In his latest YouTube video, Athlean-X founder and trainer Jeff Cavaliere C.S.C.S. explains and demonstrates the different dumbbell exercises that can enable you to best hit each part of the bicep and the surrounding muscles, maximizing your arm day growth.
To train the long head of the bicep, Cavaliere advises moves which place the bicep behind the body, as that places a greater stretch on this part of the muscle. For example, the drag curl provides an opportunity to get the elbow back behind the body by keeping the weights close to the body throughout the movement. “The goal here is to make sure the elbow never drifts out in front of you,” he says. “Keep it all the way back and try to get the dumbbell as close to your shoulder at the top as you can.” Key, of course, is how you find these positions: Make sure you squeeze your shoulder blades tightly on them.
The second exercise for the long head of the bicep is the dumbbell incline curl. In this one, the angle of the bench ensures you’ll be extending your arms behind your body and getting that stretch. To get an even better stretch on the long head, Cavaliere suggests contracting the triceps at the lower end of the lift.
The third long head exercise is a row curl, performed by bringing the dumbbells down to the sides of the feet, which are positioned together, and back up, utilizing that same backward elbow motion. “We’re trying to initiate a dead row, but we pull them up with more of a curling motion,” Cavaliere explains.
The fourth longhead move is the waiter’s curl, which involves lifting just one dumbbell in a vertical motion with a grip variation: resting the top flat side of the dumbbell on your open palms takes the pressure off your forearms and more on the biceps. “The goal is to simply keep that top portion of the dumbbell flat, parallel to the ceiling and the floor, throughout the exercise,” says Cavaliere. “If you don’t feel like your biceps are going to pop at the top end of this, you’re not doing it right.”
To most effectively work the short head of the bicep, Cavaliere recommends exercises that engage at least two of the muscle’s three key functions: flexing the elbow, supinating the forearm, and placing the shoulder into greater flexion.
Cavaliere starts with an offset grip variation of the standing dumbbell curl; this immediately pulls the arm down into pronation, which you then have to overcome in order to supinate the forearm and flex the elbow.
The next exercise, the incline spider curl, targets all three short head functions. “We’re getting resisted elbow flexion, we’re getting resisted supination, and because the shoulder is out in front of the body and elevated into slight flexion, we’re getting an overloaded bicep contraction,” he says.
The preacher curl also utilizes the incline bench to get the arm out in front of the body, in addition to eliminating the momentum of a regular standing curl. When performing this move, Cavaliere advises directing the dumbbell either up towards the shoulder at the upper end, or out and away from the body, rather than inward and across the chest.
In the seated dumbbell curl, removing the lower half of the move and starting the motion in your lap takes some of the work done by the brachialis and brachioradialis out of the equation, placing more emphasis on the biceps. This move also engages all three muscle movement components.
Finally, the “no money” curl activates the short head as well as providing external rotation at the shoulder. “You can never get enough external rotation,” says Caveliere. “This curl actually reinforces good and proper posture.”
Brachialis and brachioradialis
“The brachialis lies underneath the biceps and helps to create more of that width and girth in the size of your arms,” says Cavaliere. One way to target this is with the cross body hammer curl variation; bringing the dumbbell across the front of the body means that elbow flexion will be driven primarily by the brachialis.
Another hammer curl variation that can be used to train the brachialis is the robot curl, which provides an isometric challenge to this muscle by holding one dumbbell with the elbow flexed at a 90-degree angle while moving the other. “This increases that time under tension which will give you the push you need to see more growth,” says Cavaliere.
Equally, you don’t want to overlook the brachioradialis when working on your arm gains; Cavaliere recommends the offset reverse curl. “At the top we want to squeeze as hard as we possibly can, do every repetition under control, try to force the bulk of the work into the brachioradialis portion of the forearm,” he says. “You should actually see the muscle pop up.”
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Among the dumbbell bicep exercises that make smart, efficient use of momentum is the strict curl, performed with your back against a wall and keeping your back and glutes in a fixed position. “The goal is to take the momentum of a curl away,” says Cavaliere. “We want to make sure the biceps themselves are doing all the work and muscling us up on every repetition.”
Conversely, the cheat curl trades in all that control and precision in the upper portion of the movement for eccentric overload. “I’m utilizing that momentum and swing to get it in position,” Cavaliere says, “then I slow it down and control it all the way down to the bottom.”
Finally, something of a miscellanous exercise favored by Cavaliere is the weighted chinup. “It’s effectively a bodyweight version of a curl,” he says. “Instead of curling a dumbbell up, I’m curling my bodyweight up.” For additional overload, he slows his descent as much as he can and tries to control it for as long as possible.
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