THE PROBLEM WITH TYPICAL BICEPS WORKOUTS
If you look at the exercises that most people do in their biceps workouts you will see a lot of curls.
This does make some sense, because a major function of the biceps is to flex the elbow. However the classic theories of “just do curls” or “it’s not necessary to train your biceps directly” are both flat out wrong!
Because it’s simply not enough!
Yes, your biceps likely get a lot of activation during your back workouts, but if you want to take your biceps development to another level you need to include some unique methods of stimulation in your arm workout.
Remember, just because you’re using a full range of motion and performing the major roles of the biceps brachii muscle in your workouts, it does NOT mean that you are giving the muscle sufficient stimulus to force growth.
We all know guys who can do tons of pull ups and heavy rows, but still don’t have the greatest biceps development. The solution to this problem is to not forego the popular mass building exercises for the major muscle groups of the upper body, but we also need to add specialization exercises and techniques.
Before I show you how I’ve structured the absolute best bicep workout I’d like to show you the muscles that make up the upper arm and an idea of the most important functions this muscle group performs.
THE MUSCLES THAT MAKE UP THE BICEPS
As usual, I’ll be breaking out the Muscle Markers to show you the different muscles the biceps are comprised of, and then we’ll take a look at the types of movements they are responsible for.
The biceps itself is a two headed muscle with a short head and a long head.
Yep, that’s why it’s called the BI-CEPS!
Then we’ve also got the brachialis which, while it isn’t technically part of the biceps, has a large influence on the visual size of your biceps especially when looking at them from the front.
SHORT HEAD (inner biceps)
LONG HEAD (outer biceps)
THE 3 FUNCTIONS OF THE BICEPS
Now let’s take a quick look at the different functions that the biceps muscles perform.
1. ELBOW SUPINATION
2. ELBOW FLEXION
3. SHOULDER FLEXION
Some exercises can actually work all three functions: elbow supination, elbow flexion and shoulder flexion. There are some that can put all these functions in proper alignment with each other so the line of pull is optimal.
ALL 3 FUNCTIONS
As I chose exercises for the Perfect Biceps Workout, you’ll see that I’ve incorporated ones that challenge all three of these movement types.
THE STRENGTH CURVE OF THE BICEPS
Biceps exercises have different strength curves, meaning that they will create a stronger contraction either in the either in the beginning, middle, or end of the biceps’ range of motion.
Below are a few examples of different exercises and their strength curves so that you can see what I mean.
STRONGEST CONTRACTION IN THE MIDDLE: barbell curl
STRONGEST CONTRACTION AT THE END: banded dumbbell curl
STRONGEST CONTRACTION AT THE BEGINNING: incline dumbbell curl
You’ll see that across the entire Perfect Biceps Workout, I’ve chosen exercises that direct tension to the biceps in the beginning, middle, and the end of the biceps’ range of motion.
THE best BICEPS WORKOUT: step by step
In structuring the Perfect Biceps Workout, I wanted to be sure we took into account all three muscle groups, all three biceps functions and the three areas of the strength curve to ensure that the workout is truly comprehensive.
Because the biceps are a hinge joint, there is some limitation on which exercises we can do.
Everything is pretty much going to look like some variation of a curl!
This means that you have to rely on intensity techniques more than any other muscle group to heighten the overall intensity and effect of the workout.
1A. AND 1B. THE ‘BIG EXERCISE’
As we always do in our perfect workouts, we’ll start this routine off with a big exercise.
It’s a different variation of the curl: a Cheat Curl into a drop set with a Barbell Drag Curl. The Cheat Curl gives us an opportunity to create great eccentric overload because we are cheating a bit through the concentric curl portion of the exercise.
This is a standing barbell curl with a cheat built into the movement. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, taking an underhand grip on the bar.
Keeping your elbow tucked in, curl the bar with momentum and squeeze your biceps when you get to the top of the bar curl. Slowly lower the weight down to return to start.
After doing the Cheat Curl, we’ve set ourselves up for a mechanical drop set. Instead of a regular drop set in which we lower the weight we’re using, we’re going to take the same weight we used in the Cheat Curl and shorten the movement into a different curl variation.
We’ll do this by moving our elbows from out in front of our body back into a Drag Curl, and we’re still able to keep the reps coming.
