If you want to build big, strong arms then you have to train both heads of the biceps. That means using exercises that target both the short head AND the long head of the biceps. If you want to learn how to train the short head of the biceps then this article is for you!
- Part 1: Preacher Curls
- Part 2: Spider Curls
- Part 3: Chin Ups
- Part 4: Sample Training Routines
In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you the absolute best exercises for training the short head of your biceps.
The short head of the biceps is located on the inside of the upper arm. It is a very important muscle group for bodybuilders and physique athletes as it contributes towards the “width” of the upper arm.
The short head of the biceps has two primary functions: elbow flexion and forearm supination. In other words the short head helps you to perform curling exercises and it helps you to rotate your forearm into an “underhand” position.
There are three major ways to target the short head of the biceps:
- Option #1: Curl with your elbows in front of the body
- Option #2: Curl with a wide grip
- Option #3: Curl with a supinating grip
Your first option is to curl with your elbows out in front of your body. EMG research shows that curling with your elbows in front of you increases tension on the short head of the biceps.
The preacher curl is probably the best way to curl with your elbows in front of your body. Check it out:
As you can see the athlete’s elbows are fixed in front of his body. Spider curls are another great way to curl with your arms in front of your body.
EMG research shows that preacher curls are one of the top 2 biceps exercises you can perform. In case you were curious incline curls are the other top biceps exercise.
You can also target the short head of the biceps by curling with a wide grip. For example:
EMG research shows that anytime you curl with a wider than shoulder-width grip you put more tension on the short head of the biceps.
Of course you cannot completely isolate the short head or the long head of the biceps with any 1 exercise. However, the wider than shoulder-width grip really does recruit more of the short head.
The short head of the biceps also plays a role in supinating your forearm. This means you can increase recruitment of the short head of the biceps by using a supinating grip. You would start the exercise with a hammer grip and finish with a supinating grip. Check it out:
In this video IFBB pro Ben Pakulski curls with a supinating grip to target the short head of his biceps. I hope you enjoyed this overview of the best short head biceps exercises. Now let’s take a deeper dive into these exercises for overloading the short head!
Let’s take a closer look at each of these four exercises and how to manipulate them to annihilate the short head of the biceps!
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: Preacher Curls
Preacher curls were popularized by Larry Scott in the 1960s. Larry was the first-ever Mr. Olympia winner and had a pair of unbelievable biceps. Even by today’s standards his arms were absolutely jaw-dropping!
Preacher curls are so effective for targeting the short head of the biceps because they fix your elbows out in front of your body. This mechanical position forces your short heads to work extremely hard.
The preacher curl station also prevents you from “cheating” the weight up and it places a huge stretch on the biceps in the bottom position. This is important because there is a huge amount of research showing that loaded stretches are very beneficial for stimulating muscle growth.
There are many ways to use preacher curls to target the short head of the biceps. Here are the most effective preacher curl variations:
- Preacher dumbbell curls
- Preacher ez-bar curls
- Preacher cable curls
- Preacher one-arm barbell curls
Let’s take a closer look at each of these exercises:
Option #1: Preacher Dumbbell Curls
Dumbbell preacher curls are hands-down one of the best biceps exercises you can perform. They are also awesome for targeting the short head of the biceps.
The dumbbells offer a more natural movement pattern than barbells and are much easier on your wrists. They also let you train one arm at a time which lets you lift slightly more weight.
One of the things that I really like about dumbbell preacher curls is there are so many different grips you can use. You can use a supinated grip, a supinating grip, an offset grip or a hammer grip:
If you aren’t familiar with these grips then click on the 4 links above for a helpful video demonstration.
Each of these grips overloads a different portion of the motor unit pool of the biceps. In other words you can rotate through these different grips to prevent boredom and break through training plateaus.
The supinated grip is probably the most common grip for preacher dumbbell curls. The supinated grip forces the biceps muscle to work very hard.
The supinating grip is a little more interesting: you start the exercise with a hammer grip and finish the exercise with a supinated grip. This grip forces the short head of the biceps to work harder because you are training the 2 functions of this muscle at the same time: elbow flexion and forearm supination.
The offset grip was a favorite of the strength coach Charles Poliquin. For this grip you press your pinky finger against the inside of the dumbbell and curl with a supinated grip. This grip forces your short head to fire isometrically to supinate the dumbbell as you curl the weight.
You won’t be able to use as much weight with an offset grip but your biceps will work harder than normal.
