Building up your biceps does more than make you look good in a t-shirt. By adding muscle to your biceps — the muscle that lies on your upper arm between the shoulder and the elbow — everyday life is a bit easier.
Buff biceps means strong arms that can carry groceries and babies; lift a suitcase up a flight of stairs; and perhaps, hold up your drunk friend at the end of the night.
There are many options for working out your arms, pin-pointing the exercise that most efficiently strengthens your biceps can be tricky. So much so that an independent study by the University of Wisconsin — LaCrosse, was commissioned by the American Council on Exercise to find which of the most popular moves most effectively strengthen the biceps.
After testing eight most commonly used bicep workouts — cable curl; barbell curl; concentration curl; chin-up; EZ curl (with both wide and narrow grip); incline curl; and preacher curl on 16 volunteers — concentration curls came out on top.
Concentration curls are performed with the upper arm pressed against the leg, resulting in better isolation of the biceps muscle.
1. Sit down on a flat bench with one dumbbell in front of you between your legs. Your legs should be spread with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
2. Use your right arm to pick the dumbbell up. Place the back of your right upper arm on the top of your inner right thigh. Rotate the palm of your hand until it is facing forward away from your thigh. Tip: Your arm should be extended and the dumbbell should be above the floor. This will be your starting position.
3. While holding the upper arm stationary, curl the weights forward while contracting the biceps as you breathe out. Only the forearms should move. Continue the movement until your biceps are fully contracted and the dumbbells are at shoulder level. Tip: At the top of the movement make sure that the little finger of your arm is higher than your thumb. This guarantees a good contraction. Hold the contracted position for a second as you squeeze the biceps.
4. Slowly begin to bring the dumbbells back to starting position as your breathe in. Caution: Avoid swinging motions at any time.
5. Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions. Then repeat the movement with the left arm.
Variations: This exercise can be performed standing with the torso bent forward and the arm in front of you. In this case, no leg support is used for the back of your arm so you will need to make extra effort to ensure no movement of the upper arm. This is a more challenging version of the exercise and is not recommended for people with lower back issues.
Don't forget to stretch afterward!
“When you look at it, the concentration curl was significantly better than anything else. And I think the reason is that you’re really isolating the biceps muscle more so than in any of the other exercises,” explained University of Wisconsin—LaCrosse department head John Porcari. “Some of the other exercises called into play the anterior deltoid or the front of your shoulder more, and for a lot of those, it’s almost natural to just swing your whole arm or shoulder forward to stabilize before you lift.”
So now that you know what the most effective way to strengthen your biceps is, be sure to keep your arm workout fresh by mixing in other exercises like the eight listed above.
“It’s important to note ... that several of the other exercises elicited more than adequate biceps muscle activation and can serve as viable options for improving biceps muscle strength and function,” said ACE chief science officer Cedric Bryant, in a release.