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Form and Function Exercises for Better Biceps

Use one or both of these biceps exercises to build a strong, buff set of pipes — just in time for tank-top season.

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Your biceps work in concert with your back and chest to push, pull, climb and lift, and they also play a role when running, helping propel your arms forward and back.

Form: Two-Arm Incline Dumbbell Biceps Curl

Two-Arm Incline Dumbbell Biceps Curl

It’s safe to say that men are the arm-obsessed gender, but a great set of girl guns definitely turns heads. This exercise targets the long head of your biceps, which is responsible for the “peak” — that little mountain of muscle that pops up when you flex your elbow. Because it’s done with dumbbells, it also helps equalize any strength imbalances you have between your two sides.

Set the bench incline between 30 and 45 degrees, which places your arms slightly behind you when they’re extended. This activates the stretch-shortening cycle, a phenomenon in which a muscle stores elastic energy when it lengthens, then uses that stored energy when the muscle shortens immediately afterward. Studies have found this can lead to a more powerful concentric contraction and better results long term.

Allow your arms to hang down completely straight from your shoulders to the floor with your palms turned forward and slightly outward. Pin your upper arms to the sides of the bench to keep the focus on your biceps by eliminating the assistance of your shoulders and the possibility of momentum.

Use a lighter set of dumbbells than you normally would for a biceps curl. Because of your unique starting position, your biceps are working from a deficit: You have less leverage than normal and are thereby decreasing your strength potential. And because you’re eliminating the possibility of momentum, every muscle fiber has to work that much harder to move the weight.

Sit back firmly against the seat with your feet planted for stability, your lower back arching naturally and your head in contact with the bench at all times. Some people tend to lift their heads when doing this move, but this puts a lot of strain on your cervical spine, so avoid this turtle-like action at all cost.

Curl the weights up slowly, raising them as high as you can without moving your elbows from their locked position. Note: The weights may stop short of your normal range of motion because of your altered arm position. Squeeze your biceps hard at the top, then slowly lower all the way to the start.

At the bottom, try flexing your triceps. This not only ensures a full extension of your arms and a good stretch through your biceps, but it also increases the stretch-shortening cycle reaction and contractile potential for the next rep.

Sample Form Biceps Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Drag Curl 3 6-8
Two-Arm Incline Dumbbell Biceps Curl 3 10-12
EZ-Bar Preacher Curl 3 8-10
Seated Concentration Curl 3 10-12 (each arm)

Function: Strict Close-Grip Chin-Up

Strict Close-Grip Chin-Up

Your biceps play a major role when running, helping propel your arms, improving power and speed. Though pull-ups are primarily considered a back exercise, flipping and narrowing your grip for a chin-up puts your biceps in the direct line of the pull, increasing their engagement as a primary mover when pulling your bodyweight upward against gravity. With chin-ups, you also have to travel farther than with overhand pull-ups, increasing your time under tension, further taxing your muscles.

Take an underhand grip on a pull-up bar with your hands inside shoulder width but spaced no less than 6 inches apart. Any narrower and your chest muscles begin to take over some of the work and your wrists might feel strained.

Assume a dead hang — allow your body to hang straight down toward the floor, scapulae spread apart, torso as vertical as possible. This eliminates the possibility of all momentum and maximizes muscular engagement during the concentric contraction.

If you have room, allow your legs to hang straight down. Otherwise, you can cross your feet behind you so long as your torso remains vertical and your abs stay engaged, core tight.

Initiate the move by drawing your shoulder blades in toward one another, then drive your elbows down and back to pull your chin up and over the bar, keeping your elbows close to your sides and your torso vertical.

Maintain a tight, braced core to keep your hips steady and prevent you from swinging back and forth.

When your chin clears the bar, pause a moment and squeeze your muscles hard, then slowly lower all the way to the dead hang before going into your next rep.

Can’t do a single chin-up? Either practice chin-up negatives for a few weeks or do chin-ups using a resistance loop secured over the pull-up bar to counterbalance some of your bodyweight. Both moves will etch the proper body mechanics into your brain, and the negatives will help develop strength. After a few weeks of using one or both these techniques, try doing chin-ups again — we bet you get at least three!

Sample Functional Biceps Workout

Do three rounds of the below for time.

Exercise Sets
Rowing Machine 400 meters
Strict Close-Grip Chin-Up To failure (minimum: 5)
Wall-Ball Toss 10
Supinated TRX or Ring Row 10
Wall-Ball Toss 10
Pronated TRX or Ring Row 10