Remember how Arnold Schwarzenegger was famous for having almost perfect triangles for biceps? Those huge peaks didn't happen by accident.
Now, unless you're going to use steroids and focus 100% on a bodybuilding career, you're not going to look like Arnold anytime soon (sorry, man).
But, if you want to build muscle mass in your biceps, you've come to the right place. We've got the long head bicep exercises you've been looking for to define your upper arms and get some serious muscle growth.
What Is the Long Head Bicep?
It's time for some anatomy folks, but don't skip this part! Understanding the two bicep heads (and surrounding muscles) that make up your upper arm is essential for building them up effectively.
The Biceps Brachii
The bicep brachii is what most people will point to if you say, "Where's your bicep?" It's the single muscle on the anterior (inner) part of your upper arm that's divided into a long and short head.
Both the long head and short head begin at your scapula and end near your elbow joint. The short head is along the inner side of your anterior upper arm, with the long head a bit on top of it.
How do the biceps brachii work? They work together in elbow flexion or bringing your forearm toward your upper arm. They also rotate your forearm outward.
So, why differentiate between the long and short head biceps muscles? Because the long head is the more prominent muscle, meaning to get bigger arm muscles, you need to give it extra attention.
But! You shouldn't ignore the short head. Working this biceps muscle is what will get you the thickness (as well as the peak) for truly well-defined upper arms.
TL;DR: Your bicep is divided into a long head and short head, and you need to train them both.
The Brachialis Muscle
For truly massive arms, you can't ignore the brachialis muscle. This one lies beneath your biceps brachii, and helps with elbow flexion.
Why should you care about this bicep muscle? Because it generates up to 50% more power than your biceps alone. Plus, because it's located underneath your biceps brachii, it helps push up or "pop" that muscle group, giving you the coveted bulge.
The good news is that we're going to tell you exactly how to train your brachialis and the rest of these arm muscle groups with the best biceps exercises below. Hang tight.
TL;DR: The brachialis helps your bicep muscles "pop."
The Coracobrachialis Muscle
Don't worry. We won't make you say the name of this biceps muscle 10 times fast. The coracobrachialis, like your brachii, originates at your scapula, between your pec muscles and the short head of your biceps.
It's a rather small muscle, but it's essential. It flexes and adducts (moves your arm toward the midline of your body) your humerus (upper arm bone). It also stabilizes your deltoid and tricep muscles.
Basically, it's an upper-body muscle that will come into play when you're doing your long head biceps exercises. It will help stabilize you and ensure you're really focusing on working the biceps muscle group you intend to (rather than recruiting other muscles, like in your back).
TL;DR: There are a few different muscles that will affect your success when doing your long head biceps exercises, so pay attention to train them accordingly.
Why Is It Important to Isolate the Long Head Bicep?
We touched on this earlier, but you get a few different benefits when you target the long head bicep.
The most superficial — and honestly, my favorite, so no judgment — is you get huge bicep peaks. I mean, tell me, when you see someone with biceps peaks for days, you don't feel a little impressed. That lean, strong-arm look is timeless.
In addition to aesthetics, you also get stronger. You can lift heavier weights in dumbbell exercises, barbell moves, etc. Think: lifting heavier in your dumbbell curls or crushing more chin-ups.
Arguably the best part, though, is the functional strength. You can easily carry all your groceries in one trip, pick up a child or a large dog, or haul the beer cooler onto the beach without breaking a sweat.
TL;DR: Incorporating long head bicep exercises into your routine has a ton of benefits. Don't skip these exercises.
How Much Protein Does It Take to Build Huge Biceps?
This is sort of like asking "How Much Protein Should I Eat a Day?" which, fortunately, we have that entire article about.
But, just in case you're strapped for time, here's the long and short of it:
If you want to build muscle — which, if you want that coveted biceps peak look, you do — you need to be in a slight caloric surplus. That means eating about 300–800 calories above your maintenance level. (Maintenance is however much you need to eat to neither gain nor lose weight.)
For protein, aim to consume 1.6–2.4 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Note that this protein guide is for folks who are lifting heavy at least 2x per week and training their whole body.
