The brachialis muscle is easily the most neglected muscle in the upper arms! This is rather surprising considering that properly training the brachialis is absolutely critical if you want big, strong, healthy arms! Discover the best brachialis exercises of all time right here!
This article will be divided up as follows:
- Introduction: Brachialis Training Principles
- Number 5: Standing Unilateral Cable Reverse Curl
- Number 4: Preacher Ez-Bar Curl (Wide, Pronated Grip)
- Number 3: Standing Eccentric-Only Ez-Bar Curls (Wide, Pronated Grip)
- Number 2: Seated Bilateral Zottman Curl
- Number 1: Preacher Unilateral Zottman curl
- Bonus: 2 Incredible Brachialis Training Routines!
I’ve spent many, many years learning the best exercises for training the brachialis.
This is cutting-edge information that you don’t want to miss!
Now let’s get down to business…
Brachialis Training Principles
Before we dive straight into the 5 greatest brachialis exercises of all time we have to cover some of the foundational principles of proper brachialis training.
I highly recommend you carefully lead this section.
Understanding the anatomy and physiology of the brachialis muscle will help you to understand why certain brachialis exercises are more effective than others.
Principle #1: the brachialis is the “workhorse” of elbow flexion
This may seem like a strange thing to say, but it is true: the brachialis is the primary muscle responsible for flexing the elbow.
This is because the brachialis is activated to some degree regardless of whether the hand is held in a supinated, neutral, or pronated position!
The biceps brachii may get all the love, but it is really the brachialis that you should be getting your attention!
Principle #2: the brachialis is most strongly recruited when you use a pronated or overhand grip
If you want to train the brachialis then you need to start performing curls with a pronated grip.
This is the grip position that recruits the brachialis the most.
It is not a coincidence that all 5 of the greatest brachialis exercises of all time feature a pronated grip!
Principle #3: the brachialis is also strongly recruited when you use a neutral or hammer grip
The neutral grip is probably best for recruiting the brachioradialis muscle (the large muscle sitting on top of your forearm).
However, the neutral grip does a decent job of recruiting the brachialis as well.
Principle #4: the brachialis is composed primarily of fast-twitch muscle fibers
This is will come as a surprise to many people but it is true: the brachialis is primarily a fast-twitch muscle!
This means that higher repetitions are pretty much a waste of time when training this muscle.
This is in contrast to the biceps brachii muscle, which has a higher percentage of slow twitch muscle fibers and consequently responds quite well to moderate to high repetition protocols.
As a general rule of thumb, I recommend you train in the 4-8 rep range when training the brachialis for hypertrophy and in the 1-5 rep range when training the brachialis for strength.
Principle #5: the brachialis responds well to slower eccentric muscular contractions
The research is quite clear on this. If you want to maximize recruitment of the brachialis muscle then slower eccentric tempos are more effective!
How slow should you go? As a rule of thumb 2-5 seconds on the eccentric phase is a good place to start.
This is in contrast to the long head of the biceps brachii which actually responds better to faster tempos, at least according to the available literature.
Principle #6: the brachialis muscle responds well to eccentric training
As a general rule of thumb predominantly fast-twitch muscles respond extremely well to eccentric training.
The brachialis is definitely not an exception to this rule!
In fact, 3 of the greatest brachialis exercises of all time utilize eccentric training in some capacity!
Now that we’ve covered the principles of brachialis training let’s dive straight into the top 5 brachialis exercises of all time!
Number 5: Standing Unilateral Cable Reverse Curl
I first learned about this move from Dante Trudel, the inventor of DC Training.
This is an absolutely AWESOME exercise to target the brachialis!
The cable resistance allows you to overload the strength curve in a way that is different from free weight exercises.
One of the keys with this movement (at least according to Dante!) is to keep your wrist fully extended throughout the entire movement.
In other words, you should keep your wrist cocked up towards your forearm at all times! Doing this will help you to recruit the wrist extensors in addition to the brachialis.
As a general rule of thumb this exercise works best during an accumulation phase where you are primarily trying to build muscle mass (or lose body fat).
For example, you could perform 4-5 sets of 4-8 reps with a 3/0/1/1 tempo on this exercise in your next elbow flexor accumulation-style routine.
