By Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CPT Prosource
Goal: Size, Strength
Those who want bigger biceps must do...(insert your exercise of choice here). Did you say barbell curls? Congratulations on being predictable. Like many of the other primary mass-builders we've covered in this series, barbell curls are great in that they allow a lifter to use a significant amount of weight. But unlike some other moves, going extremely heavy on the barbell curl can come at a cost -- namely, injured shoulders, strained biceps tendons and wrists. Take a look at your gym's resident strongman. Chances are, he uses plenty of body English to get through his heaviest sets, allowing his elbows to travel forward and forcing his front delts -- not to mention his legs -- to accept some of the workload. This is a less-than-stellar approach to building biceps for a number of reasons. Instead, we suggest you cozy up to the incline dumbbell curl for perfectly pumped peaks.
Incline Dumbbell Curls, in Focus:
The incline dumbbell curl is performed the same way you'd perform regular dumbbell curls, only with you lying back on a bench set to about 30-45 degrees. This position places your biceps' long, outer head at a prestretch, meaning that it gets worked harder. This portion of your biceps is the highest part of your peak during a biceps pose. To get it right, keep your upper arms perpendicular to the floor and keep your elbows still throughout each rep. If you begin with a neutral grip, you can recruit your forearms to assist in the move, which is good on your heaviest sets.
You have to remember, the biceps don't require a lot of weight for maximum stimulation and innervation, says Jimmy Pena, MS, CSCS, a Los Angeles-based exercise physiologist and founder of PrayFit (www.prayfit.com). Research shows that you can stimulate muscle growth just as well by working between 20-30 reps, so long as you work to failure." Plus, the stretch on your shoulders requires more moderate loads to avoid unwanted stress.
Since your back is flat against the bench, you can forget about swinging, which means that your biceps will be forced to do all the work. When standing, many lifters allow their shoulders and elbows to travel forward, putting the front delts at risk for injury. You don't have to wreck your shoulders to get good arms," Pena says.
People will say barbell curls or drag curls because they're barbell based," Pena says. But those moves have their limitations and I think the incline dumbbell curl is fantastic for building bigger, better-looking biceps because they require more control and concentration."
Work it in: You don't have to rely solely on the incline dumbbell curl for better biceps -- but you could benefit by moving it up higher in your normal routine, as with the workout below. After a short warm-up, start your working sets with incline dumbbell curls, when you're strongest. Follow it with traditional barbell curls and finish off with preachers, which target the short inner head.
Standing Dumbbell Curl* 2/15-25
Incline Dumbbell Curl 4/15
Standing Barbell Curl 4/12
Preacher Curl 4/12-15
* Performed with light weight as a warm-up, not to failure.