Everyone wants big biceps, right? After all, it’s one of the first muscles that get noticed when you’re wearing a t-shirt, and that’s most of the time.
Growing your biceps doesn’t need to be difficult, but it does require you to have a baseline knowledge of anatomy and function to best know how to grow them.
Today we’re focusing on long head bicep exercises. After reading through this article, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge needed to accelerate your arm growth to new heights.
|Table of Contents|
|What is the long head bicep?|
|Role of the bicep|
|How to target the long head bicep|
|7 Best long head bicep exercises|
|Long head bicep workouts|
|Long head bicep training mistakes|
|Long head bicep FAQ’s|
The bicep is a single muscle located at the front of the upper arm. It attaches to the forearm and originates from the scapula, in two different positions (hench the ‘bi’ in biceps).
These two different ‘heads’ are known as the long head and the short head. The long head is located on the outside of the arm whereas the short head is on the inside of the arm.
The long head of the bicep is responsible for giving size to the peak of the bicep whereas the short head gives the arm its width.
The biceps have 2 primary functions, elbow flexion, and forearm supination. Elbow flexion is bringing the forearm towards the shoulder and forearm supination is bringing the forearm from a palm-down position to a palm-up position.
It’s important to know we can’t completely isolate the long head of the biceps as both heads work together in most movements, so whenever we aim to work the long head, we’ll also be working the short head and vice versa. What we can do though is employ a few clever training tips to help activate one head more than the other.
Exercises that have the arm in front of the body target more of the short head and exercises that have the arm behind the body target more of the long head.
This is due to where each of the muscles attaches to the shoulder joint. As the long head attaches higher up the shoulder joint, the long head of the bicep will be activated more when the bicep is in a stretched position.
To target the long head of the biceps with barbell or EZ bar exercises, we should adopt a close grip hand position. A wide grip targets the short head while a narrow grip focuses on the long head.
As we mentioned earlier, the role of the bicep is both elbow flexion and forearm supination. This brings us to our next tip. When doing dumbbell curls, adding a twist (supination) towards the end of the movement can further activate the long head.
Adopting a neutral grip and performing hammer curls as an alternative to regular curls is also a great way to put added emphasis on the long head of the bicep.
Now we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to get down to the best long head bicep exercises we should include in our training programs.
The incline dumbbell curl is an amazing exercise for targeting the long head. Firstly, you're starting off from a stretched position, and secondly, you're adding a twist at the top of the movement, both great methods to effectively target the long head.
As the arms are starting behind the body, we have increased the range of motion, and research has also shown that the long head of the bicep remains active throughout the entire range.
Barbell curls are the most popular exercises when it comes to bicep training, and for good reason too. This powerful exercise successfully activates both heads of the biceps it’s a great exercise that we can progressively get stronger with (after all, strength and size are closely related).
To put the focus on the long head, we’ll be adopting a narrow grip.
The dumbbell hammer curls are a great exercise, not only can they effectively target the long head of the bicep, but they also work the Brachialis (a smaller muscle in the upper arm that flexes the elbow).
The dumbbell has been known and loved by the bodybuilding community for years, the neutral grip changes the feel of the exercise completely when compared to a standard curl.
For this exercise you’ll need your gym to have a preacher bench, and to be honest, most gym’s now do, as they appreciate how well loved this exercise is. The preacher curl is a great exercise for arm development as it doesn’t allow for cheat reps and forces the use of good form. Again we’ll be opting for a closer grip than normal to shift the emphasis onto the long head.
Cable exercises are brilliant for building muscle. Unlike free weight exercises, cable exercises place constant tension on the muscle throughout the movement, and as tension is a primary driver of muscle hypertrophy, incorporating some cable exercises into your routine is a sound idea.
Here we’re combining the benefits of added range from starting behind the back, and constant tension by using the cables, it’s a win-win.
This exercise is similar to the incline dumbbell curl, but this time we’re standing up and performing it on the cable machine.
Starting the exercise behind the back emphasises the long head, and training each arm individually minimises the chances of getting muscle imbalances.
