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Today I would like to talk about the biceps muscles.
Fun Fact: the term biceps is both singular and plural. A singular muscle is referred to as biceps, not bicep.
These are one of the most popular muscles to train, as they are the most visible muscle on the body. The biceps, along with the triceps, which I’ll get to in the next post, is the muscle that men (and women) want to grow to great size to show off their fitness level.
For today, we will talk about the biceps muscles: where they attach at both ends, what they do for us, and how to exercise them properly.
Let’s get started!
The Biceps Muscle
The bicep is a muscle on the front part of the upper arm, between the elbow and the shoulder. It consists of two sections, the short head bicep and the long head bicep. These two muscles work together as a single muscle. The word bicep comes from the Latin musculus biceps brachii, “the two-headed muscle of the arm.”
The biceps is attached to the arm by tough connective tissues called tendons. These tendons connect the biceps to the shoulder blade in two places and to the forearm in one place.
The long head originates from a cavity in the scapula (shoulder blade) called the glenoid. It travels through the shoulder joint to the upper arm trough a groove in the humerus.
The short head originates from a projection on the scapula called the coracoid and runs beside the long head on the inside of the arm.
These two muscles act together at all times, but are distinct and have no co joined fibers. They continue down the arm, where they take a 90 degree turn and attach, together, to a rough projection on the radius.
What It Does
The function of the biceps is quite simple. As the biceps contract they aid the brachialis in the flexion (lifting) of the forearm. Also, when the biceps contract, it aids the supinator muscle in rotating the forearm upward.
The lowering of the forearm is taken care of by the pronator muscle, the triceps.
The biceps also have a small job and assist the arm when it is lifted straight forward, out to the side, and folded across the body. The small head also stabilizes the scapula, allowing us to carry heavy weights when the arm is in an extended downward position.
Well, I might as well say it. The biceps is not the most powerful muscle when it comes to raising the forearm. That distinction goes to the deeper and stronger muscle, the brachialis. The brachialis is the main mover of the elbow joint, and lies deep in the arm, between the bicep and the tricep. The brachialis doesn’t get the credit it deserves, since it is not a “mirror” muscle.
Don’t worry, the exercises that we do for the biceps also work the brachialis, with a little tweak here and there. More on that later.
Best Biceps Exercises
There are quite a few biceps exercises. Some use the barbell, others the dumbbells, and still others are body weight exercises. I will give a list of the exercises in this section, and then put together a sample workout in the next section.
Barbell Biceps Exercises
1) Barbell Curl – just grab a barbell and curl the weight from your thighs to your shoulders. This can and should be done while standing.
2) Barbell Curl – Close Grip – this is the tweak that will work the brachialis. Perform it the same as the barbell curl, but have your hands closer together.
3) Barbell Curl – back against the wall – this can be done with a regular grip or a close grip. By forcing your shoulder blades against the wall, you are unable to “cheat” the weight up. Be prepared to use a lighter weight when you push your back against the wall.
All the above mentioned exercise can also be performed with an EZ Curl bar, which will relieve some of the pressure from the wrists.
4) Supinated (reverse grip) Bent Over Row – the bent over row is a great back exercise. All you need to do is reverse your grip, and it becomes a great biceps exercise. Remember, when you reverse your grip, the bent over row is no longer a back exercise since you are fully engaging the biceps to pull the weight up.
Dumbbell Biceps Exercises
1) Dumbbell Curl – grab a set of dumbbells and, keeping your palms up, curl the weights from your hips to your shoulders. A couple of tips: do both arms at the same time, as this will engage your core fully and ensure you don’t cheat. Also, don’t curl the weight all the way to the top, as this releases the pressure from your biceps. Stop before you get to the top, hold for a second and then lower the weight.
2) Hammer Curls – grab a set of dumbbells, and start with your palms facing your legs. Lift the weight toward your shoulders while turning your palms up. Stop before you get to the top, pause, then lower the weight.
