Bulging biceps have always been considered a part of the ideal physique. I mean, who hasn’t posed for a photo with their arms flexed?
Walk into a ‘globo gym’ around 5pm any night of the week and you will see someone standing smack bang in front of the mirror working their guns…guaranteed!
Anyone who trains and claims to have never done bicep curls at some point is lying!
Is it all for aesthetics…
Are curls really the best exercise…
Now before I cop the wrath of every body builder and many coaches, I don’t want to open any arguments on what is ‘functional exercise’. I don’t want to say bicep curls should not be included in your strength program.
- You need to understand the functional anatomy of the bicep in order to train the ‘entire’ muscle effectively
- You absolutely can not hike your shoulders to compensate in any way (unless you want to pay me money to fix your shoulder)
The Biceps are the Most Poorly Strengthened Muscle in the Gym
We hardly ever actually train our bicep for what it is designed to do. As you may know there are two parts of the biceps, which include the short head and the long head.
The long head is designed for control of the front of the shoulder while the arm is either raising or lowering.
The short head of the bicep is designed to help bend the elbow and rotate it at the same time.
It also strengthens the front when the elbow is straight.
When you’re required to hold your arm straight under tension whether in a handstand or with a bar overhead your short head of biceps is loaded.
Curls Are Not The Best Exercise To Strengthen Your Biceps
Yes, they will help develop muscle size and are fantastic in building strength through elbow flexion. But the brachialis is the power muscle in that movement...not the biceps.
Don’t throw away curls though.
Incorporate a couple of accessory exercises to work the bicep in line with its full functional capacity.
Two Best Bicep Accessory Exercises
- Ring Hold For Time
This forces the biceps, particularly the short head, to work stupidly hard to stabilise the front of the elbow joint
- Bicep Front Raise
A very similar exercise to a traditional shoulder front raise, however, the difference is you want your arms supinated so the palms are facing up to the ceiling. This enables you to really strengthen the long head in particular.
Just remember, these are accessory exercises.
Whilst they will improve the functional strength of the bicep they definitely won’t give you good guns!
Coming back to the good old bicep curl. You may recall I mentioned previously that you need to avoid hiking your shoulders. Here’s why...
Bicep Curls With Poor Shoulder and Scapular Mechanics Creates A Cascade Of Dysfunctions Leading To Anterior Shoulder Pain
This is what happens when you hike your shoulders with the bicep curl…
- The front of the shoulder sits in a compromised position.
- This forces you to create a stronger brachialis contraction and creates an imbalance with the biceps
- The poor long head of bicep designed to stabilize your shoulder becomes inhibited. This puts way too much pressure in the elbow joint itself
- You then recruit other muscles like pec and anterior deltoid to position your shoulders well enough to actually generate the power needed to bend the elbow
Now here’s something interesting…
The previous four points are exactly why I believe
The Preacher Curl Should Be Thrown Out The Window
This curl variation starts you in a position that makes it impossible to perform a bicep curl without hiking. Well unless you find a good piece of equipment, which was made solely for you and your limbs!
The preacher curl set up all but forces your shoulders to hike up in order for you to be in the right position. Without hiking there is no way your elbows can be rested on the slanted ‘support’ pad.
So the bottom line is this…
Keep Your Shoulders Happy and Elbows Safe
Be smart and train your bicep according to all its functions and not just elbow flexion.
Plus... don’t hike your shoulder in any variation of the bicep curl. It’s just poor form!