Bicep training may seem to be limited to nothing but one curl after another, but there are plenty of options to keep the monotony out of a bicep workout. Variations in hand placement and exercises go a long way towards targeting specific aspects of the muscle as well as keeping your workout interesting. Switching between the many options can help target the bicep fully and develop more complete muscle tone.
Anatomy of the Bicep
Despite the common visual of the single mound on the upper arm, the bicep consists of two “heads” conveniently known as the long head and the short head. Though a single muscle, the bicep attaches at the shoulder by two different tendons. The muscle merges toward the midpoint of the upper arm and inserts into the elbow by a single tendon.
Dumbbells are a great way to work each arm independently. This levels the playing field for both arms and makes sure one side doesn’t rely on the other while moving the weight. Alternating dumbbell curls further isolate each arm since curls are performed one side at a time. Rotating the wrists with each curl -- starting with the knuckles out and rotating the wrist in on the way up to finish with the knuckles down — works every angle of the bicep in one motion.
Barbells can help you move more weight by distributing the weight more evenly across the bar. Both arms work together to move the total weight. Either a straight bar or an EZ Curl Bar can be used to perform preacher curls where the elbows are braced against a pad. Bracing the elbows ensures the work is completely isolated to the biceps as you bend the elbows and eliminates the possibility of cheating by swinging the arms or the body to move the weight. Barbell curls can also be performed standing with the elbows braced against the rib cage.
The biceps can also be targeted with the use of cables. The cables provide a unique challenge by maintaining a consistent tension and resistance from the outset of the movement. Switching between a straight bar attachment, a rope attachment, or using the cables with independent handle attachments provides several options targeting different parts of the bicep. You can find variation even with your basic barbell or dumbbell workout by adjusting your hand position. Whether using a barbell or dumbbells, placing the hands closer together while performing bicep exercises works the long head or outer portion of the bicep. Conversely, grasping a barbell with a wider grip and keeping the elbows close to the body focuses the burn on the short head or inner portion of the bicep. You can even drop the weights all together and throw in chip-ups to challenge the biceps. A close grip or an under-hand grip works the biceps intensely as you move your own body weight.
Jullie Chung writes regularly for various websites. She is a nationally certified fitness trainer and performance enhancement specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and trains regularly in yoga, flatwater kayaking, boxing and mixed martial arts. An avid outdoor fan, she regularly hikes, climbs and trail runs.