The best way to encourage your muscles to get bigger and stronger is through application of kaizen, which is Japanese for "continuous improvement." You apply this principle by trying to increase the weight or number of reps at every opportunity, no matter how small the increase might be.
While this principle definitely works, your progress will likely stall at a point. To bust through the plateau, you'll need to change the stimulus in some way. That usually means switching the exercise, the angle, the resistance profile, or the technique.
With that in mind, here are ten plateau–busting biceps exercises for when the basics stop working.
1 – Kneeling Landmine Reverse Curl
Don't knock this setup until you've tried it. It can be a useful way to train your biceps in their weakest position, along with being a real plateau buster.
From a tall-kneeling position, grip the bar from a point directly in front of your junk, down the midline of your body. Keep your elbow tucked and wrist neutral as you curl. Your fist should travel slightly outside the line of your shoulder, allowing you to feel an intense biceps and forearm contraction at the top.
Try to crush your forearm against your biceps. If a full length Olympic bar is too heavy, start with a 5-foot Olympic bar or shorter EZ-curl bar.
The palms-down (pronated) grip emphasizes the brachialis and coracobrachialis portion of the upper arm. The fat grip of the bar benefits the movement too, requiring your forearms to do a lot more work.
2 – Hammer Curl 6/6/12s
You'll be doing a mechanical drop-set, transitioning from a seated hammer curl to a standing hammer curl, and then finishing with a higher-rep pump. There's not much to dislike about this one.
- A1. Seated Hammer Curl, 6-8 reps (no rest)
- A2. Standing Hammer Curl, 6-8 reps (same weight, no rest)
- A3. Band Hammer Curl, 12-20 reps
These also work well with an underhand grip.
3 – Rack Landmine Reverse Curl
This one's like the kneeling landmine reverse curl, but you set yourself up in a rack using the pins. I first remember seeing this being performed by John Meadows and it's since become a personal favorite.
When you compare it to the landmine setup described earlier, this version has a slightly different feel to it, though the benefits are the same. Try both and play around with angles and body position until you find the version that aligns your shoulders, elbows, and wrists the best.
And yes, this does technically count as using the squat rack to curl, albeit you're actually outside of it so you get a pass!
4 – One-Arm Supported Hercules Curl
A Hercules curl typically has you set up between cables set to a high position and performing a curl that somewhat resembles a front double biceps pose. It's a good one for training the long-head of the biceps in their shortened position.
Enter the one-arm supported version where we use a bench for additional stability and support for the elbow and shoulder. The angle of the cable is key. The cable load is greatest when the angle of the cable is roughly 90 degrees to the forearm (due to leverage factors), so play with the cable height and bench angle to help you get the best feel.
5 – Back–Facing Preacher Hammer Curl
Sit backwards on the preacher bench and keep your upper arms fixed against the pad. This eliminates cheating and keeps your humerus directly perpendicular to the floor, allowing you to really isolate the tension.
You can also do this movement by sitting backwards in a lat pulldown machine, where you can adjust the height of the knee pads to fit the height of your upper arms. The surprising thing is how comfortable these two setups are!
6 – Dumbbell Curl Triple-Threat
Triple-threat protocols add volume to your workouts, increase training variety, and give you insane pumps. Here's one that Christian Thibaudeau has shared before.
Each position has a purpose and applies load to the biceps at a different point. This is typically done with dumbbells, but works great with an EZ-bar too. Try 5–7 reps in each position:
- A1. Leaning Back Biceps Curl: The point of maximal loading (PML) is in the bottom portion of the curl. Same weight, no rest.
- A2. Standing Upright Biceps Curl: The PML is around the middle of the curl. Same weight, no rest.
- A3. Leaning Forward Biceps curl: The PML is closer to the top of the curl.
Put them all together and you've got one killer biceps movement.
7 – Kettlebell Pistol Hammer Curl
While some common biceps exercises fall short in maintaining tension throughout the movement, kettlebell curls are an exception. They also help to emphasize an elongated eccentric contraction, which causes lots of micro–trauma that's essential for muscle growth. As a result of the high tension, kettlebells also produce an occlusion–type effect, whereupon the restricted blood flow acts as another kind of hypertrophy stimulus.
This move specifically targets the brachialis and brachioradialis in the top portion of the movement.
(For more on training your arms using kettlebells, check out Kettlebells Beat Dumbbells for Biceps by Joel Seedman, PhD.)
8 – Cable Biceps Curl Triple-Threat
Here's another way you can perform a triple-threat set, this time using cables. This one works like a mechanical drop set:
- A1. Cable Biceps Curl Leaning Forwards (pulleys just slightly behind you): The PML is around the middle to top of the curl. Without resting, use the same weight and go to the next part of the movement.
- A2. Cable Biceps Curl (pulleys adjacent to your feet): The PML is around the middle of the curl. Without resting, use the same weight and go to the next position.
- A3. Cable Biceps Curl (pulleys behind you): The PML is around the middle to bottom portion of the curl.
9 – Kettlebell Squatting Curl
A neutral grip will shift emphasis on the brachialis muscle, which, when trained efficiently, can give some thickness to your upper arms.
The squatting position isn't some ridiculous way to hit your quads at the same time, either; it's so your knees can provide support for your elbows, like a steep preacher curl bench would. This helps to isolate your elbow flexors, while also emphasizing loading in the top portion of the movement.
10 – Cable Biceps Triple-Threat Using Incline Bench
Using an incline bench to add some support is a great strategy if you want to isolate your biceps. Complete 6-10 reps in each position, in sequence:
- A1. Incline Bench Cable Biceps Curl: The PML is in the bottom (lengthened) position. Same weight, no rest.
- A2. Bench Leaning Cable Biceps Curl: The PML is nearer the middle of the curl. Same weight, no rest.
- A3. Chest-Supported Cable Spider Curl: The PML is near the top (shortened) position.
The bench stays in place throughout, which makes this setup highly practical. The cables stay where they are too. Just make sure they're properly aligned with your shoulders and at their lowest height. Two to three sets of these and your biceps will be fried.
Programming the Exercises
Start by using some of these moves to replace your current biceps exercises to change the stimulus. Stick with them for at least a few weeks (generally 4-6 workouts) before switching things up again, and always consider the kaizen principle: coax, don't force, your biceps into growth.