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how to construct a complete biceps workout

THE PROBLEM WITH TYPICAL BICEPS WORKOUTS

If you look at the exercises that most people do in their biceps workouts you will see a lot of curls.

This does make some sense, because a major function of the biceps is to flex the elbow. However the classic theories of “just do curls” or “it’s not necessary to train your biceps directly” are both flat out wrong!

Why?

Because it’s simply not enough!

Yes, your biceps likely get a lot of activation during your back workouts, but if you want to take your biceps development to another level you need to include some unique methods of stimulation.

Remember, just because you’re using a full range of motion and performing the major roles of the biceps muscle in your workouts, it does NOT mean that you are giving the muscle sufficient stimulus to force growth.

Your biceps likely get a lot of activation during your back workouts, but if you want to take your biceps development to another level you need to include some unique methods of stimulation.

We all know guys who can do tons of pull ups and heavy rows, but still don’t have the greatest biceps development. The solution to this problem is to not forego the popular mass building exercises, but we also need to add specialization exercises and techniques.

Before I show you how I’ve structured the Perfect Biceps Workout I’d like to show you the muscles that make up the biceps and an idea of the most important functions this muscle group performs.

bicep muscle anatomy including brachialis, long head and short head

THE MUSCLES THAT MAKE UP THE BICEPS

As usual, I’ll be breaking out the Muscle Markers to show you the different muscles the biceps are comprised of, and then we’ll take a look at the types of movements they are responsible for.

The biceps itself is a two headed muscle with a short head and a long head.

Yep, that’s why it’s called the BI-CEPS!

Then we’ve also got the brachialis which, while it isn’t technically part of the biceps, has a large influence on the visual size of your biceps especially when looking at them from the front.

SHORT HEAD (inner biceps)

short head of the biceps
The Short Head is the inner portion of the biceps, and we can use specific exercises to hit it more preferentially.

LONG HEAD (outer biceps)

long head of the outer biceps
The Long Head is the outer part of the biceps with its attachment at the shoulder. We can’t isolate it but we can use specific techniques to increase its influence over the short head.

BRACHIALIS

brachialis muscle of the biceps
The Brachialis is not technically part of the biceps muscle, but it is very influential in the overall width of your biceps when viewed from the front.

THE 3 FUNCTIONS OF THE BICEPS

Now let’s take a quick look at the different functions that the biceps muscles perform.

1. ELBOW SUPINATION

elbow supination function of the biceps
The biceps is an elbow supinator because of its connection. You can feel the big tendon that runs from the bottom of your biceps around to the radius of the elbow.

2. ELBOW FLEXION

elbow flexion function of the biceps
Elbow flexion is the most common and dominant movement the biceps performs.

3. SHOULDER FLEXION

shoulder flexion function of the biceps
When you get a full contraction of the biceps, it can also flex the shoulder because it crosses the shoulder.

Some exercises can actually work all three functions: elbow supination, elbow flexion and shoulder flexion. There are some that can put all these functions in proper alignment with each other so the line of pull is optimal.

ALL 3 FUNCTIONS

all 3 functions of the biceps
You can visualize all 3 functions of the biceps: (1) elbow supination, (2) elbow flexion and (3) shoulder flexion.

As I chose exercises for the Perfect Biceps Workout, you’ll see that I’ve incorporated ones that challenge all three of these movement types.

THE STRENGTH CURVE OF THE BICEPS

Biceps exercises have different strength curves, meaning that they will create a stronger contraction either in the either in the beginning, middle, or end of the biceps’ range of motion.

Below are a few examples of different exercises and their strength curves so that you can see what I mean.

STRONGEST CONTRACTION IN THE MIDDLE: barbell curl

barbell curl strongest biceps contraction in the middle of the strength curve
In a regular Barbell Curl, the strength curve is somewhat easy in the beginning of the movement, most difficult in the middle, and very easy toward the end.

STRONGEST CONTRACTION AT THE END: banded dumbbell curl

banded dumbbell curl strongest contraction at the end of the strength curve
In a Dumbell Curl with Resistance Band, the beginning is easiest and it becomes more difficult toward the end because the band is maximally stretched and causes peak tension.

STRONGEST CONTRACTION AT THE BEGINNING: incline dumbbell curl

incline dumbbell curl strongest biceps contraction at the beginning of the strength curve
The Incline Dumbbell Curl is most difficult in the early portion of the range of motion.

You’ll see that across the entire Perfect Biceps Workout, I’ve chosen exercises that direct tension to the biceps in the beginning, middle, and the end of the biceps’ range of motion.

THE best BICEPS WORKOUT: step by step

In structuring the Perfect Biceps Workout, I wanted to be sure we took into account all three muscle groups, all three biceps functions and the three areas of the strength curve to ensure that the workout is truly comprehensive.

Because the biceps are a hinge joint, there is some limitation on which exercises we can do.

Everything is pretty much going to look like some variation of a curl!

This means that you have to rely on intensity techniques more than any other muscle group to heighten the overall intensity and effect of the workout.

