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The best exercise for biceps growth

Posted by Dayne Hudson in Muscle Building

Estimated reading time: 5mins

The best exercise for biceps growth | Bulk Nutrients Blog

Muscle growth and bodybuilding: The best bicep exercise

As keen as we are to know the answer, a team of researchers conducted this study utilising electromyography. They examined 8 young men and women to see which bicep exercise was most effective. They reported:

  1. Concentration curl (~98% activation)
  2. Cable curl (~81% activation)
  3. Chin-up (~80% activation)
  4. Barbell curl (~76% activation)
  5. EZ curl (wide grip) (~75% activation)
  6. EZ curl (narrow grip) (~72% activation)
  7. Incline curl (~71% activation)
  8. Preacher curl (~70% activation) 

So, as you can see, the dumbbell concentration curl came out on top as the best exercise for biceps. And such is the case because it doesn't call upon the use of the anterior deltoid (front of your shoulder) like during other bicep exercises. We're sure you know exactly what we mean; walk into any gym and watch how some gym-goers swing like a pendulum during curls. Because everyone wants to grow biceps so rapidly, they think more weight is better, but end up using their anterior deltoids more instead!

And concentration curls were found to be the best exercise for biceps because they call upon the biceps only.

And in another study, the same conclusion was drawn; concentration curls won out again.

So that's it, right? Should we just do concentration curls and be done with it? 

Definitely not!

It's critical that we realise that whilst concentration curls activate our biceps the best, it's a difficult exercise to induce the three principles of muscle growth with:

  1. Muscle Tension
  2. Metabolic Stress
  3. Muscle Damage

A detailed description of the three principles is beyond the scope of this article, however, by performing an exercise like standing barbell curls, you're allowing for MORE weight to be lifted using both hands and are more likely to be able to increase that weight as time goes on (and thus aligning with the three aforementioned principles more).

But hang on a moment? Did we just contradict ourselves? Concentration curls are the "best" exercise because they take the anterior deltoids and other muscles out of it, but then we should be doing barbell curls (which ranked number 4 on the list?!) to adhere to the three principles of muscle growth? What on earth is going on?!

Well, it simply comes down to a question that is as flawed as it is common: whilst there's a "best" exercise for optimal biceps growth, BOTH exercises should be performed! 

There might be a 'best' exercise, but a combination is also advised!
There might be a 'best' exercise, but a combination is also advised!

One exercise isolates the biceps the best (concentration curls) whilst the other allows for the three principles of muscle growth to take place easier.

The benefit of such a truth is that performing both exercises is rooted in reality; nobody really goes into the gym and does one exercise for the biceps anyway.

Science: Best bicep workout for muscle growth?

So, with these findings in mind, let's examine the workout below:

1. Seated concentration curls

Set one = 12 reps

Set two = 10 reps

Set three = 10 reps


Then we'll do our final two sets, focusing on the eccentric contraction (aka, the 'negative'). Here's what we mean:

Step one: Chose a weight that's 20-30% heavier than usual for you

Step two: Use your other hand (the one not holding the dumbbell) to lift the weight UP for the contraction

Step three: Lower the weight down as SLOWLY as possible, using only the arm you're working on.

Set four = 8 reps

Set five = 8 reps

We employ negative contractions because research suggests it can increase muscle activation by 40%. 

Now we're into the final exercise and sets -- the standing barbell curl. 

2. Standing Barbell curls

Set one = 10 reps

Set two = 8 reps

Set three = 6 reps

Set four = 6 reps

Negative contractions can greatly improve muscle gains.
Negative contractions can greatly improve muscle gains.

So, there are nine difficult sets as part of a bicep workout! You could start the workout the other way around (beginning with standing barbell curls) -- it's up to you.

But the key point is that both those bicep exercises are some of the "best" for your bicep growth, and should be utilised, despite concentration curls being technically the best. So, remember this next time you're scheduled to train biceps, and you'll be on your way to growing the guns you want!

References:

  1. Boeckh-Behrens & Buskies. 2000. 
  2. Franchi MV, Reeves ND, Narici MV. Skeletal Muscle Remodeling in Response to Eccentric vs. Concentric Loading: Morphological, Molecular, and Metabolic Adaptations. Front Physiol. 2017;8:447. Published 2017 Jul 4. doi:10.3389/fphys.2017.00447 
  3. https://www.acefitness.org/about-ace/press-room/press-releases/4989/new-study-reveals-best-biceps-exercises/ 
  4. Landin D, Thompson M, Jackson MR. Actions of the Biceps Brachii at the Shoulder: A Review. J Clin Med Res. 2017;9(8):667-670. doi:10.14740/jocmr2901w 
  5. Schoenfeld BJ. The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2857-72. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e840f3. PMID: 20847704.
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