10 Best Brachialis Exercises To Build Arms Like Popeye

If you want bigger-looking upper arms that even Popeye would be impressed with, you need to do bicep curls, right?

However, there’s a lesser-known muscle that’ll make your upper arms pop like Popeye’s; the brachialis.

Not many people know about this muscle, and even fewer perform exercises to train it directly.

But, this is where this article comes in; by the end, you’ll know the 10 best brachialis exercises you can add to your upper arm workout.

1. Pull-ups

Pull-ups are a fantastic compound exercise that trains your back, traps, rhomboids, and biceps (including the brachialis muscle).

They’re sometimes called the king of all bodyweight exercises, and rightly so.

While it’s similar to the chin-up, the pull-up uses a pronated grip; this change in hand position helps place more emphasis on the brachialis muscle.

On top of this, the brachialis is fully engaged at the bottom of the pull-up.  

One of my favorite ways to perform this exercise is to perform heavy negatives; it helps exhaust your upper arms while promoting muscle mass.

The pull-up is a challenging bodyweight exercise for your arms and back, but it may not be suitable for everyone.

Tip: If you want massive arms, lower the reps and add some weight using a dipping belt.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Stand under a pull-up bar.
  2. 2
    Grab the bar with a pronated grip placed shoulder width apart.
  3. 3
    Let your body hang with your arms supporting your body.
  4. 4
    Draw your shoulder blades back and lift yourself towards the bar.
  5. 5
    Stop once the bar touches your collarbone.
  6. 6
    Slowly return to the starting position.
Recommended Rep Range: 5-12 (depending on ability)
Man in Black Cap Doing Pull-Ups

2. EZ-Bar Reverse Curl

When training your brachialis muscle, you want to perform some isolation exercises. The EZ bar reverse curl is the perfect exercise to add to your brachialis workouts.

Traditionally, the biceps curl is performed using an underhand (supinated) grip; however, with the reverse curl, you use an overhand grip (palms face down).

This change in grip helps to strengthen your elbow flexor muscles and increases brachialis activation.

Using an EZ bar places less stress on the wrist and elbow joints than a straight barbell, making it perfect if you’ve got poor wrist mobility.

As you’re using a pronated grip, it’s also an excellent exercise to add to your forearm workout.

Related Article - Best EZ Curl Bar Exercises

Tip: If you’ve only got a straight bar, you can still perform the barbell reverse curl, but it will place more stress on your joints.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Hold an EZ bar with a tight grip (hands roughly shoulder width apart).
  2. 2
    Let your arms hang straight with the weight at waist height.
  3. 3
    Stand tall and curl the bar towards your head.
  4. 4
    Slowly lower to the starting position and repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 10-14
Man Doing EZ Bar Reverse Curl

3. Zottman Curl

The Zottman curl is a tough brachialis exercise that will help you develop muscular arms.  

Traditionally, the movement is performed slowly, increasing the work your brachialis has to do. You don’t need to lift much weight during this exercise, as Zottman curls are difficult enough.

One of the great things about the Zottman curl is that they're rather versatile. For example, you can reverse the movement so that you perform the first part using a supinated grip and vice versa.

You can also perform Zottman curls standing, seated, or using a preacher bench.

As the Zottman curl uses dumbbells, you can work one arm at a time, limiting muscular imbalances.

While all ability levels can perform this exercise, I’d recommend beginners take their time with this one and focus on getting the technique correct before increasing the weight.

Read Also - 20 Best Forearm Exercises With Dumbbells

Tip: Mix the movement up; try them seated one week, standing the next, etc.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Stand with your feet roughly hip-width apart.
  2. 2
    Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  3. 3
    Curl the dumbbell up towards your face (palms facing down).
  4. 4
    Rotate the dumbbells, so your palms face upwards.
  5. 5
    Slowly lower to the starting position.
  6. 6
    Repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12
Man Doing Zottman Curls

4. Preacher Curls (Pronated Grip)

The preacher curl (sometimes called Scott curls) is one of my favorite upper arm exercises.