1A. AND 1B. THE ‘BIG EXERCISE’

As we always do in our perfect workouts, we’ll start this routine off with a big exercise. 

It’s a different variation of the curl: a Cheat Curl into a drop set with a Barbell Drag Curl. The Cheat Curl gives us an opportunity to create great eccentric overload because we are cheating a bit through the concentric portion of the exercise.

CHEAT CURL

cheat curl biceps exercise
The Cheat Curl helps us create eccentric overload because we are ‘cheating’ through the concentric portion.

After doing the Cheat Curl, we’ve set ourselves up for a mechanical drop set. Instead of a regular drop set in which we lower the weight we’re using, we’re going to take the same weight we used in the Cheat Curl and shorten the movement.

We’ll do this by moving our elbows from out in front of our body back into a Drag Curl, and we’re still able to keep the reps coming.

With the position of the elbow back behind the body we’re achieving another one of our goals of hitting the long head of the biceps a bit more preferentially.

DRAG CURL

drag curl biceps exercise
Moving from the Cheat Curl to a mechanical drop set with the Drag Curl allows us to keep pushing out reps and hits the long head of the biceps a bit more.

EXERCISE NOTES: Perform the Cheat Curl to failure and immediately move into a mechanical drop set of the Drag Curl, taking it to failure as well.  Try to do three sets, resting between each set.

2A. AND 2B. HITTING ALL 3 FUNCTIONS WITH OVERLOAD

Our next combo begins with another heavy exercise that gives us the option to overload the biceps: the Weighted Chin Up.

This is one of my favorite exercises because it hits all three functions of the biceps.  We have to flex the elbow to grab the bar and pull.  To get into the chin up position we have to have a supinated forearm. We also get flexion of the shoulder to help us get peak contraction of the biceps because we have our arm out in front of our body to grab the bar.

WEIGHTED CHIN UP

weighted chin up
The Weighted Chin Up hits all three functions of the bicep: elbow supination, elbow flexion and shoulder flexion.

We can utilize an intensity technique if we pair up the Weighted Chin Up in a drop set with the Peak Contraction Chin Up. We’re going to use this as a burnout to the previous set, and we’re only going to focus on repping out in that final contracted state of the biceps.

We know that we’re limited by our options for biceps training, and this technique takes our normal chin up exercise to another level.

PEAK CONCENTRATION CHIN UP

peak contraction chinup
We’ll pair the Weighted Chin Up with this Peak Contraction Chin Up as a burnout in that final contracted state of the biceps.

EXERCISE NOTES: Perform the Weighted Chin Up to failure, and immediately strip off the weight and go into a drop set of the Peak Contraction Chin Up to failure. Do three sets, resting between each set.

3. ACTIVE SUPINATION

While the benefits of big exercises like the Barbell Curl and the Weighted Chin Up can’t be ignored, we also have to be willing to accept that there are some limitations.

In my mind, the biggest limitation of these exercises is that in both, there is no active supination being resisted. In both exercises I’m isometrically grabbing in a supinated position, but I’m not going through the act of supination against resistance.

So we will have to address that separately in our Perfect Biceps Workout, and we can do so with the Banded Dumbbell Curl.

BANDED DUMBBELL CURL

banded dumbbell curl
The Banded Dumbbell Curl gives you the opportunity to work active supination against resistance, which is missing in our ‘big exercises’.

The Banded Dumbbell Curl also gives us the ability to increase peak tension on the biceps throughout the range of motion.

In a regular Dumbbell Curl the contraction peaks at the midpoint of the movement and then dies off. When we add a band to it, the tension picks up right where it dies off and it continues to the end range of the movement.

EXERCISE NOTES: Perform three sets of the Banded Dumbbell Curl to failure, resting in between sets.  Choose a weight that’s a bit less than your 10 -12RM, realizing that adding the band will make this exercise more difficult.

4. STRETCH REFLEX – BEGINNING OF range of MOTION

We don’t want to neglect the beginning portion of the biceps’ range of motion, and the Incline Dumbbell Curl is the ideal exercise to achieve peak contraction there.

This exercise also serves another purpose.  Because of the position of the arm back behind the body, we’ve just placed a little more stress on the long head of the biceps because it’s on more stretch.

INCLINE DUMMBELL CURL

incline dumbbell curl
The Incline Dumbbell Curl is the best exercise for hitting the biceps in the beginning portion of the strength curve.

We can take further advantage of the long head being on stretch using another intensity technique, which is actively contracting the triceps.  We know when we do that we can antagonistically shut off the biceps, or at least allow for a greater stretch of the biceps. This gives us a stronger contraction coming out of the bottom of the dumbbell curl.

perform an active contraction of the triceps in the incline dumbbell curl
The active contraction of the triceps gives us a greater stretch on the biceps, therefore allowing us to get a stronger contraction out of the bottom of the Incline Dumbbell Curl.

EXERCISE NOTES: Perform Incline Dumbbell Curls for three sets to failure, resting in between sets.

