Jeremy Ethier is a kinesiologist, founder of Built With Science
If you were to think of the muscle group that contributes the most to an aesthetic and attractive physique, the biceps are definitely the headliners grabbing all the attention. When well-developed, they’ll help contribute to the overall fullness of the arm and create a prominent peak when flexed. However, despite the biceps being probably the most trained muscle group for the average gym-goer, despite the fact that it makes less than 3% of your total muscle mass, they can also be one of the more stubborn muscle groups to develop. Why? Mainly because aimlessly picking up a dumbbell and curling it just won’t be enough for most people to grow the set of biceps they’re after. More specifically, there are five key mistakes that most individuals make that limit the amount of biceps growth they experience. Fix these, and you’ll create a shortcut on your journey to savage sleeve tightening.
Mistake #1: Letting Other Muscles Take Over
The first and probably most common mistake is letting other muscles take over and “steal” tension from the biceps during your curling exercises. There are three main culprits here:
– Front delts
– Upper traps
- Front Delts
The front delts love to take over upper body movements, especially biceps curls.
You can easily tell if your front delts are taking over if your elbows move forward as you curl. Now although a few degrees of movement is normal and expected during a curl (the biceps actually do weakly assist in shoulder flexion), once it becomes excessive is when it becomes a major problem since it takes tension away from the biceps. So, what you want to do instead first is throw the ego out the door. Lower the weight, pin your elbows by your sides, and ensure that you’re keeping your elbow locked in place as you curl the weight up. This will enable your biceps to take on almost the entire load and minimize the involvement of the front delts. If you’re still struggling with this, then try performing your curls with your back and elbows against a wall. This will physically force your elbows to stay locked in place.
- Upper Traps
The next muscle, the upper traps, is a little subtler to catch but is just as common. It’s a muscle group that is notorious for taking over upper body exercises, as it tends to be tense and overactive in most individuals. You can tell if your upper traps are taking over the curl if you’re shrugging your shoulder up towards your ears every time you curl. Again, this shifts tension (and growth) away from the biceps and onto the upper traps instead. So, to avoid this, you want to first depress your traps by bringing your shoulders down and away from your ears. Then, once that is set, keep them in this depressed position as you curl the weight up. Doing so will shift a lot of the tension back to the biceps and away from the upper traps.
Yes, you may want big forearms, but you don’t want this at the expense of your biceps. Yet this happens whenever you flex your wrists as you curl the weight. Not only does this shift tension away from the biceps but it also puts your wrists at a mechanical disadvantage. Instead, keep the wrists in a neutral (or even a slightly extended) position to both increase wrist stability and instantly place more tension on the biceps.
Mistake #2: Failing to Establish a Mind-Muscle Connection
In addition to proper exercise form, it’s also important that you actually focus on feeling your biceps working during your exercises. Illustrating this is a recently published study in the >European Journal of Sports Science. The researchers had subjects perform four sets of arm curls to failure three times per week. The subjects in one group (the mind-muscle connection group) were instructed to “squeeze the muscle” during each rep.
The other group was simply instructed to “get the weight up.” Roughly eight weeks later, the “mind-muscle connection group” experienced almost double the biceps growth compared with the other group. So, rather than just curling the weight up aimlessly, >focus! During each rep, focus on really feeling the biceps working. Think less about curling the weight “up” and more about “squeezing the bar into your body” as you curl the weight. This often requires you simply to set your ego aside and lighten the weight, but the extra tension you experience in your biceps will elicit far more growth.
Mistake #3: Not Utilizing a Full Range of Motion
Although utilizing a partial range of motion does have its time and place, for the most growth you generally want to be using a full range of motion. Multiple studies have favored the use of full range of motion over partial range of motion for both strength and hypertrophy. And in the case of the biceps, one 2012 study found that utilizing a full range of motion during the biceps curl led to greater growth and strength of the biceps. To apply this to your curl, think about contracting the triceps at the bottom of every rep. This helps ensure that your biceps are fully lengthened before each rep and truly experiencing the full range of motion of the movement.
Mistake #4: Not Targeting Both the Short Head and the Long Head
The biceps are comprised of two heads. Meaning that for full development of well-rounded biceps, you need to adequately train both heads (the short head and the long head of the biceps). The short head can be emphasized more by utilizing biceps exercises where the elbows are moved in front of the body which causes the long head to enter active insufficiency. Exercises like spider curls, preacher curls, and chin-ups are great options here. Whereas for the long head, we do the opposite and bring the elbows behind the body. Incline dumbbell curls, drag curls, and behind-the-body cable curls are great options here.
Mistake #5: Doing Too Much Volume
After reviewing the above four mistakes and correcting them accordingly, you’ll realize that you don’t need much volume to maximize your biceps growth. Keep in mind that you already indirectly train your biceps through your back exercises, so you don’t want to do a ton of junk volume just because you’re not experiencing growth. That’ll lead to too much muscle damage, inflammation, and not enough recovery – which are all detrimental to growth. Instead, focus more on the quality of that volume rather than the quantity, and you’ll experience far greater results in your quest for tighter sleeves.