The primary muscle it hits is the biceps brachii, which also targets the brachialis, resulting in bigger biceps.

The traditional preacher curl movement is performed using an underhand grip (palms facing upwards).

Still, to place greater emphasis on the brachialis, you should reverse the grip and use a pronated hand position.

By performing the preacher curl, your body can’t “cheat” to help you lift the weight, ensuring your arms work harder than they would during traditional biceps curls.

Since you can't cheat here, this might be a tough one for beginners. Check out our guide to the best preacher curl alternative exercises.

Tip: Don’t go too heavy during this movement; focus on slow controlled reps.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Sit at a preacher curl bench.
  2. 2
    Place your triceps on the bench pad and hold the barbell with an overhand grip.
  3. 3
    Slowly curl the weight towards your face.
  4. 4
    Squeeze your biceps and hold for a second.
  5. 5
    Lower to the starting position.
  6. 6
    Repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12
Man Doing Pronated Grip Preacher Curls

5. Cable Hammer Curl

The cable hammer curl is a simple yet effective exercise you can add to your brachialis workout.

While it doesn’t use a pronated hand position, it’s still highly effective at working the brachialis muscle.

Using a neutral or hammer grip often makes loads feel lighter, so you’ll be able to lift more weight than you would with other brachialis exercises.

Heavier weights have been shown to cause hypertrophy[1], so you can use this to build bigger arms.

Another reason to perform cable hammer curls is that it works the brachioradialis muscle in your forearm. This underrated muscle will help you lift larger loads during arm training.

As this arm exercise uses the cable machine for resistance, it places constant tension on the muscles while working them through a large range of motion.

Tip: For an extra pump, superset these with light dumbbell hammer curls.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Attach a rope attachment to a low cable machine.
  2. 2
    Hold both sides of the rope attachment using a neutral grip (hammer grip).
  3. 3
    Ensure your arms are straight.
  4. 4
    Curl the rope up towards your shoulders.
  5. 5
    Slowly lower and finish your set.
Recommended Rep Range: 10-14
Woman Doing Rope Hammer Curl

6. Cross-Body Dumbbell Curl

The cross-body dumbbell curl is a killer exercise you can add to your brachialis workout routine.

It’s a cross between a hammer curl and a dumbbell reverse curl. They’re sometimes known as the cross-body hammer curls.

The movement minimizes the amount of work your biceps have to do and forces your brachialis to pick up the slack.

It also forces your upper arms to move through a variety of angles that you wouldn’t encounter during other arm exercises.

While it’s impossible to isolate your brachialis, this is one of the brachialis exercises that comes close.

Tip: Use a moderate weight and aim to work up an upper arm pump.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Stand tall with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. 2
    Curl the dumbbell across your body, taking your left hand towards your right shoulder.
  3. 3
    Slowly lower, and repeat with the opposite hand.
  4. 4
    Complete your set and repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 12-15
Man Doing Hammer Cross-Body Dumbbell Curl

7. Prone Incline Dumbbell Curl

The prone incline dumbbell curl is one of my favorite brachialis exercises, as I can feel my arms working throughout the entire movement, and I get one hell of an upper arm pump.

However, I’ve adapted this exercise to remove as much biceps activation as possible. To do so, you combine this exercise with the cross-body principle (from the previous exercise).

By moving the dumbbell across the body, you eliminate most of the work the biceps are doing, making this movement more of a brachialis and long head bicep exercise.

Another reason why I love this exercise is that it limits the amount you can cheat. The placement of the incline bench eliminates any rocking or swaying, placing more emphasis on your arms.

Tip: As with the previous exercise, use a moderate weight and go for the pump.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Set an incline bench to 30-45 degrees.
  2. 2
    Place your chest against the bench and pick up two dumbbells.
  3. 3
    Curl one dumbbell to the opposite shoulder and squeeze your biceps.
  4. 4
    Slowly lower and repeat with the other arm.
  5. 5
    Finish your set and rest.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12
Man Doing Prone Incline Dumbbell Curl

8. Kettlebell Reverse Curl

If you’re a fan of kettlebells and want to increase your upper arm size, this exercise is for you.

