Bicep training seems simple enough, right? Grab a dumbbell and curl it for a few sets.
Sure, the essential idea behind bicep training is mostly that. But to realize this desirable muscle group's full potential, you need to gain a deeper understanding of it.
In this guide, we'll go over everything you need to know about practical bicep training. We'll also share some actionable tactics you can implement in your training right away.
Let's dive into it...
Bicep Muscle Anatomy And Function
The bicep is a two-headed muscle (hence its name) located on the upper arm's front side. The short head of the bicep resides on the inside, where the long head is positioned outside. The primary function of the bicep is elbow flexion - think bicep curl.
Beneath the two heads, we also have the brachialis - a deep muscle that assists with elbow flexion. Developing it contributes to your overall arm size as it pushes the bicep up, making it appear larger.
Like with most other muscle groups, we can emphasize one head over the other, depending on the exercise and specific technique we choose to use.
For example, if you want to emphasize the bicep's long outer head, you should use a narrower grip where your elbows are close to your body and your forearms point forward and in. In contrast, to emphasize the short inner head, you should use a wider grip where your forearms point forward and out.
The brachialis tends to work equally well during most bicep exercises. To emphasize it a bit more, you can include neutral-grip exercises like dumbbell hammer curls.
Effective Bicep Training: It's More Than Elbow Flexion
As we discussed above, the bicep has one primary function - elbow flexion. But, it also works during another type of activity - wrist supination. Do this test for a moment:
Bend your right elbow at 90 degrees and keep it close to your body. Place your left hand's fingers on top of your right bicep and make sure that your right wrist is in line with your forearm (in a neutral position).
Now, twist your right wrist to the right, which would position your palm up. Did you feel your bicep activate?
Wrist supination is one bicep function, and adding it to some bicep exercises can help you get a bit more out of each repetition. In doing so, you can achieve peak bicep contraction and hopefully gain more muscle in the long run.
Here is how it would look like:
As you're doing a dumbbell curl, start with your wrists in a neutral position (facing your body) and begin to raise the weight. At the same time, gradually twist your wrists out so they face the ceiling as the weight reaches the top position.
Five Ways to Elevate Your Bicep Training
- Train with a full range of motion.
Bicep training often turns into ego lifting for many people because their primary concern is the amount of weight they're training with.
In truth, training for optimal growth depends on proper technique and using a full range of motion. In doing so, you get to recruit the largest number of motor units and cause fantastic stretches and peak contractions.
To do this effectively, make sure to extend your elbows fully at the bottom and lift until your elbows are slightly past 90 degrees.
- Feel your biceps work.
Another thing to consider when training your biceps is to feel them work. Many people go through the motions of training and rarely feel the right muscles activate. This makes training less effective and only increases the risk of ego lifting.
Besides using a full range of motion, one of the best things you can do is develop a good mind-muscle connection. Feel your biceps work on every repetition - as you lower the weight, as you lift it, and as you hold it at the top.
If you can't seem to feel your non-dominant bicep work on most exercises, consider including unilateral exercises like dumbbell and cable curls.
- Track and improve your performance and workload.
Training is about tracking your performance with the intent to improve it over time. No matter what aspects of your performance you aim to improve, there needs to be some form of progress over time. For example:
- Doing more total work (sets and exercises)
- Training your biceps more frequently (for example, twice instead of once per week)
- Lifting heavier weights
- Doing more repetitions with the same weight
So long as you're steadily doing more, your biceps will grow and develop for a long time.
- Stop using momentum.
Walk into any gym today, and you're bound to see a common scenario:
An eager trainee curling more weight than they should through half the range of motion and with the help of momentum.
Sure, momentum can be helpful, and it certainly allows you to lift heavier weights. But what is the point of doing that? If your goal is to curl the most weight possible, then sure - go ahead. But if your goal is optimal bicep activation and development, you should never use momentum.
After all, the goal is to make your biceps do the work, not to have your entire posterior chain help you hoist the weight to the top position.
- Do several exercises for your biceps.
The biceps are a relatively small and straightforward muscle group to train. But, as we discussed above, the bicep has two heads, and different exercises can emphasize one head over the other. What's more, wrist supination also plays a role in bicep activation, so we should take advantage of it with our training.
It's a good idea to include exercises with a narrow and wide grip (such as barbell curls). You should also have movements that help you take advantage of wrist supination, such as dumbbell curls. Unilateral exercises like these are also great for training your biceps one at a time and preventing imbalances.
It's also a good idea to include some training with resistance bands, cables, and specialized bicep machines (if possible).
All of this will make your bicep training more engaging and hopefully stimulate your muscles to a greater degree.