With the position of the elbow back behind the body we’re achieving another one of our goals of hitting the long head of the biceps a bit more preferentially.
EXERCISE NOTES: Perform the Cheat Curl to failure and immediately move into a mechanical drop set of the Drag Curl, taking it to failure as well. Try to do three sets, resting between each set.
2A. AND 2B. HITTING ALL 3 FUNCTIONS WITH OVERLOAD
Our next combo begins with another heavy exercise that gives us the option to overload the biceps: the Weighted Chin Up.
This is one of my favorite exercises because it hits all three functions of the biceps by taking one of the best bodyweight exercises and adding weight to it. We have to flex the elbow to grab the bar and pull.
To get into the chin up position we have to have a supinated forearm. We also get flexion of the shoulder to help us get peak contraction of the biceps because we have our arm out in front of our body to grab the bar.
Start position is standing with feet hip width apart with arms extended, grabbing the bar above you with hand palm facing toward you and a weight plate affixed to you using my dog leash technique.
Bend your elbows and pull your body upward until your chin clears the bar. Slowly reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
WEIGHTED CHIN UP
We can utilize an intensity technique if we pair up the Weighted Chin Up in a drop set with the Peak Contraction Chin Up. We’re going to use this as a burnout to the previous set, and we’re only going to focus on repping out in that final contracted state of the biceps.
Before your chin reaches the bar, pause and then lower your body and repeat until failure.
We know that we’re limited by our options for biceps training, and this technique takes our normal chin up exercise to another level.
PEAK CONCENTRATION CHIN UP
EXERCISE NOTES: Perform the Weighted Chin Up to failure, and immediately strip off the weight and go into a drop set of the Peak Contraction Chin Up to failure. Do three sets, resting between each set.
3. ACTIVE SUPINATION
While the benefits of big exercises like the Barbell Curl and the Weighted Chin Up can’t be ignored, we also have to be willing to accept that there are some limitations.
In my mind, the biggest limitation of these exercises is that in both, there is no active supination being resisted. In both exercises I’m isometrically grabbing in a supinated position, but I’m not going through the act of supination against resistance.
So we will have to address that separately in our Perfect Biceps Workout, and we can do so with the Banded Dumbbell Curl.
BANDED DUMBBELL CURL
The Banded Dumbbell Curl also gives us the ability to increase peak tension on the biceps throughout the range of motion.
In a regular Dumbbell Curl the contraction peaks at the midpoint of the movement and then dies off. When we add a band to it, the tension picks up right where it dies off and it continues to the end range of the movement.
This is a standing dumbbell curl done with a band anchored to a low stable object and a piece of the band and one dumbbell in each hand. Slowly lift and curl the dumbbells toward you, and you’ll definitely feel how difficult this becomes as you reach the top of the movement.
EXERCISE NOTES: Perform three sets of the Banded Dumbbell Curl to failure, resting in between sets. Choose a weight that’s a bit less than your 10 -12RM, realizing that adding the band will make this exercise more difficult.
4. STRETCH REFLEX – BEGINNING OF range of MOTION
We don’t want to neglect the beginning portion of the biceps’ range of motion, and the Incline Dumbbell Curl is the ideal exercise to achieve peak contraction there.
This exercise also serves another purpose. Because of the position of the arm back behind the body, we’ve just placed a little more stress on the long head of the biceps because it’s on more stretch.
INCLINE DUMMBELL CURL
We can take further advantage of the long head being on stretch using another intensity technique, which is actively contracting the triceps.
We know when we do that we can antagonistically shut off the biceps, or at least allow for a greater stretch of the biceps. This gives us a stronger contraction coming out of the bottom of the movement as you curl the weights again.
First set up in the incline bench with the seat angled back. Then sit facing forward with a dumbbell in each hand. Lift the weights squeezing the bicep at the top of the movement.
Slowly lower the dumbbells, and squeeze the triceps at the bottom part of the motion. In this exercise both biceps and triceps will be working in an alternating fashion.
I recommend that you include this exercise and technique in every dumbbell bicep workout.
EXERCISE NOTES: Perform Incline Dumbbell Curls for three sets to failure, resting in between sets.