Finally you can also perform preacher dumbbell curls with a hammer grip. This grip is great for overloading the brachialis and brachioradialis but the short head of the biceps still has to work hard.
Option #2: Preacher Ez-Bar Curls
Preacher ez-bar curls is another awesome exercise variation that you should be using. The ez-curl bar has many advantages over dumbbells:
- It is easy to perform sets in the 1-5 rep range to build maximal strength
- It is easier to make small weight jumps from workout to workout
- It is easier to perform extended sets like supersets and tri-sets with the ez-bar
Most people don’t know this but the biceps respond really well to sets in the 1-5 rep range for building maximal strength. The key is to use the right exercises.
Some exercises like standing barbell curls are not a good choice for low-rep work. It is too easy to use your lower back and shoulders to cheat the weight up with this exercise.
The preacher ez-bar curl is a perfect choice for lower-rep work because the preacher station prevents you from cheating the weight up. Here is a great video of the strength coach Charles Poliquin performing some lower-rep strength work with the preacher ez-bar curl:
Talk about an intense set!
There are two main grips that you can use with the preacher ez-bar curl for targeting the short head of the biceps:
The wide / supinated grip puts the most tension on the short head of your biceps. If your goal is to really isolate the short head of the biceps then this is the grip you should use. The narrow / supinated grip also trains the short head quite hard but not as hard as the wide / supinated grip.
Option #3: Preacher Cable Curls
Preacher cable curls are an incredible exercise for training the short head of your biceps. The cables give this exercise a completely different feel from regular free weight preacher curls. Normally preacher curls are harder at the bottom part of the exercise and easier at the top. Preacher cable curls are the exact opposite: they are easier at the bottom and harder at the top! If you like to “flex and squeeze” your biceps during curling movements then you will LOVE this exercise! This is very important because one of the fastest ways to make progress is to use exercises that overload different parts of the strength curve. In other words you will make faster progress if you use exercises that overload your biceps in the bottom part and the top part of the range of motion.
If your goal is to target the short head of the biceps then you want to perform your preacher cable curls with a supinated grip. You can curl with 1 or 2 arms at a time. Here are great videos of both variations:
Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about this exercise. Many trainees are stuck at a training plateau until they start using more cable exercises for their bicep workouts.
Don’t let this be you – start using the preacher cable curl today to overload the short head of your biceps!
Option #4: Preacher One-Arm Barbell Curls
The preacher one-arm barbell curl is the KING of exercises for the short head of the biceps. Yes, I am being 100% serious here: I am talking about curling a barbell with one hand!
You have to be very strong to perform this exercise. After all, a standard barbell weighs 45 pounds and you have to curl it with one arm. However, if you are strong enough to perform this exercise then the short head of your biceps will explode in size and strength.
This exercise stresses the short head of the biceps as an elbow flexor AND a forearm supinator. As you perform the exercise the barbell will want to tip over to one side or the other. When this happens the short head of your biceps has to fire to supinate your forearm to keep the weight balanced.
You can expect some of the worst (or best?) muscle soreness of your life after trying this exercise!
Another AWESOME version of this exercise is the eccentric preacher one-arm barbell curl. Here is Josh Bryant coaching one of his clients on this exercise:
After each rep you use your non-working arm or a training partner to help you lift the weight back up to lockout. Then you lower the weight back down to the starting position on your own.
These eccentric-only reps are incredibly effective for stimulating size and strength gains.
Just make sure you use a true 8-10 second lowering phase on every rep. These slow reps will make the exercise more effective AND safer. You can read more about these ultra slow reps in my articles on eccentric training and tempo training.
Part 2: Spider Curls
Spider curls are another awesome exercise for training the short head of the biceps. Spider curls are a type of biceps exercise where your elbows are in front of your body and your upper arms are pointing straight down to the ground.
This places the short heads of your biceps in a strong mechanical position so they take over the lion’s share of the work.
There are two main variations of spider curls:
- Incline bench spider curls
- Preacher bench spider curls
Let’s take a closer look at both of these options.
Option #1: Incline Bench Spider Curls
Incline bench spider curls are an incredible exercise for the short head of your biceps. For this exercise you are going to lay face-down on an incline bench set between 30-60 degrees.
Your goal is to curl the weight up while keeping your elbows pointing straight down to the ground. Your elbows are in front of your body during this exercise which is why it works the short head of your biceps so hard.
Another big advantage of this exercise is the fact that it is very hard to cheat the weight up. The exercise prevents you from using your shoulders or lower back to “hoist” the weight up. Instead you have to use nothing but your biceps to lift the weight up.
