Get Armed for Battle

The very best biceps exercises for towering peaks.

Chris Lund

BEST BICEPS MOVE FOR MOUNTAINOUS PEAKS:

EZ-BAR PREACHER CURL

KNEE-JERK REACTION

“Doesn’t the incline curl hit the long head better?”

OUR EXPERTS’ TAKE

As mentioned earlier, the long head of your biceps is most responsible for the “peak” you see when you flex your arms. And with your arms behind you, as with an incline dumbbell curl, the long head is put under stretch to start, which leads to a stronger contraction. So why does Roberts like EZ-bar preachers just a bit better when it comes to reaching your developmental “peak”? “EMG activation studies do show better biceps activation for incline curls than preachers, at least through the first two-thirds of the movement,” he says. “But that’s just one part of the whole picture. Other variables are more important to growing the long head, like the amount of weight you can handle and the intensity you can put into the exercise. The preacher wins on both counts.” Use the inner grip of the EZ-bar, remembering that a narrow grip will help target the long biceps head.

HOW TO DO IT

  • Adjust a preacher bench so that the top of the pad fits securely under your armpits. Take an inside-shoulder-width, underhand grip on the EZ-curl bar—so your palms are angled inward— and position your upper arms parallel to each other on the pad. Your feet should be planted on the floor to provide stability.
  • Contract your biceps to bend your elbows and lift the bar in an arc toward your chin. At the uppermost point, squeeze your bi’s strongly.
  • Slowly return the bar along the same path, stopping just short of full elbow extension—you don’t want to hyperextend your elbows at the bottom.

KEY POINTERS

“Dumbbells are always a good alternative, as they naturally even out your imbalances,” Roberts says. “If you do dumbbells, I suggest always doing one extra set for your weaker arm.”

INTENSIFY IT

To really tear down the muscles, Roberts suggests finishing off preacher curls with a quick, blood-pumping dropset—going down to 70% of the original weight—or five negatives with partner assistance.

Per Bernal

BEST BODY-WEIGHT MOVE:

CLOSE-GRIP CHINUP

KNEE-JERK REACTION

“Isn’t that a back exercise?”

OUR EXPERTS’ TAKE

“This vertical pulling movement can prepare the body for real- life, outside-the-gym scenarios,” says Angelo Grinceri, a New York City-based trainer and the author of Intrinsic Strength Training: A Breakthrough Program for Real-World Functional Strength and True Athletic Power (Dragon Door Publications, 2016). Think climbing a tree or pulling yourself over a fence, if you happen to be on the run from the cops. It matters in more common situations, too—think anytime you have to pull something off a high shelf or toward you. “It’ll also strengthen your grip and your shoulders,” Grinceri adds. While it’s true that, no matter what grip you take, your lats are going to be taking on a fair portion of the load, placing your hands inside shoulder width on the bar, palms facing you, activates the biceps brachii to a significant degree. If you prefer to hit the brachialis, you can switch to a neutral grip, with palms facing each other—you can do this on a pullup apparatus designed for hammer grips or put a close-grip hammer-style V-handle over a standard bar.

HOW TO DO IT

  • Grasp an overhead bar with an underhand grip, hands spaced just a few inches apart.
  • Hang freely with your arms fully extended and ankles crossed behind you.
  • Pull your body upward by flexing your biceps—with an assist from your lats—until your chin crosses the level of the bar.
  • Lower yourself back to the full “dead hang” position (elbows fully extended) under control, then begin the next rep.

KEY POINTERS

“As you pull up, ‘lead’ with your elbows, driving them down and back,” Grinceri says. “Throughout each rep, slow down and control your body—don’t settle for partial or momentum-driven reps. As you advance, consider trying the L-sit, where you lift your legs up to a position parallel to the floor and keep them there throughout the set. It engages the core and makes the movement a little more challenging.”

INTENSIFY IT

Finish a set of regular chins with two to three negatives, where you jump into the top position— elbows bent, chin over the bar—and then lower yourself as slowly as you can. You can use a flat bench to step up and get into the top position, or have a partner cradle your feet to assist you upward. (By the way, beginners who can’t do a regular pullup can start with just negatives, along with static holds at the top of the rep, which helps develop the strength to progress to the full exercise.)

 

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