Written by Patrick Dale, PT, ex-Marine
Advocates of home and minimalist workouts often say that exercises like push-ups and air squats are all you need to do to get in shape. And while those simple movements are very effective, they’re also very limiting.
For starters, none of them work your biceps!
When it comes to building bigger, more muscular arms, curls are the king, and no self-respecting bodybuilder wants to skip their biceps workout.
That begs the question: how do you train your biceps when you don’t have access to weights or machines?
The good news is that there are actually numerous ways to work your biceps, even if some of them require a little out-of-the-box thinking!
In this article, we reveal the best biceps exercises without weights and equipment.
No gym? No problem! Use these exercises to build your biceps at home, on vacation, or any other time that you don’t have access to traditional weights or training equipment.
No, you haven’t accidentally stumbled onto an article about back training! While chin-ups ARE a great lat exercise, they’re also a very effective biceps exercise.
When you do pull-ups, you curl your chin up to an overhead beam or bar instead of curling a barbell or dumbbells up to your chin. So, if you can find somewhere suitable to hang from, the chin-up is an excellent home biceps exercise.
Not quite strong enough to do chin-ups? Or maybe you want to do a higher rep workout? Either way, you can work your biceps by doing underhand inverted rows. Also known as Australian pull-ups, this is another back exercise that also gives your biceps a great workout.
A set of resistance bands is all you need to train your entire body without weights. Resistance bands are light, portable, and cheap. They’re ideal for home use and perfect for traveling, too.
Resistance band exercises are also very joint-friendly, as there is no initial inertia to overcome at the start of each rep. Instead, the tension comes on gradually. Resistance band curls are a very effective biceps exercise that you can do anywhere and anytime.
There are very few strength training exercises that you can’t replicate with a suspension trainer, such as a TRX or similar. For example, you can use a suspension trainer to mimic freeweight and machine exercises and add an extra dimension to bodyweight training, too. Suspension curls feel a lot like cable preacher curls and are a very effective bodyweight biceps exercise.
Are you going on vacation? Maybe traveling for work? Then the chances are that you’ll have a suitcase or backpack for your clothes, etc. You can use your luggage as a make-shift barbell for biceps training.
Dumbbells are perfect for biceps training but don’t worry if you don’t have any, as you can do dumbbell-type curls with a shopping bag. The handles are ideal for unilateral training so that you can work one arm at a time.
Most biceps exercises involve movement of the elbow joint. This one is different because your muscles will be working isometrically or statically. That means your muscles produce force but no movement. Surprisingly, isometric exercises are good for building muscle size and strength and are very joint-friendly. Plus, all you need to do them is a long towel.
Dynamic tension is a form of training popularized by old-school strongman Charles Atlas that was also used by martial arts legend Bruce Lee. Dynamic tension is a form of isometrics but, unlike that method, is not completely stationary and involves slow, deliberate movements.
With this exercise, you are going to use the triceps of one arm to overload the biceps of the other. That means, once you’ve done both sides, you’ll have worked your biceps and your triceps in just a few minutes.
Water is pretty heavy stuff, and one pint weighs about a pound. You can use a water jug as a make-shift weight for biceps curls and should have no problem adjusting the load to match your current level of strength. Water jugs with handles are perfect for biceps training. But, if you don’t have that type, you may need to find an alternative way to hold your jug, e.g., in both hands.
Stone lifting is a traditional form of strength training that often features in strongman competitions. It has a long and storied history, and many countries have famous lifting stones, some of which are centuries old.
If you’ve got access to a rock, stone, or even some bricks, you’ve got the perfect tool for training your biceps. Just watch your toes!
A lot of gyms have thick or fat grip barbells. Thicker than the average barbell, these bars are perfect for biceps training. They’re also helpful for building a stronger grip and more muscular forearms. You can use a thick tree branch or log for the same purpose. Look out for splinters, though, as getting one in your hand or under a nail can be VERY painful.
Paint pots and buckets with handles are great substitutes for dumbbells. The handles can be a little thin, which could make for an uncomfortable grip, so place a sponge or folded washcloth between your hand and the handle for comfort. Alternatively, wear a pair of work gloves to protect your hands.
Get more from your biceps workouts with these tried and tested training tips!
One workout a month won’t do much for the size of your biceps. Instead, train your arms a couple of times a week on non-consecutive days, e.g., Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or Monday and Thursday. Choose 2-3 exercises and do a couple of sets of each.
The more workouts you miss, the slower your progress will be!
You are only as strong as your last workout, and if you want to build strength and muscle, your workouts need to get progressively more demanding. You can lift more weight, do more reps, take shorter rests between sets, do more sets, or more exercises to keep challenging your muscles to grow.
Doing the same workout with the same exercises, sets, reps, and rests will bring your progress to a shuddering halt. Progressive workouts are essential!
Training without weights or equipment means you may struggle to overload your muscles enough to trigger growth. Get around this problem by repping out to failure or very close to it. That means you do as many reps as it takes to fatigue your muscles fully.
Stopping your set before your muscles are tired will make your workouts less productive, so do as many reps as you can, be that 5, 15, or 50!
As crucial as biceps training is, you must not neglect your triceps. The triceps are the most prominent upper arm muscle, so if you want “big guns,” you need to train your biceps and triceps pretty evenly.
Good low-tech bodyweight triceps exercises include:
So, for every biceps exercise you do, make sure you do one for your triceps, too.
While it’s beyond the scope of this article to give you a muscle-building diet to follow, it’s important to stress that if you want to build bigger, more muscular arms, you need to eat right.
Intense training takes a lot out of you, and for muscle repair and growth to happen, you need to provide your body with the energy and nutrients it needs.
Make sure your diet supports and doesn’t hinder muscle growth by:
Related: The 21 Best Bodyweight Exercises for Muscle Size and Strength
While there is no denying that weights and equipment can add a lot to your biceps workouts, the truth is that you can build great-looking arms without them. There are bodyweight biceps exercises to beef up your arms and numerous everyday objects that you can use instead of weights or equipment.
Ultimately, your muscles cannot differentiate between a state-of-the-art biceps curl machine and lifting a heavy rock; they only know work and tension. So long as you push yourself and train with intensity, your muscles will respond by growing and getting stronger.
Use the exercises in this article to build arms you can be proud of, even if you don’t have access to weights or workout equipment.
Patrick Dale is an ex-British Royal Marine, gym owner, and fitness qualifications tutor and assessor. In addition, Patrick is a freelance writer who has authored three fitness and exercise books, dozens of e-books, thousands of articles, and several fitness videos. He’s not just an armchair fitness expert; Patrick practices what he preaches! He has competed at a high level in numerous sports, including rugby, triathlon, rock climbing, trampolining, powerlifting, and, most recently, stand up paddleboarding. When not lecturing, training, researching, or writing, Patrick is busy enjoying the sunny climate of Cyprus, where he has lived for the last 20-years.
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