Although the biceps brachii is a single muscle, it’s divided into a long head and a short head. These two sections work together to help move the elbow and with supination, or twisting, your forearm. In a well-developed biceps muscle, both the long head and the short head are clearly visible. The short head adds lots of width to the biceps while the long head adds to the biceps peak. Long head exercises are also referred to as peak exercises.
To understand why long head biceps are referred to as biceps peaks, it can be helpful to imagine biceps as being roughly hill-shaped. The short head of the biceps creates the base of the hill and determines how wide it is while the long head creates the rounded shape at the top, just like you would refer to the peak of a mountain.
The biceps muscle is worked out incidentally in many back and chest exercises. For that reason, it’s not necessary to go all-out with moves that target the long head of the biceps specifically. We’ll talk about what kind of workout routine you need, reps requirements, and the 5 best long head biceps exercises in this guide. If you’re trying to get huge peaks, this guide is for you.
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Location and Function of the Long Head Biceps
Most people can readily point to their biceps, but that’s where common knowledge of the anatomy of the biceps muscle tends to stop. The long head of the biceps is on the inside of your upper arm and the short head is underneath it. You can see a clearly defined line underneath it when you’re flexing your biceps assuming you have defined muscle tone there.
They form the top of the biceps muscle. These peaks have long been valued in bodybuilding circles because they add more size and definition to the upper arm. However, the most important function of the long head biceps is to stabilize the round top of the humerus, the upper arm bone, which is why the round top is called the humeral head of the glenoid. The long head of the biceps performs this function in tandem with the brachioradialis whenever there is powerful forearm supination or elbow flexion.
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Targeting Long Head and Short Head Biceps
If the long head of the biceps is for protecting the shoulder joint, what is the function of the short head of the biceps? The short head also helps with the supination of the forearm and flexion of the elbow joint by supporting the brachialis muscle, which is the prime mover there. The short head works across the bone of the upper arm and largely just helps with the functions of the long head of the biceps that we’ve already described, like stabilizing the shoulder joint.
Since it mostly acts as one muscle with the long head biceps, you might think targeting one or the other is impossible. In fact, many of the exercises that target the large head biceps do work out the short head as well. You can change them slightly to make them target the short head by using a wide grip. Essentially, what you want to do is make sure the long head’s ability to stretch is limited. That will target the short head of the biceps and limiting stretching in the short head will target the long head of the biceps.
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Common Mistakes with Biceps Peak Exercises
Many of the same mistakes are often made by people trying to build bigger biceps. Sometimes this has to do with the organization of their biceps workout plan and other times it’s in the execution of individual biceps exercises. Keep an eye out for these mistakes to make sure you’re getting the huge peaks you’re after.
Lifting Too Much Weight
We all want to be Superman at the gym. Partly to show off and partly to get beastly gains, people too frequently take really heavy weight off the rack or use dumbbells and kettlebells that are too heavy for the exercise they’re doing.
With the concept of hypertrophy in mind, the advice to use less weight might sound counterproductive. For most biceps exercises, though, a high-rep workout with less weight is going to lead to greater gains than fewer reps with a lot of weight will. Too much weight will limit the range of motion of your exercises, rendering them less effective.
This is good to keep in mind for your warm-ups as well. If you’re going to have biceps curls in your workout routine, why not start with 40 or 50 reps at a low weight? It will help target your long head biceps and prime your shoulders for the rest of the routine to come.
No Focus on Tension
When it comes to building muscle mass, the most important part of an exercise is the part that puts a strain on the targeted muscle. For the biceps, that would be the eccentric part of the movement where the weight is being lowered. If you slow down that section of a biceps curl, for example, you can feel that your biceps brachii are struggling much more than they were on the way up.
Using tension the right way is a great way to workout smarter. Rather than exerting all your energy throwing lots of weight around, taking the time to understand what exercises work and what part of those exercises are most effective will help you make the most of your time at the gym.
Don’t Aim for Muscle Failure
Fatiguing your biceps muscles before you start your main workout routine can be very effective but don’t try to cause complete muscle failure when you’re only targeting the biceps. They’re very important in many exercises that work the back muscles such as barbell rows and pull-ups, so if you’ve already exhausted your biceps they’ll give out during those other exercises.
If you are going to train to failure, you can do some high-rep biceps isolation exercises with isometric pauses at the moment of the highest tension, which is the eccentric downward motion. Don’t be surprised if it takes fewer reps than you thought to reach bicep exhaustion, though, especially at the end of an entire workout routine.
Lack of Variation
We’ve already mentioned how adaptable the human body is. When you don’t change things up during your workout routine, your body will become acclimated and that hypertrophy-inducing muscle damage will be lessened. It’s very important to do different exercises throughout the week for this same reason. You can also make some changes between exercises in a single workout routine.
For example, if your arm workout includes curls, presses, and rows in a single day at the gym, make sure you’re changing up your grip style and grip width. Your body will really be on its toes, so to speak, if you keep challenging muscle groups from different directions by experimenting with your grip.
Cheating Too Much
There is a time and place for cheating during bicep curls. At that critical moment where the weight is about halfway up, people tend to add in a swinging motion to help get to the top of the curl. Cheating is a fantastic way to exhaust your biceps beyond full-rep failure but using momentum to get through your curls before that point is really just cheating yourself out of the gains you could be earning.
To correct this mistake, limit how much other parts of your body can move. If you’re standing up doing barbell curls, put your back up against a wall to prevent using your back to bring the front deltoids into the mix. During sitting biceps curls, make sure your legs are underneath a pad.
