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Fact checked by Tyler DiGiovanni, BSBMFACT CHECKED
October 04, 2021 1 Comment
If you want well-defined, thick biceps, targeting the short head of the biceps brachii is essential. And while you can’t completely isolate the short head, you can perform certain bicep exercises (aka curls) that provide the highest degree of activation for this muscle head, which is located on the inner side of your upper arm.
This article will guide you through the key points about the biceps and how you can effectively target the short head.
If you’re ready, let’s jump right in!
Your biceps (or bi’s), more formally known as the biceps brachii, is a single muscle made up of two muscle heads (hence the word “bi”, which means two).
The two muscle heads of the biceps are called the short head and the long head.
Both muscle heads arise from the scapula (at different points) and converge to form a single muscle belly which is attached to your upper forearm.
For reference, a muscle “head” is simply the point of origin, and the “belly” is the central point where the muscle bulges.
Here is a pic of the muscle and where the heads attach:
If you want to get nerdy and specific, the short head of the biceps attaches to a bony protrusion on the scapula called the coracoid process. The long head attaches to the supraglenoid tubercle in the hollow of the scapula right near the shoulder joint.
As you can see, the short head is on the inner side of the arm and the long head is on the top/outer side of the upper arm, both on the anterior side (front).
The main function of the biceps brachii is to flex the elbow (bringing your forearm up toward your upper arm by bending your elbow) and supinate the forearm (rotating your forearm/wrist outward).
As both muscle heads cross the shoulder joint, they also assist in flexion and abduction/adduction of the shoulder.
You can not completely isolate the short head. Remember, it is just a muscle head that shares the same muscle belly as the long head.
As a matter of fact, you can't even isolate the biceps brachii from the brachialis, as they share the same function.
Be that as it may, there are ways that you can emphasize the short head, meaning provide it with the most possible activation.
The same is true for the long head, but since this article is about the short head, we will only be focusing on exercises that target the short head specifically.
Because the muscle heads come together to form the entirety of the biceps brachii, the short head and long head of the biceps are difficult to discuss separately. With that in mind, here are some key comparison facts about each.
This info will help to further clarify the natural function of your biceps and make you look even smarter at the gym if anyone asks about the biceps!
WHERE IS THE SHORT HEAD OF THE BICEP?
The short head of bicep is located on the inside of your upper arm. The short head is wide and meshes with the long head to give the biceps a defined and wide appearance from the front view.
WHERE IS THE LONG HEAD OF THE BICEP?
The long head of the bicep is located on the top and outside of your upper arm. The long head is slimmer than the short head and has a higher peak. The long head is the part of the biceps you notice when your arm is flexed, almost shaping into a sphere.
So, if you want to build a high peak in your bicep, that’s your long head, and if you want more width, that’s your short head. Targeting the short head during training will help make your biceps wider, which will give your upper arm a fuller appearance.
DIFFERENCES IN ACTIONS:
When the biceps’ short and long heads contract simultaneously, the elbow bends in the aforementioned process of flexion. However, there are certain functions that one head takes more control over.
While you can’t completely isolate the short head of the bicep, there are methods of emphasizing it when doing bicep exercises.
With consideration of the aforementioned differences in actions, you have four main ways to better target the short head of the biceps during elbow flexion (i.e. curls):
Even without weights, you can try these arm and grip positions real quick to see how your inner bicep (short head) is more activated and contracted.
Overall, when doing curls, just remember, the more supinated your hand, the more your short head (inner bicep) will be activated. And the more pronated your hand (palm in or down), the more your long head (outer bicep) will be activated. Nevertheless, both heads will be working regardless.
In regards to keeping your elbows up and out in front of you, there has been EMG research (electrical activity of muscles and nerves) done and this positioning shows to increase tension on the short head of the bicep. This makes sense as the short head plays a greater role in stabilizing the shoulder joint, which occurs when you are curling with your elbows held up in front of you.
If you want to create well-defined, full, thick biceps that look impressive from the front, then you need to make sure your short head is being activated during bicep exercises.