Just like with regular preacher curls you can use an ez-curl bar or dumbbells. Here are some of the best variations of this exercise:
- Ez-bar with a wide / supinated grip
- Ez-bar with a narrow / supinated grip
- Dumbbells with a supinated grip
- Dumbbells with a supinating grip
- Dumbbells with an offset grip
- Dumbbells with a hammer grip
All of these different grips have a place in your training programs. Personally I really like the ez-curl bar for this exercise.
I feel like it’s a little easier to get a really strong contraction in the top position using the ez-bar versus the dumbbells. However, I have worked with plenty of bodybuilders who had the opposite experience.
I recommend you try all of these different grips and see which ones work best for you!
Option #2: Preacher Bench Spider Curls
This exercise is basically a hybrid between preacher curls and spider curls! On the one hand you are using a preacher curl station. However, your arms are pointing straight up and down which makes this exercise feel more like a regular spider curl.
Unlike other types of bicep curls this exercise overloads your biceps at the TOP part of the range of motion. Just watch John Meadows perform his set. It is obvious that his biceps are working hardest in the top part of the exercise!
This exercise is great if you like to “flex and squeeze” your biceps on every rep. Once again this exercise can be performed with dumbbells, an ez-curl bar and a wide variety of grips.
Here are some variations you may want to try:
- Ez-bar with a wide / supinated grip
- Ez-bar with a narrow / supinated grip
- Dumbbells with a supinated grip
- Dumbbells with a supinating grip
- Dumbbells with an offset grip
- Dumbbells with a hammer grip
I think both the ez-curl bar and dumbbells work awesome with this exercise so you are spoiled for choice.
I recommend you rotate through these different spider curl variations over the course of your long-term training program. This will help prevent boredom in the gym and allow for more consistent progress over time.
Part 3: Chin Ups
Chin ups are one of the most “bang-for-your-buck” biceps exercises you can do in the gym. They are also VERY effective at targeting the short head of the biceps.
Chin ups are normally performed with a narrow grip or a shoulder-width grip.
Here is the narrow grip chin up:
And here is the shoulder-width grip chin up:
The short head of the biceps is strongly activated during both of these exercises. I am NOT recommending that you go out and perform a bunch of chin ups on your arm day.
However, using chin ups as a staple exercise for your upper back work will go a long ways in maximizing the development of your biceps muscles.
Part 4: Sample Training Routines
If you’ve made it this far then you know the best exercises for the short head of the biceps include preacher curls, spider curls, chin ups and even wide-grip curls. Now let’s look at different ways to use these exercises to blow up your biceps!
I don’t know what your goals are so I’m going to teach you 3 hypertrophy-focused bicep routines and 3 strength-focused bicep routines. 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:
Simple Biceps Hypertrophy Routine
- A1: Bilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 8-12, 3/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
- B1: 90 degree preacher spider curl (wide / supinated grip), 3 x 8-12, 3/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
- C1: Unilateral preacher cable curl (supinated grip), 3 x 8-12, 3/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
This routine uses three of the best exercises for training the short head of your biceps: preacher dumbbell curls, 90 degree preacher spider curls and preacher cable curls. Even advanced bodybuilders can benefit from this type of routine if they need a break from their higher-volume workouts.
Now let’s look at a more advanced hypertrophy training routine for your biceps. Josh Bryant calls this his “omni-arm” workout because it uses a wide variety of rep ranges and exercises to destroy as many muscle fibers in your biceps as possible. Check it out:
Josh Bryant Omni-Rep Bicep Routine
- A1: Chin ups (narrow / supinated grip), 4 x 5, 5/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip)**, 4 x 8-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: 60 degree incline DB spider curl (hammer grip), 4 x 25, 1/0/1/1, 2-3 minutes rest
Here is the training video for this workout:
For this workout you are using three different rep ranges and exercises to blow up your biceps. You are going to train the biceps with chin ups, incline dumbbell curls and spider curls.
The chin ups and spider curls are ideal for training the short head of your biceps while the incline dumbbell curls are perfect for thrashing the long head of your biceps. The different rep ranges are also a nice touch. I really like how Josh uses a 5-second eccentric tempo for the chin ups.
Even though you are performing sets of 5 reps on chin ups you are still accumulating 30+ seconds of time under tension per set. This is a great way to stimulate growth when you are training in lower rep ranges.