3) Hammer Curls – Brachialis – Here is another tweak for the brachialis. Start in the same position, arms down palms facing legs. Lift the weights, one at a time, in an arching motion toward your chest, touching your opposite pectoral muscle with the dumbbell. While you are lowering one, start raising the other so you keep your core engaged. Squeeze your triceps at the bottom of the motion by straightening your elbow completely. This is a great finishing exercise.
4) Concentration Curls – These can be done standing or sitting. Grab a dumbbell, anchor your elbow on your thigh and curl the weight up. This will put all the onus on your biceps. No chance to cheat, especially if you do them standing.
5) Incline Barbell Curl – set the bench on an incline and curl the weight=ts from the hanging position to your shoulders.
6) Drag Curl – Set the bench on an incline, but instead of hanging your arms, hold the weight beside your knee, and drag the weight along your thigh to your hip. You will need to drastically reduce the weight to complete this exercise, trust me.
Body Weight Biceps Exercises
1) Chin Up – OK, this is where the rubber meets the road. The true test of biceps strength is in the chin up. This is not an easy exercise. Think about how heavy your body is. You are basically curling that entire weight. You wouldn’t put that much weight on a bar and curl it, so don’t feel bad that you can’t do a lot of chin ups. Start with as many as you can, and then add a few more along the way. If you can’t do any, start with the negative. Assist yourself up to the bar, keep your arms bent and lower yourself slowly. Doing this negative rep will start to build your capacity to do more chin ups. There are also exercise bands to assist with chin ups.
2) Inverted row – Put a barbell on a lower mount, lie underneath it and grab it with a supinated grip. Straighten your body into a plank position and pull yourself up to the bar. This is a great exercise to build up to the chin up. This can even be performed on the edge of the counter or table in the kitchen.
Best Biceps Workout
Note: always use a weight that will allow you to complete the set of exercises with some strain on the last few reps. Also, remember that the biceps are a “pull” muscle; that is, they are used to pull the weight. Your back muscles are also pull muscles. These two groups can and should be worked out together, starting with the larger back muscles. Doing the back exercises will pre-exhaust the biceps and you will need to perform fewer sets and reps to cause the biceps to grow.
Also, note that you should not be working your biceps every day. They are just like any other muscle and need time (at least 48 hours) to recover and grow – remembering that muscles actually grow when they are recovering from the damage we inflicted on them when we worked them out.
Proper sleep and nutrition are also key components to biceps growth.
The final note I will make is timing. Slow down your reps. This is not a race. Keep an eye on the clock. It should take about 60 – 90 seconds to do 12 reps of these exercises. Three seconds up, rest, two seconds down, rest. About seven seconds per rep, times 12 reps, is 84 seconds. Time yourself. You will be surprised how fast you are banging out the reps.
Let’s get on with the show!
The following is a suggested biceps workout to follow directly after your back workout. For example, after doing three sets of 15 bent over rows, three sets of straight bar cable pull downs, and three sets of single arm dumbbell bent over rows (all of which pre-exhaust the biceps while building a huge back), Do the following: (remember to keep a chart of the weights and reps you perform so you can always be improving):
1) 3 sets of 12 EZ Curl Bar curls, increasing the weight for each set
1) 3 sets of 21s with EZ Curl Bar – 21s are 7 lower half curls, followed by 7 upper half curls, followed by 7 full curls
2) 3 sets of Hammer Curls, increasing the reps each time – 12, 15, 18
3) 3 sets of Drag Curls or incline curls
3) Brachialis Hammer Curls – lower the weight and perform three sets of 12 curls focusing on the brachialis.
Your arms should be spent by this time, since in reality, you have done 3 sets of six exercises, at least 12 reps per set.
It should be difficult to complete the brachialis hammer curls.
So there you have it.
My suggestions are just that – my suggestions. There are many ways to put together a bicep routine, and you should change it up once in a while to keep your muscles guessing.
The mirror muscle number one! Biceps. Next up – triceps (Hint: they actually are the larger portion of what makes your arms look larger). The combined growth of these two muscles will make you look great in a t-shirt!
Thanks for listening. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.
Also, if you are a father (or mother) (or anyone for that matter) who would like an easy to follow program that includes a menu and work out information, check out this article from a few months ago.
See you in the next post.
Have a great day!