Best Bicep Exercises for Athletes
Bicep training tends to get a bad wrap in the worlds of sports and athletic performance. A lot of coaches don’t want to isolate muscles. It is as if isolation movements are the devil--evil incarnate, bad for the soul and needs to be avoided or damnation will follow (on that biblical violence, fire, and brimstone kick). Coaches will say, “Don’t touch any machines! They’re horrible! No one wants to be training single joining movements!”
Okay. We get it. However.
The problem ends up being that if there is a structural problem, like shoulder or elbow issues, there are a lot of benefits from isolating those joints and training through the isolated positions to help improve other positions. So, if an athlete does have a bicep issue, the athlete can perform isolated bicep eccentric tendinopathies to help deal with the elbow pain. Or say an athlete goes overhead and has shoulder pain. There might be a weakness or tightness that is because of the bicep impacting the shoulder.
It is important to realize that there is a lot more to training the biceps than just isolation and machines. Training the biceps can actually create a significant benefit to the body’s enhancement.
Let’s look at some movements that train the biceps and will benefit competitive prowess.
In a post curl the athlete will be standing--most of the time we here at Garage Strength like to have our athletes stand; typically most athletes are standing when performing their athletic movements. On top of that, standing athletes can produce a little more force and a little more power which will lead to a heavier load.
One thing that is great about the post curl is that by posting the back up against a post, it will give a longer stretch in the muscle. Even with a bit of wrist extension into wrist flexion, the bicep can lengthen. In addition, the post allows for lengthened pecs and shoulder muscles as well to help improve better positions pressing and overhead. In addition, post curls are a way for the athlete to get a decent amount of support in the back and get an increased range of motion in the bicep.
We utilize post curls with our wrestlers, football players, and field hockey (or ice hockey) athletes. The movement can be performed once or twice a week for four sets of twenty to twenty-five reps. The athlete will dramatically increase the strength of their bicep and will also hit a better position related to the shoulder.
Another aspect of the post curl being completed with dumbbells is utilizing a hammer grip. Athletes need to get good tension and then hold the movement at the top for some isometric work. A grappler, wrestler, or linemen have elbow cocontraction, meaning the bicep and tricep are active at the same time. The big takeaway here, that with the hammer grip, the co-contraction with the performing the post curl, and the isometric hold at the top will make the elbow more stable.
More stability in the joining provides a lot more safety and can potentially prevent injury.
We like to have athletes perform Homer’s with a towel because of how well it trains the grip. The towel will be wrapped around the dumbbells and gripped. With the towel wrapped around the dumbbells and gripped, the athlete will walk for 10-15 meters with the arms in an L position, holding the isometric hold during the walk. At the end, perform curls. From there, turn around and walk back with even more time under tension, holding that L position again. At the end, curl again. Typically the athlete will do ten to fifteen curls at each end.
The big thing here, especially for wrestlers and grapplers, the towel almost mimics the gi perfectly. Now if we talk about throwers, shot putters and baseball players who need grip work, this movement will improve the brachioradialis and connect it to the bicep, stabilizing the elbow joint and wrist. Plus, doing it while walking will help transfer it even more to the sporting world.
The biceps tend to be more of a slower twitch muscle compared to the triceps. As a slower twitch muscle, the biceps benefit from doing a lot of isometric work. It also pays off to do a lot of overhead bicep work because it can dramatically improve shoulder health. That’s where spider curls come into play.
Spider curls can be performed over a box, the side of a bench, or jerk boxes, or can be done on a preacher curl bench by using the preacher curl bench in reverse. By getting into position and moving the hips back quite a bit, the athlete can get into what is almost an overhead position when at the top of the contraction of the curl. This is like a cable crossover except the barbell can be loaded much more. Go ahead and use a fat grip to work the grip as well.
The overhead position for athletes will improve. Think about it. The position of flexion at the top range will lead to some serious growth in the bicep in that semi-overhead position will protect the shoulder. People who need shoulder stability work, use the movement once or twice a week (they’re easy to recover from) for three to five sets of higher reps because the bize are slower twitch.
Fat-Grip Zottman Curl | Curl Ups
First off, we love the idea of utilizing pre-fatigue to strengthen muscles and their endurance and strength capabilities. The fat grips will help increase the strength in the wrist and forearm flexors; they will also force more recruitment from the biceps. Supinate with the curl, rotate, and bring the dumbbells back down with a pronated grip. Do enough reps where the athlete is at the point where they can barely do another rep, say seventeen to twenty reps.
Now rest for thirty to sixty seconds.
With the elbow isolated, the biceps and forearms fatigued, we will have our athletes perform a compound movement. One of the best compound movements to do to stimulate the bicep is a curl up (some people call them chin ups). The curl up puts a ton of load on the bicep, especially if weighted. Most important, it is teaching the bicep how to cocontract and coordinate properly with the shoulder. Grip and biceps fatigued, keep a slow eccentric and make sure to fully extend at the bottom and pause in the lengthened position. As the athlete gets tired, have them squeeze and pause at the top with the chin over the bar.
This combination of movements will not only create size, but will help increase strength and improve competitive athletic performance.
The bicep is a pivotal muscle in relation to the shoulder and elbow joints. And yes, we understand there are other contributing muscles that play roles in shoulder and elbow joint health; it isn’t lost on us. Still, who has ever been mad about improving joint health, getting stronger, and having larger arms? Right?!? With that in mind, use the post curls, spider curls, Homer’s, and the pre-fatigue combination of fat-grip Zottman curls super-setted with curl ups to create some massive gains that not only look excellent but improve competitive capabilities in athletic performance of sport.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.