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Muscle Specific Training Part 1 – The Biceps Files

We all have muscle groups we’d like to grow more. Perhaps it is a stubborn body part or perhaps you just want to develop freaky size in one particular area.

Not all muscles are created equal! As a result, training all muscles in the same manner doesn’t make sense. That is where muscle specific training comes in.

The aim of this series is to examine each muscle group in detail. To highlight what training approaches are optimal and where you may be missing out on progress.

By manipulating body position, biomechanics, rep ranges, rep speeds, rest periods, volume load, training frequency and more I hope to leave you with the knowledge to build any bodypart to the size you desire.

First up the elbow flexors:

So let’s go and g et your tickets to the gun show…

…Everything you NEED to know to optimise your biceps training.

The biceps brachii (biceps) are made up of two distinct muscles, the short and the long head. They are mainly viewed/trained as elbow flexors but, also supinate (turn palms upwards to ceiling) the forearm.

The Biceps - Courtesy of healthgalleries.com
The Biceps – Courtesy of healthgalleries.com

There is limited data on the muscle fibre type of the biceps, however, the existing data indicates they are approximately 40% type I (slow twitch) and 60% type II.

The implication of this fibre make up is that training with heavy loads and higher speeds of contraction might be beneficial.

While the biceps are very well stimulated during upper body horizontal and vertical pulling exercises such as, the chin-up, BB row, or BB inverted rows, single-joint isolation exercises also provide an excellent training effect. So if you want extra size on your arms (who doesn’t?!?) then get strong on the big upper body pulling movements and add in some additional isolation work for full development.

“Because the biceps are made up of two heads with the brachialis sitting underneath, depending on wrist/elbow position and the resistance curve, each of those areas will end up with a bit more tension during certain exercises.”

Paul Carter

The position of the shoulder can influence muscle activity of the biceps throughout the ROM. For example, the preacher curl provides greater activation in the first 1/3rd of the ROM. The standing DB curl and seated incline DB curl, however, display an opposing pattern with the greatest activation occurring in the final 1/3rd of the movement. As a result, for full stimulation of the fibres of the biceps you should train using a variety of exercises with differing points of peak contraction.

What a good looking chap...I bet he is a trustworthy source of info :)
What a good looking chap…I bet he is a trustworthy source of info 🙂

Adjusting grip width place more emphasis on a particular head. For example, BB curls with a narrower grip will target the long head more, while taking a wider grip shifts the emphasis onto the short head.

Grip width Can Influence Biceps Recruitment - courtesy of b0-dy.com
Grip width Can Influence Biceps Recruitment – courtesy of b0-dy.com

The long head crosses the shoulder joint. This means that it is possible to pre-stretch the muscle in certain exercises to cause higher levels of muscle activation. Incline DB curls are the perfect example of this. Another trick to stimulate the long head to a greater degree is to bring your shoulders forward slightly as you reach the top of a curl. Because the muscle plays a role in shoulder flexion it will work to perform this function as well as flexing the elbow if you do this.

The brachialis is an elbow flexor. Due to its position under the biceps it literally pushes the biceps up as it gets bigger. This can create the look of a higher “peak” on the biceps.

The biceps & brachialis - courtesy of imgarcade.com
The biceps & brachialis – courtesy of imgarcade.com

Training elbow flexion with a neutral or “hammer” grip is an excellent way to develop the brachialis. Studies have shown that the brachialis tends to have more slow twitch fibres than the biceps. Performing the eccentric portion of the lift slowly increases muscle activation in the brachilais. In contrast performing relatively fast movements will primarliry target the biceps.

The brachilais isn’t a particulalrly large muscle and so performing one exercise per biceps training session should provide sufficient stimulus for growth.

Biceps recover petty quickly so a higher training frequency can be used (gradually build this up). Most people should eventually be able to recover from training them up to 4 days per week but, I would suggest you begin with twice per week.

A total of 15-25 sets per week is usually a good range to aim for when training biceps.

To summarise the following is a good guide:

  1. Biceps – Supinated grip & medium reps (8-12)
  2. Brachialis – neutral grip & lower reps (5-8)
courtesy of Tnation.com
courtesy of Tnation.com

The Twitter approach to arm training science…

EMG studies have shown high levels of Peak and Mean activation with Neutral and Supinated Chins, Barbell and EZ bar curls. So hit some heavy chins and also do some curls for the girls.

All this sports science chat isn’t so complicated after all!

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