The Best Long Head Bicep Exercises!


long head bicep exercises

The long head of the biceps can be an extremely difficult muscle group to develop. This is because many of the most popular biceps exercises are not very effective for targeting the long head! 

Introduction

  • Part 1: Incline Dumbbell Curls
  • Part 2: Incline Cable Curls
  • Part 3: Close Grip Ez-Bar Curls
  • Part 4: Sample Training Routines

In this guide I am going to teach you the best exercises for targeting the long head of the biceps.

The long head of the biceps is actually a very important muscle group. The long head is primarily responsible for the biceps peak and therefore is a very important muscle group for a bodybuilder to develop.

A less commonly known fact is that the long head also plays a critical role in your overall shoulder health! Many powerlifters find that their upper body strength finally starts to go up when they pay attention to this often neglected muscle group.

No matter what your training goal is it is critical that you train the long head! 

The best exercises for targeting the long head of the biceps are as follows:

  1. Incline dumbbell curls
  2. Incline cable curls
  3. Close grip ez-bar curls

I strongly recommend you focus on these three exercises if your goal is to target the long head. Of course it is important to understand why these three exercises are so effective.

There are two primary ways that you can manipulate a biceps exercise to more effectively target the long head:

  • Place the elbows behind the body
  • Bring your hands closer together

Whenever you perform a curling movement with your elbows behind your body you are going to more effectively recruit the long head of the biceps.

There are two main exercises that you can perform that place the elbows behind the body: incline dumbbell curls and incline cable curls.

The other main way to recruit the long head is to being your hands closer together when using an ez-bar or a barbell. For example, if you were to perform an ez-bar curl with a close grip you would shift more of the emphasis onto the long head.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these four exercises.

Note: if you have any trouble reading the sample bicep training routines provided in Part 4 then please consult this article.

Part 1: Incline Dumbbell Curls

Incline dumbbell curls are the absolute king of exercises for the long head of the biceps! If you are going to incorporate one exercise from this article for training the long head then make it the incline dumbbell curl.

Here is a perfect demonstration of an incline dumbbell curl:

It is rare to see this exercise performed correctly. Here are a few tips to keep in mind while you perform this movement.

First of all your elbows should be held down and behind your body throughout the entire set. You should feel like your upper arms are pointing straight down towards the ground.

Remember, one of the keys to recruiting the long head of the biceps is to keep your elbows behind your body! This may limit the amount of weight that you can use but it will train your long head much harder.

In the bottom position of the exercise you want to fully extend your elbow. This will place a large stretch on the long head and help you to recruit more muscle fibers.

A great trick I learned from Charles Poliquin is to actually contract or “fire” your triceps in the bottom position of the exercise!

Finally you want to make sure that your head and upper back are placed firmly against the incline bench. If you lift your head off the bench then your long head will not have to work as hard.

One of the benefits of incline dumbbell curls for training the long head of the biceps is that they are incredibly versatile! In fact there are at least 16 different variations of this exercise that you can perform in a regular commercial gym.

First of all you can change the angle of the incline bench! In my experience the best incline angles for targeting the long head of the biceps are 30, 45, 60, and 90 degrees. Here are some videos for these exercises:

Of course you can also choose between four separate grips to hold the dumbbell:

  1. A supinated grip 
  2. A neutral grip
  3. A supinating
  4. An offset grip

A supinated grip simply means you are holding the dumbbell with an underhand grip. As a general rule of thumb this grip does the best job of recruiting both the long and the short head of the biceps.

A neutral grip is simply a “hammer” grip. This grip tends to shift a little bit of the emphasis away from the long head and onto the brachioradialis. However, it still does a decent job of targeting the long head.

In fact EMG studies have shown that performing 30 degree incline DB curls with a hammer grip is a particularly effective exercise for thrashing the long head.

A supinating grip means you start the movement with a neutral grip and finish with a supinated grip. This variation tends to emphasize the short head of the biceps a little more as the short head is responsible for supinating the forearm.

This grip still hits the long head quite hard and is a useful variation for adding some variety to your bicep workouts.

Finally an offset grip simply means that you hold the dumbbell with a supinated grip where your pinky is touching the inside of the dumbbell. Much like the supinating grip this variation forces your short head to kick in more, although your long head is still doing the lion’s share of the work.

As you can see you have four different angles and four different grips to choose from. This means that incline dumbbell curls give you (4 angles) x (4 grips) = 16 incredible exercise variations that you can use in your bicep routines!

Not only are incline dumbbell curls the single most effective exercise for recruiting the long head of the biceps but they are also the most versatile.

Before we move on I want to mention one last thing: it is actually possible to perform incline curls with specialized kettlebell handles. For example here is the German strength coach Wolfgang Unsoeld giving a perfect demonstration:

Most of you will not have access to these implements. That is perfectly fine, the regular dumbbell version works just fine. However, if you do have access to these implements then I highly recommend you take advantage of them.

The center of gravity of the implement is actually below the palm of your hands, rather than above the palm of your hands with regular dumbbells. This gives the exercise a completely different feel and is fantastic for stimulating size and strength gains in the long head of the biceps.

