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Bicep Training For Bodybuilders

Biceps, without a doubt, are most people’s favourite muscle to train. Strength and masculinity from a cultural perspective are synonymous with big biceps. They are the most talked about and compared muscle: for it is not uncommon to hear the phrase ‘how big your guns are mate?’ Biceps come in a range of shapes and sizes, ranging from long, short, some with high peaks, some with low peaks, some that display enormous thickness and those that do not. Your potential to develop truly awesome biceps is largely predetermined by genetics. Those of you with shorter levers have probably found it relatively easy to develop your biceps. In contrast, those of you who are taller and generally have longer levers have probably found your development to be somewhat slower. Irrespective of your genetic potential, the right exercises, intensity and an appropriate application of macronutrients to facilitate recovery, should see you well on your way to developing awesome guns of your own. The 20 inch plus guns of the pros may be out of reach for most of us, but a vascular, well defined set of arms is still rated as the most desirable physical attribute to the opposite sex. Let’s have a look at the anatomy and physiology of this small yet extremely popular muscle.

Basic Anatomy & Physiology of the Biceps

The biceps is located on the front of the upper arm and has two heads: a long and a short head. The long head is long and slender, whilst the short head is more muscular and has two distinct parts of equal length. Both heads originate on the shoulder blade and attach onto the outermost bone of the forearm, when the palm is uppermost. The biceps is responsible for bending the elbow and rotating the palm upwards. In addition, it also assists in moving the arm forward of the body, and bringing the arm toward the midline of the body when it is held out to the side at the horizontal.

Advanced Anatomy & Physiology of the Biceps

The biceps brachii (biceps = two heads & brachii = arm) is a prominent fusiform muscle on the anterior side of the upper arm. It has two heads, which are as follows:

  • Long head – originates on the supraglenoid tubercle of the scapula and inserts onto the radial tuberosity and the deep fascia on the medial part of the forearm, and
  • Short head – originates on the coracoid process of the scapula and has the same insertion as the long head.

It is responsible for the following muscle actions:

  • Elbow joint flexion,
  • Radioulnar joint supination,
  • Shoulder joint flexion (helper), and
  • Shoulder joint horizontal adduction (helper).

Training Exercises for Biceps

The following table identifies exercises for the long head of the biceps and the percent (out of 100) emg activity:

Exercise

% EMG

Preacher curl (Olympic bar)

90

Incline seated dumbbell curl (alternate)

88

Standing dumbbell curl with arm blaster

87

Incline seated dumbbell curl (supinating forearm)

86

Standing barbell curl (Olympic bar with narrow grip)

86

Incline seated dumbbell curl (palms up)

84

Standing alt dumbbell curl

84

Concentration curl

80

Standing barbell curl (Olympic bar with wide grip)

63

Standing ez bar curl (wide grip)

61

 

No emg data for the short head was available; however, MRI has also been used to determine how the biceps respond to various exercises. The results are as follows:

  • In a standing barbell curl, standing ez bar curl and standing dumbbell curl, the short head contracts maximally, whilst the long head is used moderately.
  • In a standing dumbbell curl with a neutral grip (hammer curl), the long head of the biceps is used maximally whilst the short head is used moderately.
  • In a standing dumbbell curl with lateral rotation, inclined seated dumbbell curl with lateral rotation, and a seated incline dumbbell curl with palms up, both the short and long heads contract maximally.
  • In an incline seated dumbbell curl with a neutral grip, the long head is the major contributor, whilst the short head is only used moderately.
  • In a standing barbell curl with a straight bar and a narrow grip, the short and long head contract maximally.

The Final Word on Bicep Training

In order to maximally develop your biceps with the genetics you were given, make sure you select those exercises that not only recruit both heads maximally, but exercises that will specifically target the long head (for biceps peak), and the short head (for thickness). Additionally, remember that the biceps laterally rotate the forearm, as well as flex the elbow. The biceps are recruited quite heavily in back training, and to a lesser degree chest and shoulder training; consequently, it is quite easy to overtrain them. Be cognisant of cumulative training volume and don’t let your desire to be armed and dangerous be a precursor for an overuse injury.

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