5. INTENSITY, SHOULDER ROTATION AND BRACHIALIS

We’re going to wrap up this Perfect Biceps Workout with our Dumbbell Biceps Curl Trifecta.

We’ve got three exercises that are going to do three different things for us:

  1. We’re going to keep the set going, giving us an intensification over our usual set of 12 reps.
  2. We’re going to work the rotation of the shoulder.
  3. We’re going to hit that all-important brachialis muscle that we haven’t addressed yet!

The first piece of this combo is the Supinated Cross Body Curl which allows us to preferentially hit the long head of the biceps.

SUPINATED CROSS BODY CURL

supinated crossbody curl biceps exercise
The Supinated Cross Body Curl allows us to preferentially hit the long head of the biceps.

As we supinate and come across the body in the Supinated Cross Body Curl, we are looking straight at the outer head of the biceps.

contraction of long head of the outer biceps in supination
You can feel the contraction on the outer portion of the biceps as you squeeze and supinate.

Our second rep in the combo is going to be a Pronated Cross Body Curl.

PRONATED CROSS BODY CURL

pronated cross body curl biceps exercise
The Pronated Cross Body Curl emphasizes the brachialis muscle.

When we pronate we shift the load to the elbow flexor, which is the brachialis.

pronated cross body curl hits brachialis
You can feel that the load of the Pronated Cross Body Curl is preferentially hitting the brachialis.

Now we want to work the outward rotation of the shoulder opposite to what we were doing previously.  We’ll do this with the No Money Curl.

NO MONEY CURL

no money curl biceps exercise
The No Money Curl works external rotation of the shoulder, and preferentially hits the short head of the biceps.

In addition to working external shoulder rotation, the No Money Curl favors the short head, or inner portion of the biceps. Again, this is not isolation but a greater influence on this inner head.

no money curl hits short head of the biceps
The No Money Curl favors the short head of the biceps.

You’ll be alternating these 3 positions for 24 total reps in a set.

alternate through all 3 types of curls in the curl trifecta
In this combo you’ll alternate the 3 types of curl: the Supinated Cross Body Curl, the Pronated Cross Body Curl and the No Money Curl.

EXERCISE NOTES: Perform the Dumbbell Curl Trifecta by alternating Supinated Cross Body Curl, Pronated Cross Body Curl and No Money Curl for 24 reps.  Do 2 complete sets resting in between. The Supinated Cross Body Curl emphasizes the long head of the biceps.  The Pronated Cross Body Curl emphasizes the brachialis.  The No Money Curl favors the short head of the biceps.

THE WORKOUT

So, here is the entire Perfect Biceps Workout step by step, all sets, all reps for you to follow.

You should feel your biceps like never before because we’ve addressed every, single component of biceps training, all in one selection of exercises.

PERFECT BICEPS WORKOUT

1A. BARBELL CHEAT CURLS – 3 SETS TO FAILURE (PERFORM AS DROP SET WITH 1B.)

1B. BARBELL DRAG CURLS – TO FAILURE

2A. WEIGHTED CHIN UPS – 3 SETS TO FAILURE (PERFORM AS DROP SET WITH 2B.)

2B. PEAK CONTRACTION CHIN CURLS – TO FAILURE

3. BANDED DB CURLS – 3 SETS TO FAILURE

4. DB INCLINE CURLS – 2 SETS TO FAILURE (STRETCH REFLEX)

5. DB CURL TRIFECTA – 2 SETS (ALTERNATE POSITIONS FOR A TOTAL OF 8 REPS IN EACH POSITION, EACH ARM)

The Perfect Biceps Workout contains exercises that not only hit the long and short head but also the brachialis, a totally separate muscle. In addition, it puts the biceps through its full range of motion and utilizes both the flexion and supination of the elbow and the flexion of the shoulder. Finally, to round out your biceps I’ve also included techniques that create unique stresses on the muscle giving it no choice but respond.

athleanx
THE HIGHLIGHT REEL:
THE PERFECT BICEPS WORKOUT
  1. That classic advice to ‘just do curls’ or ‘don’t train the biceps directly’ is just wrong. It’s simply not enough if you want to take your biceps development to the next level.
  2. The biceps has a short head and a long head. The brachialis muscle isn’t part of the biceps, but it plays a large part in the width of your biceps.
  3. There are three major functions of the biceps that the Perfect Biceps Workout should cover: elbow supination, elbow flexion and shoulder flexion
  4. There are also three separate parts of the biceps strength curve, and different exercises maximize contraction in different parts of the strength curve.
  5. This Perfect Biceps Workout is structured to work the entire biceps and brachialis, and also covers all three major functions of the biceps and every portion of the biceps strength curve.

As you can see, you don’t have to work out for hours and hours at a time to get results. If you choose the best exercises and apply the right techniques you can get a lot from your workouts in a much shorter period of time. If you’re looking for a complete program that puts the science back in strength and gives you all the best exercises and techniques, check out our ATHLEAN-X Training Programs.

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