Part 1: The 3 exercises you need for bigger biceps

Making your arms training program more complete goes beyond just doing bench presses and pull-ups. In order to make breakthrough progress you must pick the best exercises that isolate all areas. This is a two-part article, this week showing you the three bigger biceps exercises you should be spending most of your arms workouts doing. Let’s dive right in.

Hammer curls

To build bigger biceps you need to thoroughly stress all of the elbow flexors. Chances are right now, most of your curling time is spend using an underhand grip. And, while these will do a great job of targeting the biceps brachii, you’re not doing much to hit some of the more neglected areas of your upper arms. Namely, coracobrachialis, brachialis and brachioradialis.

Take a look at some of the biggest arms out there. You’ll probably notice a golf-ball-looking muscle that appears like it sits between the bicep and tricep, and on the outer side of the arm. Unless you’ve got small tree trunks as arms you might not ever see it, but this muscle called the brachialis is there and it’s important. 

The brachialis can almost act to push up the biceps brachii (your main bicep) and give the illusion of having thicker arms. Performing variations of hammer grip curls are a essential if you want bigger biceps and thicker arms.

Other dumbbell variations to use: Standing or seated hammer, leaning against a wall or bench, pinwheel curls, preacher or Scott hammer, 1-arm variations. 

Incline dumbbell curls

Standing curls with an underhand grip work just fine. But, most of the time with these you’re loading the mid-portion of the curl the most – that’s where due to leverage factors you get the most load from the dumbbells or bar. For this reason one of the best additions to your bigger biceps routine would be to do more curls seated on an incline, and with your elbows back. 

Since the long-head of your biceps crosses over your shoulder joint it’s heavily influenced by the angle of your shoulders when curling. Taking your elbows back behind you (shoulder extension) will lengthen the long head of your biceps brachii more, combined with the incline will allow you to train your biceps through a greater stretch and length. 

More loading in a stretched position can mean greater mechanical tension and micro trauma, which can ultimately result in more biceps growth. More targeting of the biceps long-head can also create the illusion of a more “peaky” bicep. If your arms haven’t grown in a while and you’re not doing incline curls then you’ll want to start ASAP! 

Other variations to hit your long-head in a stretched position: Curls with cables coming from behind (seated, standing), incline curls using kettlebells.

Variations to hit your biceps long-head in a shortened position: Scott curls, preacher curls,  curls supported on a steep bench, Hercules curls, high cable curls.

Palms down cable curls

The biggest thing your arms routine is missing right now is more variations of curls using a palms-down (pronated) grip. Remember the neglected elbow flexors I mentioned earlier? Well, of these arguably it’s the brachialis that’s most often forgotten and underdeveloped. Spend more time strengthening this muscle and your overall arms training will benefit and your biceps will start growing again.

Big forearms aren’t just for crushing cans of spinach either. Not only are they important to give more of an athletic look to your physique, but weak forearms can hold back your biceps development too. Doing more palms-down curls will hit your wrist extensors harder, and help you build better forearms and biceps.

One drawback to not having done many palms-down curl variations before is that you likely suck at them. But we can solve this problem quite easily with the palms-down cable curl. These are a little easier to get in good alignment with, especially if you’re not used to palms-down curls.  Go light to begin with, keep your wrists strong and maintain tension in your biceps and forearms throughout before adding weight.

Other variations that help: EZ bar curls with a palms-down grip, Zottman curls, curls using a thick grip bar, pull-ups using a narrow and palms-down grip.

Programming

Delete the biceps exercises that aren’t working for you right now, and make sure you’re doing these (or modifications of) instead, with good form and tension. You can use all of these biceps exercises in the same arms workout, or bolt some on to the end of your pull-focused workouts. Next week I’ll be sharing my best triceps training tips, so be sure to bookmark and check back in then.

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