Tyler Sellers
Published by Tyler Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: March 25, 2021

Most people I talk to look at the biceps as one single muscle rather than a muscle group.

And that’s an easy mistake to make.

Even a fully bulked up and lean biceps looks like it’s just one large chunk of muscle.

But in order to do your biceps exercises right and properly create a nice even shape, you have to regularly isolate the long head and short head of the biceps muscle, or the biceps heads.

And you can’t do that by doing just regular dumbbell curls, barbell curls, cable curls or any random long or short head exercises.

Before we get to some detailed arms exercises and training tips, let me give you a quick anatomy lesson of the human body.

Anatomy Of The Biceps Muscles - Brachialis

man showing biceps

Don’t worry; this isn’t going to be a complicated lecture, and you won’t even need to remember the names of the arm muscle groups.

What I want you to understand is that there are different muscles involved in your upper arms.

The biceps brachii is made up of two brachialis muscles that are responsible for elbow flexion, the biceps short head and the long head.

Short Head

You’ll find the short head of the biceps on your inner arm [1].

The short head bicep is a wide brachialis muscle that blends in with the long head of the biceps brachialis and gives your upper arms a great definition when seen from the front.

Long Head

The long head runs alongside the short head bicep brachialis but has a slimmer profile with a much higher peak. It’s also most noticeable when your arm is flexed, where it almost shapes into a perfect ball.

What I suggest to clients who are measuring their bulking progress is to not just look at the overall size of their biceps heads but rather measure the width and the biceps peak over time.

That will tell you a lot more about how well your long and short head biceps workout is doing its job.

“Primary functions of the biceps brachii is flexion of the elbow and supination of the forearm. In fact, it is the prime mover of forearm supination. Since it crosses the gleno-humeral joint, it also serves to assist shoulder elevation.” - physio-pedia.com.

Read More: 8 Best Long Head Bicep Exercises

Why Is It Important To Target The Short Head Of The Biceps?

So, in a worst-case scenario, I’ve seen people constantly repeat the same biceps workouts that isolate the long head.

Yes, you’ll get a nice big brachialis peak that looks great from the side. But then you release the tension and look at the upper arm from the front, and it looks strangely slim.

And that’s a good indication that your exercises routine hasn’t put enough strain on the short head of the biceps muscle.

With all that said, this isn’t going to be a problem for the average beginner with limited long and short head biceps definition. But once you gain some bulk, it’s time to pay more attention to the detailed shape of your upper body [2].

Our Top Short Head Biceps Exercises

These are the bicep exercises we get clients to work on to target the short head muscle.

1. Wide-Grip Barbell Curls

man doing Wide-Grip Barbell Curls

The first exercises isolating the short head are the wide-grip barbell curls. Your starting position is to stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart to maintain balance and ithe wide grip of the barbell held in front of you.

You’ll also want to target a wider grip width than you normally would so that your hands are further apart than your shoulders.

Start the curling movement upwards while focusing your attention on fully engaging your short head muscle.

Once you get to the top of the movement, slowly lower the bar back down again without loosening your grip.

Just avoid allowing your elbows to fully extend, and keep a slight flex. And aim for 8 to 10 reps max, with the last 2 curls being a major struggle for your arms and short head biceps particularly.

Related: Best Curl Bar Exercises

2. EZ Bar Preacher Curl

woman doing EZ Bar Preacher Curl

You’ll need an EZ bar and a preacher bench for these preacher curls, but it can be a really good investment.

By slightly changing the angle of your arms and supporting them, you focus a lot more targeted tension on your brachialis biceps, the long head and the short head muscle group.

Set yourself up with a slightly wider grip width (wider than your shoulder-width grip) on the EZ bar with your elbows and triceps resting on the pad.

Start the preacher curls by pulling the EZ bar weight up towards your face, but stop just before you reach the full range of motion, holding the EZ bar in the firm grip right there in front of you.

That will be just before your forearms are vertical because at that stage, the pressure of the weight of the EZ bar will transfer to the bench, and you won’t get the full benefit of these preacher curls.

Also Read: How to Perform Cambered Bar Curls 

3. Concentration Curls

man doing Concentration Curl

Your starting position for the concentration curls is on a chair or workout bench, sitting upright with your feet flat on the ground and knees spread.

Grab hold of a dumbbell and rest your elbow on your inner thigh with the weight hanging down.

Tilt your body slightly forward and look directly down at your biceps. Slowly pull up the weight and concentrate on really pumping up your biceps.

Then lower the weight back down and repeat with a full range of motion.

That focused attention on the weight in your hand grip and concentration on one muscle (hence the name concentration curls) will work wonders for bulking and shaping the short head biceps.

4. Spider Curls

man doing spider curls

The spider curls have a similar effect as the preacher curls because of the changed angle of the arms.

You’ll need an incline bench with ankle pads to anchor yourself in place.

Set the angle of the bench to about 45 degrees and lean your upper body on the backrest with your belly.

To start the exercise movement, let your arms with the dumbbells hang straight down( in the underhand grip) and then curl up the weights without allowing your elbows to flare out.

You should notice that this version of the incline dumbbell curls activates the short head bicep muscles quite differently, as the long head bicep won’t carry as much of the pressure.

5. Reverse Curls

man doing Reverse Curls

You can do these biceps exercises with a regular barbell, EZ bar, or dumbbells, with the main focus being on how you grip onto the bars.

The starting position of the reverse curls is to hold onto the bar with a pronated grip rather than a regular underhand grip. Essentially, your palms will be facing down, in a shoulder-width grip.

