The long head of the biceps is a very difficult muscle group to train. The only way to target this stubborn muscle is to use special exercises like incline dumbbell curls and incline cable curls.
The so-called “mass-building” exercises like standing barbell curls and seated dumbbell curls aren’t going to cut it!
- Part 1: Incline Dumbbell Curls
- Part 2: Incline Cable Curls
- Part 3: Drag Curls
- Part 4: Close Grip Ez-Bar Curls
- Part 5: Sample Training Routines
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you the best exercises for targeting the long head of the biceps.
The long head of the biceps is a very important muscle group for bodybuilders and strength athletes. The long head makes up the biceps peak and is very important from a visual perspective.
However, the long head of the biceps also plays a critical role in your overall shoulder health! Many powerlifters find that their bench press strength finally starts to go up when they pay attention to this hidden muscle group.
There are two major ways to target the long head of your biceps:
- Option #1: Curl with your elbows *behind* your body
- Option #2: Curl with a narrow grip
The first and most effective way to target the long head of your biceps is to curl with your elbows behind your body. EMG research shows that anytime you curl with your elbows behind your body you increase the tension on the long head.
Incline dumbbell curls are the best way to curl with your elbows behind your body and to isolate the long head. Check it out:
As you can see the athlete’s elbows are *behind* his body the entire time he curls the weight up. EMG research shows that incline dumbbell curls are the single best exercise for targeting the long head of the biceps and one of the top 2 overall biceps builders.
In case you were curious preacher curls are the other top 2 biceps exercise.
You can also perform incline curls with cables rather than dumbbells. Here is a perfect video demonstration by IFBB pro Ben Pakulski:
Ben Pakulski demonstrates picture-perfect form on the incline cable curl. As you can see his elbows are fixed behind his torso the entire time he performs this exercise. This is what you want! The cables give this exercise a completely different feel and overload a different part of the strength curve vs incline dumbbell curls.
Most trainees find that incline cable curls are hardest at the top of the exercise when their biceps are fully contracted.
The drag curl is another very effective exercise for targeting the long head of the biceps. Here is a perfect demonstration of this exercise:
As you can see the athlete keeps the bar right up against his torso as he curls the weight up. This forces his elbows *behind* his body which helps you to overload the long head of your biceps. This exercise is a favorite of many bodybuilding coaches including John Meadows and Dante Trudel.
You can also target the long head of the biceps by curling with a narrow grip. For example:
EMG research shows that the narrow grip increases tension on the long head of the biceps. On the other hand a wider than shoulder-width grip increases tension on the short head of the biceps.
If your goal is to target the long head then the narrow grip is what you want to use.
Of course you cannot truly isolate the long or short head of the biceps with any exercise. Both heads of the biceps will be active any time you perform any curling exercise. However, you can absolutely shift emphasis to the long or short head by choosing your exercises carefully.
In summary here are the 4 best exercises for training the long head of the biceps:
- Incline dumbbell curls
- Incline cable curls
- Drag curls
- Close grip ez-bar curls
In the rest of this guide we’re going to take a closer look at each of these exercise variations and how to use them to blow up the long head of your biceps. At the end of this article I will also show you 6 of the most effective routines ever written for overloading the long head of your biceps.
Trust me, you don’t want to miss this cutting-edge information!
Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Incline Dumbbell Curls
Incline dumbbell curls are the absolute king of exercises for training the long head of the biceps! If you are going to pick one exercise to train the long head then make it the incline dumbbell curl.
Here is a perfect demonstration of an incline dumbbell curl:
As you can see the athlete is laying down on an incline bench with his elbows pointed straight down to the ground. This is what you want! The incline dumbbell curl is so effective for training the long head of the biceps because your elbows are *behind* your body as you curl the weight up. This exercise also puts a HUGE stretch on your biceps in the bottom position which stimulates even more size and strength gains.
If you want to get the most out of incline dumbbell curls then you must perform them with perfect form. Here are a few thing to keep in mind:
Incline curl tip #1: you must keep your elbows down and back throughout the entire set!
