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Compound bicep exercises are strength training movements that simultaneously engage the biceps and other multiple muscles and joints.
Unlike isolated exercises, compound exercises involve complex motions that help to challenge various body muscles. These exercises often target larger muscle groups, providing a more functional approach to building strength and enhancing coordination.
While the biceps play a role in these movements, they share the effort with other muscles. That makes compound bicep exercises highly efficient for achieving balanced muscle development and improving functional fitness.
Best compound bicep exercises for total upper body strength
Below are some of the top compound bicep exercises that can help you target your upper arm muscles, as well as others in your upper body
Chin-ups are compound exercises that target the biceps along with other muscle groups. Chin-ups are a variation of pull-ups, and they are particularly effective at engaging the biceps due to the grip used during the movement.
Unlike the overhand grip used in traditional pull-ups that allows the movement to emphasize the upper back muscles, the underhand grip used in chin-ups shifts the emphasis onto the biceps to help build and strengthen them. Thus, chin-ups are excellent compound bicep exercises for enhancing arm strength.
Grasping the bar with your palms facing you allows your biceps to play a significant role in the pulling motion as you pull your body weight up, helping to activate and work them much better.
While you heavily engage and build the biceps during the exercise, chin-ups also work the back muscles, especially the lats. The upper back muscles, shoulders, and arms also help with the movement.
In addition, chin-ups require core engagement to help stabilize your body as you lift yourself.
Because of the involvement of the biceps and general upper body engagement, chin-ups are one of the best compound bicep exercises that can help with balanced upper body development.
One-Arm Dumbbell Row
The One-Arm Dumbbell Row is a compound exercise that engages multiple muscle groups, including the biceps.
The exercise targets the back muscles but also involves the biceps, shoulders, and upper back muscles.
The focus of the exercise is on the lats and the muscles of the upper and middle back. The rowing motion engages these muscles as you pull the dumbbell towards your hip.
However, your biceps assist in the movement as you pull the dumbbell towards your hip. Thus, the one-arm dumbbell row activates your biceps to help in the pulling motion, making it one of the best compound bicep exercises that help build and strengthen upper arms.
The exercise also engages your core and stabilizing muscles to help maintain proper posture while performing the row. This engagement includes muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and biceps.
The one-arm dumbbell row is not a bicep isolation exercise, but the movement uses the biceps and other muscles for maximum effect.
It is a versatile compound bicep exercise that can help develop back strength, helping to develop the biceps as a secondary benefit.
The Farmers Walk is a compound exercise that involves multiple muscles, including the biceps. The Farmers Walk is a simple yet effective functional strength exercise where you walk while holding a heavy weight in each hand, usually using dumbbells or kettlebells.
While the main focus of the exercise is on grip strength and upper body and core stability, the movement also engages the biceps as you hold the weights.
Holding onto the weights requires a good and firm grip, which engages the forearm muscles, including the biceps brachii. Carrying heavy weights in each hand also demands stabilization from the core, upper back, and shoulder muscles, including the biceps.
Your arms remain flexed to hold the weights as you walk. That involves the biceps along with the shoulders and upper back muscles.
Thus, while the farmers walk is not a direct bicep isolation exercise like curls, it engages the biceps as part of the movement, making it an excellent compound bicep exercise for building general and grip strength and enhancing functional fitness.
Clean and Press compound bicep exercises
The Clean and Press is a weightlifting movement that involves lifting a barbell from the ground to an overhead position. It is a compound exercise that engages multiple muscles, including the biceps.
It’s a full-body exercise that engages various muscle groups, including the legs, back, shoulders, and arms. Here’s how to perform the Clean and Press.
The movement has two parts – the clean and the press.
You lift the barbell from the ground to your shoulders during the “clean” portion of the movement. The movement involves an explosive hip and leg extension and a pull with your back and arms. The primary focus is on the legs, hips, and back, but you will need the biceps to help in the pulling motion.
You next press the barbell overhead after cleaning the bar to shoulder level, using your shoulders, triceps, and upper back muscles. While the primary focus here is on the shoulders and triceps, the biceps assist in stabilizing the barbell as you press it.
Thus, while the Clean and Press is not a bicep-dominant exercise like curls, it is an effective compound movement that engages various muscles, including the biceps.
It is one of the most potent compound bicep exercises for developing strength and power in the upper and lower body, making it a popular choice among weightlifters and strength athletes.
The clean and the press is a full-body exercise that engages various muscles, including the legs, back, shoulders, and arms.
Steps to follow
Below are the steps to perform the clean and press compound bicep exercises.
PS: The Clean and Press is a complex movement that requires proper technique and practice. Newbies to the exercise should consider working with a qualified coach or trainer to ensure correct execution and safety.
- Place a loaded barbell on the floor.
- Stand with your feet at hip-width and toes under the barbell.
- Bend your knees and knees to grasp the bar with a double overhand grip. Ensure your grip is slightly wider than shoulder-width, with your palms facing you. Keep your back straight and your chest lifted.