Josh also uses some other high-intensity strategies such as “one-and-a-quarter reps” on the incline dumbbell curls and partial reps in the shortened position on the spider curls. If the short head of your biceps is lagging then this routine will fix that problem faster than you can say “I’ll be back!”
Let’s look at one more routine you can use to beef up the short head of your biceps. This routine was invented by Charles Poliquin and uses the eccentric one-arm preacher curl to create maximum muscle tension in your biceps. Check it out:
Charles Poliquin Eccentric Bicep Routine
- A1: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 5 x 4-6, 4/0/X/0, 2-3 minutes rest seconds rest
- B1: Eccentric one-arm preacher barbell curl (supinated grip), 3 x 3, 8/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest
This routine is broken down into 2 parts. The first part of the routine features a powerful superset for your biceps.
A superset is a training method where you perform 2 exercises in a row with 10 seconds rest in between each exercise.
You are going to superset incline dumbbell curls and preacher ez-bar curls. The preacher ez-bar curls obviously target the short head of your biceps. However, the incline curls also do a good job of recruiting our favorite muscle because you are using a supinating grip.
Your job is to perform 5 of these supersets with each set taken just shy of failure. Your biceps will be shot after these 5 supersets but we aren’t done yet!
Next you are going to perform 3 sets of eccentric 1-arm barbell curls. It is very important that you use an 8-second lowering phase for this exercise. If you cannot lower the weight over 8 seconds then it is too heavy!
You can expect some very deep muscle soreness in your biceps after this routine.
Now let’s look at 3 strength-focused bicep routines. The first routine is a simple “5 sets of 5” routine that almost anyone can use to build stronger biceps. Check it out:
5 x 5 Bicep Routine
- A1: Unilateral 90 degree preacher DB curl (supinating grip), 5 x 5, 2/0/X/1, 3 minutes rest
- B1: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 5 x 5, 2/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
This routine is just as simple as it looks. You are going to perform 2 different exercises for the short head of your biceps: 90 degree preacher dumbbell curls and preacher ez-bar curls.
I want you to pick a weight where you can perform all 5 sets of 5 reps with the same weight. If you go too heavy and “shit the bed” on your first set then you will have a harder time progressing from workout to workout.
Now let’s look at a more advanced strength routine for the biceps. This routine was used by the NFL superstar David Boston to increase his arm strength. Check it out:
David Boston Style Bicep Workout
- A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 5 x 3**, 4/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest
- B1: Standing 2.5 inch bar curl (medium / supinated grip), 4 x 4****, 4/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
**Performed as a 3/2/1/1 drop set. Perform 3 reps, decrease the weight, perform 2 reps, decrease the weight, perform 1 rep, decrease the weight, perform 1 rep, done!
**Performed as a 4/2/2 drop set. Perform 4 reps, decrease the weight, perform 2 reps, decrease the weight, perform 2 reps, done!
This routine uses two different fast-twitch drop sets to low up your arms. The first one is a 3/2/1/1 drop set and the second one is a 4/2/2 drop set.
This is an advanced routine reserved for weightlifters with exceptional recovery ability. If you call yourself a “hardgainer” then this is not the routine for you!
Finally let’s look at a cluster sets routine that you can use to strengthen the short head of your biceps. Cluster sets is an advanced training method where you take short 10-20 second rest breaks in between your reps.
Here is a perfect demonstration of cluster sets on the preacher ez-bar curl:
As you can see the athlete performs sets of 5 reps with 10 seconds rest in between each rep. These short rest breaks give your muscles a chance to partially recover and let you lift more weight for reps than you normally could.
Here is a sample cluster sets biceps routine you may want to try. Check it out:
Cluster Sets Bicep Routine
- A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 5 x 5**, 3/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
- B1: 45 degree incline spider curl (hammer grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/1, 2 minutes rest
Once again both of these exercises are chosen to overload the short head of your biceps.
Most people neglect the short head of their biceps in their training routines. They simply don’t know which exercises train the short or long head of the biceps!
I recommend you focus on the following four exercises when targeting the short head of the biceps:
- Preacher curls
- Spider curls
- Chin ups
- Wide-grip curls
There are of course many variations of each of these exercises. I covered 8 different variations of the preacher curl alone!
However, as long as you emphasize these exercises in your training then you are on the fast-track to a pair of bigger, stronger biceps muscles!
If you are interested in training the long head of the biceps the check out my article “The Best Long Head Bicep Exercises!” These 2 articles are like a 1-2 punch for building bigger, stronger biceps.
“The hardest thing for a human being to do is change. You have to be willing to change.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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