Biceps are one of the main focal points for new and seasoned bodybuilders alike. Curls are the primary exercise for targeting the short head bicep. The best way to build massive biceps is to add variability to this exercise, keeping things fresh and exciting.
Here are eight short head bicep exercises to help you channel your inner Arnold with some killer arm mass.
What is the Short Head of the Bicep
The biceps brachii is comprised of two separate heads that form the bicep muscles as we know them: the short head and the long head. Together, the short head and long head are responsible for elbow flexion and forearm supination, as well as playing a role in shoulder flexion. The short head bicep is located on the inner arm and is responsible for adding width to your flex, whereas the long head muscle is responsible for the peak.
As with many muscle groups, complete isolation of the short head is impossible. However, some exercises engage the short head bicep more than the long head and can help develop that upper arm bulge that so many bodybuilders strive toward.
Here are some effective short head bicep exercises to add to your training.
1. EZ Bar Preacher Curls
EZ bars are a versatile piece of gym equipment that makes it easier to shift the muscle target during a movement. The zig-zagged center allows bodybuilders to shift their grip and incorporate alterations while maintaining proper form.
With EZ bar preacher curls, the combination of a semi-supinated grip and support will ensure the movement targets the short head bicep rather than shifting into the shoulders.
- Adjust a preacher bench so that your upper arms rest on the pad comfortably. The top of the preacher bench should rest against your triceps, not in the crease of your armpits.
- Hold the EZ bar with a supinated grip, with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your back straight and erect, curl the bar toward your chest while keeping your upper arms in a fixed position.
- When your arms are perpendicular to the floor, stop and squeeze the muscles before slowly lowering back to starting position. Don’t allow your elbows to lock-out the bottom of the movement— keep a slight bend, pause, and repeat.
Feel free to play with your grip width during this short head bicep exercise.
2. Lying Cable Curls
Form is everything when doing bicep exercises. As such, cable curls present a challenge for many new lifters. Slight variations in the height of the apparatus or a shift in the upper body can redirect the muscle targeting. Lying cable curls remove momentum and height variances from the equation for a more effective bicep curl.
- Connect a straight bar to a low pulley cable machine. Sit on the ground with your feet planted on either side of the cable and legs extended.
- Grasp the bar firmly with an underhand grip and lie on your back, with your head resting comfortably on the floor.
- Keeping your elbows tucked by your side, curl the bar upward toward your chest. Pause and squeeze at the top of the movement, as you would with a standing curl.
- Using a slow and controlled motion, return to the starting position. Don’t lock-out at the bottom; maintain a slight bend in the elbow joint. That’s one rep.
Lying cable curls allow you to push the weight and help prevent “cheat reps” attained through momentum.
3. Cable Hammer Curl with Rope
If you choose to do standing cable curls, you can improve your short head bicep targeting by swapping out the bar attachment with a rope. This attachment will allow you to rotate throughout the concentric phase of the bicep curl for a more targeted contraction.
- Connect a rope attachment to a low pulley cable machine.
- Grasp the ropes with palms facing inward and stand in an athletic stance about a foot from the pulley machine.
- Keeping your elbows tucked and your upper arms in a fixed position, curl the ropes up toward your chest. As you approach the top of the movement, twist your fists outward to prioritize the short head bicep.
- At the top of the movement, pause and squeeze the muscle.
- Shift your hands back to palms facing, and lowering the rope to the starting position to complete one rep.
Using the rope while standing helps prevent swinging motions that often occur with the straight bar. However, you can use the rope during a lying cable bicep curl as well.
4. Limited Range of Motion Dumbbell Curls
If you’ve been in the bodybuilding world for long, you’ve likely heard of the 21 method for building bigger biceps. This variation of the traditional bicep curl explores your range of motion to target the different heads and the full biceps muscle group separately. By limiting your range of motion to the top half of the traditional dumbbell curl, you can isolate the small head.