You should feel like your elbows are glued to the ground as you curl the weight up. You can let your elbows drift forward a little bit at the very top of the exercise but that is it!
Remember, one of the keys to recruiting the long head of the biceps is to keep your elbows behind your body. If your elbows drift forward then you are using your shoulders to lift the weight which is not what you want.
You won’t be able to lift as much weight on incline curls using strict form but you will recruit more muscle fibers in your biceps training this way.
Incline curl tip #2: fire your triceps in the bottom position of the exercise!
I picked this trick up from the strength coach Charles Poliquin. You literally want to contract your triceps in the bottom position if incline dumbbell curls. Here is Charles coaching a bodybuilder through a set of incline dumbbell curls:
When you get to the bottom you fire the triceps so that you get a maximum contraction in the biceps.
Well said Charles! Firing the triceps in the bottom position forces you to fully lock out your elbows which places the biggest possible stretch on the biceps.
As you may already know putting a muscle in a deep loaded stretch is one of the fastest ways to stimulate size and strength gains.
Incline curl tip #3: do not lift your head or upper back up off the bench!
This is the biggest mistake most people make on incline dumbbell curls: they lift their head off the bench! So why is this a mistake? that is a great question!
The whole point of incline curls is to keep your elbows behind your body so you can overload the long head of your biceps. When you lift your head off the bench and lean forward you change the angle of the bench so your elbows are no longer behind you.
Just look at the following video:
This is NOT what you want!
If you lift your head off the bench then are making the exercise more like a regular seated dumbbell curl which reduces the tension on the long head of your biceps.
One of my favorite things about incline dumbbell curls is their versatility. You can perform incline dumbbell curls using a 30, 45, 60 or 75 degree incline bench. Here are some great videos of these exercise variations:
- 30 degree incline DB curl
- 45 degree incline DB curl
- 60 degree incline DB curl
- 75 degree incline DB curl
The lower the angle of the bench the more you will recruit the long head of the biceps. For example the 30 degree incline dumbbell curl will recruit more muscle fibers in the long head of the biceps than the 75 degree incline dumbbell curl.
However, all of these angles are very effective and should be used in your training routines.
You can also use 4 different grips on incline dumbbell curls: a supinated grip, a neutral grip, a supinating grip and an offset grip. Here are some great videos of these exercise variations:
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. They are similar to incline dumbbell curls because you are still going to use an adjustable incline bench.
The key difference is you are going to use cables as resistance rather than dumbbells. Check it out:
This exercise is AWESOME for overloading the long head of the biceps. Incline cable curls overload your biceps in a completely different way from incline dumbbell curls.
This exercise is actually hardest at the top of the exercise rather than at the bottom. Most trainees get a huge contraction in their biceps when they finish the exercise.
One of the drawbacks of the incline cable curl is that you have slightly fewer variations of this exercise. The supinated grip works great but it is much harder to use a neutral, supinating or offset grip with this exercise.
It is also more difficult to change the angle of the bench. The 60 degree incline bench works best for most people but you can use the 45 or 30 degree incline bench if you are creative enough.
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:
Part 3: Drag Curls
Drag curls are one of the most underrated exercises for training the long head of your biceps.
Drag curls look like a regular standing barbell curl. The big difference is you are going to drag the bar against your torso as you curl the weight up. This is where the name “drag curl” come from. Get it?
Here is the bodybuilding coach John Meadows giving a perfect demonstration of this exercise:
The drag curl overloads the long head of your biceps because your elbows are *behind* your torso as you curl the weight up. This is why you are dragging the bar against your chest!
There are a few things to keep in mind with this exercise.
First of all this exercise works best with an ez-curl bar rather than a regular 45 pound barbell. The ez-curl bar is more comfortable on most people’s wrists and makes it easier for you to pull your elbows back as you curl.
You also have to grip the bar with a wider grip to make this exercise work. If you try to use a narrow grip on the ez-bar then you won’t be able to pull your elbows back far enough as you curl the weight up.
