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Strengthening the Biceps Muscle

The biceps, or biceps brachii “two headed muscle of the arm”, is the major muscle in the upper arm at the front and important in positioning the arm for detailed tasks to be performed by the hands in front of the eyes. The elbow joint divides the length of the arm and allows it to be manoeuvred into the large number of postures we require, with the biceps one of the major controlling muscles. The upper biceps tendons originate on the scapula and the two parts of the muscle travel down the arm and join into one around half way down the upper arm. At the lower part of the arm, near the elbow, the biceps becomes a single tendon and inserts onto the radius on its inner side.

The function of the biceps is to bend the elbow and to supinate the forearm, to turn the forearm so the palm faces upwards. Strengthening the biceps is seldom necessary for medical purposes but is often pursued to increase muscles size and strength overall. Biceps strengthening and development should be seen in the context of overall body strength and training. Initial training should be phased in to avoid excessive delayed onset muscle soreness, and adding a new movement or increasing the intensity of training introduces the risk of soreness and injury if not planned well.

Standing barbell curls are the typical initial exercise that all men, and some women, try when they first go to the gym. Even though this is an easy exercise it is often performed incorrectly. The barbell is best held at arm width with the palms up and the weight steadily moved from the straight arm position to the fully elbow bent posture. Then the arm should be let down steadily again at the same speed until the arm is straight again. The speed of the movement should be relatively slow, with no throwing of the weight or forward movement of the hips on the way up, and on the eccentric part of the movement the speed should not increase.

Dumbbell curls can also be used, and give the opportunity to add supination, the upward turning of the forearm, into the movement, with the reverse on the downward movement to allow for maximum stimulation of the muscle. The biceps is also strongly stimulated in movements which pull the arms towards the body such as chin-ups, rowing and latissimus dorsi pull downs.


Author: Jonathan Blood-Smyth

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