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5 Best Exercises for Huge Peaks and Bigger Arms
Use these moves to get your long head biceps pumped up and improve the overall function of your upper arms.
1. Incline Dumbbell Curls
Dumbbell curls are a really easy dumbbell exercise to do and they don’t require much equipment at all. This incline variation is similarly simple but does require a seat with an inclined back. Other than that, the movement is the same as a traditional dumbbell curl.
To get into the starting position, lean back on the seat with a dumbbell in each hand. Your arms should be completely straight and your palms should be facing out. (Tip: If you want to target the short head of the biceps, turn your wrists toward your body in the starting position.)
Lift the dumbbells up toward your elbows and then very slowly let them back down to the starting position. For a real burn, add in an isometric pause at the top of the move. To change things up, try reverse curls on odd days.
2. Hammer Curls
Although you might think hammer curls are doing the same work as an incline dumbbell curl, they actually target the brachialis and long head of the biceps even more. If you’re trying to get huge peaks, hammer curls should be in your workout routine. You can also add variation to your workout by alternating between incline dumbbell curls and hammer curls on different days of the week.
You can do this move sitting down on a bench or you can stand against a wall. All you have to do is pick up a dumbbell, by the side weight rather than in the middle, in each hand. Slowly lift the weights up to your shoulders and let them back down. You can add an isometric pause just after the top of the movement.
Chin-ups are a great compound exercise that will help you increase your grip strength and give you a chest, back, and shoulder workout while you hit arm muscles like the biceps and triceps too. You’ll need a stable horizontal bar that will support your body weight without issue.
Unlike pull-ups, chin-ups use an underhand grip to cause activation in different muscles. For this reason, you can alternate between the two for some variety in your workout routine.
Get a good underhand grip on the chin-up bar and get into a dead hang position with your feet off the ground. Lift yourself by pulling the bar down through your elbows until your chin is just above the bar. If you’re feeling adventurous, add an isometric pause above the bar and let yourself down slowly. Use a close grip to target your long head biceps even more.
4. Preacher Curls
To do this move, you’ll need a preacher bench that will help restrict movement in your legs and back so that your biceps brachii get all the attention and you can get big arms even faster. You can use an EZ bar or a barbell to do preacher curls.
To get into the starting position, sit on the preacher bench with your armpits resting on the upper sloped section. Get an underhadn grip on the bar with your arms fully extended and resting on the bench. Bring the bar up until your arms are horizontal with your body and slowly return toward the starting position. Pause halfway down for an isometric strain.
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5. Cable Curls
You’ll need a cable machine to do cable curls but they’re some of the best biceps exercises because they put up resistance throughout the entire move. This is mostly an isolation exercise although some stabilizing muscles will come into play somewhat.
To get into the starting position, stand in front of a cable machine with your feet firmly on the ground about hip-width apart from each other. Brace your core and make sure your head and back don’t move. You can get an overhand or an underhand grip on the cable machine handles, but the underhand targets the biceps brachii more.
Bring the handles up toward your shoulder and then slowly back down to the starting position. To ensure that your biceps are kept under tension, don’t let the weight plates get back to the stack. Keep them elevated throughout your reps.
Throwing one of these five long head biceps exercises into your normal workout routine will help build up the peaks of your biceps and give you more impressive upper arms. It will also help protect the long head tendon and prevent a potentially serious shoulder injury.
Many bodybuilders who are trying to get mountainous biceps are trying the wrong exercises because they don’t understand how the biceps are shaped or which biceps target the long head of the biceps. Even more commonly, people fail to build muscle in their upper arm even when they spend a long time at the gym because they aren’t varying their exercises enough. The human body adapts and if it becomes accustomed to a biceps exercise then the biceps won’t be damaged and hypertrophy won’t kick in.
Larger biceps peaks aren’t only for appearances. Building strength in the long head biceps can also prevent serious and painful shoulder injuries. Both the short head and the long head of the biceps are attached to bone in the shoulder joint via tendons, appropriately called the long head tendon and short head tendon, respectively. While the short head tendon attaches at the front of the shoulder and rarely causes any problems, the long head tendon attaches at the top of the shoulder socket and that tendon can tear if it’s not well-protected by a large long head biceps muscle.
That overworking is unfortunately common for people who use high-intensity workout routines to get bigger biceps. If you try biceps exercises without the proper form, do them too quickly, or fail to warm-up the shoulder adequately before beginning, that long head tendon can snap. In extreme cases, your bicep can become completely unattached and slump down toward the upper arm.
Although these types of injuries typically repair themselves within a few weeks, they are very painful and you’re not going to be able to do any biceps curls or very likely any other upper body exercise until it’s healed. You’re also more prone to a recurrence of this type of injury if it’s happened to you before.
Like any other muscle, the biceps works better when you build strength there. Better biceps function will translate to better flexion at the elbow joint and a more secure shoulder joint as well. All these upper body muscle groups are connected – a strong and functioning shoulder joint will help you do exercises that build large back and chest muscles.
The 5 biceps exercises are isolation exercises. If you want more gains elsewhere in the upper body, pair them with classic moves like the deadlift or bench press. There are many other variations of biceps curls, such as drag curls and concentration curls, that also work well. While these 5 biceps exercises target the long head of the bicep most effectively, the other curl variants will also beef up your arms. Don’t be afraid to throw them into your workout routine alongside the exercises in this guide.
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