How To: On Bicep Exercises

by Bryan Henry     •     October 26, 2020     •     Training

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So you want bigger and stronger biceps huh...

So...everyone wants bigger biceps. The problem is, most people are training their biceps completely wrong. On top of it, most people don't understand the anatomy of the bicep and how it works. So, how could you train your biceps effectively if you have no idea how you should be using them??

We are going to explore as much as possible in today's post! Let's get right to it and first understand the different parts of the bicep before we get to deep into it.

What is the bicep and how is it made up??

The biceps is a muscle on the front part of the upper arm. The biceps includes a “short head” and a “long head” that work as a single muscle.

The biceps is attached to the arm bones by tough connective tissues called tendons. The tendons that connect the biceps muscle to the shoulder joint in two places are called the proximal biceps tendons. The tendon that attaches the biceps muscle to the forearm bones (radius and ulna) is called the distal biceps tendon. When the biceps contracts, it pulls the forearm up and rotates it outward.

Excuse the anatomy above but I always feel I need to give you the scientific side of things.

What you need to know is that the bicep is made up of 2 heads. The long head and short head. Just remember that as we move forward.

What is the function of the Short Head and the Long Head?

  • The Short Head of the bicep is used to do just that, shorten the bicep during contraction. arises at the apex of the coracoid process of the scapula where it partly blends with the origin tendon of the coracobrachialis.
  • The Long Head of the bicep is used to do just that, lengthen the bicep. Originates at the supraglenoid tubercle above the glenoid cavity of the scapula. It lies within the intracapsular space but it still remains extrasynovial. The long biceps tendon makes a sharp turn at the humeral head and continues its course in the bicipital groove (intertubercular sulcus). This turning point is secured by ligaments at the capsular area (=biceps pulley).
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Let's break down some exercises that benefit the short and long head of the bicep.

So, since we talked about the function of the short and long head of the bicep we need to educate you on some exercises that workout the short and long head of the muscle.

Short Head Exercises:

  • Barbell Curls With Wide Grip: The short head of the biceps is preferentially recruited when using a wider grip. The grip should be wider than shoulder-width (perhaps even wider than the picture above). Focusing on the short head will help increase the width of the muscle. A well-developed short head of the biceps gives the appearance of a fuller-looking muscle in general. The downside with wider grip barbell curls is a reduced range of motion. Due to this, the muscle is required to produce force for a shorter duration of time. Also, varying grip does tend to put greater pressure on the wrists which some may find uncomfortable.
  • Preacher Curl: Similar to barbell curl but slightly different. This can be used to add a little variety to your biceps routine. The downside with preacher curls is that they cause greater activation early in the movement and less as the angle of the elbow is reduced. So, using things like cable assisted curls that provide more consistent resistance across the range of motion is a good alternative as well. The preacher curl also has similar elements to the next exercise – the concentration curl. In this exercise movement of the upper arm is limited as it is rested against a bench.
  • Concentration Curls: Studies have shown that supination and flexion can be used to increase short head activation. Therefore, starting in a neutral position and finishing in a supinated position will target the short head. Hand position is key to achieving short head activation during the concentration curl. Combined flexion and supination during this activity has been shown to shift the load preferentially towards the short head of the biceps muscle. Concentration curls are an excellent way to maximally activate the biceps. By resting the elbow against your leg, they also have the advantage of minimizing movement and thus activation of other muscles.
  • Spider Curls: Biceps exercises, where the arms are held in front of the body are able to target the short head of the biceps. Since the biceps short head does not cross the shoulder joint, this muscle will be more active than the long head as the angle of the elbow is decreased throughout the range of motion. During this movement, an inclined bench is used and the arms hang in front of the body. The elbows should be locked into place. Avoid having the elbows point outwards at any point in the movement. Also, focus on supinating the wrists while you move through the range of motion as shown below to maximize short head activation.

Short Head Biceps Workout Example:

  • Dumbbell hammer curls (with slow eccentric phase): 3 sets of 6 – 8 reps
  • Concentration curls (with supinated hand position): 3 sets of 6 – 10 reps
  • Spider curls (with supinated hand position): 3 sets of 6 – 10 reps

Long Head Exercises:

  • Standing Curls: Hand position is key and can be altered to change activity in the biceps. To maximize activation of the long head, start the curl in the standing position with your hands lined up with the body and in the neutral position (thumb pointing forward). As you move through the range of motion by bringing the weight up and reducing the angle between the biceps and forearm, you supinate. Looking at the right arm below, we can see the rotation in the radio-ulnar joint. Supination involves rotating the forearm (technically it’s movement at the radio-ulnar joint). As you supinate, your palms should face the front and your thumbs should point outward and away from your body. Try to finish the curl with your pinky pointing in the upward direction.
  • Concentration Curls: Starting in a supinated position and finishing in the same will target the long head of the biceps. The long head is preferentially activated when the wrist is supinated. End the movement completely supinated – again, with the pinky should be pointing in the upward direction.
  • Inclined Dumbbell Curls: Research has shown that the long head remains active throughout the entire range of motion when performing inclined curls. The long head crosses the shoulder joint and the short head does not, therefore, starting with the arm behind the body will preferentially activate this head. Also, muscles produce the greatest force when slightly stretched. In the picture below, the movement is performed from the starting position (left) to the final position (right). As always, it is important to select the weight so that you can perform 6 – 8 curls before fatigue. In the starting position, the upper arm is held behind the body and hangs towards the ground. The shoulder is in a hyper-extended position. This position stretches the long head and causes the maximal activation of this head of the biceps muscle.

Long Head Biceps Workout Example:

  • Inclined dumbbell curls (no supination): – 3 sets of 6-8 reps
  • Narrow grip barbell curls (drop to partial curl) – 3 sets of 6 – 10 reps
  • Drag curls: 3 sets of 6 – 12 reps
  • Hammer curl or reverse curl: 3 sets of 6 – 12 reps

Summary

We provided a lot of information throughout this post. You definitely need to sit and read it and digest it. The biggest take away from this post is that you need to try new things. Take the information above and apply it. Training your biceps and triceps should be fun. No doubt about it. Everyone loves to have a great physique and just an aesthetically pleasing look to them.

In order to get to where you want to go you need to work for it, experiment, overall you need to try new things and learn by trial and error.

Bicep Exercises

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