The kettlebell reverse curl is one of the most underrated exercises for brachialis development and is incredibly simple to perform, requiring very little equipment.

The movement is performed pretty much the same as dumbbell reverse curls, but rather than using a dumbbell, you use a kettlebell.

I’m a big believer in performing reverse curls regularly if you want stronger arms, and I regularly add this movement to my client’s programs.

Suggested Equipment - Best Kettlebells For Home Gyms

Tip: You can also change to a neutral grip and perform a kettlebell hammer curl…mix things up.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Hold two kettlebells in your hands.
  2. 2
    Curl the kettlebell upwards using a reverse grip, stopping at shoulder height.
  3. 3
    Slowly lower and repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12
Man Doing Kettlebell Reverse Curl

9. Seated Hammer Curl

Seated hammer curls are a fantastic exercise to perform while training the brachialis.

Unlike barbell curls that can limit your range of motion, the hammer curl allows you to work your biceps brachialis through an extensive range of motion.

The neutral grip position also allows you to lift heavier than you usually would with an underhand grip, allowing you to overload your muscles and develop bigger and stronger arms.

As you’re seated during this movement, it prevents you from cheating the reps. While there’s a time and place for cheat reps, training the brachialis isn’t one of them.

Read Also - Hammer Curls Vs Regular Bicep Curls

Tip: By having a small incline on the bench, you can place your arms behind your body, activating your biceps long head, allowing you to hit two birds with one stone.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Set a bench to 90 degrees or on a slight angle (whichever is comfiest).
  2. 2
    Pick two dumbbells up and place your back against the bench.
  3. 3
    Draw your shoulder blades back into the bench and let your arms hang.
  4. 4
    Using a hammer grip, curl the dumbbells up to your shoulder height.
  5. 5
    Pause at the top and slowly lower.
  6. 6
    Repeat to finish your set.
Recommended Rep Range: 8-12
Man Doing Seated Hammer Curl

10. Cable Reverse Curls

The cable reverse curl is one of the most straightforward brachialis exercises for beginners to learn and is fantastic for all levels of fitness.

If you want to develop your arm muscles, you should add this movement to your workout.

Cable curls place a lot of tension on your biceps and force them to move through a large range of motion.

This is something regular bar curls wouldn’t achieve. You can also adjust your position to change the angle the tension acts on your muscles.

However, by using a reverse grip (palms facing away from you), you place more emphasis on your biceps brachialis.

Tip: Go light and perform higher reps. This is the perfect exercise to perform at the end of your workout.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Set the cable to a low position and attach a straight or EZ bar handle.
  2. 2
    Hold the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing down).
  3. 3
    Curl the weight to your shoulders and hold.
  4. 4
    Slowly lower and repeat.
Recommended Rep Range: 15-20
Man Doing Cable Reverse Curls

All About The Brachialis Muscles (AKA Elbow Flexors)

Brachialis Anatomy

When you think of elbow flexion, you undoubtedly think of the biceps. While you're not wrong, there are three muscles involved in elbow flexion.

  1. 1
    Brachioradialis 
    This small muscle is located on the posterior of your lower arm, aka your forearm. It crosses the elbow joint and helps stabilize all bending movements (elbow flexion) your arms perform, e.g., barbell curls. But, not only does this muscle flex your elbow, it helps pronate and supinate your arms.
  2. 2
    Biceps Brachii  
    Yep, you know this muscle group; it’s the one we all love. The biceps are located on the front of your upper arms and are an important muscle to work if you want impressive-looking arms. They also help you supinate your arms and are rather powerful.
  3. 3
    Brachialis  
    Ah yes, the topic of this article. The brachialis are superficial muscles located in your upper arms below the biceps. While they may be small in size, they have one incredibly important function… elbow flexion. As it’s the only real function of the brachialis, it’s the strongest elbow flexor in your entire arm.