5. INTENSITY, SHOULDER ROTATION AND BRACHIALIS
We’re going to wrap up this Perfect Biceps Workout with our Dumbbell Biceps Curl Trifecta.
We’ve got three exercises that are going to do three different things for us:
- We’re going to keep the set going, giving us an intensification over our usual set of 12 reps.
- We’re going to work the rotation of the shoulder.
- We’re going to hit that all-important brachialis muscle that we haven’t addressed yet!
The first piece of this combo is the Supinated Cross Body Curl which allows us to preferentially hit the long head of the biceps.
SUPINATED CROSS BODY CURL
As we supinate and come across the body in the Supinated Cross Body Curl, we are looking straight at the outer head of the biceps.
This alternating dumbbell curl is performed by bringing the arm across the body with palm facing toward the ceiling.
Our second rep in the combo is going to be a Pronated Cross Body Curl in which we keep the same movement but reverse grip with palms facing toward the ground.
PRONATED CROSS BODY CURL
When we pronate we shift the load to the elbow flexor, which is the brachialis.
Now we want to work the outward rotation of the shoulder opposite to what we were doing previously. We’ll do this with the No Money Curl.
NO MONEY CURL
In addition to giving you a bit of a shoulder workout by targeting external shoulder rotation, the No Money Curl favors the short head, or inner portion of the biceps. Again, this is not isolation but a greater influence on this inner head.
You’ll be alternating these 3 positions for 24 total reps in a set.
EXERCISE NOTES: Perform the Dumbbell Curl Trifecta by alternating Supinated Cross Body Curl, Pronated Cross Body Curl and No Money Curl for 24 reps. Do 2 complete sets resting in between. The Supinated Cross Body Curl emphasizes the long head of the biceps. The Pronated Cross Body Curl emphasizes the brachialis. The No Money Curl favors the short head of the biceps.
So, here is the entire Perfect Biceps Workout step by step, all sets, all reps for you to follow.
You should feel your biceps like never before because we’ve addressed every, single component of biceps training, all in one selection of exercises.
PERFECT BICEPS WORKOUT
1A. BARBELL CHEAT CURLS – 3 SETS TO FAILURE (PERFORM AS DROP SET WITH 1B.)
1B. BARBELL DRAG CURLS – TO FAILURE
2A. WEIGHTED CHIN UPS – 3 SETS TO FAILURE (PERFORM AS DROP SET WITH 2B.)
2B. PEAK CONTRACTION CHIN CURLS – TO FAILURE
3. BANDED DB CURLS – 3 SETS TO FAILURE
4. DB INCLINE CURLS – 2 SETS TO FAILURE (STRETCH REFLEX)
5. DB CURL TRIFECTA – 2 SETS (ALTERNATE POSITIONS FOR A TOTAL OF 8 REPS IN EACH POSITION, EACH ARM)
The Perfect Biceps Workout contains exercises that not only hit the long and short head but also the brachialis, a totally separate muscle. In addition, this ultimate biceps routine puts the biceps through its full range of motion and utilizes both the flexion and supination of the elbow and the flexion of the shoulder. Finally, to round out your biceps I’ve also included techniques that create unique stresses on the muscle giving it no choice but respond.
- That classic advice to ‘just do curls’ or ‘don’t train the biceps directly’ is just wrong. It’s simply not enough if you want to take your biceps development to the next level.
- The biceps has a short head and a long head. The brachialis muscle isn’t part of the biceps, but it plays a large part in the width of your biceps.
- There are three major functions of the biceps that the Perfect Biceps Workout should cover: elbow supination, elbow flexion and shoulder flexion
- There are also three separate parts of the biceps strength curve, and different exercises maximize contraction in different parts of the strength curve.
- This Perfect Biceps Workout is a complete exercise guide structured to work the entire biceps and brachialis, and also covers all three major functions of the biceps and every portion of the biceps strength curve and increase biceps strength and size.
As you can see, you don’t have to work out for hours and hours at a time to get results. If you choose the best exercises and apply the right techniques you can get a lot from your workouts in a much shorter period of time. If you’re looking for a complete program that employs the best training techniques according to science and gives you all the best techniques, workouts and exercises, check out our ATHLEAN-X Training Programs.