Guys, who are we kidding? We all want jacked arms and ladies, let’s be honest – you want us to have jacked arms too. Large, well defined biceps have long been one of the most desirable physical traits on a man. Big arms are viewed as a representation of strength and dominance and because of that, we spent hours upon hours in the gym doing all sorts of arm exercises.
Now, in order to get the most from our efforts, we first have to understand how the biceps function so we can construct an effective workout program for ourselves.
The biceps consist of two “heads” – a long and a short head. Both heads are biarticular, which means that they cross two joints – both the elbow and the shoulder. The primary function of the biceps is to flex the arm. To a lesser extend, the biceps also assist during the beginning phase of shoulder flexion and provide stability within the shoulder joint.
The site where the long head of the bicep crosses the shoulder is a common site for injuries and should be evaluated if you are experience shoulder pain while performing the bench press.
Along with the biceps, the brachialis is also a main elbow flexor. The brachialis muscle attaches to the ulna – which is a bone in the forearm that doesn’t rotate. Since the attachment site doesn’t allow any type of rotation, the brachialis is recruited into flexion no matter what the hand position. However, the biceps are more effective at flexing the arm when the hand his positioned upwards (“supinated” in anatomy talk).
Well, now that we know that the biceps are best recruited when your palm is upwards, we can manipulate that through our training to get a better workout. The way to get the most out of the dumbbell curl exercise is to rotate your palm upwards at the midpoint of flexion. In other words, when your arm is bent to a 90 degree angle, that’s when you should start twisting your hand upwards.
What Does This Even Mean?
If you’re palm is facing downwards when you’re performing curls, you’re biceps will actually be between 20-30% weaker. Actually, let me rephrase that. It’s not that they’ll be “weaker” per say, but they’ll be less involved in the movement. However, the brachialis will be recruited to compensate so if you want to train your forearms, performing curls with your hands facing the ground – or even in a neutral position – is the way to go!
The best way to get the most from your bicep workouts is to mix things up. Perform a variety of exercises using a variety of different equipment and on top of that, you should also vary your loading patterns and rest intervals between sets.
You can actually target different aspects of the biceps via your exercise selection. Here’s a brief breakdown of exercises that stress the biceps at different phases of flexion..
As previously mentioned, the biceps have 2 parts- a short and long head. A variation in hand grips can target the different areas. Using a slightly wider grip on the barbell curls will place more emphasis on the inner/short head. Using a narrow grip with the easy-curl bar will place more emphasis on the outer/long head. Since the long head plays a role in shoulder flexion, drawing the elbows up to shoulder level after completing a barbell curl repetition will enable you to recruit the long head and get a more effective contraction of the biceps.
The contractile strength of the biceps is also dependant on your arm position. The biceps are strongest when your elbow is positioned above your shoulder (chin ups). The next strongest position has your elbows aligned with your shoulder (bicep curl machine) and finally, the weakest – yet the most common – position for your biceps is when your elbow is directly under your shoulders (barbell curls).
For detailed step by step instructions on how to perform a variety of different bicep exercises, just click the exercises on the navigation panel to your right.