One of the reasons most people cannot build big, strong arms is they don’t know how to train the short head of the biceps.
If you want to build a pair of biceps that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger jealous then this article is for you!
- Part 1: The Best Short Head Bicep Exercises
- Part 2: The Best Short Head Hypertrophy Routines
- Part 3: The Best Short Head Strength Routines
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you how to train the short head of the biceps for size and strength gains.
The short head of the biceps is located on the inner part of your upper arms. It is very important for bodybuilders because it makes the upper arm look “wider” when it is fully developed.
The 8 x Mr. Olympia Phil Heath knows a thing or two about training the short head of the biceps. Check it out:
The short head and the long head of the biceps are almost two completely different muscle groups. They respond best to different types of exercises and even different exercise tempos etc.
The short and long head of the biceps are about as different as the long head, lateral head and medial head of the triceps!
If you really want to build up your upper arms then you must learn all of the different tricks for targeting the short head of the biceps.
In this guide I will teach you the best exercises for isolating the short head of the biceps and the best short head routines for size and strength. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on 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: The Best Short Head Bicep Exercises
This makes perfect sense because they perform slightly different functions.
The short head of the biceps helps you perform 2 main functions:
- Function #1: Flexing your elbows
- Function #2: Supinating your forearms
In other words the short head helps you perform curling movements where you bend your elbow and it helps you rotate your forearm from an overhand grip to an underhand grip.
It’s important to understand what the short head of the biceps does because that helps you pick the best short head biceps exercises.
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 or offset grip
All three of these strategies will help you recruit more muscle fibers in the short head of the biceps. The drawback is you will recruit less of the long head of the biceps.
If your goal is to target the short head then you should be happy with this tradeoff.
Strategy #1: Place The Elbows In Front Of The Body
The easiest way to target the short head of the biceps is to perform curling exercises with your elbows in front of your body. This puts the short head of your biceps in a much stronger mechanical position and forces them to do more of the work.
If you really want to isolate the short head of your biceps then the preacher curl is a great choice. Check it out:
The preacher curl is one of the best biceps exercises you can do. In fact the strength coach Charles Poliquin calls it one of the 2 best biceps exercises you can perform.
The preacher curl fixes your elbows out in front of your body which forces you to recruit more of the short head of your biceps. It also prevents you from “cheating” the weight up using your shoulders or lower back.
The bottom part of preacher curls also places a huge stretch on the biceps which is great for stimulating size and strength gains.
Most trainees avoid the very bottom position of this exercise because they have to use less weight. They would rather lift with their ego and use more weight through a partial range of motion. This is a big mistake! The bottom part of preacher curls is where the magic happens!
Preacher curls can also be performed with dumbbells rather than an ez-curl bar. For example:
IFBB pro Ben Pakulski does a great job of fully extending his elbow in the bottom position of the exercise. This puts the maximum stretch on the biceps and helps you recruit more motor units in the short head of the biceps.
Of course you can use different grips with an ez-curl bar or a dumbbell to add more variety to your workouts.
Another great exercise for the short head of the biceps is called the spider curl. This exercise is a little complicated so let’s look at an exercise video. Check it out:
As you can see the bodybuilder is laying face-down on an adjustable incline bench. Then he curls the weight up while keeping his elbows pointing straight down towards the ground.
The spider curl is great for emphasizing the short head of the biceps because your elbows are fixed in front of your torso!
This exercise also does a great job of eliminating cheating as it is very hard to use your shoulders or lower back to hoist the weight up.
The spider curl actually becomes harder as you curl the weight up to the top position. This is different from a preacher curl where the exercise is hardest in the bottom position and easier as you curl the weight up.
This means the preacher curl and the spider curl let you emphasize different points in the strength curve.
I recommend you use both of these exercises in your program to make faster progress. It is actually possible to perform a spider curl with a preacher curl station. Check it out:
This exercise is almost like a hybrid between a spider curl and a preacher curl. Most people call it a 90 degree preacher curl but it goes by many different names.
Once again your elbows are fixed in front of your body so you recruit more of the short head of your biceps. You can perform this exercise with an ez-curl bar or different dumbbells and barbells.
This exercise is a favorite of IFBB pro John Meadows and many other bodybuilders / bodybuilding coaches.
Strategy #2: Curl With A Wide Grip
The second strategy you can use to emphasize the short head of your biceps is to perform ez-bar curls or barbell curls with a wide grip. For example:
Research shows that curling with a wider than shoulder-width grip helps you recruit more muscle fibers in the short head of the biceps. The opposite is also true: curling with a narrow grip increases recruitment of the long head of the biceps.
This may not seem like a big deal but it can have a big impact on your long-term progress.
For example if you really wanted to wreck the short head of your biceps then you could perform ez-bar preacher curls, spider curls or 90 degree preacher curls with a wide / supinated grip.
This would cause even more damage to the short head than just using a shoulder-width grip on these exercises.
Strategy #3: Use A Supinating Grip Or Offset Grip
There are 4 main grips that you can use with dumbbell curls to target the biceps:
- Option #1: Neutral Grip
- Option #2: Supinated Grip
- Option #3: Supinating Grip
- Option #4: Offset Grip
Most people are familiar with the first 2 options.
