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The biceps brachii, commonly referred to as the biceps, is a two-headed muscle made up of the bicep short head and the bicep long head and is known as a bi-articular muscle that crosses the shoulder joint and the elbow joint. It is the largest muscle group of the upper arm and responsible for forearm flexion.
The biceps extend from the scapula and to the proximal forearm. Interestingly, the biceps are considered a variable muscle in that approximately 10% of the population have a third head to their biceps, which is located next to the short head of the biceps. Both heads of the bicep connect to the radial tuberosity tendon located at the forearm.
The short head of the bicep is located underneath the long head on the inner arm and is what makes the arm look bigger overall. In comparison, the long head of the bicep contributes more to the peak of this muscle group. This essentially means that if you wish to focus more on building bigger biceps, the best way is to put together a short head bicep workout.
When it comes to muscle activation it can sometimes be difficult to isolate the short head of your biceps specifically. However, there are bicep exercises that target the inner aspect of the upper arm and stimulate it to a greater extent than others.
The muscles of the biceps are activated during any pulling exercise or activity requiring you to bend at the elbow elbow. Exercises such as the zottman curls, hammer curl, chin-up, lat pulldown, bent-over row, and incline row are all excellent pulling exercises that help contribute to building bigger and stronger arms to both the short and long head bicep. As the biceps are fatigued quickly, some people may not need more training to develop this small muscle group.
How To Target The Short Head Of The Biceps Brachii
There isn’t much of a learning curve involved while trying to strengthen the short head of the bicep. Due to its smaller size isolation exercises such as dumbbell concentration curls will give you the best results.
You can undertake movements such as dumbbell preacher curls on a preacher bench, in which the elbows are extended from the body. These type of exercises result in stress being transferred from the long to the short head of the bicep.
To begin with, you should limit your short head bicep workouts to around four to six sets, with 8 to 12 repetitions per set. Stick to a weight that allows you to perform all the repetitions with a full range of motion.
It’s a good idea to keep the weight lower if you’re new to biceps training, this will allow you to concentrate on good form. As you strength increases, you can gradually curl more weight. Keep in mind that less is more in relation to bicep workouts for upper arm development.
Bicep Short Head vs The Long Head Of The Biceps
As mentioned above the biceps brachii are split into two distinct smaller muscles, with the short head responsible for elbow flexion and the long head for elbow extension. This means the long head of the biceps aids more with pushing movements whilst the short head is more for pulling motions.
Whilst both heads of the biceps extend from the shoulder to the elbow joint, the long head is responsible for inward rotation and abduction of the arm whereas the short head is responsible for adduction.
Why Should I Train My Bicep Short Head?
If your aim is to build bigger arms then you’ll want to be sure you effectively work all muscles of the arm and this includes the short head of the biceps. It can often be assumed that it’s not necessary to target smaller muscles within the body but that’s not the case.
The smaller muscles can make a big difference when it comes to overall size and definition, especially when it comes to the bicep muscles. This means it’s important to complete both short and long head exercises. You can maximize the size and strength of your arms to the full extent of your genetic potential by exercising both the long and short heads of the biceps.
The Best Short Head Bicep Exercises
The preacher curl is a good exercise for the short head of the bicep as it places your elbows in front of your torso, stimulating the short head more effectively. The exercise is typically carried out using a preacher curl bench and either dumbbells, straight bar or an EZ curl bar.
One of the benefits of using a preacher curl bench is that your arms are essentially locked into place meaning stronger, more dominant muscles can’t take over keeping the tension on the biceps throughout the movement.
By performing this exercise in a slow and controlled way, will increase time under tension, a proven method for increasing muscle mass.
How to do a EZ bar preacher curl:
- Set up on a preacher curl bench and keep the top of the pad tucked under your armpits.
- From here you should be able to reach down and take hold of the EZ bar. Use a wide grip width to better isolate the short head muscle.
- Keep your arms straight (but not locked out at the elbow joint).
- Slowly begin to raise your arms up and towards you.
- Squeeze the biceps at the top of the movement before lowering your arms back down.
- At the bottom of the movement be sure to keep your wrists straight to keep the tension on the biceps throughout.
- Wide-Grip Barbell Curls
Performing a bicep curl with a barbell is a sure fire way to effectively isolate the biceps. There’s no need to use heavy weights, simply perform high volume repetitions at a lower weight for maximum gains. Keeping your grip slightly wider than shoulder width is optimal for biomechanical efficiency, allowing you to lift heavier loads if you wish.
This movement can be done either seated or standing. The main difference between the two is that there will be more activation of the core muscles during a standing barbell curl. However, as the goal of curling is to build the biceps, seated would be a better option.
