on your biceps is a tremendous approach to getting those bulging arms we all want.
In this article, we’ll be going over what bodyweight biceps exercises are, the benefits of using them, how to implement them into your routine, and the top exercises you can do as soon as possible!
Plus, we’ll be giving you a bonus workout centered around the biceps and calisthenics.
It’s a lot to unpack, so let’s get to it!
What Are Bodyweight Bicep Exercises?
As you could expect, they are exercises that target your biceps muscles (biceps brachii) using only your body’s weight as the resistance.
Bodyweight biceps exercises might focus on biceps, but usually they also include different body parts as well; one obvious example would be your LATs or upper back, as well as the trapezius sometimes.
However, there are a handful of bodyweight exercises that work akin to any kind of curl. (Weirdly, it’s called the “bodyweight bicep curl,” which we will touch on in a later section.)
How Effective Are Bodyweight Exercises for Biceps?
In a word: very.
Bodyweight exercises for biceps put your arms under the strain of carrying, lifting, or at least moving your body through space.
Unless you’re 50 pounds soaking wet–and even if you are–bodyweight biceps exercises will be hard, fatiguing suckers.
When you come back to a workout with a bodyweight biceps exercise, your recovery period has primed your biceps for taking on the load–that is, your bodyweight.
Once you can rep out a lift that involves your bodyweight and your biceps and barely anything else, your pulling motion with your arms will be stupid strong.
As we all know, strength is what can create thick, hardened muscle.
Growth is a byproduct of strength.
So, if you implement bodyweight biceps exercises with the ingenuity of progressive overload (continuously adding reps or weight to your exercises over time), you’ll be wearing black shirts, rocking high blonde hair, and sporting dark shades and gross innuendo in no time!
How Do I Make My Arms Bigger with Bodyweight?
Like we said in the previous section, it’s all about the progressive overload, baby.
Progressive overload is the best way to hack your recovery periods.
Here’s how it works: You pick a lift–in our case, a bodyweight bicep exercise, say chin-ups.
Perform the most chin-ups you can do for a particular rep range. For example, the rep range is eight to twelve.
You do nine chin-ups on the first day of doing this exercise. Then, after you take a few days to recover, you hit chin-ups again and perform twelve reps.
Solid! Time to level up: Now you’re going to add weight (via a weight belt) and go back down to the bottom range of repetitions.
Now you’re doing your bodyweight plus ten pounds for eight reps.
Continue to go up in the rep range until you hit twelve again, then repeat the process.
Either you go up in reps or go up in weight. Try and do this every single time you do your workout. That way, you’re always growing.
This process works well for any lifts, the optimal being those big, compound lifts that you can get heavy on and continue to progress over long periods of time.
Chin-ups–especially weighted ones–is an example of a compound lift where you can add 2.5 pounds or reps to the exercise every time you perform it.
This is the secret to getting any body part big in the gym (or, for calisthenics, perhaps outside the gym as well).
Another way to use progressive overload from a pure bodyweight standpoint is to increase the difficulty of the movement.
You can go from traditional chin-ups to pull-ups to one-handed chins or muscle-ups or front lever pulls. This way, you can use true calisthenics to grow your arms.
Bodyweight Biceps Exercises Benefits
Ah yes, the advantages of bodyweight biceps movements cannot be overstated. Here are some of the reasons why you want to add biceps calisthenics to your routine as soon as possible:
- You can do them anywhere, anytime: The beauty of calisthenics. Bodyweight exercises, biceps or otherwise, have the unique ability to be performed in a plethora of places. The gym, sure, but also the park, your home, the beach…the list is virtually endless! With no limit on place or time of day (fitness can be accomplished 24 hours a day), you really have no excuse. Bodyweight biceps exercises can and will be done on the appropriate day, no matter what.
- Relative strength: Seeing as you’re using your bodyweight as the resistance, you are gaining strength in your biceps relative to your own weight. This relative strength is key. You may not be able to add as much weight as the other guy to your weighted chin-ups, but if you’re pulling 50 pounds and the other guy is pulling 50 and you are 20 pounds lighter in bodyweight, then you have the better relative strength. Fitness is a one-man battle, no matter how much you compare yourself to others. Just focus on your relative strength–the strength you have relative to your body–and you’ll see awesome results.
- Solid proportion via compound lifts: Chin-ups, pull-ups, and other popular bodyweight biceps exercises will not only build you bigger arms–they’ll also develop your other pulling muscles. Your body isn’t mutually and muscularly exclusive; the different muscle groups work together to achieve the result of a pull-up. Therefore, you get good and strong on these movements, your back is going to be ripped, your forearms (from gripping) will be lean and sinewy, and your shoulders will put on some girth. It’s like a win-win times infinity.
- You can isolate as well: You don’t always have to go the compound exercise path. There are isolation movements you can do that involve your biceps and your bodyweight and nothing else. While difficult to do, this can give your biceps an extra push if they’re lagging behind the rest of your body. We’ll cover both compound and isolation movements below.
