Anatomy of the biceps brachii and the brachialis.

The human body is a complex construction. Every muscle and bone has an important purpose. Despite this, many workout routines boil muscles down to overly simple movements.

Leg muscles, with their multiple functions and capabilities, get boiled down to squatting tools. Back muscles become rowing tools and nothing more. In the biceps’ case, they become the bicep curl.

Most bicep exercises involve bending or “curling” the elbow in some form. However, limiting yourself to one type of bicep curl will stunt your performance in the long run. Your biceps are more complex than “move them up, and they get bigger.”

Here’s some information about what the different bicep heads are, what they do and how to workout in a way that hits them.

The short head (biceps brachii)

The short head is the most prominent of the two “biceps brachii.” It’s the one you see when you lift your arm and flex, facing inward on each arm and toward the rest of your body.

The short head supports the long head and brachialis muscles in flexing and pivoting your arms, bringing your arm toward the center of your sternum and helping you supinate — i.e. turn or flip — your hands in a clockwise direction.

Targeting the short head means using all of these functions.

Arm curls target both heads, but there are ways to focus on the short. Use a wide grip when doing a barbell curl — wider than shoulder width at least. A rotating dumbbell curl, when you start your palm facing your legs before curling your arm and turn your palm clockwise, also hits your short head.

The long head (biceps brachii)

The long head faces outward, toward all the things that aren’t your body. If you place your hand on one of your biceps, your fingertips will touch the long head while your palm will touch the short.

The long head supports the short head and brachialis when curling. It also supinates your arm counterclockwise.

Target your long head by using narrow barbell grips. Gripping the bar with your palms either downward or inward also targets the long head.

Both the short and long head connect to your shoulder muscles. This means that a curl’s full range of motion involves slightly lifting your elbows. If you have access to resistance bands or cable machines, you can curl with your extended arm parallel to the floor and target both heads depending on you how you’ve turned your hands.

The brachialis

The unsung hero of the human arm. The brachialis is the muscle that actually curls and flexes your arm. The brachii support the motion, but the brachialis activates and controls the motion. While big brachii look good, the brachialis is what determines arm strength.

To target your brachialis, curl your arms with your palms facing inward — toward your legs. Wide pullups are an essential back workout, but they also hit your long head and brachialis.

Mix and match different curling methods and exercises for a well-rounded and complete bicep workout. 

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