The brachialis runs deep beneath the muscle belly of the biceps. It’s located roughly halfway up your upper arm, inserting into the elbow joint on the ulna.

It's crucial that you work this muscle effectively as it'll improve not only your aesthetics but your strength too.


Benefits Of Brachialis Exercises

Stronger Arms

Want stronger arms? Well, it won’t happen if you have weak brachialis muscles. The brachialis is responsible for almost 60% of the tension during flexion movements.

Failing to train the brachialis effectively will reduce your strength, resulting in poorer results and less than impressive strength. Don’t let an undertrained brachialis hold you back.

Improved Performance

Even though training your brachialis will increase your elbow flexion strength, the carry-over to other movements is significant.

Most pulling movements you’ll perform in the gym will benefit from your training this small muscle.

Your chin-ups, bent over rows, T bar rows, and dumbbell rows will improve, along with many other lifts.

Bigger Looking Arms

While you can’t actually see the brachialis, if you want bigger arms, then you NEED to train the brachialis muscle for hypertrophy.

Increasing the mass of the brachialis will push the muscle against your two biceps heads; this gives you a fuller-looking arm and will have a significant effect on how big your arms look.

Don’t believe me? Add a handful of these exercises to your workout and see how big your arms become.

Injury Reduction

The elbow joint is one of those areas that are susceptible to annoying injuries. This is largely because the elbow is a complex area where a lot is happening.

There are numerous muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the elbow.

Resistance training can reduce your injury risk in sports and everyday activities[2]. The brachialis is one of the muscles that you should be training often.

A strong brachialis will reduce the chances of injuries occurring, keeping you in the gym for longer.  

Shirtless Man Flexing Forearms

Movements To Rehab Painful Brachialis

If you’re experiencing pain in your brachialis, it could be a number of issues. However, the most common is brachialis tendonitis.

To help relieve the pain in your brachialis, there are several stretches you can perform.

Once you’ve stretched your brachialis effectively and the pain is going, you should look at strengthening the area again but start light.

I would recommend using a resistance band to help during the rehabilitation of the area.

Using a resistance band is perfect as it doesn’t place large amounts of load on your joints and muscles. It’s why they’re often used in physiotherapy.

While I know a little bit about brachialis tendonitis, you should always seek help from a medical professional like a physiotherapist first.


Frequently Asked Brachialis Exercises Questions

How long does it take for the brachialis to grow?

The brachialis is like any muscle; it takes time to grow and will depend on many factors such as diet, training frequency, recovery, genetics, and more.

Why is my brachialis not growing?

There are many reasons why your muscles might not be growing, but the most common are not training them hard enough, not enough recovery, or improper diet.

What’s the difference between the biceps brachii muscle and brachialis muscle?

The biceps brachii are the muscles on your upper arm that you can see, whereas the brachialis is a small muscle located inside your arm and isn’t visible from the outside. Each muscle has a different function; the brachialis’ primary function is elbow flexion.

Is brachialis a hybrid muscle?

Yes, the brachialis is a hybrid muscle as it has a dual nerve supply. [3]

How long does it take an injured brachialis to heal?

Like any injury, the amount of time it takes to heal will depend on the severity and the recovery/rehab period following the injury. Every person is different and will experience varying recovery rates.


Conclusion

If you lift weights, the chances are you want BIG biceps. But to achieve this, you need to work your brachialis muscle.

Choose 3 brachialis exercises from the list above, add them to your workout routine and watch your biceps fill your T-shirt.

Don’t let an underdeveloped brachialis hold you back from Popeye-like arms.

Reference:

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8126497/
2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274039847_Resistance_Training's_Role_in_the_Prevention_of_Sports_Injuries
3. https://www.ijars.net/articles/PDF/2625/46128_CE[Ra]_F%28Sh%29_PF1%28ShG_SHU%29_PFA%28SHU_ShG%29_PN%28SHU%29.pdf

Paul J

Last Updated on December 18, 2022