If all you're doing is endless biceps curls to try and target that muscle and nothing else, you won't need quite as much.
(But that would be rather ridiculous, wouldn't it. See our article Strength Training: the Definitive Guide to Get You Started for reasons why you need to be strength training your whole body regularly.)
What does that look like in practice? You already followed along through some science. Now it's time for a little math.
Say you weigh 77 kg (about 170 pounds). Take the middle ground of recommended protein at 2 grams. Now, multiply 2 grams of protein by your 77 kg of weight to get 154 grams of protein per day.
Not sure where to get that much protein? Carnivores and vegetarians alike rejoice: we have 42 Foods to Boost Your Protein Intake and 54 Foods Packed with Protein for Vegans and Vegetarians.
A note about supplements: there's nothing wrong with drinking a protein shake or two per day, especially if you struggle to get high-quality, lean protein sources where you live.
That said, try to prioritize getting protein from whole, nutritious foods first. Then, only if you're falling short of your protein goal, think about adding supplements.
TL;DR: Lift heavy weight over your whole body 2x per week, and consume 1.6–2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
How To Train Your Long Head Biceps?
As you'll see below, curls definitely have their place in your bicep workout routine. We'll talk about specific bicep long head exercises below, but for now, here are some guidelines to help you get the most out of your effective bicep exercises.
Use Dumbbells or Barbells
Just your body isn't going to get you very far in terms of bicep workouts. After all, you're only lifting the weight of your forearm and hand, which isn't very much.
So, you need to add weight. Fortunately, long head bicep exercises are super easy to do with either dumbbells or barbells.
Don't have equipment? You can absolutely build your long head bicep muscle with resistance bands. You just gotta know how to do it.
TL;DR: Use some kind of equipment for resistance to build bicep muscle mass in your workout routine.
Focus on the Peak
Remember how we mentioned huge peaks? Yea, you're gonna be focusing there.
What does that mean? It means using a few different techniques to really target the long head muscles. You're going to focus on:
- Bringing your hands closer together (a close grip)
- Using a neutral (hammer) grip
- Performing curls with your elbows at your sides
- Performing curls with your elbows back behind you
Remember how your long head bicep muscle is responsible for moving your arm away from your trunk as well as turning your arm inward? By performing various biceps long head exercises with the above techniques, you create higher activation of the long head muscle, thus focusing on that peak.
TL;DR: Use a variety of movements to focus on the peak to make the most gains.
Add on the Tension
It's time for more muscle-building science, folks.
I'm going to introduce you to a topic called time under tension, or TUT. It refers to the amount of time your fast twitch muscle fibers are, well, under tension or strain, i.e., when you're lifting weights.
Fast-twitch muscle fibers are the ones that support quick, powerful movements (like weightlifting). They're usually bigger fibers and, as such, tire more quickly. This is opposed to slow-twitch muscle fibers, which support endurance activities like running a marathon.
Wait, I can hear you thinking, didn't you just tell me to increase my muscles' lifting time? Why did you just say "quick" twice in that paragraph?
Yes, fast-twitch fibers tire faster, which means slowing your movement down gets you to complete muscle failure. So why do you want muscle failure?
Because when you lift, your muscles get microscopic tears in them (also called hypertrophy inducing muscle damage). Muscle failure means you lifted so heavy you couldn't possibly do even one single more rep at the end of your sets.
Then, when you recover, those tears repair themselves, strengthening your muscle groups in preparation for doing the workout again.
So, when you add constant tension to your long head bicep exercises by slowing your movement down, you get more bang for your buck each lift.
TL;DR: Slow your biceps exercises down to create more damage and, thus, stronger muscles.
Don't Lift Too Much Weight
Okay, you're hearing me talk about lifting heavy and going slowly, so you're ready to tear off to the gym and pick up the heaviest weight you can lift, right? Wrong.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to build the head of the biceps is to lift too heavy too fast.
Yes, you want to lift heavy during your long head bicep workout. BUT not at the expense of your form or effective range of motion.