The same is true for the long head. If you want to have a high peak in your bicep, you need to give your long head attention too.
Together, your arms will look impressive from the front and side view. Plus, you will have a greater advantage of strength when performing big compound exercises or other physical activities. After all, well-developed, strong biceps are not just for looks, right!?
By effectively targeting both the long and short heads of the biceps during your training sessions, you will optimize your personal genetics, allowing your guns to get as big and strong as they possibly can!
If you are new to bodybuilding, set smart goals for your workouts and always try to ensure balanced workouts that challenge your muscles to grow and gain strength. After we go over all of the exercises for the short head biceps, we will offer you some important training tips and techniques.
Now that you understand about the function and importance of the biceps, it’s finally time to jump into the 9 Best Short Head Bicep Exercises.
Note: There are actually more than 9 exercises, but some are simply slight variations or the same exact exercise but with different equipment, so we grouped them together. While it may seem redundant, changing up equipment or slightly altering an exercise training variable can make a big difference to your progression as variety is an important aspect of overloading a muscle to force adaptation and thus increase size and strength of the muscle.
The preacher curl is a great exercise for the short head of your bicep because it positions your elbows out in front of your body, which as we mentioned, provides greater activation of the short head.
Another great thing about the preacher curl is that it eliminates cheating as your elbows are fixed in place and the arm position allows for a large range of motion, particularly benefiting the stretching phase of the movement (you can really get a great stretch in the biceps with a preacher curl). Studies show stretching tension is highly effective (if not the most effective) for hypertrophy.
Now, in terms of equipment, using a barbell/ez bar, dumbbells, and cable for preacher curls are all very effective. The following form cues apply to all equipment variants of this time-tested bicep exercise.
How to do a preacher curl:
Try one arm barbell preacher curls if you are strong enough. This is a big time bicep builder.
The great thing about dumbbells is you can also easily supinate your forearms to the max at the top of the range to really get that full contraction.
You can get an effective supination with a cable set up as well, and it’s easy on the wrists. Overall, we like to implement cable preacher curls just to give a different feel from the free weights.
Don’t have a preacher curl bench?
No worries, you can do single arm preacher curls on an inclined bench.
The wide grip hand position places the short heads of your biceps in a strong mechanical position so that they take on the greatest role when curling. You can do this with dumbbells or an EZ bar, or turn it into a barbell curl. We like dumbbells and an EZ bar best simply because you can supinate your wrists in a way that is a little easier on the joint. But all three are perfectly good options for wide grip curls.
Do this exercise and you are guaranteed to blast your short head biceps in a brutally effective manner.
How to do wide grip curls:
Like preacher curls, spider curls place your elbows out in front of you.
However, your body is in a different position and your elbows are free.
While your elbows are not pressed to anything like a preacher curl, it’s still hard to cheat because you can’t use your shoulders or lower back to hoist the weight up in this position.
Overall, this is a nice exercise to switch things up, keeping your biceps guessing with new stress, especially the short head, which is going to take on the lion’s share of the work.
Another thing to note with spider curls is you’ll get a fantastic loaded stretch in your biceps, which again, is great for muscle growth. In fact, the spider curl may be the best bicep curl of all for stretching tension.
There are three ways to do spider curls:
The first two are the best options as they ensure your arms can fully extend.
As for equipment, you can use a barbell, EZ bar, or dumbbells. We also recommend trying this bicep cable workout, which has you perform this exercise on the cable machine.
How to do spider curls:
Regardless of what bench you use, the form is the same...
Although concentration curls are great for your biceps as a whole, the combination of flexion and supination during this form of curl has proven through EMG studies to move the load favorably toward the short head of the bicep.
And besides being a great short head bicep exercise, the concentration curl in general is one of the best types of curls for bicep activation. This is because concentration curls allow for a large range of motion and maximum contraction. Each rep, you can really hone in on your bicep both on the negative and contraction phase. It’s as isolated as it gets, and the bracing of your elbow on your inner thigh prevents cheating.