Number 4: Preacher Ez-Bar Curl (Wide, Pronated Grip)
This is an absolutely fantastic exercise for isolating the brachialis muscle.
The preacher bench makes it so that you absolutely cannot cheat at all throughout the entire movement!
This is a good thing because you will recruit more motor units in the brachialis this way!
You can (and probably should) use both the narrow pronated and wide pronated grips on this exercise.
However, if I had to choose one grip for the rest of my life, I would pick the wide-grip version.
The main drawback of the narrow-grip version is that the ez-curl bar likes to “spin” while you curl and the weight can feel much heavier or lighter depending on the orientation of the bar while you curl.
This really isn’t a problem with the wide-grip version.
One of the things I like most about the preacher reverse curl is that it works awesome for both accumulation and intensification phases!
In other words, this exercise accommodates a wide variety of rep ranges extremely well. As a general rule of thumb sets of 1-8 reps work awesome on this exercise.
The same can’t be said of things like the unilateral reverse cable curl where it can be difficult to maintain proper form using sets of 1-3 reps.
Number 3: Standing Eccentric-Only Ez-Bar Curls (Wide, Pronated Grip)
Please note: I cannot find an exact video of the exercise I have in mind here.
This exercise is just that rare!
In the video the person is doing a standard reverse curl. However, what I have in mind is to perform supra-maximal eccentric-only repetitions!
We already know from part 1 of this article that the brachialis is primarily composed of fast-twitch muscle fibers and as such responds extremely well to eccentric training.
The way we accomplish this here is simple: you power clean the weight up to the top position, then S-L-O-W-L-Y lower the weight back down to the start position.
How slow should you lower the weight? I prefer anywhere from a 3-10 second eccentric phase on this exercise!
To recap, you start standing fully erect, then you bend your legs as if you were doing a quarter squat.
Once you are “locked and loaded” you rapidly extend your legs and back and fling the weight up as if you were doing a power clean.
Now you “catch” the weight in the top position and lower it back down to the start over 3-10 seconds.
For example, here is a great set / rep scheme for this exercise:
- A1: Eccentric-only ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip)**, 5 x 5, 8/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
**Power clean the weight up to the start position, then lower just using your upper arms
Note: if you have any trouble at all reading this mini-routine then please consult this article! 🙂
I promise you that you will make some of the most rapid strength and size gains of your life in your brachialis if you focus on this exercise for 3-6 workouts.
Number 2: Seated Bilateral Zottman curl
Now we’re really getting to the good stuff!
The seated zottman curl EASILY secures the #2 spot on this list of the 5 greatest brachialis exercises of all time!
If you have never even heard of this exercise, let alone seen it in action, you are not alone. It is one of the best-kept secrets in the iron game!
To perform this exercise you lift the weight with a supinated grip. However, at the top of the movement you pronate your hand and then lower the weight down with a pronated grip.
What does this accomplish? I’m glad you’ve asked!
You are stronger lifting with a supinated grip vs a pronated grip.
How much stronger? The answer is about 18% if you have optimal structural balance – for the average lifter it is more like 30-40% stronger!
This means that we are lowering a weight with the pronated grip that we would otherwise have a hard time lifting concentrically.
And you know what this means – it means we are eccentrically overloading the brachialis muscle!
Even though the brachialis is most strongly recruited with a pronated grip, it also contributes a little bit to elbow flexion with a supinated grip.
And because the brachialis is rapidly fatiguing from the eccentric contractions, your brachialis strength quickly becomes a limiting factor even on the concentric portion!
Isn’t science cool?
But this exercise isn’t just good on paper. It produces superior results where it actually matters – in the gym.
Time and time again I am shocked at how quickly my clients improve their curling strength and upper arm size by incorporating exercises like the seated zottman curl in their routines.
This exercise was also a favourite of the greatest strength coach of all time, Charles Poliquin.
He even went so far as to call Zottman Curls the single best overall exercises for overloading all of the elbow flexors, not just the brachialis muscle.
And finally, we come to the number 1 brachialis exercise of all time:
Number 1: Preacher Unilateral Zottman Curl
I almost feel like I am cheating here by including another version of the Zottman Curl!
However, this exercise is sufficiently different from the previous one that I think it deserves a separate mention.
