I’m personally and professionally bored with traditional biceps exercises. I have manipulated load, repetitions, speed, rest periods and the volume of sets. You name it, I’ve done it. Do you have any suggestions to help me "liven up" my biceps workout?
You’re not alone. Many trainers walk into the gym daily and perform the same "old" exercises! So get ready, you’re about to explore a whole new concept.
If the load, reps, speed, rest periods and sets remain the same, then variables such as distance and placement of the load can become your solution. To apply this concept, some basic concepts of biomechanics must first be explored. First, bones are examples of levers or rigid bars that rotate around an axis. Lever arm is a term used to describe the distance from the axis of rotation to the point at which the force is applied to the lever. The resistance arm is a term referring to the lever arm of the resistance force, while effort arm is a term that refers to the lever arm of the effort force. With this in mind, if the resistance arm is increased, there will have to be an increase in effort to overcome the resistance.
Next, let’s explore the primary muscles used in a biceps curl. When the elbow flexes against load, the elbow flexors (biceps brachii long and short head, brachialis and brachioradialis) are resisted to different degrees. The brachialis is the muscle that lies deeper below the biceps and is located ideally to complete elbow flexion. The brachialis was found to be active during flexion "under all conditions" in a study by Basmajian. Because of this study, the muscle was labeled the workhorse of the elbow joint. According to Soderberg, the function of the brachioradialis muscle is less clear. There is little doubt that this muscle is a flexor, but under certain circumstances, it may serve more of a stabilizing function. The biceps has a long and short head that attaches to the superior aspect of the shoulder joint and on the corocoid process. At the other end, both heads attach via a tendon to the radius, which is the bone that crosses over the ulna when you supinate or pronate (change hand position via radioulnar joint motion). The biceps was demonstrated to be an effective flexor only if it had been pre-positioned in supine or if it were under significant load. Furthermore, researchers discovered that the biceps brachii is not a supinator of the extended arm unless supination is firmly resisted.
What does this mean? We can increase the involvement of the biceps (the glamour part of the elbow flexors) when load is placed appropriately. This is what we are about to play on!
To add tension on the biceps without increasing the weight, speed or any traditional variable, try a different grip. Move your hands toward the outer end of the handle as depicted. This will cause the hand to rotate or pronate toward the body, unless you oppose the resistance, and that’s the idea! The resistance arm just increased (for supination), forcing the biceps to work harder as a "pronator preventor." Maintain the supinated position while performing the motion of elbow flexion (i.e., dumbbell curl). This will increase the challenge due to the increased resistance arm. This concept can be applied to many other exercises.
As a trainer, your only limitation is your creativity and the functional capability of your client!
- Basmajian JV, Latif A. "Integrated actions and functions of the chief flexors of the elbow: a detailed electromyographic analysis." J Bone Joint Surgery. 1957. 39(A):1106-1118
- Norkin, C., and Levangie, P. "Joint structure and Function, A Comprehensive Analysis." Philadelphia: F. A. Davis. 1992
- Soderberg, G. "Kinesiology, Application to Pathological Motion." Williams and Wilkins. 1997