Written by Lisa Allen | Edited by Dr Mark Kapnoudhis
Try saying that title 10 times fast. OK don’t never mind. Biceps are a great muscle to develop because they are always on display when wearing short sleeve shirts. Additionally, they are usually the first muscle people will see when they ask you to flex. Plus, with great biceps, you are privy to using lame jokes like “got your tickets…to the gun show?” and “You know a good vet?…because these pythons are sick!”.
Having great biceps depends on a few things:
OK so you see that genetics are very important. Fortunately genetics mostly play a role in the shape of the biceps. You see, some people have a genetic predisposition towards having very rounded, peaked biceps. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger, a recurring theme to this site. Now others will have longer shaped biceps.
To find out what your genetic biceps shape is do a simple bicep flex and measure, or estimate, the distance between the end of the bicep and your elbow. If it is an inch or more, you probably are genetically predisposed to having high peaked biceps. Less than an inch, and you likely can build up big biceps, but find it hard to get that ideal, rounded shape.
Now, no matter what your genetic biceps shape, you can build it up no matter what, its just that you may have a harder time getting the shape you want. But life isn’t fair, and chances are your genetics hooked you up in some ways and screwed you in another.
Lets briefly go over the anatomy of the biceps so we can determine which exercises will build up which areas. The biceps, or biceps brachii for you science majors, is made up of an outer and inner head. Take a look at some pro bodybuilders and you will be able to located each head. Both heads of the biceps run vertically from the shoulder and connect at the elbow, thus the outer head is located on the outer part of the arm and the inner is on the inner (or course…).
Now that you know about the two basic parts of the biceps, we can go over some basic exercises that will isolate each part.
The biceps curl is the most basic exercise for the biceps and should not need explaining. In fact, the biceps curl is not an exercise itself but more of a parent category for several different exercises. For example you can perform barbell biceps curls, dumbbell biceps curls, EX Bar biceps curls, wide-grip barbell biceps curls, hammer curls, etc. And almost every bicep exercise will incorporate the “curling” motion.
Generally wide grip curls are going to work the inner biceps while narrow grip curls will work the inner biceps. For our biceps routine, we will aim for 6-8 sets of 8-10 reps. Since the biceps is not a major muscle group like the chest, legs, or back, we will try to keep our sets low. Additionally, the biceps is often worked in conjunction with many back exercises, which is why many workout routines will group back and biceps together.
- Standing Barbell Curls – Lets make sure we work both heads of the bicep and incorporate outer and inner biceps. For inner biceps, we will do a basic wide grip barbell curl. Here is a demonstration of the standing barbell curl.It is preferable to stand against a flat surface like a wall or beam when doing the standing barbell curl, because it ensures that you are not swaying your back for momentum and taking away from the biceps. Perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps, making sure that on your last set, you are going til failure.
- Standing EZ Bar Curls – These curls will be performed the exact same way as the barbell curls listed above, but will utilize different equipment. EZ Bars are great because they take the stress off of the elbows and wrist, which can be especially bad with close grip curls. Remember that we are doing close grip curls this time because we now want to work out the outer head of the bicep. So to do this, you will grip the bar on the inner angle of the EZ Bar. Perform this exercise for another 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps, again, making sure than on your last set you go to failure.
- Dumbbell Curls – You can work in dumbbell curls into your routine. Just make sure you aren’t doing more than 8-9 sets total. If you are doing your biceps on your back day, you are already getting a great biceps workout from doing rows and pull ups. However, you may want to substitute barbell curls with dumbbell curls because of the variety of dumbbell exercises.