Workout Of The Month: The Best Biceps Exercise

It’s about that time again for the workout of the month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive vs. negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. Some workout’s of the month breakdown how to do a common exercise, other’s feature a more detailed look on how movements can affect our bodies. For this month’s workout, we’ll be taking a look at a recent study comparing different biceps exercises in an effort to determine the best biceps exercise.

What’s The Best Biceps Exercise?

That’s what the folks over at the American Council on Exercise have recently set out to determine. The study authors selected eight men and eight women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four to determine the best biceps exercise. The authors considered the individuals healthy and all of them had some form of weightlifting experience to understand how to perform each biceps exercise. Although, it’s not clear on what healthy is defined as and what kind of experience the individuals had but to establish a baseline of their strength, each individual performed a one rep max of each exercise and all of the individuals became acquainted with the movements and testing procedure.

Bicep Exercises Studied

Testing took place over two days with four exercises on one day and four exercises on the other day. For exercises that didn’t use bodyweight, participants used 70 percent of their one rep max while having EMG electrodes attached to their biceps brachii, anterior deltoid, and their brachioradialis to measure muscle activity.

Biceps Exercises Performed

1. Cable Curl
2. Barbell Curl
3. Concentration Curl
4. Chin-Up
5. EZ Curl (with both wide and narrow grip)
6. Incline Curl
7. Preacher Curl

The Best Biceps Exercise

concentration curl

By isolating the humerus (upper arm bone) against the body, you can isolate the biceps brachii muscle to prevent other muscles from helping move the weight. In the end, adding to more beneficial stress to the muscle

After the numbers were crunched, the concentration curl came out on top of all the other bicep exercises for eliciting the most muscle activity of the biceps brachii. Next in line: the cable curl and the chin up. The concentration curl had a little bit over 95% of activation of the biceps brachii while the cable curl and chin up had a significantly lower amount of about 80% muscle activation.

It All Makes Sense

The concentration curl is performed by stabilizing the shoulder by having the elbow of your arm against your body – allowing for only bending of your lower arm. When the arm is completely isolated, other muscles like your shoulders or a general swaying motion of your body can’t help out by moving weight. As far as this study is concerned, stick with the concentration curl for the best biceps exercise.

I urge you to watch people at the gym doing biceps exercises sometimes. Do you ever notice how their body sways back and forth as they attempt to curl the weight? Sometimes their shoulders are moving the weight for them. All this makes for an incredibly poor biceps exercise. Moral of the story: if your biceps aren’t moving the weight, they’re not doing the work.

standing barbell curl

Notice the movement of the elbows forward and upward. The movement of the elbows is created by muscle action in the shoulders which helps the biceps to lift more weight – taking away from isolation of the biceps brachii and the most important part: the biceps aren’t the only muscle moving the weight.

Study Limitations

1. Limited population. Smaller populations can skew the results.
2. Conflict of interest from the study being financed by ACE Fitness.
3. Mobility – there needs to be someone watching each movement by each person ensuring correct form.
4. The study has not been released into an academically peer reviewed sports/fitness journal.
5. The body can adapt – there is more to building muscle and getting a response from the body than a certain type of exercise.

The Bottom Line About The Best Biceps Exercises

While the concentration curl may individually target the biceps and illicit the most muscle response, bicep exercises should not just be limited to concentration curls. As with any part of the body, the body can adapt to stresses being places on it. Reps, weight, timing of activity, and variety – these are all things that can be taken into consideration when trying to place stress on the biceps muscle. The biceps is a relatively small muscle and can benefit and grow in strength from doing other exercise that involve the biceps as secondary muscles such as (Your Living Body recommendations):

1. Deadlifts
2. Farmer Walks
3. Chin Ups
4. Arm Hangs

What’s your favorite bicep exercise?


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Sources:

1. Camic, C., Foster, C., Kovacs, A., Porcari, J., Young, S. “Ace Study Reveals Best Biceps Exercises.” ACE Fitness. August 2014. Web. 15 August 2014.

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