If you are feeling really creative then you can also perform drag curls with a pair of dumbbells. Check it out:
As a general rule of thumb I recommend you perform drag curls in higher rep ranges. For example performing 8-20 reps per set would be perfect. It’s very hard to perform this exercise in the lower 1-6 rep ranges while maintaining good form and getting a huge contraction in your biceps.
If your goal is to strengthen the long head of your biceps with lots of low-rep sets then an exercise like the incline dumbbell curl is probably a better choice.
Part 4: Close Grip Ez-Bar Curls
Another great way to overload the long head of the biceps is to perform curling exercises with a narrow grip. Check it out:
We know from EMG research that narrow-grip curls help you recruit more muscle fibers in the long head of the biceps. The opposite is also true: wide-grip curls help you recruit more muscle fibers in the short head of the biceps.
If you are trying to train the long head then narrow-grip curls are the way to go. You can use the narrow grip on standing ez-bar curls, preacher ez-bar curls or any other type of barbell curling exercise.
I highly recommend you use an ez-curl bar for your narrow grip curls rather than a standard 45-pound barbell. The standard barbell puts a lot of tension on your wrists and elbows and can increase your risk for injury over time.
As a physical therapist I have personally treated many bodybuilders suffering from chronic tendinitis in their wrists and elbows. More often than not these bodybuilders were doing lots of straight-bar barbell curls.
The ez-curl bar was literally designed to put less stress on your wrists and elbows and is a better choice for most people.
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 5: 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 show you 6 of the best training routines ever invented for training the long head of the biceps. Three of these routines are designed for building muscle and three are more geared towards all-out strength gains.
If you can’t build bigger, stronger biceps using one of these routines then it’s time for you to to give up lifting weights and start playing ping pong or checkers instead!
Just kidding – I’m confident these routines will work AWESOME for you.
Here is a simple biceps hypertrophy workout that works great for beginner or intermediate level bodybuilders. Check it out:
- A1: 45 degree incline dumbbell curl (offset grip), 3 x 8-12, 3/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest
- B1: Standing ez-bar drag curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 8-12, 3/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest
- C1: 60 degree incline cable curl, 3 x 8-12, 3/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest
This routine features 3 of the best exercises for training the long head of your biceps: incline dumbbell curls, drag curls and incline cable curls. This workout is ideal for beginners but it can also work well for more advanced bodybuilders who need a break from higher-volume routines.
Now let’s look at a more advanced tri-set routine for the biceps. A tri-set is an advanced training method where you perform 3 exercises in a row for an exercise with 10 seconds rest between sets. Check it out:
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, 3 minutes rest
This is a brutal routine for the long head of your biceps. You are using three awesome long head exercises: 30 degree incline dumbbell curls, 60 degree incline dumbbell curls and close grip ez-bar curls.
I recommend performing these exercises as part of a tri-set. Here is what it looks like:
- Perform exercise #1, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise #2, rest 10 seconds
- Perform exercise #3, rest 3 minutes, repeat!
Tri-sets are so effective for building bigger biceps because they prolong the total time under tension of the set. In other words your biceps have to work 3 times longer than normal during the 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.
Here is an even more advanced hypertrophy training routine. This routine uses the “12+3 method.” The basic idea is to perform 12 reps on an exercise, then increase the weight by 5-10% and perform 3 eccentric-only reps. Fair warning: you will need a training partner to perform this routine. Check it out:
12+3 Biceps Routine
- A1: 60 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 12**, 2/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest
- B1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 12**, 2/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest
- C1: Standing ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3 x 12**, 2/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest
**On your last set only use the 12+3 method. Perform 12 reps on a 2/0/1/0 tempo, then increase the weight by 5-10% and perform 3 eccentric-only reps using a 5/0/1/0 tempo.
This routine is ridiculously effective for building bigger, stronger biceps. It features 2 awesome exercises for the long head of your biceps and one for the short head of your biceps. If you have access to a training partner then I highly recommend you give it a shot!
