by Brian McFadden T-Nation
Here’s what you need to know…
- The brachialis, brachioradialis, and biceps brachii make up the biceps. To build the bigger arms, you need to hit all of these. And regular curls won’t do it.
- Turn dumbbell curls into Zottman curls. Curl the weight with palms up, but turn your palms facedown when lowering the weight back to starting position.
- Add bands and do the jettison technique barbell curl. Getting extra resistance from bands will tax the biceps at every point in the rep.
- Do the close-grip inverted row, with an iso-hold. Start the pull at the elbows and bring the bar up to touch the lower chest. Hold at the top.
- Target the short head of the biceps brachii with a Scott curl. With your armpits braced by the preacher bench pad you won’t be able to use momentum from the hips.
- The basic curl will always have a place in bicep training. But arm development doesn’t begin and end with the traditional curl. It’s really only the beginning.
You Need More Than Standard Curls for Big Biceps
There are three regions of the biceps that need to be trained in order to build big, strong arms – the brachialis, the brachioradialis, and the two-headed biceps brachii. Leave out any of these and you’ll be stuck with puny arms. Do these exercises for complete biceps development.
1 – Zottman Curls
Main area targeted: biceps, brachialis, and brachioradialis
What’s unique about the Zottman curl is the mechanical advantage in the eccentric or negative portion of the lift. Most lifters are about 1.75 times stronger during the eccentric phase of a lift. Since you can curl more than you can reverse curl, the concentric or lifting portion of the Zottman curl is done with palms facing up. Then when lowering that same weight you perform a reverse curl since you can lower a lot more weight than you can raise.
How to do it: Hold two dumbbells at your sides with your palms up. While keeping your elbows tucked and close to your body, curl both dumbbells to about shoulder height. Once you reach peak contraction, squeeze the biceps hard and then rotate the dumbbells so that your palms are facing down. From here, lower the dumbbells into starting position stopping short of lockout to keep tension on the biceps. At the bottom, turn your hands back into a palms-up position and repeat.
2 – Jettison Technique Barbell Curl
Main area targeted: brachii
Do bands really have a place in arm training? Yes. Moving weight without bands doesn’t change the tension or load during the movement, so you lose maximal stimulation at different points of the lift due to leverage. Adding bands will tax the biceps at every point in the rep. Also, the eccentric or lowering phase of the lift is enhanced since the added tension from the bands is trying to staple you into the floor. This places enormous growth stimulus on the biceps.
How to do it: Grab a resistance band for this punishing drop set. Place your feet inside the band and hold the top end of the band along with the barbell. Do 10-12 reps curling the bar and the band at the same time. Then, ditch the band and perform 8-10 barbell curls. Lastly, drop the barbell and with your feet anchored on the bottom half of the band to create resistance, grab the top end of the band and perform as many band curls as possible.
3. Close-grip Inverted Row with Iso-Hold
Main area targeted: brachii and brachialis
The inverted row is an excellent compound movement that blasts the biceps. And if you’ve got a tricky low back, you’ll appreciate this variation since it relieves stress there. This movement also provides an effective substitute if you can’t do chin-ups.
How to do it: Set up a barbell in the squat rack or Smith machine. To determine the height, lie on the floor underneath the bar. The bar should be just above your reach. Grab it with a supinated grip (palms facing you). Lift your hips up, engage your glutes, and point your toes up. You should be able to draw a straight line from your ears to your ankles. Initiate the pull at the elbow while keeping a tight position throughout your abs and hips. Pull your body into peak contraction –the bar should kiss your lower chest– hold it and then squeeze your biceps for two seconds. Lower yourself to starting position and repeat.
4. Scott Curl with Tucked Armpits
Main area targeted: short inner head of the brachii
The classic Scott curl is similar in execution to a barbell curl – the elbow flexing against resistance – however, since your armpits are tucked against the top of the preacher bench with your chest supported by the pad, you’re incapable of creating any momentum from the hips and core. This means your biceps get lit up.
How to do it: Lean up against the angled side of a preacher bench. Your chest should support all your weight, while your armpits are lodged onto the top of the pad. On the flat side of the preacher bench, your triceps will lay flat. In this position grab the EZ-bar with a close grip. Curl the weight up to about shoulder level. Hold for a one-count and lower weight into starting position. Avoid fully extending your elbows at the bottom to keep tension on the biceps throughout the set.
Bicep Anatomy 101
By knowing basic bicep anatomy, you’ll be better equipped to attack personal weakness and achieve better size and strength. Here’s a breakdown.
This muscle sits under the bicep. When it’s well-developed, it pushes the bicep peak up making it look taller. This tiny muscle is also an aesthetics enhancing feature from the side view. When you give the brachialis the attention it deserves, it dramatically increases the thickness of your arms. To hit the brachialis, anything with a neutral grip – think hammer curl – is a solid choice.
The largest muscle of your forearm, the brachioradialis, sits atop your forearm near your elbow and crosses the elbow joint. This muscle is best isolated with overhand grip movements like a reverse curl. The meat of the brachioradialis is in the forearm and it contributes to the “Popeye” arm look.
The term “biceps” means two heads, and “brachii” refers to the upper arm. Think of the long head of the bicep as the outer part of the arm. It’s best worked with movements that situate the arm behind the body like incline dumbbell curls. The short head can be associated with the inside of the arm, the part that is next to your pecs, obliques, and serratus.