Building bigger biceps is perhaps the most popular goal for gym-goers today. Within this article I’m going to be explaining the anatomy of the biceps and providing you with the best exercises that will enable you to optimally work out the biceps and increase hypertrophy in the upper arm.
Anatomy of the Biceps
The biceps brachii (biceps) has two heads and is located on the front of the upper arm between the shoulder and the elbow. These heads are called the “Long Head” and the “Short Head”. Functions of the biceps include flexion and abduction of the shoulder, supination of the radio-ulnar joint in the forearm and elbow flexion. In order for hypertrophy to occur in the biceps, it’s essential to perform exercises which include elbow flexion/extension to lengthen and shorten the biceps brachii.
It’s important for each head to be activated when training the biceps, as the muscles run parallel to each other and both play a different part in terms of aesthetics. The long head is what’s usually referred to as the “peak” which is visible from the side when the biceps are flexed, while the short head adds to the thickness which makes the appearance bigger from the front. This is because the long head runs along the outside of the upper arm, while the short head runs along the inside.
Targeting the Short Head of Your Biceps
To target the short head most effectively, exercises performed with the elbows in front of the body (preferably supported or while using cable resistance) with a wide grip are best suited (outside of shoulder width), as they allow for more muscle fibres to be recruited from the inside of the upper arm due to the origin of the short head being the coracoid process of the scapula.
Exercises for the Short Head of Your Biceps
High Cable Curl (Wide Grip – Straight bar)
- Position the cable to the height of your face
- Make a slight bend in your knees
- Contract fully and perform the eccentric motion slowly
Preacher Curl (Wide Grip – EZ Bar)
- Ensure elbows are planted firmly on preacher pad
- Press chest up against preacher pad for support
- Don’t rock forwards and backwards; maintain a strong posture
Lying Cable Curl (Top Cable – Straight Bar)
- Keep scapular retracted
- Create slight arch in lower back
- Don’t let the elbows drop
Targeting the Long Head of Your Biceps
In order to isolate the long head of the biceps, the arms need to be at the side of the body without the elbow tilting upwards throughout the movement. Strict form is necessary to ensure a full range of motion is performed with each repetition and so that the head is lengthened and shortened fully to promote the most muscle growth.
Exercises for the Long Head of Your Biceps
Incline Seated Dumbbell Curl (Supinated Grip)
- Keep shoulders & elbows back
- Plant feet firmly on the floor
- Ensure full range of motion by performing slowly and alternately
Cable Hammer Curl (Neutral Grip – Rope)
- Make a slight arch with the lower back
- Keep the chest up
- Don’t allow the elbows to come forwards
Alternate Biceps Curl (Supinated Grip)
- Don’t use momentum to sway
- Keep palms facing up at all times
- Keep scapular retracted
Incorporating Biceps into Your Training
In order to stimulate the most muscle growth, you should aim to train the biceps 2-3 times per week. If you are currently running a Push/Pull/Legs routine twice per week then I would suggest picking 3 of the above 6 exercises to perform on your first Pull day, and then carry out the remaining 3 exercises on your second Pull day.
Don’t worry if you only train 3 times per week, you can simply perform 3-4 of the above exercises every 4 sessions. If you’re worried about a loss in frequency, you could even perform the remaining exercises at the end of one of your other training sessions!
Otherwise, if you perform an “Upper/Lower” split 3 times per week you could incorporate half of these exercises on your first upper day, and the other half on your second upper day. Then you’ll be able to pick some of your favourites for your final upper day of the week.
Take Home Message
Give these exercises a try and let me know what you think! Make sure you choose a combination of exercises that work both the short and long head of the biceps!
About the Author
George Platt (BA, Hons.) is a Personal Trainer, Online Coach and Fitness/Nutrition Writer. George’s passion for physical activity and health developed from a young age after having open heart surgery. You can find out more about George via his website or Instagram: @GeorgePFitness93.