(Images retrieved from Weight Training Guide)
The chin-ups are a great mass building compound exercise. A compound exercise means that they work multiple muscle groups at the same time. Chin-ups work the biceps, triceps, shoulders, and back muscles. It’s recommended that compound exercises make up the bulk of your training schedule when hypertrophy is the goal.
Although the chin-ups do not isolate the biceps, adopting a neutral grip can help towards targeting them further. If you don’t believe these to be a great bicep exercises, just give them a go and thank us later.
It doesn’t make sense to have a whole workout dedicated to targeting the long head. If that were the case, we’d need a workout for the short head and quite frankly we don’t have time to train every muscle in the body individually, and if we did, it’s likely to be too much volume as many exercises spill over onto different muscles.
What we can do though, is if our long head biceps are lagging, we can design our bicep workout to emphasise the long head rather than the short head.
As we discussed earlier, you can’t isolate the long head, so these exercises will also target the short head, just that they’ll target the long head just that little bit more.
Incline dumbbell curl: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Close grip barbell curl: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Dumbbell hammer curl: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Close grip cable curl: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
Chin-ups: 3 sets of 6-10 reps
Close grip preacher curl: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Behind the back cable curl: 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Close grip cable curl: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
We see it far too often, people trying to build their biceps but failing to do so because of the following mistakes:
Don’t get me wrong, cheat reps can have a place in a workout, but there’s a time and a place and you must be an experienced lifter to know how to use them effectively. It’s a great way to overload the muscle if you know how to use them.
The problem arises when people aren’t aware that they are doing them, they think they’ll curling the weight for their desired rep range but really their back is doing most of the work. This is not going to help grow our biceps.
If you feel like this could be you, ask a friend to watch your form to double check you’re not accidentally cheating, or stand with your back against a wall to prevent the swinging motion.
Far too often will you see someone trying to curl a weight they can’t handle, and swinging their bodies in a bid to complete a rep. This isn’t useful.
Instead, pick a weight you can handle and lift the weight with proper form. Once you’ve mastered the form, you can focus on getting progressively stronger over time.
Lifting weights with proper form is much more impressive than lifting heavy weights dangerously, any experienced lifter will tell you that.
Many lifters believe that getting a good pump and feeling sore the next day are key indicators of a good muscle building workout. This is not exactly the case. If you’re feeling sore the day following a workout that’s because you incurred a lot of muscle damage (ie. microtears to muscle because of training).
It turns out that muscle damage isn’t that great for hypertrophy, and what you should really focus is on muscle tension (the tension that’s placed on a muscle under load) and getting progressively stronger over time.
While it’s not possible to isolate the long head of the bicep, we can adopt some training techniques that shift the emphasis so that the long head is the primary bicep head being targeted. These are:
Research has shown that muscle can be built across a wide range of rep ranges. Saying this, the popular hypertrophy of 6-12 reps is still very popular, and for good reason. Working in the moderate rep range means that you don’t have the injury risk associated with working with heavy weights in the 1-3 rep range, and it’s more time efficient than completing <20 reps per set. We would recommend working within this moderate rep range to get the most out of your muscle building workouts.
We recommend between 10-20 weekly sets for maximum bicep growth. If you’re a newbie, you’ll probably want to stick to the lower end of the scale whereas if you’re a seasoned lifted you’re going to need to be working at the higher end of the scale.
How often you train a particular muscle group depends on a variety of factors including training intensity, training volume, training age, etc. The most important factor is sticking to your weekly sets. If you plan to complete 15 weekly sets then these can be done across multiple workouts, i.e. 8 sets in one workout, and 7 sets in another. As a guideline then, we recommend training the biceps once or twice a week.
If the long head biceps are lagging, then it’s time to prioritise them in your arm workouts. While we cannot isolate the long head of the biceps, we can employ clever training techniques that shift the emphasis onto the long head to get them growing.
Stick to the exercises listed above, get stronger over time, eat enough food for growth, and you’ll be well on your way to building the monstrous biceps you’re after.
Let us know in the comments what you liked about the article and what, if any other points you’d like us to cover!