- Grab a dumbbell with a supinated grip, as you would for a traditional dumbbell bicep curl.
- Rather than starting at the bottom of the movement, start with the dumbbell at the top of the concentric phase, tucked close to your chest. Your elbows should be close to your sides, with your upper arm in a fixed position.
- Using a controlled motion, lower the dumbbell toward the floor. Stop when your elbow joint is halfway extended, and your arm is parallel with the floor.
- Squeeze your bicep and curl the dumbbell back to your chest. That’s one rep.
Using the top half of the curl will focus the contraction on your short head bicep. Alternatively, using only the bottom half of the movement will shift the focus to the long head. With the 21 method, you complete seven reps at the top of your ROM, seven at the bottom, then seven full ROM dumbbell bicep curls.
5. Wide Grip Barbell Curls
Shifting your grip width is a fantastic way to isolate your short head or long head during a biceps workout. The wider grip during a barbell bicep curl will put the onus on the inner biceps to complete the movement.
- Grab a barbell with your hands placed just outside of shoulder-width using a supinated grip.
- Keeping your back straight, chest up, and elbows tucked, curl the barbell upward until you reach your chest.
- Pause at the top of the movement, squeezing the muscles. Then, slowly lower back to starting position.
The wide grip barbell curl is a simple-yet-effective movement that works well in a barbell-compound style arm workout.
6. Reverse Curls
Reverse curls can be performed with a barbell, EZ bar, or dumbbell. The difference with reverse curls is that you’ll use a pronated grip (overhand) rather than the usual supinated grip. In doing so, you alter the muscle activation to help build bigger biceps while engaging the forearms.
- Grab a barbell or dumbbells using a pronated grip.
- Keeping your back straight and elbows tucked, lift the weights to the top of your range of motion— ideally stopping just before you reach your shoulders.
- Pause and squeeze your biceps before slowly lowering back to the starting position.
Keep in mind that this change in grip will significantly impact your strength. It’s not uncommon to see your usual bicep curl weight cut in half when switching to a reverse curl. Start with lighter weights and prioritize form before building up.
7. Zottman Curls
Zottman curls are a hybrid movement that combines all the benefits of the dumbbell curl, reverse curls, and the rotation of a rope hammer curl. This intense upper arm workout, when executed properly, will help you build big biceps with one compound movement.
- Grab two dumbbells using a supinated grip.
- Keeping your elbows tucked, curl the dumbbells upward toward your chest. Pause and squeeze at the top.
- Rotate your arms to a pronated/ reverse curl position.
- Keeping your elbows tucked and upper arms in a fixed state, lower the dumbbells back down to the starting position.
- At the bottom of the movement, rotate your arms back into a supinated position. That’s one rep.
As with reverse curls, you’ll want to use light dumbbells for this movement. Don’t be surprised if your arms tire out quickly during this bicep blast.
Chin-ups are one of the most foundational bicep workouts. Yet, they often get overlooked when trying to build big biceps. These are a versatile upper body exercise that can be scaled using weight belts or vests. You can also play with your grip width to better target the short head bicep during this exercise.
- Grab a pull-up bar with a supinated grip— your knuckles should be facing toward you.
- Allow yourself to hang all the way down with your arms fully extended.
- Brace your core and pull yourself upward until your chin is above the bar.
- Pause and slowly lower yourself back to full extension.
Beginners can use a resistance band or negatives (AKA slow-lowers) to modify this movement to their skill level. It’s important to note that the supinated grip is what makes this movement a chin-up; pronated grips shift the movement out of the biceps and into the back and shoulders as a pull-up.
To build big biceps, you must incorporate targeted movements into your training. Bicep workouts make a fantastic finisher after an upper body strength workout or as an accessory exercise on lower-impact training days. Remember to practice proper form, slow down the movement, and squeeze your muscles at the top of the concentric phase to get the most out of these bicep exercises.