Looking for a little ripple in your biceps when you flex your arms? Firm, defined biceps look better in a tank top and they show you’re in good shape. Your arms are one of the most visible parts of your body, especially when they’re exposed in the summer.
Biceps strength is no less important. You need strong biceps to reduce your risk of injury when you’re doing compound exercises including exercises that target your lower body like deadlifts. Plus, strong biceps help you lift heavy things in everyday life like a child, a pet, furniture or a big box. Biceps strength is also essential if you play sports. So, don’t be afraid to work your biceps exercises using resistance heavy enough to build strength.
Needless to say, you won’t develop massive biceps, if you’re a female, even if you approach your biceps workout with intensity. Most women don’t have the hormonal structure to get big, bulky biceps. You need heavy resistance and enough volume to develop shapely biceps, especially if you’re female. Research shows females have a harder time developing their upper body than their lower body. Women also have a smaller proportion of their lean body tissue distributed in their upper body relative to men. Therefore, you need to devote time to training your upper body to create a balanced physique.
What’s Are the Best Biceps Exercises?
A number of exercises target the biceps muscles. Hammer curls, dumbbell curls, are just a few of the exercises that work this body part. But which of these exercises are best? A study carried out by ACE Fitness and the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse looked at this question.
Researchers asked 16 healthy young volunteers, both men and women, to do the most common exercises that target the biceps. The volunteers weren’t novices. Each had had enough weight-lifting experience to do the exercises correctly and use proper form. As the participants did the exercises, researchers measured the degree of muscle activation using an EMG machine. Their goal? To see which exercises were most effective at activating the biceps muscles. The exercises they looked at included barbell curls, cable curls, concentration curls, chin-ups, EZ curls, preacher curls and incline curls.
The results? One exercise stood out from the rest due to its superior level of biceps activation – the concentration curl. The worst of the group was the preacher curl. Why was the concentration curl the best of the bunch? This exercise isolated the biceps muscles better than the others. Preacher curls and inclined curls recruit the anterior deltoid muscles in addition to the biceps. This takes some of the load off the biceps. Concentration curls force the biceps to bear most of the load.
Based on this study, the most effective biceps exercises from best to worst were concentration curls, cable curls, chin-ups, barbell curls, EZ curls (wide grip), EZ curl (narrow grip), incline curls and preacher curls. Does this mean you should abandon other biceps exercises and focus exclusively on concentration curls? Definitely not. You need to work your biceps muscles in different ways to keep getting results. What it DOES show is the importance of including concentration curls in your biceps training program if you want to build maximal definition and strength.
How to Do a Concentration Curl
Sit on a bench or other surface. Spread your legs and place your feet firmly on the floor. Pick up a dumbbell and place the arm holding the dumbbell on top of your inner thigh to stabilize your arm. Rotate your palm forward so it’s pointed up and extend your arm. Keeping your upper arm firmly against your thigh, slowly bring the dumbbell up towards your shoulder as you exhale. Nothing should move except the dumbbell. Continue contracting your biceps until the dumbbell is level with your shoulder. Hold this position for a few seconds and slowly lower the weight back down.
Some people do standing concentration curls. When doing a standing concentration curl, you have to bend forward so the dumbbell hangs down in front of you and hold your arm stationary. Doing standing concentration curls puts strain on your back and shoulders, especially if you don’t use good form. Probably best to avoid standing concentration curls if you have back or shoulder issues.
Make Sure Your Biceps Exercises Workout is Balanced
The muscle group that opposes your biceps is your triceps. For balance, focus on strengthening your triceps muscles as much as your biceps to avoid a strength imbalance. Strength imbalances increase your risk for injury. Plus, it’s more aesthetically pleasing to have balanced muscle definition. Some people train their biceps more than their triceps. Don’t make this common mistake.
Don’t forget that biceps curls and their variations are isolation exercises. They work a single muscle or single muscle group. As a result, they don’t burn as many calories as compound exercises that work more than one muscle group at the same time. If you’re trying to lose fat, focus a greater portion of your workout time on compound exercises due to the additional calorie burn and metabolic benefits they offer. You can turn biceps exercises into a compound movements by doing squats with biceps curls. Holding dumbbells in your hands, squat until your thigh as parallel with the floor. Slowly rise. When you reach the starting position, slowly bring the dumbbells up to shoulder height before lowering them. Bent-over rows are another compound exercise that works your biceps.
Here’s something to keep in mind. Compound exercises burn more calories, increase your heart rate more, mimic real-life activities and save time while isolation exercises target a specific muscle or muscle group and work it in a focused manner. If you have a muscle that’s not as developed as other muscles, you can use isolation exercises to target it with intensity.
The Bottom Line?
Certain biceps exercises, like concentration curls, activate your biceps more but your ultimate goal should be to do a balanced workout. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for greater biceps definition, concentration curls are a good exercise to include in your fitness routine.
Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1993;66(3):254-62.
ACE Fitness. “ACE Study Reveals Best Biceps Exercises”
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