Think about it: you pick up a heavy weight and can't complete your bicep curls. What do you do? Resort to using other muscles or, god forbid, momentum. Neither of those will get you the long head biceps you've dreamed of.
TL;DR: Focus on good form and effective range of motion over how heavy you're lifting.
Don't Cheat (Too Much)
Speaking of using momentum or other muscles, don't cheat! Well, not too much. Let me explain.
99.9% of the time, you're going to get the most bang for your lifting buck doing long head biceps exercises with proper form, completing each set to failure, and eating enough to support your goals.
Adding a swinging action from about halfway up may make you feel like you're lifting your weight and being impressive, but really, momentum is taking away from your biceps doing the actual work.
Now, that said, cheating this way can have its place. If you want to push past failure on a set, use a heavier than normal load. Just don't do it all the time — save it for every so often.
TL;DR: Don't cheat! Except maybe less than 1% of the time.
You made it! You learned the anatomy of your long head biceps and the science behind how to train them effectively. Now, it's time for pay dirt: the arm workout moves to get you results.
The 10 Best Long Head Bicep Exercises
This list of long head bicep exercises includes both compound exercises and isolation moves, so you can have a well-rounded biceps workout plan.
1. Standing Curls
Ahh, this, the most classic version of bicep curls. The standing curl is just that — when you stand upright and slowly curl your dumbbells (or whatever weight you have) from an extended position up to your upper body.
These are an effective long head bicep curl exercise because they work both your brachii and brachialis muscles.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your shoulder joint stable and your shoulders back.
- Position the dumbbells with an underhand grip, meaning your palms face away from you, elbows locked at your sides (not extending behind your back).
- Brace your core and slowly lift the dumbbells toward your shoulders. Briefly pause, then slowly lower back to starting position.
2. Incline Dumbbell Curls
If you want to take dumbbell curls up a notch, try an incline dumbbell curl. This move is performed on an incline bench, so your elbows extend behind your back.
This makes it an excellent move to target the long head muscles because you're starting from a stretched position. Incline curls mean putting your long head muscles through a larger range of motion.
- Lean back against an incline bench. Keep your back flat against the bench from your tailbone to your head.
- Let your arms hang down but not completely loose. Keep some light tension in your core and shoulders.
- Breathe out as you lift your arms, performing simultaneous incline dumbbell curls. Make sure you're not moving your arms forward (away from the bench) but rather aiming to curl the dumbbell straight up toward your armpit.
- Lower the dumbbells back to starting position.
Include incline dumbbell curls in your biceps exercise routine for serious muscle gains. In addition, they're an excellent isolation exercise for the long head muscles.
3. Dumbbell Hammer Curl
Dumbbell hammer curls are yet another great exercise for building up your biceps. And if you're noticing a pattern with all these different types of curls, it's for a good reason — they work.
Give the hammer curl a watch:
- Seated or standing, keep your torso upright and core braced.
- Hold the dumbbells by your sides, keeping your elbows close to your sides. Your palms should be facing in toward your torso in a neutral grip. Brace your core and shoulder joint.
- Keeping this neutral grip, curl the weight up. Focus on moving only your forearm and keeping your elbows fixed in place.
- When you reach peak contraction, squeeze briefly before returning the dumbbells to the starting position.
Hammer curls work your biceps in a slightly different angle to target the long head muscle. Include a variation of regular dumbbell curls and dumbbell hammer curls in your routine to really build up your biceps.
4. Preacher Curls
Preacher curls are a form of close grip curls that will round out your long head bicep workout. You can use a barbell or EZ bar for this move. The EZ bar will help force you to keep a narrow grip, which is essential.
- Start with the pad at the right height so your armpits are resting on top of it and your arms are at about a 45º angle.
- Pick up the EZ bar with your narrow grip. Watch your elbows to make sure they don't flare out.
- Curl the bar upward. Pause at the top, then lower the bar slowly back down.
- Don't lower the bar all the way to a hyperextended elbow. Instead, keep tension in your biceps throughout the entire movement.
Both the constant tension and the close grip on the EZ bar help you dial in your focus to just the head of the biceps. Again, you're hitting the short head and long head with this one.