You may already know from some of my previous articles on training the biceps that the preacher bench is a superior tool for training the arms.
Well, the preacher bench can also be utilized on zottman curls!
I have found over time that training one arm at a time with the preacher zottman curl makes this exercise even more effective.
It is really important that you fully pronate your wrist before initiating the eccentric range.
How far you can pronate will vary depending on your genetics, but you must pronate as much as possible!
This exercise is quite effective for sets in the 1-8 rep range, although I tend to prefer somewhat slower eccentric tempos with this exercise.
It just isn’t a smart move to use a 1-second eccentric phase (for example) when you are doing supramaximal eccentric training.
As a rule of thumb eccentric tempos in the 3-6 second range work awesome on this exercise.
Bonus: 2 Incredible Brachialis Training Routines!
If you ask me it doesn’t make much sense to go through all the trouble learning about the greatest brachialis exercises in the world if you don’t know how to work them into a training routine!
Don’t worry – I’ve got you covered!
I am going to do my best to write you 2 of the most perfect brachialis training routines ever conceived!
Of course this is an impossible task and I am doomed to fail.
After all, there is no such thing as a perfect routine.
What works best Joe Average may not work best for you – after all, we all have different neurotransmitter profiles!
The Millenials were right all along – you really are a unique snowflake!
Besides, even if there were such a thing as a perfect training routine your body would probably get “bored” of it after 3-6 workouts and you would have to switch to something else.
But you know what? To hell with realistic expectations!
I’m going to write the 2 greatest brachialis training routines of all time anyway!!
After all, progress depends on the unreasonable man…
Brachialis training routine #1
All of you advanced bodybuilders out there are going to love this routine!
This is an advanced accumulation-style workout designed to add slabs of muscle to your brachialis.
Seriously, if you don’t have at least 2 years of hardcore training experience the this routine is not for you.
Instead I recommend you check out this website for inspiration.
Now onto the routine!
- A1: Seated zottman curl, 5 x 5-7, 4/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / pronated grip), 5 x 5-7, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Standing eccentric-only ez-bar curl (pronated / wide grip)**, 3 x 5, 8/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
**power-clean the weight up to the top position then lower the weight down over 8 seconds using just your upper arms
Note: please consult this article if you are having trouble reading this workout! 🙂
Talk about a brutal workout!
This routine kicks things off with a brutal brachialis super-set and then ends with some supra-maximal eccentric training to jack up the mechanical tension and muscular damage to sky-high levels!
There are 2 things to keep in mind if you are wondering why the rep ranges are so low:
First of all, the brachialis is primarily a fast-twitch muscle, so reps in the 4-8 rep range tend to work best for size.
Second, if you use the tempos I have laid out then there is quite a bit of time under tension on each exercise!
For example, on exercise B1 your brachialis will be exposed to 40 seconds of eccentric-only time under tension per set!!
Considering most men rush through their sets as quickly as possible with no regards to tempo or time under tension this may be quite a shock to your system!
Give this routine a try if you are looking for some quick size gains. You won’t regret it!
Sample routine #2
Here is a simple strength-based training routine that you may want to try.
On the contrary, you can expect some of the best strength gains of your life on this exact workout.
Now onto the routine!
- A1: Preacher unilateral zottman curl (offset grip), 10 x 2-4, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Seated hammer curls, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
Again, please consult this article if you are having any trouble reading this routine 🙂
The preacher unilateral zottman curl is the star of this routine. This is only fitting, as it is in my experience the #1 brachialis exercise in the world.
Doing ten sets of this exercise is an absolutely brutal way to train.
However, as Charles Poliquin has correctly pointed out, you have to do a lot of sets on each exercise when training for pure strength gains.
The seated hammer curls may not have made my list of the best brachialis exercises, but all exercises utilizing a neutral or hammer grip do target the brachialis somewhat, so it is a warranted exercise here.
And there you have it – the 5 best exercises you can do for busting through a brachialis training plateau!
I hope you will remember not only these 5 exercises, but the 6 brachialis training principles covered at the start of the article.
Feel free to contact me directly with any questions you may have on this routine.
Of course if you are looking for customized training programs then you can check out my online coaching program.
If you found this content helpful then please do me a huge favor and share this article on social media to help get the word out.
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