You curl the weight in the same way as you normally would by slowly pulling it up to your chest before you lower the weight in your arms back down again.

For this biceps exercise, another version of a bicep curl, always focus on the full range of motion to make sure you maximize the strain on your shoulder blade and upper arms muscles.

6. Chin-Ups

woman doing chin ups

Chin-ups are a great way to work on head of your biceps, but you really need to keep them to a narrow grip.

With a wider grip, most of the work will be done by muscles in your shoulders and back, which is a workout for a whole different day.

Let yourself hang from a pull-up bar with your palms facing towards you and in a grip only a few inches apart.

In a slow and steady movement, pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar, and then lower yourself back down again.

If you start getting to more than 10 of these short head biceps exercises, then spice things up with a weighted vest.

7. Hammer Curl

man doing hammer curls

The hammer curl is a very easy way to slightly modify your dumbbell grip and end up with a very different strain on your biceps short head.

Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Hold the dumbbells to the side of your body in a firm grip with the palms facing each other.

It’s like you’re holding a hammer, which is where this exercise, a bicep curl variation gets its name from.

Now curl your arms, still with a shoulder-width grip and concentrate on pumping up your short head biceps. Then slowly lower them down again to your starting point, without loosening your hands grip.

8. Rotating Curls

man doing rotating curls

Your starting position will be the same as the regular dumbbell curl with your palms facing up.

The difference in this biceps workout is that you rotate your hands at the top of the movement.

This results in your palms facing down while you lower the weights down again, which is a great way to target the long head bicep muscles.

Focus on your elbows as well, as you want to keep them tucked in beside your body.

I find the arms rotation sometimes causes the elbows to flare out a bit, which reduces the strain.

9. Rope Hammer Curls

woman doing Rope Hammer Curls

For the rope hammer curl, a version of the cable curls, you’ll need to set up a cable machine with the pulley set to the lowest point.

Then attach the rope and make sure that there is a bit of tension when you hold it in a firm grip at about hip-high.

The effect of pulling up is very similar to the hammer grip above, but I find the cable machine can give you a longer range of motion.

Training Techniques

man pumping biceps

Now, before you just jump in and start adding the above sets of curls to your upper arms workout routine, let me give you a tip on how to get the best results for your biceps short head.

1. Split Your Short Head Biceps Sets

I would not recommend using an entire session of these exercises to target the short head. By doing all of these curls at once, you can add too much strain and make your recovery more difficult.

And to get better bulking results, it’s also important to add a bit of variety to your sets of the short head biceps exercises.

Here’s what that means.

On your arm days, plan to alternate sets so that you work on your triceps, followed by the biceps short head, followed by the forearm, followed by the long head.

That’s just an example, and there’s no right or wrong order here. Just mix things up to give individual heads muscles a bit of a rest between sets.

2. Switch around The Isolation Exercises

man in an intense workout

I mentioned above that one of the biggest mistakes is to just do dumbbell curls and think that everything is taken care of.

It’s much better to keep switching things around.

That means switching the order and types of movements you do from one training session to the next.

You’ll decrease the chance of muscle memory, and it also makes the whole routine less boring.

3. Push Yourself To Failure

There are two things you need to keep in mind for these exercises.

When you’re bulking, you want to stick to 12 or fewer reps.

That means that the last rep should be a big struggle to complete. Anything more than that will generally reduce the muscle-building effect and might even just end up burning off some fat.

The other thing you can do is reduce the reps to 10 and then do the eleventh rep as far as you can go until your arm muscles fail [3].

Just be careful with some of the short head biceps exercises, as pushing too far can put a lot of pressure on the shoulder joint.

4. Bring Your Reps Down

man sitting down in a gym

This shouldn’t be too much of a secret either, but I still see a lot of beginners at the gym head for 20 reps when their goal is to bulk up the body.

Most beginners should set a goal of struggling at reps 10 to 12.

And once you’ve gained some more serious bulk, then you should consider reducing the curls number gradually.

Some of the professional bodybuilders I work with aim for 6 to 8 reps at most.

5. Mentally Focus On The Muscle

It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing a barbell curl, cable curls, preacher curls, chin-ups or any bicep curl; the more you focus your attention on pumping up the biceps throughout the arm movement, the better your results will be [4].

Whenever possible, look at your biceps directly or in the mirror and concentrate on maximizing the pump.

Related Articles:

FAQs

What Is the Short Head of the Bicep?

The short head of the bicep brachii is the wider and shorter part of the biceps. It plays a key role in flexing the elbow joint and provides the width to the appearance of your upper arm.

What Is the Long Head of the Bicep?

The long head of the biceps brachii is slimmer and creates the peak of the brachialis biceps. In addition to being responsible for elbow flexion, it also works to turn the arm inwards.

Which Bicep Head Is the Peak?

The long head of the biceps is the peak as it is the slimmer muscle compared to the short head. The peak is what you see in the side profile, which is a big part of the visual appearance of the upper arm.

Are You Going To Try These Short Head Bicep Exercises?

The long and short head muscle group is a favorite for both beginners and professionals to work on.

It’s great when you see progress in both weight ranges you can lift and the overall size of the brachialis.

But don’t make that beginner mistake and miss out on developing the right biceps shape right from the start.

Start to tweak your routines with the above biceps exercises, and then let us know how it worked out for you.


References:

  1. https://www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/biceps-brachii-muscle
  2. https://www.menshealth.com/uk/building-muscle/a30873513/hammer-curl/
  3. https://medium.com/@SandCResearch/how-does-proximity-to-failure-affect-hypertrophy-e39653d41e96
  4. https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/why-you-need-work-concentration-curls-your-routine/

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