5. Narrow Grip Chin-Ups
The good thing about chin-ups is that they're a compound exercise, meaning they work multiple muscles simultaneously. Plus, here we have another move where grip width matters. The width will determine the muscles you work. But, that's for another post.
For now, all you need to know is that narrow grip chin ups target the long head muscles.
- Hold the chin-up bar with a narrow grip (closer than shoulder width) and palms facing you.
- Create tension along your body in a "hollow hang" (so you're not loose and flopping around like a fish out of water when you initiate the pull).
- Begin the chin up with your lats, then engage through your biceps. Again, keep tension throughout your core and legs — your body should move as a single, smooth unit.
- Lift yourself up toward the bar. You don't have to get your entire chin literally over the bar, but you can if you have the strength to.
- Lower yourself back to starting position.
Chin-ups target more than your muscles, and they're great if you're still building strength to do pull-ups.
6. Bayesian Cable Curls
If you've never heard of these, don't worry, you're about to. These cable curls make use of a cable machine, so it does work best if you have access to a gym. If you don't have a cable machine, you can make do with resistance bands tied to something secure.
- Set your cable machine on a very low weight to start. Grab the machine's handle and take a few steps away, so your arm extends out behind you.
- Take a split stance with the leg of the same arm you're working out in front. Keep your hips and shoulders square.
- Curl the handle toward your shoulder. Your elbow will come out in front of you a little bit.
- Return the handle to the starting position.
These curls are similar to incline dumbbell curls in that your arm is going through a bigger range of motion than traditional or hammer curls.
7. Concentration Curls
This is a variation on traditional dumbbell curls. Traditional curls are done either standing or sitting, but with your arms loose. Concentration curls are done sitting down, with your arm braced against your leg.
- Sit down on a weight bench or other stable surface. Keep your legs fairly wide apart with the dumbbell on the floor in front of you.
- Reach down and pick up the dumbbell in an underhand grip.
- Exhale as you lift the dumbbell to shoulder height. Hold this position for a moment, then inhale as you lower it back down.
The key to making this move work for you is to avoid swinging the dumbbell at any point. Momentum gets you no gains.
8. Narrow Grip Barbell Curls
Noticing a pattern? Narrow or close grip barbell curls come with a similar benefit to chin-ups, though in the form of an isolation exercise. A close grip barbell curl focuses on the long and short head bicep muscles, which, remember, is what gets you those peaks.
- Hold a barbell with an underhand grip. Keep your hands narrow, closer than shoulder-width.
- Keep your elbows at your hips. Breathe out and lift the bar toward your chest.
- Inhale as you slowly lower it back down.
Curls are basically your go-to way to build up your long head biceps, so get real good at them.
9. Behind the Back Cable Curl
This one gonna look very similar to the Bayesian cable curl. The main difference is the position of your upper arm.
For Bayesians, you want your elbow to come forward a bit. For behind-the-back curls, you want to keep your upper arm behind the plane of your torso.
- Follow the same set-up steps for the Bayesian curls.
- When you curl your hand up, keep tension in your upper arm, so it doesn't move in front of your body.
- Really squeeze your biceps at the top when you pause. Then release the movement back to start.
If it isn't clear by now, the slightest variation in positioning, movement, etc., can have a different impact on your long head biceps.
10. Drag Curls
You've got preacher curls, barbell curls, incline curl exercises... now it's time to finish the list with drag curls. What makes drag curls different from the other curls we've been talking about? The position of the barbell.
Holding the barbell as close as possible to your body as you do the move takes your deltoids out of the equation and really focuses on the biceps brachii.
- Stand upright, holding the barbell in front of you with hands slightly wider than your shoulders.
- Exhale as you curl the barbell up toward your neck.
- Keep the barbell as close to your body as possible during the move. Think about "painting" the front of your body with the bar.
- Inhale as you slowly lower it down.
Even though your hands are wider, you once again have an underhand grip that's going to build up your peaks.
I hope you enjoyed this collection of the best long head bicep exercises! Then, go forth and lift with confidence that — with proper form and regular practice — you can enjoy mountainous biceps.