Can you build big biceps without weights? When you think of a bicep workout, the first thing that probably comes to your mind is doing dumbbell bicep curls or barbell bicep curls and not bodyweight training. However, packing on bicep size and strength is certainly achievable with calisthenics alone.
In general, calisthenics consists of compound movements, but there are exercise variations to focus more on specific muscle groups such as biceps. In this article, I will show you the three best bicep exercises without weights that have helped me grow and strengthen my biceps and arms over the years.
The Anatomy of the Biceps for Calisthenics
Before I dive into training, it is important that you understand the anatomy of the biceps. When it comes to training for bigger guns, many people are unaware that the bicep is composed of two heads; both “a short head” and a “long head” that work as a single muscle. The short head is located on the inside of your arm (close to your torso), and the long head lies on the outside of your arms.
Another important muscle that doesn’t get much attention is the brachialis, which is located on the bottom half of your upper arms and is responsible for assisting in elbow flexion. When this muscle is well trained, it can drive your biceps up more to add serious mass to your arms.
The best way to train your biceps is to practice exercises that will target both heads as well as the brachialis. The more attention your brachialis gets, the stronger and larger it will become which will bulge your biceps when you flex.
Bodyweight Bicep Exercises
Exercise 1: Chin Ups
One of the best exercises for developing big biceps is the chin up. When you do a chin up, you will use an underhand grip, rather than the overhand grip to get the optimal forearm isolation for the bicep engagement.
A 2019 study concludes that the supine narrow grip pull ups (otherwise known as close grip chin up) is the best exercise to activate the biceps brachii in comparison to other pull up variations. This is because the narrower your grip is, the more isolation will be placed on your biceps.
Chin Ups Benefits
- Compound movement as it builds strength and size in your upper arms, along with the posterior deltoids, latissimus dorsi, teres major, and abdominals.
- Increase functional strength as you’ll develop grip strength which can help you in everyday activities such as carrying heavy objects, or even in sporting activities, for instance, tennis, golf, and climbing.
- Has many variations for you to keep your training interesting and fun. You can change your grip width to recruit other muscles. The wide grip will recruit your biceps and lats, whereas the closer your grip, the more isolation will be placed on your biceps and chest.
How To Do Chin Ups
- Grab on the bar using the underhand grip at shoulder-width apart with your thumbs wrapped under and around the bar. Extend your arms out fully and lift your feet off the ground to be in a dead hanging position.
- Exhale as you contract your biceps and pull the bar down towards the ground until your chin reaches above the bar. Keep your core tight to minimize the swing. Pause for a second at the top.
- Inhale to extend your arms and return to the starting position, until your arms are locked out.
- Repeat this between 5-10 reps for 4 sets.
If you don’t have the strength to do a chin up, simply regress to doing negative chin ups to slowly build your upper body strength for the chin up. To do this, you’d step on a platform to raise yourself so that your chin is above the bar. Then, you will resist gravity by slowly lowering yourself into a dead hang. Lower down at a count of 3-5 seconds for 3 reps, for 4 sets.
Exercise 2: Bodyweight Bicep Curls
This is a bicep dominant exercise that gives the best possible isolation to the bicep for a bodyweight movement. When it comes to performing this exercise, it is very different from bodyweight rows (also known as Australian pull ups). Bodyweight rows focus on shoulder extension, whereas bodyweight bicep curls focus on shoulder flexion.
The emphasis changes, as the functions of the biceps, are elbow flexion (bringing your hands towards your body), shoulder flexion (bringing your arms straight in front of you), and forearm supination (use an underhand grip to isolate the biceps). You will perform all of these functions when doing bodyweight bicep curls.
How to Do Bodyweight Bicep Curls
- Position yourself under the bar or gymnastic rings that are around waist height using a supinated grip. Your hands should be in line with your lower chest, and your arms are straight.
- Focus on hip extension (picture yourself being in a bridge position). Your shoulders are in line with your knees and your feet are flat on the floor. Squeeze your glutes and core to keep your body parallel to the ground.
- Exhale as you engage your biceps to pull your chest towards the bar, focusing on elbow flexion and shoulder flexion.
- Inhale to return to the starting position.
- Perform this movement between 10-20 reps, for 4 sets.
Bodyweight Bicep Curl Progression
If you are finding this exercise easy to perform, you can progress to adapt to your level by adjusting the lever. The steeper your body slope is, the easier it will be to perform this exercise, whereas, the flatter your body slope is, the harder it will be for this movement. Moreover, you can perform a single-arm bodyweight bicep curl to increase resistance.
Exercise 3: Headbangers
This is a great exercise that not many know about, it is called supinated headbangers. Again, you will be using the underhand grip to isolate your biceps. It is called a headbanger because it literally looks like you’re banging your head on the bar. This exercise does wonders to your biceps, forearms, upper back, and shoulders.
How to Do Headbangers
- Grip the bar using an underhand grip at shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms and lift your feet off the ground to be in a dead hanging position.
- Pull up until your chin is above the bar.
- Keeping the tension on your biceps, you will extend your arms horizontally backward to push your head away from the bar while keeping your triceps parallel to the ground and core tight throughout this movement.
- Explosively pull your head back towards the bar (attempting to bang your head on the bar without hitting it).
- Repeat this movement between 5-10 reps, for 4 sets.
Calisthenics Bicep Workout
To wrap this all up, here is a sample workout that you can do utilizing the exercises that I’ve previously mentioned:
You may have noticed that I’ve added another exercise into the workout which is the pull up. This is a bonus exercise that would add more gains to your arms. Pull ups are another great compound movement that primarily targets the lats and biceps. If your arms are feeling sore from the first 3 exercises, you can regress to doing negative pull ups.
In this blog, I have walked you through three great exercises that isolate your biceps and will give them a big pump after each set! You can follow the workout above or use it as an inspiration to work your biceps in tandem with standard weight training—the choice is yours! If you’d like a more personalized program with individual coaching you can book a consultation with one of our expert coaches to take your gains to another level.
I’m Pat Chadwick, a qualified Level 2 and Level 3 calisthenics coach and athlete from London, England, with six years of experience. I’ve competed in various UK competitions, including the Kalos Stenos Championships, where I achieved third place in the lightweight category. My passion is highlighting the beauty of calisthenics as an authentic and pure form of body expression. I believe that everyone has the potential to become a champion of their body and mind, and that calisthenics opens the door to personal empowerment.