The Best Science-Based Bicep Workout for Size and Definition (7 Studies)

bicep workout science

If you want muscular, well-developed arms with a prominent “peak”, then you want to read this article and use this bicep workout.

Over the past couple years, I’ve incorporated the methods and tips you’ll learn in this article into my personal arm training. Here’s where it’s gotten me today:

bicep workout progress

When it comes to arms training, the biggest mistake people make is neglecting both heads of the bicep. Many people are unaware that the biceps are actually composed of two heads.

And although it’s true that both heads will always be active in all bicep exercises, as shown in scientific literature, we can elicit superior activation in one head over the other with certain exercises.

Before we get started with the bicep workout, let’s take a look at their anatomy.

Anatomy of the Biceps

The two heads of the bicep are the long head and the short head. The long head lies more laterally on the arm, and the short head more medially (the “inside” of the arm).

best bicep workout and bicep exercises

Another muscle that tends to be forgotten is the brachialis. It lies beneath the biceps and assists in flexing at the elbow. When well developed it can actually push your biceps up more to provide a better peak when flexing as well as provide more separation between the biceps and triceps.

brachialis muscle for bicep workout

So in order to best train your biceps you want to choose exercises that will allow growth in both the long and short head of your biceps, as well as the brachialis.

 

Exercise 1: Chin-Ups (Heavy Exercise to Stimulate Type II Fibers)

You may be wondering what chin ups are doing in an arm routine, but in my opinion they are one of the best exercises to grow your biceps and scientific literature seems to agree with this.

For example, this 2014 study by the American Council on Exercise compared EMG activation of the biceps with 7 different exercises. The chin-up was tied for second for activation of the biceps. It even managed to out-perform traditional bicep exercises like the barbell curl and EZ curl.

But the reason I’m opting to start with chin-ups for biceps as opposed to concentration curls which performed better in terms of activation is:

1) Because it’s a compound movement.

2) Because research, like this study by Hughes et al. has shown that the biceps are comprised of mostly type II muscle fibers which (may) best respond to training with heavy weight.

In fact, one study by Lagally et al. found that each jump in relative load going from 30-90% of 1 rep max resulted in more bicep activation.

Meaning that in order to recruit all the motor units of your biceps, you need to use heavy weight. And since you can easily overload chin-ups with weight and work up to very heavy loads with it, I suggest starting your biceps workout with them and going heavy for fairly low reps.

Exercise 2: Incline Dumbbell Curls (Emphasizes Long Head)

This second exercise will be used to put more emphasis on the long head of your biceps, but keep in mind that both heads will always be activated to an extent during any elbow flexing movement.

incline dumbbell curls bicep workout

But the reason it emphasizes the long head more is because when you perform a curl when on an incline, your shoulder is in a hyper-extended position. This stretches the long head of the biceps which runs over the shoulder joint.

Since the long head is placed in a greater stretch position compared to the short head, it’s now able to produce more force. And as demonstrated in this study by Oliveira et al., the long head will be active throughout the whole range of motion rather than just the beginning or just the end which is the case for many bicep exercises like preacher curls.

Thus, leading to better overall bicep activation and growth for the long head.

Exercise 3: Concentration Curls (Emphasizes Short Head)

The next exercise will be used to put more emphasis on the short head of the biceps.

concentration curls for bicep workout

I chose to include this exercise because as we saw earlier in this study, the concentration curl elicited much higher bicep activation than the 7 other bicep exercises.

And the reason it puts more emphasis on the short head of the biceps is because, as shown in this study by Staudenmann et al., EMG activation of the short head of the biceps is maximized with combined flexion and supination.

supination during bicep exercises

So you want to turn your wrist out during every rep in order to fully activate the short head of your biceps.

Another great thing about this exercise is that it minimizes the involvement of the anterior delts, which often come into play during curling exercises.

In fact, the study I previously showed by the American Council of Exercise not only showed that the concentration curl had the greatest bicep activation, but the activation of the anterior delt was significantly lower during this exercise than all of the other bicep exercises.

This is likely because during this movement the humerus is pressed against the leg and doesn’t allow the upper arm to sway. This helps isolate the biceps to a greater degree.

One researcher also noted that there may be something mental going on as well. The fact that you can visually see your biceps working throughout the movement may in fact help with the mind-muscle connection.

Exercise 4: Reverse EZ Bar Curl (Emphasizes Brachialis + Brachioradialis)

You want to use this last exercise to help target the brachialis and the brachioradialis which are muscles that will help a lot in improving the aesthetics of your arm.

The reason I chose EZ Bar curls with a reverse grip is because, as demonstrated in this 2015 study by Staudenmann et al., the brachialis inserts onto the ulna rather than the radius.

Simply meaning that it only has one purpose and that is to flex the arm. Since it has no role in supinating the wrist like the biceps do, flexing the arm with a pronated grip will shift some of the work away from the biceps and onto the brachialis. This has been proven in various EMG studies like this one by Naito et al. to put more emphasis onto the brachialis which otherwise gets taken over by the biceps during regular curling exercises.

Sample Workout

So to wrap this all up, here’s a sample workout you can do using everything I previously discussed.

(Weighted) Chin-Ups: 3 sets of 6-8 reps

Incline Dumbbell Curls: 3 sets of 6-8 reps

Concentration Curls: 3 sets of 6-10 reps

Reverse EZ Bar Curls: 3 sets of 6-12 reps

I don’t suggest you perform this workout on it’s own though. Rather, you can add it to an arms workout with triceps or with your back workout. However it’s a fairly high volume workout. You may want to consider cutting it down and spreading it throughout your routine or alternating the exercises.

Let me know if you have any questions, I’ll be here to answer them! Cheers!

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10 thoughts on “The Best Science-Based Bicep Workout for Size and Definition (7 Studies)”

  1. Concerning your short head isolation. Many things that I’ve read and watched conclude that supination of the forearm leads to more work done by the long head, not the short head. This can easily be seen by simply supinating your hand while your arm is bent at 90°. You can plainly see and feel the long head fire up as soon as your hand is supinated, but I’d love to hear from you about this. I personally use supine dumbbell curls as a long head isolator and can definitely feel it working on my outer bicep when I do.

    1. Great question – I probably could have gone more in depth regarding this point I made, and I’ll edit that part in the article. You’re correct in what you’re saying, but it isn’t that simple. I suggest you take a look at this study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21813298). “In the neutral and pronated forearm, the short head is the relatively more efficient supinator. In the supinated forearm, the long head becomes relatively more efficient at supination.” So what this means, and what I’ve personally noticed, is that when going from a neutral hand position to a supinated position, the short head is more involved. However, when going from an already-supinated hand position and going into even more supination, this is where the long head actually becomes more involved since it’s more efficient from a biomechanics perspective. So the involvement of each head depends on the extent to which you supinate your forearm. Hope this helps.

  2. Is there any alt to doing the Incline Dumbbell Curls that work just as well? Because of a injury I have I find that execise abit hard on my arm when I sit in that position shown.

  3. Thanks man, i love your youtube channel and your web, i really feel that since i workout with your programs i have better results, so thank you for your effort and time, i just want to ask if you could add to this kind of workouts some alternatives for the excersises like you do on the PDF’s, that will be great and again, thanks a lot for your work.

  4. I love your videos and also want to adjust the workout for 3 days in a week, could you also provide a 3 way split routine like sample workout for Back + Bicep, Chest + Triceps, Legs + Shoulders.

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