- As you lift the barbell off the floor, extend your hips and knees explosively while keeping your back straight.
- Use the power generated from your lower body to propel the barbell upwards.
- Pull the bar towards your body using your elbows as the barbell reaches hip level. That is known as the “clean” part of the movement. The barbell should end up resting on your shoulders and upper chest, close to your collarbone.
- Catch the barbell in a front rack position with your elbows pointed forward and your fingers under the bar.
- Stand up straight with the barbell in the front rack position. Ensure your feet are shoulder-width apart.
- Take a deep breath and brace your core when the barbell reaches the front rack position.
- Drive the barbell upwards using your shoulders, triceps, and upper back muscles to begin the press phase.
- Extend your arms fully overhead when the barbell clears your head.
- Lower the barbell back to the front rack position with control.
- Re-bend your hips and knees slightly when the barbell reaches the front rack position.
- Dip down and use your legs to generate an upward momentum.
- Simultaneously press the barbell overhead as you straighten your legs and hips.
- Lower the barbel back to the floor with control when the bar fully extends overhead.
- Practice proper form with lighter weights before adding heavier weights.
- Keep your core engaged and maintain a straight back throughout the movement.
- Use a controlled, fluid motion during both the clean and press portions.
- Utilize the power generated from your lower body to assist in pressing the barbell overhead.
Renegade rows are a variation of the traditional dumbbell rows with the addition of an extra element of core and stability. Thus, adding renegade rows to your training regimen can help your biceps and several other muscles.
Renegade rows involve putting yourself in a push-up or high plank position while holding two dumbbells.
You engage your back muscles and biceps to pull the weight and row one dumbbell toward your hip. The exercise also requires significant core engagement to help stabilize your body and prevent rotation as you lift the weights.
Thus, while the main focus of renegade rows is on the back and core muscles, the biceps play a significant role in the pulling motion, making them powerful compound bicep exercises that work and strengthen the arm muscles.
Bent-Over Barbell Rows
Bent-over barbell rows engage multiple muscle groups, including the biceps.
The primary focus of the exercise is on the upper back muscles, particularly the lats, but it also involves the biceps as secondary muscles.
The rowing motion engages these muscles as you pull the barbell toward your lower ribcage.
Your biceps assist in the pulling motion as you pull the barbell towards your body. Thus, they play a supportive role in the movement, helping build and make them stronger.
You also engage your core and stabilizing muscles to help maintain proper posture while performing the row. The engagement includes muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and biceps.
Steps to follow
While bent-over barbell rows target the upper back muscles, you can modify the technique slightly to increase the emphasis on the biceps.
Below is how to perform bent-over barbell rows to help target the biceps.
Required equipment: Barbell, weight plates
- Stand with your feet at shoulder-width and slightly bend your knees.
- Grasp the barbell with an underhand grip, palms facing you, at a distance slightly narrower than shoulder-width.
- Bend at the hips while keeping your back straight and chest up. Your torso should be nearly parallel to the floor.
- Extend your arms and allow the barbell to hang in front of you at arm’s length.
- Engage your core and pull the barbell towards your lower ribcage. Focus on bending your elbows and bringing them back along your sides.
- Aim to keep your elbows close to your torso as you pull the barbell toward your body. That helps to engage the biceps more effectively.
- Squeeze your biceps at the top of the movement and hold briefly
- Slowly lower the barbell back to your starting position, fully extending your arms.
- Keep your back straight and avoid rounding your spine throughout the movement.
- Maintain a controlled and steady motion. Avoid using momentum to lift the weight.
- Focus on the contraction of your biceps during the pulling phase.
- Exhale as you pull the barbell towards your body, and inhale as you lower it.
T-Bar Rows target the upper back muscles but also involve the biceps as secondary muscles during the pulling motion of the movement, making them excellent compound bicep exercises.
Maintaining proper form during T-Bar Rows requires core engagement for stability. The upper back muscles, shoulders, and biceps also help the stabilization process.
T-Bar Rows are valuable compound bicep exercises for developing a strong back and enhancing the strength and balance of the biceps.
Required equipment: T-Bar row machine or landmine attachment, barbell, weight plates
Steps to follow
- Load the appropriate weight plates onto the T-Bar row machine or attach a landmine to a corner of the room.
- Stand over the loaded end of the barbell with your feet at shoulder width.
- Bend at the hips and grasp the handle or barbell with both arms using an overhand grip.
- Keep your back straight, chest lifted, and knees slightly bent.
- Engage your core and lift the barbell off the floor while extending your hips and knees.
- Retract your shoulder blades, flex your elbows, and pull the barbell toward your torso. Keep your elbows close to your body.
- Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together to engage your upper back muscles as you pull the barbell toward your lower abdomen.
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement when the barbell touches your torso.
- Slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position, fully extending your arms and letting your shoulder blades protract or move apart.
- Maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement. Avoid rounding your back or using excessive momentum.
- Keep your elbows close to your body and avoid flaring them out.
- Focus on the contraction of your back muscles during the pulling phase.
- Exhale as you lift the barbell and inhale as you lower it.
- Start with a weight that allows you to perform the exercise with proper form. Gradually increase the weight as you become more comfortable with the movement.
Inverted Rows are bodyweight exercises that target the upper back muscles while involving the biceps as secondary muscles during the pulling motion. The biceps help to pull your body weight towards the bar or suspension trainer.
Inverted rows also require core engagement to maintain proper alignment and stability during the movement. The upper back muscles, shoulders, and biceps also help to stabilize your body.
While Inverted Rows may not heavily target the biceps, they involve them as part of the compound movement, making them excellent compound bicep exercises for developing upper body strength, improving posture, and achieving muscle balance.
Benefits of compound bicep exercises
- Efficient muscle engagement
Compound bicep exercises engage multiple muscles simultaneously, leading to more efficient workouts and saving time in the gym.
The exercises allow you to target various areas of the body at the same time. That can benefit exercisers with limited time for their workouts.
- Functional strength
Compound bicep exercises often mimic real-world movements, helping to enhance your functional strength and making everyday tasks easier.
That can improve your ability to perform daily activities and sports with fewer challenges and more efficiently.
- Balanced muscle development
Isolating muscles can lead to imbalances in some instances.
Compound exercises can ensure different muscles work together harmoniously, reducing the risk of muscle imbalances and injuries.
Thus, compound bicep exercises can help promote more proportional muscle growth, resulting in a balanced physique.
- Caloric expenditure
Compound exercises can help you burn more calories.
That is because engaging more muscles during the movement requires more energy.
Thus, compound bicep exercises can lead to a higher caloric burn during and after your workout due to the increased muscle engagement.
- Hormonal response
Compound exercises, including those that engage the biceps stimulate the release of hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone.
That can help in muscle growth and fat loss.
- Full-body engagement
Many compound exercises engage the core and other stabilizing muscles.
That can lead to higher core strength, general stability, and improved posture.
Compound bicep exercises can add variety to your workout.
That can prevent boredom and plateaus in your training progress. It can also help spice up your workouts and keep them engaging and challenging.
- Efficient workouts
Compound bicep exercises allow those with limited time to work multiple muscle groups in one movement, ensuring a comprehensive workout in a shorter period.
- Progressive Overload
Compound exercises provide the opportunity for progressive overload.
That will allow you to increase weights and intensity for continued muscle growth.
You can often modify compound bicep exercises or adapt them to suit different fitness levels and goals.
While isolation exercises like curls have their place for targeting specific muscles, compound bicep exercises provide a well-rounded approach to building strength, enhancing functionality, and achieving balanced muscle development.
Including compound bicep exercises in your training regimen can help harness the above benefits to help you achieve more effective and well-rounded results. That can help in your effort to build strength, grow your muscles, and boost your fitness.
Are compound bicep exercises worth it?
Compound exercises work multiple muscles and joints simultaneously, leading to more functional strength gains and helping to make your workout and time more efficient.
Many traditional compound exercises involve pushing motions, e.g., bench press, overhead press, or full-body movements e.g., squats and deadlifts. The biceps play a secondary or stabilizing role in these.
However, it is worth noting that the biceps muscle helps to flex the elbow joints. That means it is more involved in pulling movements than pushing movements.
Thus, fewer compound exercises specifically target the biceps due to how they work and the types of movements that engage them effectively.
Compound exercises often mimic real-world movements and functional activities. While the biceps are vital for many daily tasks, they are not necessarily the primary muscles involved in large, complex movements like squatting, lifting, or pushing.
Many compound exercises focus on larger muscle groups such as the legs, back, and chest. These muscles are responsible for generating more force and power, making them more suited for compound movements.
Thus, compound bicep exercises might not heavily target the biceps. But they engage them to a certain extent, helping to build strength and contributing to upper body strength and balance.
On the other hand, isolation exercises like curls are better suited for directly targeting and developing smaller muscle groups like the biceps. These exercises provide a more controlled and focused approach to building muscle and strength in specific areas.
Thus, while compound bicep exercises can help you target your biceps, incorporating isolation exercises into your regimen may help you reach your bicep-building goals much more quickly and efficiently.
Final words from LiveLIfe
Incorporating compound bicep exercises into your workout regimen can move your arm-strengthening efforts to new heights. These movements will allow you to work your biceps and other muscles, helping you to build a well-rounded physique and functional strength.
Add these compound bicep exercises to your training program to move you closer to your arm-building and fitness goals.
- Gentil P, Soares S, Bottaro M. 2014. Single vs. multi-joint resistance exercises: Effects on muscle strength and hypertrophy. Asian J Sports Med. 2015;6(2):e24057. doi:10.5812/asjsm.24057