Out of all the muscles in the body, the most famous are the biceps. The fresh gym-goer loves to train them, the seasoned professional loves to flex them, and everyone else in between loves to see them. So it's no surprise that at any time you walk into the gym, someone is pumping up their biceps. But how do we do it most effectively? This article will delve into the findings of science to reveal the best exercise for biceps growth, to ensure you're training as effectively as possible.
Bicep Anatomy: How to train them for maximal growth
The biceps is plural because of the two heads, as visible below:
And when scientists examine all bicep exercises, they conclude the most effective one is the concentration curl (1,2).
One of the studies measured how much each exercise worked the biceps, and ranked them in the following order:
1. Concentration curl (~98% activation)
2. Cable curl (~81% activation)
3. Chin-up (~80% activation)
4. Barbell curl (~76% activation)
5. EZ curl (wide grip) (~75% activation)
6. EZ curl (narrow grip) (~72% activation)
7. Incline curl (~71% activation)
8. Preacher curl (~70% activation)
The concentration curl is so effective because it takes out the use of the anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder), that's utilised quite heavily during other bicep exercises (3).
With this in mind, we could create a bicep workout utilising the following:
1. Seated Concentration Curls
And here it is, the finest bicep exercise of them all!
First three sets:
First set = 12 reps
Second set set = 10 reps
Third set = 10 reps
Then we move into the final three sets, and there's a very specific way we'll do this. We'll call them the assisted concentration curls:
Step 1: Use a weight that's around 20-30% heavier than you'd normally use
Step 2: Use your free hand to lift it up on the contraction (so in the above image, the model would use her left hand to help lift the weight up).
Step 3: Lower the weight as slowly as possible using ONLY the arm you're training (the right arm in the model above).
Why do we do this? Research has found it increased bicep activation by 40 percent! (7).
First set= 8 reps
Second set set = 6 reps
Third set = 6 reps
2. Standing Barbell curl
First set= 12 reps
Second set set = 10 reps
Third set = 8 reps
Fourth set = 6 reps
Remember: Slow on the way down (the eccentric contraction) and explosive on the way up.
1. 3 x Seated Concentration Curls (12 reps, 10, 10).
2. 3 x Assisted Concentration Curls (8 reps, 6, 6).
3. 4 x Standing Barbell curl (12 reps, 10, 8, 6).
You don't always need to choose the same exercises. You'll see from the list which other exercises are effective that you can also utilise to your advantage.
You can perform this bicep workout after a larger muscle group like back or chest. Or, if you're doing full-body workouts, be sure to include concentration curls when it's time to train biceps; science says there's no better strategy!
(1) Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000.
(3) Landin D, Thompson M, Jackson MR. Actions of the Biceps Brachii at the Shoulder: A Review. J Clin Med Res. 2017;9(8):667-670. doi:10.14740/jocmr2901w