Now let’s look at some of the best routines for strengthening the long head of your biceps.
The biceps have a larger percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers so you don’t want to go overboard with sets in the 1-2 rep range. However, the biceps still respond great to sets in the 2-5 rep range for building strength.
One of the best methods for building stronger biceps is 7/5/3 wave loading. The basic idea is to perform 7 reps on your 1st set, 5 reps on your 2nd set, 3 reps on your 3rd set, 7 reps on your 4th set, 5 reps on your 5th set and 3 reps on your 6th set. Check it out:
7/5/3 Wave Loading Biceps Routine
- A1: 30 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 6 x 7/5/3**, 4/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
- B1: Seated DB zottman curl, 4 x 6-8, 5/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
**Perform 7 reps on your 1st set, 5 reps on your 2nd set, 3 reps on your 3rd set, 7 reps on your 4th set, 5 reps on your 5th set and 3 reps on your 6th set.
This type of wave loading routine is awesome for building stronger biceps. The shifting rep ranges potentiate your central nervous system which makes you stronger as you progress through the workout.
Another great training method for building stronger biceps is called the 5 to 8 method. This is actually a modified form of rest-pause training. Check it out:
- A1: 60 degree incline cable curl, 3-5 x 5**, 3/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
- B1: Unilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 5-6, 3/0/3/0, 2 minutes rest
**Perform 5 reps with your 5-rep max, rest 15 seconds, perform 1 rep, rest 15 seconds, perform 1 rep, rest 15 seconds, perform 1 rep, done!
With this routine you are going to perform 5 reps on incline cable curls using your 5-rep max. Then you are going to take short rest breaks and bust out extra single repetitions until you have performed 8 total reps.
The 5 to 8 method is ridiculously effective for building strength and functional hypertrophy. It works really well for more slow-twitch muscles like the biceps.
Finally let’s look at a pure strength routine for the biceps. One of the best strength programs you can use is called the Modified Hepburn Method.
The basic idea is to perform 8 sets of 1-2 reps, then 5 sets of 5 reps with a similar but slightly different exercise. Check it out:
Modified Hepburn Method Biceps Routine
- A1: 45 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 8 x 2, 4/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
- B1: 30 degree incline DB curl (hammer grip), 5 x 5, 3/0/X/0, 2 minutes rest
This simple routine is ridiculously effective for building stronger biceps. The key is to use the right weights for both of your exercises. I recommend you use a weight that is 90-95% of what you can lift for 2 reps on your first exercise.
These doubles should be heavy but not all-out. If you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall when he breaks his astronaut mask then you are going too heavy!
It’s also important to pick the right weight for your 5 sets of 5 reps.
I want you to pick a weight where you can get 5 reps in on all 5 sets. If you can’t get 5 reps in on one of your sets then keep the weight the same and just do your best on each set.
For example you might get 5 reps, 5 reps, 4 reps, 4 reps and 3 reps on your 5 sets. That is OK – just use the same weight at your next workout and work on getting 5 reps on all 5 sets.
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!
I recommend you focus on the following exercises for training the long head of your biceps:
- Incline dumbbell curls
- Incline cable curls
- Drag curls
- Narrow grip curls
There are plenty of variations of these exercises that you can use in your bicep routines. As I proved in this article there are 16 different variations of incline dumbbell curls that you can perform in any commercial gym!
The bottom line is if you focus on these 4 exercises then you are well on your way to beefing up the long head of your biceps.
If you want to learn how to train the short head of the biceps then check out my article “The Best Short Head Bicep Exercises!” These 2 articles are like a 1-2 punch for building bigger, stronger biceps.
So what are you waiting for? Get back in the gym and turn those biceps into mountain peaks!
“Just like in bodybuilding, failure is also a necessary experience for growth in our own lives, for if we’re never tested to our limits, how will we know how strong we really are? How will we ever grow?”
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!
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