5 Bicep Exercises You Have Never Heard of!
It seems that of all the different muscles, biceps, the most coveted and arguably most impressive of groupings, are also most frequently given the afterthought treatment.
Well-meaning (or often downright lazy) lifters may tack two or three traditional curl variations (commonly the bar curl, incline dumbbell curl or standing alternate curl) on the end of a back workout and call it a day. Such lifters may even spice things up from time to time with a set or two of concentration or preacher curls to hit a few additional fibers.
The problem is, even with adherence to important growth principals such as progressive overload, time under tension (TUT) and metabolic stress accumulation, the body quickly adjusts to the same movements performed regularly. Stagnation sets in and results may cease.
Stagnation sets in and results may cease.
The key to impressive biceps growth, then, is to flesh-out your repertoire of biceps movements before even attempting the flesh out the biceps themselves. And we are lucky to have the assistance of IFBB Pro, Team ALLMAX Nutrition athlete and training expert Brett Khan to help us do just that.
So if you’re struggling to add another inch to your guns, or wish to further optimize their current level of impressiveness, keep reading as Brett takes you through five biceps training variations you’ve never heard of; variations that’ll have your tailors on standby fixing shirt sleeves and your closest friends to questioning your latest supplement stack.
Each of the following movements can be strategically scheduled into your current routine or you may even wish to perform them back to back in one killer biceps workout. Since each movement varies in its angle of resistance and level of muscle fiber engagement, you’ll be hitting the biceps with more combined force than ever before. So be sure to take your ALLMAX IMPACT and AMINOCORE, pre and intra workout respectively, to enhance your staying power and keep your training intensity ultra high.
Variation One: Zottman Curl
As with all the variations to follow, the first set of Zottman Curls is to be done with a light weight to thoroughly warm the working muscles. Each rep of each set is performed in a controlled and super strict manner.
The starting and end point of each rep will stay the same. This means no swinging, and no shoulder, back, or elbow movement beyond that needed to successfully lengthen and contract the biceps. Brett locks his joints in place and proceeds from there.
Adopting a supinated grip, with hands facing forward, complete a regular dumbbell biceps curl, being sure to squeeze and contract at the top of the movement. Once full concentric contraction has been achieved rotate the hands upside down to achieve pronation at the wrist joint before slowly lowering the weight to keep maximum tension on the bis while improving the mind/muscle connection. Don’t go to full lockout. Instead, maintain a slight elbow bend to keep muscle tension high.
Remember to keep the elbows fixed and do not move the shoulders. This movement can be performed standing or seated. You may wish to drop the weight you’d normally use on a dumbbell curl by 10-20 percent, up the reps slightly, and really go for the burn.
Variation Two: Barbell Concentration Curl
When it comes to hitting the biceps we usually think of barbells in relation to heavy cheat curls and maximum mass-building. The following unique movement uses the bar in the complete opposite way: to isolate the biceps through super strict partial contractions, but to achieve the same outcome: more lean mass.
As opposed to the remainder of the movements in this series, the Barbell Concentration Curl emphasizes the upper portion of the movement to cram as muscle blood as possible into the biceps. By limiting (shortening) the range of motion to the top 50 percent, more tension can be kept on the biceps than when aiming for a full negative (with its inevitable pause at the bottom).
From a seated position, with bar resting on the upper quads, curl bar to a full contraction with shoulders pinned back and chest out. Upon full concentric contraction slowly lower the bar to just above the upper quads. Without any rest, curl it straight back up.
Again, keep elbows fixed at the sides and drag out each negative rep for a full 2-3 seconds. An EZ curl bar or dumbbells can be used in place of a bar if forearm or wrist discomfort is experienced.
Variation Three: Standing Barbell Drag Curl
The rarely-used drag curl emphasizes the long head (outer portion) of the biceps along with the difficult to target brachialis. It can be a difficult movement to perform as it does not call for a lot of weight (just enough for complete control) but does demand ultra strict form and continuous tension.
Getting all three of these mandatory grow prerequisites perfect can be difficult for some (especially the lowering the weight part, as one’s ego must be taken from the equation) but in order to fully develop the bis (and brachialis) it’s essential to do so.
From a standing position leaning forward 5-10 degrees and imagine the weight as an elevator: instead of curling it out and away from the body (as with a traditional biceps curl), bring elbows behind the body and drag the bar up the stomach and toward the chest (keeping the bar in contact with the body at all times).
Keep the shoulders down (no shrugging) and progressively pull the elbows back as the weight makes its ascent. To achieve more of a peak contraction, raise the elbows forward at the top of the movement so that the upper arm is parallel with the ground.