Part 2: Incline Cable Curls

Incline cable curls are another awesome exercise for overloading the long head of the biceps. You are still going to lay down on an adjustable incline bench.

The key difference is that instead of using a pair of dumbbells you are going to use cables that are positioned behind your torso.

For example:

This exercise is fantastic for overloading the long head of the biceps. It overloads the strength curve in a completely different way from incline dumbbell curls.

One of the drawbacks of the incline cable curl is that you have slightly fewer variations of this exercise. The only grip that you can use is a supinated grip.

In addition it can be somewhat more difficult to change the angle of the bench. Despite these drawbacks the incline cable curl definitely deserves its reputation as one of the best exercises you can perform for the long head of your biceps.

Here is one more video of the incline cable curl for good measure:

If this exercise is good enough for Charles PoliquinOpens in a new tab. and Ben PakulskiOpens in a new tab. then it is good enough for me!

Part 3: Close Grip Ez-Bar Curls

As I mentioned earlier another great way to work the long head of the biceps harder is to perform curling exercises where your arms are held close together. For example:

Whenever your hands are held closer together the long head of the biceps has to work harder. On the other hand when your hands are held further apart you work the short head of the biceps more. 

As a general rule of thumb the close grip ez-bar curl is a much better choice than then close grip barbell curl for working the long head. After all, the ez-bar was literally designed to place less bio-mechanical stress on your wrists and elbows.

As a physical therapist I have personally treated many patients suffering from chronic tendinitis in their wrists and elbows due to an over-reliance on the barbell curl.

As a general rule of thumb the close-grip ez-bar curl is slightly less effective at targeting the long head of the biceps when compared to either the incline dumbbell or incline cable curls.

That being said the close grip ez-bar curl is still an effective exercise and deserves a place in your training toolbox. As Matt Wenning likes to say for optimal results you want to have a “treasure trove” of exercises to choose from. 

Part 4: Sample Training Routines

There is an old saying: “knowledge not applied is useless.” It is not enough to be aware of the best exercises for targeting the long head of the biceps. You also need to understand how to incorporate them into your long-term programming for optimal results!

I would like to introduce you to two incredible hypertrophy routines specifically designed to target the long heads of your biceps.

The first routine utilizes post-exhaustion supersets to overwhelm your biceps with a tremendous amount of muscular damage. The second routine takes advantage of tri-sets to flood your biceps with metabolic fatigue and to cause a huge amount of muscular fatigue. 

I guarantee that after 3-6 workouts on either of these routines your bicep peaks are going to explode with growth!

Routine #1: Post-Exhaustion Supersets

  • A1: Chin ups (close / supinated grip), 5 x 4-6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 45 degree incline DB curls (offset grip), 5 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

Here are some sample exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2.

This routine is much harder than it looks! You will be performing a superset of chin ups and incline dumbbell curls. This combination of exercises places an absolutely horrible amount of stress on the long heads of your biceps!

Trust me, after five rounds of this superset the last thing you are going to want to do is more work for your biceps…

Don’t be surprised if you have a hard time bending your elbows the next day due to the delayed onset muscle soreness! You’ve been warned!

Note: you are more than welcome to add some exercises before or after this superset for either your triceps or other body parts to make a more complete routine. For example, here is how you might set up the routine if you wanted to do a similar superset for the triceps:

  • A1: Chin ups (close / supinated grip), 5 x 4-6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 45 degree incline DB curls (offset grip), 5 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 5 x 4-6, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Overhead cable rope tricep extension, 5 x 10-12, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest

This is just one possibility although there are many more.

Routine #2: Tri-Sets

  • A1: 30 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x 7-9, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A2: 60 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x 7-9, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • A3: Standing ez-bar curl (close / supinated grip), 3-5 x 7-9, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest

Here are some sample exercise videos: exercise A1, exercise A2, exercise A3.

This is an extremely effective routine for targeting the long head of your biceps. It incorporates both incline dumbbell curls and close-grip ez-bar curls into one brutal tri-set!

I recommend you perform 3-5 total tri-sets on this routine. If you are having an average day then stick with three sets. On the other hand if you are feeling like superman then go ahead and perform 5 total tri-sets.

Don’t think that more is automatically better. The first-ever Mr. Olympia Larry Scott built his legendary biceps using about 3 tri-sets per workout.

Above all make sure that you are pushing yourself on each of these sets. I recommend you take each set to one rep shy of technical failure. This means that the last rep is a grinder but you are able to squeeze it out.

Conclusion

long head bicep exercises

Training the long head of the biceps doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact it is quite easy to do if you pick the best exercises!

If you understand your functional anatomy then it becomes clear that incline dumbbell curls, incline cable curls, and close-grip ez-bar curls are superior exercises for targeting this stubborn muscle group.

Now get back in the gym and turn those bicep peaks into mountain peaks!

Always remember: the mind is more important than the body. Where the mind goes the body will follow. Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen

I am the creator and owner of Revolutionary Program Design. I help advanced athletes take their training to the next level and achieve results they never imagined possible.

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