When standing, it’s also less easier to cheat as a common mistake some people make is to use momentum from their body to help them curl the weight up indicating the weight is too heavy to begin with. The seated alternative is much better for bicep activation.
How to do a wide grip barbell curl
- Sit on a bench with feet flat on the ground and keeping your back straight and head and chest up.
- Have a barbell resting on your lap so that you’re ready to start.
- Take hold of the barbell with a supinated grip (palms facing away from you) keeping your hands at a width just beyond your shoulders
- Slowly curl the weight up and towards your chest.
- Hold at the top for a couple of seconds before lowering back down.
- Repeat the desired numbers of reps and sets.
- Lowering the weight back down to your lap, is known as the eccentric portion of the exercise and when done slowly, and with control, can offer huge benefits for muscle building as this is typically when muscle fibers are put through most stress due to forces against gravity.
The spider curl exercise is excellent for overall arm development and as well as working the short head of the biceps, it will also target the long head, triceps and elbow flexors.
The Spider curl exercise may look similar to a standard barbell curl, but the position of the body during execution means that it allows for a much greater range of motion.
This makes for a more challenging curl exercise but one that could potentially result in more muscle growth when compared to other bicep exercises. To undertake this movement, you’ll need an adjustable bench and either a pair of dumbbells or an EZ curl bar.
How to do a spider curl
- Set the bench to an angle of around 45 degrees.
- Rest your chest on the inclined pad of the bench, ensure the weight you are using is immediately in front of you so you can easily grab them.
- Hold the weight with a supinated grip (palms facing away from you) and allow your arms to hang down keeping them straight.
- From this position, slowly curl the weight up to the top of your chest.
- Squeeze at the top of movement before slowly lowering the weight back down.
- If you’re new to this exercise, be sure to keep the weight lower so you can perfect your form and prevent injury. You may be able to preacher curl a heavy weight, but remember that the range of motion is much greater with this exercise making it more difficult.
EMG (electromyography) studies show that the combination of flexion and supination in a concentration curl shifts the load in a way that benefits the short head of the bicep. Not only is the concentration curl an excellent workout for the short head of the bicep, but it is also one of the most effective curls for stimulating the biceps.
Concentration curls promote great flexibility and a profound degree of contraction. You may focus on your biceps throughout each reps contraction and negative phase when doing a set. In terms of equipment required, all you need is access to a bench and a dumbbell.
How to do a dumbbell concentration curl
- Sit a weight bench with the dumbbell on the floor immediately in front of you.
- Rest the elbow on the inside of your thigh and take hold of the dumbbell with a supinated grip (palm facing away from you).
- Keep your chest and head upright and don’t allow your lower back to round.
- Slowly curl the dumbbell up towards your chest maintaining the position of you head, chest and back.
- If you find you are losing form, consider using a lower weight.
- Lower the dumbbell back down towards the ground, don’t go too fast as this could result in hyperextension of the elbow which may cause an injury.
- Inhale on the way up, exhale on the way down.
- Finish the reps on one side before repeated with the other arm.
Inner Bicep Curls
This exercise may significantly increase bicep thickness when you perform it correctly by focusing on the short-head (inner) bicep. Using dumbbells and a shoulder posture that activates the short head, this arm position is functionally similar to the wide grip, but it emphasizes supination to an even greater degree. This exercise can be performed either seated or standing and, as with wide grip barbell curls, better activation to the biceps is more likely when seated.
How to do an inner bicep curl
- Set your bench to an incline, approximately 45 degrees is ideal.
- Take hold of the dumbbells and sit back on the bench.
- Keeping the dumbbells at arms length, ensure your elbows are tucked in and palms facing out.
- Your forearms will need to be around 45 degree angle to your torso.
- From this starting position, slowly curl the dumbbells up and towards your shoulders.
- At the top of the movement your upper body should be forming a ‘W’ shape or a double biceps pose.
- Hold for a couple of seconds before slowly lowering back down.
- Repeat the desired number of reps and sets.
The exercises listed above will help you to work the short head of the biceps and, if incorporated with other arm exercises, will help you to achieve an increase in muscle mass and strength in no time. A key point to remember is grip, executing bicep exercises with a supinated grip will better target the short head of the biceps. By comparison, a pronated grip will work more of the long head.
A combination of both forms of exercise is crucial for overall development. Remember to keep the weights low enough to retain proper form, if you notice any other muscles activating during the exercises, drop the weight down and try again.
Also, consider keeping things by versatile by making use of regular barbells (such as an Olympic bar or straight bar), dumbbells and an EZ curl bar. The EZ curl bar is a great option for those who happen to have weaker wrists as it allows you to curl any weight with the wrists slightly pointing inwards taking stress away from the joints minimising any chance of injury.