short head bicep exercises
Fitness

5 Shirt-Busting Short Head Bicep Exercises

In their quest to get bigger upper arms, many gym-goers and home workout buffs put a level of focus and effort into their biceps training that is greater than any other body part. They try every variation of biceps curls, from wide-grip barbell curls to barbell drag curls, in order to eke out an extra millimeter of biceps peak. In this article, we focus on the short head of the bicep, also known as the biceps brachii, in order to get thicker, fuller, more massive biceps.

Can You Really Target Individual Biceps Heads?

The biceps are made up of two parts, which are colloquially referred to as heads. These are the long head and the short head. This is similar to the triceps, which are made up of three heads, and the deltoids which, also have three heads. However, there is an important difference between the biceps, triceps, and deltoids. 

bicep muscles anatomy

The two upper arm muscles, the biceps, and the triceps have different origins but the same insertion point. When it comes to the biceps, both the short and long heads originate on different parts of the shoulder joint. The two muscle heads run down the upper arm, with the short head under the long head. As they approach the elbow, however, they converge to insert at exactly the same place, that being the forearm bone. 

That bit of anatomy is important. It reveals that the biceps are different than the deltoids, which have different insertion AND origin points. That is why you should do a separate exercise for each deltoid’s head. When either the origin or insertion point is the same, however, it is not physically possible to work the heads separately. Just like the 3 musketeers, it’s one for all and all for one!

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With all of that being said, many people are still convinced that you can work the short head of the biceps separately – and they claim that experience proves it. 

So, what are you to do?

Experiment and find out for yourself.

In this article, you will find 5 of the most commonly done exercises that are supposed to hit the short head of the biceps with the goal of increasing your biceps peak.  Try these curl variants for six months, focusing on the feel in the muscle and looking for improvements in the shape, especially the peak, of the muscle. If it works, great – if not, you’ll know once and for all that, another gym myth has been busted!

5 Short Head Bicep Exercises

1. Cable Rope Hammer Curl

Step by step how to

  1. Attach a rope handle to a cable that is set at foot level.
  2. Stand facing the cable machine and grab the rope handle with a neutral grip at arm’s length by your sides.
  3. From this starting position, curl up to your deltoid level.
  4. Lower and repeat.

Equipment 

Cable pulley machine, rope hammer

Training Tips

Maintain proper form on this cable bicep curl variation to keep your elbows in at your sides; maintain a neutral spine position; focus on contracting the upper arm muscle. 

2. Forehead Curls

Step by step how to

  1. Stand with a barbell in the regular barbell bicep curl start position, but with a slightly wider grip than usual.
  2. As you curl the bar up, bring up your elbows to allow you to curl all the way up to your forehead.
  3. Squeeze the biceps tightly and then lower back to the start position.
  4. Do 4 sets of 12-8 reps.

Equipment 

Barbell

Training Tips

This bicep curl variation really extends your range of motion and was a favorite of old-time bodybuilding legend Dave Draper. Hold the contracted position for 2-3 seconds for a maximum time under tension and greater muscle hypertrophy.

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3. Seated Barbell Curls

Step by step how to

  1. Sit on a bench with a barbell resting across your lap. Hold the bar in an underhand grip just outside your thighs. Your torso should be upright with a natural curve in your lower back.
  2. From this starting position, curl the bar up to your clavicles.
  3. Lower to the start position.
  4. Do 3 sets of 14 repetitions. 

Equipment 

Bench, barbell

Training Tips

Do not swing your back or use body momentum, the only movement should be through the wrist and elbow joint; contract the biceps strongly in the top position and be sure to fully extend the biceps muscle. 

4. Rotating Standing Curls

Step by step how to

  1. Grab a set of dumbbells and hold them at arm’s length with feet hip-width apart as when doing the traditional dumbbell curl. Your palms should be facing forward.
  2. Begin to curl up as you begin to supinate your wrists to face the palms backward in the top position.
  3. Reverse to rotate the wrists in a supinated position to the starting position in the bottom position.
  4. Perform 3 sets of 12 repetitions.

Equipment 

Dumbbells

Training Tips

Keep your elbows in at your sides throughout the movement for maximum bicep muscle activation; supinate the wrists completely on both the concentric and eccentric parts of the movement. 

5. Single-Arm Barbell Curl

Step by step how to

  1. Stand with a barbell held in your right hand so that it is balanced evenly and in front of your body at arm’s length.
  2. Curl the bar slowly and evenly up to a full contraction.
  3. Slowly lower and repeat, maintaining balance.
  4. Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps. 

Equipment 

Single dumbbell

Training Tips

This exercise movement requires quite a lot of balance so keep the light relatively light; focus on getting a full range of motion through the biceps muscle with a controlled motion.

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Final Thoughts

Now that you know which biceps exercises are meant to target the short head of the biceps, put them to use in your biceps workout routine.

Combine 3 or 3 of them into an 8-10 set arm workout with reps pyramiding down from 25 with your lightest weight to 6 with your heavy weights. Then give your biceps time to rest and recuperate, being sure to get plenty of protein into your system to provide the amino acids for regrowth. Don’t overtrain your biceps or they won’t be able to recover sufficiently in order to get bigger and stronger. Limit your biceps training to once every 5 days.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you target different bicep heads?

From a scientific and physiological point of view, you cannot target different biceps heads. That’s because, even though they have different origins, the two heads have the same insertion point. That means that every exercise you do will involve both heads. Of course, that goes against conventional bro-science thinking, and many claim that you can target a different part of the muscle. Try the exercises detailed above and decide for yourself. 

Does preacher curl work short head?

No, the preacher curl will work both heads of the biceps together. The only difference between the preacher and the traditional bicep curl is that the preacher is stricter, preventing you from using momentum. When doing preacher curls as part of your bices routine, do not go all the way down to avoid biceps injury. 

How do you hit every part of your bicep?

You will hit every part of the biceps with every curling action that you perform. For maximum hypertrophy, build your arm workout around cable curl exercises that provide tension at every point of the exercise and dumbbells that allow you to train the biceps unilaterally. Use a variety of light and heavier weights.

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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