Variation Four: Lying Dumbbell Curl
The Lying Dumbbell Curl can be performed on a flat bench or, as Brett prefers, on a 15 degree incline to alleviate tension on the shoulder joint. This movement’s major benefit is the tremendous stretch both biceps heads receive on the negative contraction.
Such a stretch pulls apart the muscle fascia to allow more blood into the muscle (to enhance the pump and to create more growth-inducing metabolic stress) and to enhance muscular expansion and subsequent growth. This movement primarily stimulates the long head of the biceps. So if you’re having trouble building those mini-mountains, otherwise known as the biceps peaks, this movement is for you.
Again, a lighter than normal weight is to be used to ensure proper form and a super-forceful squeeze at the top. Begin by placing legs on the bench and lying flat with shoulder blades pinched (thus retracting the scapular) to keep the shoulders back and locked in place.
With minimal motion at the elbow, curl the weight with palms facing up for the duration of each rep. keep elbows down (do not let them drift forward). Squeeze and contact biceps at the top for a one-count before slowly lowering the weight to a full stretch.
Variation Five: Prone Dumbbell Hammer Curl
A great movement for accentuating the thickness of the brachialis muscles along with both biceps heads and the brachioradialis, the Prone Hammer Curl could be considered one of the better upper arm mass builders. In addition, because the body is fixed in place by the bench and the elbow is thus in a biomechanically stronger position, more weight can be utilized to really pack on the mass.
For that desired 3D effect (where the muscles appear to ‘pop’ from all angles), the hammer curl is essential for upper arm freakiness. The prone variation is all the more effective and should be used as more than just a mere finisher at the end of a back session.
Set an adjustable bench at a 45 degree incline and lie face down on it. Unlike with some of the movements featured above, more weight can be enlisted to maximize the effectiveness of the Prone Hammer Curl.
Once a sufficiently heavy weight has been selected, position the chest at the top of the bench and let the arms hang straight down. Keeping the elbows and shoulders fixed, curl both dumbbells up together to around 90 degrees. Squeeze hard at the top and lower slowly.
A New Way to Fry the Biceps
While there’s no debating the effectiveness of the standard biceps curl, there exist a plethora of alternatives, variations that can be enlisted to refresh your training plan to spark new growth. Consider the five movements featured above to be the best of the biceps training variations.
Seldom used but nevertheless effective in stimulating massive amounts of lean mass, each can be cycled in and out of your program at different times or combined to produce one of the most intense biceps routines ever devised.
Lighter weights: always select a weight that allows perfect form and a maximum amount of continuous tension to be placed on the working muscles. If a weight cannot be lifted without breaking form (shoulder and elbow joint recruitment) then chances are the weight is too heavy.
Lock it in: unless otherwise specified, each of the above listed movements requires strict emphasis on keeping the elbows and shoulders locked into place. In most cases, the only part that should be moving is the forearms.
Slow it down: wherever possible, keep each movement slow and continuous (with the exception of a peak contraction at the top of each rep). No bouncing or jerking the weight up, just perfect control from extension to contraction.
Keep elbows slightly bent at the bottom: one way to keep maximum tension on the biceps is to ensure that the elbows stay slightly bent at the bottom of each rep (unless otherwise specified). Rather than going to full lockout, and thus removing tension from the bis, keep the working muscles in state of complete contraction throughout each rep. Here, the muscle can still be adequately stretched without running the risk of losing tension and blood volume to the muscle.
Keep intensity high: be sure to hit each of these above movements the same way you would a larger muscle grouping. Though the biceps are a smaller muscle complex, do not view the movements used to stimulate the biceps as ‘finishers’. View them as key builders in their own right, go to complete failure on each set, and aim for maximum intensity at all times.
Recover fully: the most important variable of all, proper recovery, will ensure the effective training outlined in this article is translated into lean muscle. The most effective way to engage this process is to quickly replenish the muscles post-training with a serving of C:VOL (which includes an ultra fast creatine delivery system) and ISOFLEX (a premier grade protein formula for rapid assimilation and muscle protein synthesis).
Structuring the Variations
On back day
At the end of 2-3 weekly back sessions per month incorporate three of the above movements along with one traditional biceps lift (such as the standing bar curl). Find a great example in our downloadable workout pdf below.
Combine all five in one ultra-intense biceps session
The following downloadable workout can be performed once every 3-4 weeks to initiate some serious size gains. Be sure to complete this workout on its own (with no accompanying body parts); also, no biceps training is to be done following back training the week this workout is performed.
Feel free also to rearrange from session to session the order in which these exercises are performed.