How to do concentration curls:
The dead hang bicep curl is similar to a concentration curl in that you can really hone in on your bicep and build a strong mind-muscle connection. The big difference is your body position and your elbow being free. As such, it’s going to stress the muscle differently.
You might think it allows for more cheating, but actually the hanging position removes the ability to use your back and shoulder for assistance, and as long as you focus on keeping your elbow fixed, the hanging positioning is fantastic for maximizing the load on the bicep.
This is a great exercise for building the thickness of your bicep because it targets the inner bicep, which is your short head. The arm position works in a similar way as the wide grip, but it really takes supination to an even higher degree since you are using dumbbells and the way your shoulders are positioned automatically fires up the short head. Just move your arms and wrist to his position now without weight and you will see your inner bicep contract.
How to do inner bicep curls:
You can also do this on an incline bench.
You can do this exercise using a cable machine too.
You can even do it from a high angle, where your elbows are held up at shoulder level and out directly to your side and you curl toward your head.
Both are very effective at building that bicep girth.
The incline curl is one of the best bicep exercises of all, so we had to include it here. It’s great for both the long and short head.
For the short head specifically, make sure you are using a supinating grip. As you curl up, you need to really maximize the supination. And on the negative, hold the supination (keep your wrists turned outward) so that you can keep tension on the short head the entire time.
You are really going to feel some serious tension in your biceps with the incline supination curl.
How to do incline supinating curls (with emphasis on the short head):
Alternating arms each rep is a good way to concentrate on one side at a time. This can help you hone in on and fix muscle imbalances.
You can also try with a flat bench.
This is another example of how you can switch things up to add some variety to your training. It may seem redundant, since we already have other exercises with elbows held in front of the body, but actually it’s not. You are going to definitely feel a difference with how your biceps are activated when doing a lying high cable curl versus the other exercises that also have your elbows out in front of your body. It’s excellent for optimizing both stretching and contraction tension. Just give it a try and you will see. It’s going to absolutely annihilate the short head.
How to do a lying high cable curl:
Related: Best Cable Arm Exercises
The chin up is obviously more than just a bicep exercise, it’s one of the biggest bang for your buck bodyweight exercises you can do. But in terms of the biceps, it’s stellar for targeting the short head and building big biceps. As such, you can hit your short head bicep and a ton of other upper body muscles at the same time.
The reason chin ups are better for your biceps than pull ups is that you have a greater range of motion in your elbow. With pull ups, you are shortening the range of elbow flexion, thus isolating your lats more, whereas chin ups you are fully extending and flexing your elbows each rep, which is basically a bodyweight curl.
Related: Pull Ups vs Chin Ups Muscles Worked
If you have back and arm day separate, this is a great way to hit the muscle twice in one week. As studies show, hitting muscle groups twice a week is best for hypertrophy, especially when you are a beginner to intermediate lifter.
As for grip width, you can go narrow or shoulder width. Both are great for the short head of the bicep. Narrow should be a little easier, which means you can try to add some additional load by wearing a weighted belt. But, save that only for when you are truly ready, which we’d say is when you can do 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps.
How to do chin ups:
We wanted to add this one in just in case you are stuck at home without any equipment or even a pull up bar. With just a bed sheet, towel or some kind of rope, you can perform bodyweight curls.
It's a creative way to hit your biceps, but you need to be careful.
This one uses a bed sheet wedged into the top of a closed door. Basically, you are going to curl your body to standing from a backward leaning position. The more you lean back, the harder it’ll be.
As you can see, this one involves keeping your elbows out in front of you, so it’s good for the short head of the bicep.
How to do bodyweight bedsheet curls:
BE SAFE. Only do this if you are sure your set up is firm and fixed. Give the bedsheet or rope a strong tug to make sure it doesn’t come loose mid curl or else you will end up falling backward.
If you have a safe set up for inverted rows, that’s another great option for your biceps. Plus, you can work your back muscles at the same time!
More Bicep Exercises We Love:
Follow these tips when training your biceps and you will be on your way to building some serious guns.
1. Training Volume
It doesn’t make sense to do an entire workout just for your short head biceps, but we guess you already know this.
