In the first instalment we covered the boring, but nevertheless essential, anatomy of the elbow flexors and also why it’s important to keep their relative strength well balanced. Well, now let the fun begin…Ok, a quick caveat first, then I promise I’ll actually get onto the training. Scouts honour.
Before you even think about direct arm work you should make sure that you’re strong in the key compound lifts. For the elbow flexors we’re primarily talking chin-ups and pull-ups. Needless to say, if you can’t knock out 8 good pull-ups, curls shouldn’t be a priority.
My Key Exercises
So, finally, here you go. This is by no means an exhaustive list but if you can master these basics then you’ll not go far wrong.
Incline Dumbbell Curl
This is a great exercise to emphasise the long head of the Biceps Brachii. The incline position puts the elbows behind the body – this means the shoulder is put into extension. As we discussed in the first part, shoulder extension = an emphasis on the long head. The shallower the incline (i.e. closer to flat), the greater the shoulder extension. How low you can go depends on how flexible you are but beware that near flat positions can be hard on the rotator cuff.
Generally a supinated (palms) grip would be the default style here as we’re looking to emphasis the Biceps Brachii. Elbows should stay in line with ground for the most part, slight deviation forward when fatigued is permissible, and keep the back of your head driven into the bench throughout.
Standing Reverse Curl
Doesn’t matter what you do them with (barbell, cable column, dumbbell), just do them. The Biceps Brachii don’t like the pronated grip so it’s the often weak Brachioradialis and Brachialis that have to take on the work. Remember that these muscles respond well to slow tempos and isometric pauses; I favour a slow eccentric tempo that incorporates pauses at the top of the movement and also at 90 degrees. You should be aiming for 80% of what you’d be able to do with a supinated grip.
Supinated Preacher Curl
These are also known as Scott curls in many circles in homage of former Mr. Olympia Larry Scott. The supinated grip means we’re back on the Biceps Brachii but we’re also hitting the Brachialis here. The position of the bench places the shoulder in flexion, therefore emphasising the short head of the Biceps Brachii, and allows you to get a full stretch; the Brachialis has to work hardest at the start of the movement. The additional benefit of the bench is that it will naturally limit how much you are able to cheat using other parts of the body and allow you to focus all of your attention on recruiting the elbow flexors.
It seems, however, that nobody performs preacher curls properly anymore; make sure you don’t add to the list. For starters, lower the weight ALL the way. The most important part of the exercise is the bottom portion; you’d be stupid to miss out on it. Secondly, DON’T raise the weight all the way. If you go too far at the very top of the movement you’ll lose tension on the Biceps; concentrate on maintaining it.
Perhaps the most complete of the elbow flexor exercises and probably one you’ll need a video of to understand. A good choice for the Brachioradialis as it gets the chance to work as both a pronator and supinator here.
Essentially this is a regular (supinated) concentric curl with an eccentric reverse (pronated) curl. Don’t let the elbows flare out it on the way down; if they do then it’s your Brachiali that you need to focus on.
The ‘Perfect Curl’
The brainchild of bodybuilding legend Vince Gironda, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is just standard curl performed with a cheat. I can most definitely assure you that this is not the case. Performing the curl in this fashion places maximum tension on the muscles throughout the movement. I’d advise that you watch this video before we continue.
Before you start the curl, lean backwards with your torso so that your shoulders are behind your hip and ensure that you get a full stretch in the elbow flexors. Be sure to extend from the hips and not through over-arching your back. As you curl the weight up slowly bring your torso forwards. As you finish the movement your shoulders should be in front of your hips. The key here is not to swing the weight; keep the movement slow and controlled.
So that’s my ‘Fab 5’ for the elbow flexors done and dusted, it’s now up to you to put the work in. In the final part of this trifecta we’ll run through the ‘any other business’ of this arm training meeting; this includes some of the techniques you should be employing to maximise your gains.