Mirror muscles are one of the biggest reasons people keep coming back to the gym. Since biceps are one of the biggest mirror muscles, you will probably want to sculpt these bad boys properly so that you can see them grow the way they should. The major muscles that make up the upper arm are the biceps and the triceps. Unfortunately, it seems a lot of people do not even realize there are two main parts to the bicep, not just one – we are talking the long head and the short head. Bicep heads are something you will rarely hear anyone talk about in the gym, but something that can make all the difference in your results.
Here are some common questions that are asked about the two bicep heads and how to attack them:
- What is the short head?
- What is the long head?
- How can I tell which bicep head I am targeting?
- How do I specifically target the short head?
- How do I specifically target the long head?
- How do I build a better bicep peak?
- How do I get thicker biceps?
- Why aren't my biceps growing?
If you are asking yourself any of these questions, you may want to read this article and see if you have been neglecting the two-headed monster. If you would rather watch our video on this, check it out below as well.
Long head – the bicep muscle that runs along the outside of your upper arm. This muscle gives the bicep its peak.
Short head – the bicep muscle that runs along the inside of your upper arm. This muscle gives the bicep thickness.
Something you need to keep in mind is that bicep workouts are not created equal for both of these guys. Some bicep workouts are amazing for the long head, while not doing as much for the short head. The same is true for workouts that target the short head specifically. If you do not realize this, you can end up with really great looking biceps from one angle, but flat looking biceps from another angle. If you only have a really strong long head (outer), your biceps will look huge from the side, but flat from the front. If you only have a really strong short head (inner), your biceps will look thick and huge from the front, but flat from the side, with no nice peak. The goal is to build both at the same rate and build some solid biceps so that no matter which direction someone is looking at you from, it will be a great Rocky Mountain view.
As always in weight lifting, there is much disagreement on how to train the short head or the long head and how to really target each one. Despite the many theories I have heard, I have yet to find an actual study that supports any claims. I am going to tell you about the two theories I frequently come across, what I call Grip Theory vs. Elbow Theory, as well as what I do to train each one. Go to the gym and try what I tell you and see where you feel the burn and the pump and then let me know what your feedback is. In the end, all things workout related will vary slightly with each individual. I am trying to steer you in the right direction by providing you both major theories so you can decide how you want to proceed, based on what feels right for you. You may want to be cautious of anybody who tries to give you an all-knowing answer on this type of thing.
Short and Stout - Maximizing Thickness With the Short Head
Grip Theory (This is what I base my workouts on)
According to this theory, to effectively target your short bicep when using dumbbells or any type of single arm cable curl or other exercise, use a supinated grip (palms up) and focus on keeping your hands as flat as possible or the pinky side of the hand held as high as the rest of the hand or higher, not allowing your hands to angle in towards a neutral or a hammer grip. This will put the maximum stress on the short head of the bicep. If you are doing any type of curl that involves a straight bar or an EZ bar, make sure your grip is at least slightly wider than shoulder width. This will cause the same effect as keeping your palms as flat as possible on the dumbbell grip. Without even using a dumbbell or bar, just take your hand with your palm completely facing up, make a fist, and contract your bicep in a curling motion. You should feel the short head bicep muscle more so than the long head.
The other theory about targeting the short head specifically is that you will effectively hit the short head more so when your elbows are in front of your body, such as the position used in preacher curls. Classic curls are even said to be better for short head growth because the elbow is slightly in front of the body. Although I use the grip theory and can actively feel the difference when I change my grip, I also happen to do a lot of exercises for my short head where my elbows are in front of my body. There is one major exercise that I do for the short head though that a lot of experts say is more beneficial for the long head - the incline dumbbell curl. The way I perform this curl though, is that I keep my hands extremely supinated to the point that the dumbbells can rest flat against the side of my stomach at the peak of the contraction, as you can see in the video to the right. I do agree though that this exercise would be great for the long head with a more natural grip in between supinated and neutral.
Conclusion on Targeting the Short Head
As you can see, it is easy to get carried away with the different theories or philosophies on what targets which head, so I invite you to try each theory or a combination of both and see what works best for you, since you are the important factor in this equation, not somebody else.
Here are my top 3 favorite bicep exercises to target the short head using either theory...
Long and Strong - Building a Mountain Peak With the Long Head
Grip Theory (Again, this is what I base my workouts on)
When targeting the long head of the bicep muscle, obviously you will want to focus on exercises where your grip allows the movement to hit this muscle harder. For dumbbell exercises, this means you will not want to keep your palms completely flat. Opposite of grip for the short head, make sure the thumb side of your hand is at least as high or higher than the rest of the hand. Try either keeping them slightly angled (natural grip) or semi-supinated (hammer grip). When doing straight bar or EZ bar exercises, keep your grip inside of shoulder width. By doing bicep exercises in this way, you will target the long head of the bicep and you should be able to feel this when you do the exercises. I have also found that using a pronated grip (palms down), I feel it in my long head, in addition to my forearms. Give the semi-supinated grip a shot without any weights by clenching your fist with palms facing each other and contracting your bicep in a curling motion.
Opposite of targeting the short head, under this theory, exercises where your elbows are pulled back in relation to your body are said to target the long head better. For instance, the incline dumbbell curl I mentioned earlier is a favorite long head exercise for people who follow this theory. As I said earlier, I can see why this would be the case if you held a more natural grip or a semi-supinated grip, because when your elbows are pulled back like this, the long head of the bicep is stretched much farther and gets a better workout.
Conclusion on Targeting the Long Head
Just as I stated above for the short head, you should be the judge of anything you are doing as part of your workout routine. You can try one theory or a combination of both and see what works best for you.
Here are my top 3 favorite bicep exercises to target the long head using the grip theory…
If you want some really great exercises that I believe hit both heads (based on the grip theory), check out these three exercises that will tear up your whole bicep, long head and short head. These are probably some of my favorite exercises because you can feel them working as you do them and they are pretty easy and straightforward movements. For the Twenty-Ones to be effective for both, make sure you are using an EZ bar with a very neutral grip. For the rope curl with the extension out, make sure you are really giving it a good twist at the top.
As always with bicep exercises, remember not to curl your wrist. When you start to curl your wrist, you are removing the tension from the bicep and moving it more to the forearm, which will prevent your bicep from getting the maximum benefit from the workout. Try to keep your wrists straight and focus on a smooth curl throughout each repetition. If this requires you to go down in weight a little bit, that is better than wasting your energy on cheating your bicep anyways. You will get much better results from a clean rep with a straight wrist at lower weight than you will with a curled wrist at higher weight. That being said, take everything workout related with a grain of salt. If you need to cheat your way through the last couple reps, this can be very beneficial. It just should not become a habit to cheat all the way through all of your sets.
I hope this gives you some good ideas for bicep workouts and that you see some great results from this. Feel free to leave us feedback on this article as well and we would love to hear other people's experiences on what they think works well for targeting each head!
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