Aim to do 8-12 sets per week for your short head if you really want to build up some thickness in your biceps. You can break those sets up throughout the week or do them all in one training session. It really depends on your split. Just avoid overdoing it as if you do too many sets for your biceps in a row, you can cause unwanted strain and you’ll make recovery time slow.
There’s a happy medium for volume and frequency, so try to find that and you’ll see the most efficient results.
2. Rep Ranges & Load
The best rep range for the biceps is 5-20 reps. That’s obviously quite a big range. However, rep range means nothing without a consideration for load. Use relatively heavy weights for 5-8 reps, use moderate weight for 8-15 reps, and use light weight for 15-20 reps. Work through all spectrums of reps/loads as this will give your biceps the shock it needs to grow. Switching up rep ranges is an important part of progressive overload. By doing so, you will ensure your muscles are constantly being challenged.
Examples of good rep ranges and rest time:
The weight load you choose should challenge you (bring you near, to or even past failure) with that rep range and rest time.
Note: Don’t go heavier than you can handle though! Good form and full range of motion trumps weight load. So, only move up in weight when you know you can do so with correct form.
3. Training Past Failure
There are certain exercises that you can train past failure with, and bicep curls are one of them. Don’t do it every set, but do implement some sets past failure. This is going to really give you the muscle building boost that your biceps need. The biceps can handle a lot of stress, so provide them with it.
Use an appropriate weight load that challenges you in the targeted rep range (i.e. 10 reps) and just try to get that extra rep in to make it 11. One rep may not seem like a big deal, but it can make a big difference for boosting strength, size and pushing past plateaus.
Note: It’s ok if you need to cheat a little on a rep that’s past failure, but don’t cheat every rep. Basically you want strict form and once you reach failure, you can give your self a little help to get that extra rep or two in. Just be careful not to do so in a way that puts pressure on your wrist, elbow or shoulder joint.
All in all, it’s not that hard to train past failure with bicep curls. A lot of the time, you will stop before you actually reach failure. Just try to push your biceps to the limit in a smart manner.
Besides chin ups, the bicep exercises for the short head are isolation exercises. When it comes to isolation exercises, variety is key. Unlike compound exercises, where you want to stick with the same lifts for a training cycle so you can progress, its ok to change up the isolation exercises you are doing or at least switch up the order each week.
So, if you are doing an arm workout each week with 3 short head bicep exercises, you can switch things up pretty frequently.
All in all, the goal is to go in and crush your biceps. Choose a couple exercises and do a number of sets with an appropriate weight load in a challenging rep range and feel them burn. When you feel that your biceps are fried, move on.
Don’t overdo it, but don’t underdo it either. If your plan says to do something and you feel you need another set or two, then do it. Listen to your biceps, they will tell you when they’ve had enough. Just be sure to organize your split so that they have enough time to recover before the next session that is bicep-centric (i.e. back day).
Supersets: Implement supersets on arm days to speed up your workouts. You can do supersets of triceps and biceps as the two are opposing and it shouldn't affect effort.
5. Mind-Muscle Connection:
It doesn’t matter how many sets and reps you do or how often you hit your biceps if you don’t have a good mind-muscle connection. It also doesn’t really matter what exercises you do. To build your biceps, you MUST know how to fully contract them and give them appropriate stretching tension as well. A lot of people have trouble using their biceps for curls, and they end up using too much forearm for the movement or cheat with jerky movements.
The best way to really hone in on your biceps is to start light and really focus on the biceps. Move slowly and feel the contraction and stretch with each rep. Squeeze the heck out of your biceps at the top and allow for a full stretch at the bottom. You’ll know when your biceps are working correctly because the pump and burn will be incredible.
Thank you very much for reading this guide on training and building up the short head biceps. We hope you find value in this information and that you’ll check out some of our other helpful articles. Until next time, have fun blasting the biceps short head with these exercises and training techniques.
Now it's time to learn about the Best Long Head Biceps for Huge Peaks.
More Bicep Related Content:
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September 21, 2023
September 21, 2023
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