Best 5 Exercises for Bigger Biceps
By Myprotein Writer David Lyszczek, UKBFF Bodybuilder, Personal Trainer, BSc Human Nutrition Student
As summer is long gone, the good old “sun’s out, guns out” motto loses its meaning. Sleeveless or not however, there is no reason why you should go easy on your bicep training…after arms season is all year around! But what are the best 5 exercises for bigger biceps? In this article you’ll find out 5 moves to rock your sleeves.
1. Preacher Curls
Preacher curls, also known as Scott Curls, are named after Larry Scott, the first (and double) Mr Olympia winner from 1965 and 1966… who’s arms measured over a whopping 50cm!
Now ask yourself…How many guys do you see at the gym with guns that big?
Clearly Scott was onto something, whereby the credit for his freaky arm development was given to a zealous preacher curls routine. Scott’s preacher curls routine allowed for tremendous biceps isolation and a powerful recruitment of the brachialis muscle. The brachialis muscle is the muscle just underneath the biceps whereby performing preacher curls effectively, “pushes” the muscles in your upper arm to give your arms even more size.
Contrary to popular belief, a little body movement during this exercise is perfectly acceptable. Next time around, try to gradually lean back as you lower the weight and slightly lean forward as you raise the bar up to your chin. This technique will allow a greater stretch and shortening of the biceps, making the exercise much harder… but more effective.
2. Incline Seated Dumbbell Curls
This tool in our golden 5 bicep exercises, arguably stretches the biceps like no other movement you can think of. The inclined seated dumbbell curl takes advantage of the length-tension relationship, resulting in powerful, growth-stimulating muscle contractions.
Because of the elbow position (drawn back and away from the body), the outer, long head of the biceps (which inserts just above shoulder joint) does most of the work here. You probably want to focus on the long head of the bicep most as it is the most visible! Unless you have a habit of hitting a double biceps pose every door you step your foot in.
It is worth mentioning that the bench should be set to a maximum of 45°, using lower angles (flatter bench) will allow for a greater stretch but will also increase your risk of injury, making it likely to cause inflammation of the long head’s tendon. This can also be the case when using a weight that is too heavy whereby this inflammation is often perceived as shoulder pain.
3. Supinated Dumbbell Curls
If you’re training for maximal growth your workout needs to be based on the physiological function of the targeted muscle being exercised. In the case of biceps this means not only flexing the elbow (curling) but also supinating the wrist (rotating palm up) – and that’s where using dumbbells can beat your typical barbell exercises. When using a barbell your wrists are stuck in the same position throughout the movement, which simply makes supination impossible.
Supinated curls are hardly a secret, however many gym rats still struggle with the correct execution of this exercise. First of all, the wrist should get fully supinated just before the angle between the forearm and the biceps gets to 90°. To make sure the wrist becomes fully supinated at this point- focus on the little finger, wrapped around the handle, and turn it outwards as much as possible. This will ensure maximal supination and optimal muscle fibre recruitment.
Just to make sure that the short, inner head of the biceps gets more stimulation in this movement, you can use the offset grip; where the hand is placed as far outwards on the dumbbell’s handle as possible, making the thumb touch the weight plates.
4. Concentration Curls
Concentration curls is an often misunderstood exercise that is believed to shape the peak of the biceps, rather than add size. Unfortunately the actual shape of the biceps is determined by genetics – all you guys out there CAN have bigger guns… but it depends on Mother Nature if they will be flat like a flounder or peaked like a mountain.
Nevertheless, concentration curls are an amazing exercise to bust the long, outer head of the biceps and really isolate the muscle. The reason for this is concentration curls take away any shoulder movement and remove bouncing weight out of the equation.
But how is another light-weight, isolation movement going to build mass?
Let me just bring up a power-lifter from the 70s… David Shaw… who’s arms measured a whopping 53 cm. Well guess what his favourite bicep exercise was… the concentration curl! Isolated or not, Shaw has been said to use 100lbs dumbbell for 5 reps in this movement!
The important thing to consider when performing concentration curls is the correct position of the elbow, which should be dug into the inner thigh rather than rested on top of it (common mistake among many lifters).
If you find that you cannot lower the dumbbell all the way down without touching the floor simply lift your heels up – at the same time make sure not to hyper-extend (overstretch) the biceps… because this can lead to an injury.
5. Barbell Curls
This exercise should not need an introduction – as it’s also known as the bread and butter of most bicep routines! Barbell curls are believed to be the ultimate best mass builder. Nevertheless barbell curls have come in 5th of the list…But why?
Barbell curls are one of the best overall mass builders, simply because they engage a vast number of muscle groups just to stabilise the body. This idea can be perfectly illustrated if you picture someone curling much more weight than they can handle… and instead of curling the bar with their biceps they end up being curled by the bar instead!
Because of this, in terms of “getting the most for your buck” barbell curls are an essential arm exercise but they do not isolate and recruit the biceps as powerfully as the preacher and incline or concentration curls (as shown by electromyography).
Saying that, barbell curls do have an advantage as they easily allow you to …cheat! Hip-thrusting and using momentum to get the bar up may not be pretty but it is very effective in blowing your arms up as it allows using much heavier weight (than conventionally possible) on a negative phase of the movement. This effectively causes the greatest micro-damage to the muscle fibres.
Nevertheless cheated curls can easily lead to an injury if you are not careful! Personally I recommend performing them at the end of your workout, when the biceps have been pre-exhausted and you are properly warmed-up.
Make sure to maintain a stable foot position and keep the core tight by jerking the weight with your legs and hips rather than torso, at the same time do not let the bar slam into your quads! Slow, controlled eccentric phase of the movement is the key here – take 3-4 seconds to lower the bar maintaining tension in your biceps.
A Take Home Message
So if you’re looking to get bigger biceps, start focusing on incorporating these top 5 exercises into your weight training regime. But remember- focus on your form, its better to use a lighter weight and perform an exercise with correct form than to allow your ego to get the better of you and risk an injury!
For more training articles click here.