- You look like a badass doing it: Lastly, there are some sick moves you can do with bodyweight biceps exercises. We’ll get into the specifics below, but if you start to do one-handed chin-ups or headbangers, people will notice. Wow your friends–and your gym mates–with super cool-looking bodyweight biceps movements.
Bodyweight biceps exercises are terrific for building epic arms, without losing proportion, and you can become more in control of your own body.
This is always a solid benefit and one we at Athletic Muscle are big on; by being in control of your body, you can become a powerful beast.
Incorporating Biceps Exercises
The simplest way to incorporate biceps is to include them in your current calisthenics routine.
You can still use bodyweight biceps exercises.
The easiest route is to replace your normal biceps exercise with one of the bodyweight versions we’ll cover in the next section.
For example, if you have barbell curls, replace them with inverted rows.
Another option is to use the bonus workout routine we have provided at the end of this article.
This workout is sure to blast your biceps and leave them spent for the next few days afterward.
Then you do it again and again, improving your exercises in both reps and weight to get those bulging biceps.
Top Bodyweight Biceps Exercises
This is it: The full list of bodyweight biceps exercises. Use one, two, or all of them; they should all get you to the ultimate goal of Johnny Bravo arms. (Note: We’ve added notes to exercises that might need explanation.)
- Chin-ups (Weighted or Traditional)
- Pull-ups (Weighted or Traditional)
- Inverted Row (or Australian Row): At an angle below the bar, with your feet on the ground, pull your chest towards the bar. It acts as a lateral row.
- Headbangers: Keeping your arms at a 90-degree angle, half-rock, half-pull your body towards the pull-up bar. This creates insane, consistent tension on the biceps.
- One-arm Chin-ups (Assisted or No): This is the upper echelon of calisthenics strength. If you can rep out multiple repetitions with a single arm, you’ll be all right.
- Negative/Eccentric Chin-ups/Pull-ups: A terrific option for beginners or those who want to use as much tension as possible. To do this, simply go as slow as you possibly can at the bottom of the movement (going from the bar back to hanging).
- Commando Chin-ups: Another solid variation of the chin-up, you grip the bar so that it runs lengthwise above your head. Every time you raise your body up, you put your head on one side or the other. Switch between the two–right side, left side–with every rep.
- Isometric Bar Holds: Do a pull-up but hold at the top. We’re sorry and you’re welcome.
- Suspension Trainer Curls: Using TRX bands or some equivalent, curl your body like you curl a pair of dumbbells. The farther angled your body is, the more weight you’ll be putting on your biceps. (This is a solid way to track progressive overload.)
- Plank: You might be thinking, “Huh?” However, without strong biceps, the stability and upper body form whilst planking would be a sorry sight indeed. Obviously a big core workout, it taxes the entire body, biceps included.
- Resistance Band Curls: This version of the traditional curl (with a resistance band secured underneath your feet) is awesome because of varied tension. Instead of losing all tension at the top and bottom of the movement, like with dumbbells, you have to be engaged throughout the entire movement, making your biceps have to work that much harder.
Bonus: Bodyweight Biceps Workout
Here’s a full-blown workout that involves mostly bodyweight biceps exercises. We also added a few movements in there to create a complete upper body “pull” workout (the entire muscles of your back).
- Weighted Chin-ups: 3 sets of 6-8, 8-10, 10-12 reps
- Inverted Rows: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
- Suspension Trainer Curls: 2 sets to failure (quick reps)
- Finisher: Isometric Bar Holds + Slow Eccentric: 1 set for max time
While quick and seemingly easy, this workout will kick your ass. Period. Rest two to three minutes between every set (need a timer? We reviewed some here).
If you want to warm up for the first exercise, go for it, using your bodyweight as the warm-up weight.
For the weighted chin-ups, you’ll notice each set has its own rep range. This is designed for you to lower the weight on each set and go up in reps.
So, for example, your first set will be your bodyweight +50 for 6-8 reps, the second set will be +25 for 8-10 reps, and the last set will be your bodyweight for 10-12 reps.
For the suspension trainer curls, do ‘em fast but controlled. To get to failure, we want to fatigue the muscle quickly, hence the speed of the reps. Only two sets are needed here.
Lastly, for the isometric bar holds with the slow eccentric release, it’s basically a finisher to eke out the last amount of energy from your biceps. Start with an isometric bar hold, holding at the top.
Do that for as long as you can. Then, when you can no longer hold, slowly, slowly release back down.
The sheer amount of tension this creates in your biceps will make you hurt, bad. This is why we’re only doing a single set.
Take this workout for a spin and let us know how it helped or hurt. Happy gains!
Bodyweight exercises are great. Big biceps are tremendous. Might as well put the two together and call it good.
Use the information you’ve acquired in this article to build the biceps of your dreams by using tried and true calisthenics movements.
By implementing bodyweight biceps exercises, progressive overload, and time, you’ll be looking vaguely similar to a famous 90s cartoon character…
…Just make sure you don’t go around the gym catching yourself in the mirror and exclaiming, “Man, I look pretty!”