The neutral grip is sometimes called the “hammer” grip because it is the same grip you use when you are using a hammer. The neutral grip is great for targeting the brachioradialis and OK for targeting the biceps and the brachialis.
The supinated grip is also known as the underhand grip. This is the grip most people use on the majority of their curling exercises.
The supinated grip places a ton of tension on the biceps muscle. However, if your goal is to recruit the short head of the biceps then there are even better options.
The supinating grip is like a hybrid between the neutral grip and the supinated grip. Check it out:
As you can see Ben Pakulski starts the exercise with a neutral grip and finishes the exercise with a supinated grip. This exercise is awesome for targeting the short head of the biceps because it combines elbow flexion AND forearm supination into a single exercise.
The supinating grip can be used on all types of curling exercises like preacher curls, spider curls, 90 degree preacher curls, incline curls and so on. It is a great way to add more variety to your workouts.
The offset grip is another underrated variation that you should use i your workouts. You are going to grip the dumbbell with either your pinky or your pointer finger touching the inside of the dumbbell.
Here is a great video example:
Charles Poliquin is instructing his client to grip the weight with his pinky touching the inside of the dumbbell. This may sound a little weird but there is a method to the madness.
You are forcing the short head of your biceps to contract isometrically to prevent the dumbbell from tipping over one way or the other.
The offset grip lets you train both functions of the short head of the biceps while still giving you a massive stretch in the bottom position of the exercise. It is like the best of both worlds!
I strongly recommend you experiment with the supinating grip and the offset grip on your different curling exercises.
Bonus Strategy: Use One-Arm Barbell Curls!
Have you ever wondered what THE best exercise is for training the short head of your biceps? I know I have!
Now I know someone reading this article is shaking their head “no.” To that I say, “oh c’mon – don’t bullshit me!” You would have to be a crazy person to not ask this question!
The truth is the 1-arm barbell preacher curl is THE best exercise for training the short head of the biceps. Here is a perfect demonstration of this exercise:
The 1-arm barbell curl forces the short head of your biceps to contract isometrically to stabilize the weight. In other words the short head has to fire to prevent the barbell from tipping over to the right or left side of your body.
This is like an extreme version of the offset grip with dumbbells where your biceps have to fire to prevent the dumbbell from tipping over.
The only downside to this exercise is it is very difficult to perform. You need to be able to perform preacher curls with at least the 45 pound dumbbells before you attempt this exercise.
If you are not strong enough to perform one-arm barbell preacher curls then you may want to try eccentric-only reps. You would use your non-working arm to lift the weight up to the top position and then lower the weight down over 8-10 seconds using your working arm.
These eccentric-only repetitions are unbelievably effective for stimulating size and strength gains.
Part 2: The Best Short Head Hypertrophy Routines
In part 1 of this article we talked about the best exercises for training the short head of the biceps like preacher curls, spider curls and 90 degree preacher curls. Now let’s talk about the best workouts for building size and strength in the short head of the biceps.
The biceps is one of the muscles that has a large percentage of slow-twitch muscle fibers. This means the biceps usually responds best to higher rep ranges and sets with more time under tension.
If you are an advanced bodybuilder then you may want to experiment with more advanced training methods that extend the time under tension of your sets and let you train beyond muscular failure.
Here are 3 of the best hypertrophy training methods for building bigger biceps:
- Method #1: Supersets
- Method #2: Tri-Sets
- Method #3: Forced Reps
Let’s take a closer look at each of these training methods.
Hypertrophy Method #1: Supersets
Supersets are a training method where you perform 2 exercises in a row for the same muscle group with 10 seconds rest between exercises. For example you could perform exercise “A”, rest 10 seconds and then perform exercise “B”.
Supersets are so effective for building hypertrophy because they prolong the time under tension of your set.
If a regular set takes you 30 seconds to complete then a superset will take 60 seconds to complete! This extra time under tension creates a more powerful training stimulus for muscular hypertrophy.
One of the best supersets for the short head of your biceps is chin ups and preacher curls. This is called a “post-exhaustion superset” because you are supersetting a compound exercise with an isolation exercise.
Here is a sample routine you may want to try. Check it out:
Biceps Superset Routine #1
- A1: Chin ups (narrow / supinated grip), 5 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Preacher ez-bar curls (wide / supinated grip), 5 x 12-15, 2/0/2/0, 3 minutes rest
This routine is so effective because the exercises overload different parts of the muscle and different points in the strength curve.
Chin ups are hardest at the top part of the exercise and they overload the part of the biceps near the shoulder joint.
Preacher curls are the total opposite: they are hardest in the bottom part of the exercise and overload the part of the biceps near the elbow.
Supersetting two different biceps exercises like chin ups and preacher curls creates a TON of muscle damage. You’ve been warned!
It’s also possible to design a biceps superset routine using slightly lower rep ranges. The key is to use longer eccentric tempos to keep the total time under tension per exercise reasonably high.
Here is a biceps superset routine that Charles Poliquin wrote. Check it out:
Poliquin Eccentric Biceps 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, 3 minutes rest
- B1: Eccentric one-arm barbell preacher curl (supinated grip)**, 3 x 3, 8/0/1/0, 4 minutes rest
**Lower the barbell with one arm to the bottom position, then use your other arm to help lift the weight back up to lockout. Repeat for all 3 reps.
For the first half of this routine you are performing a superset with incline dumbbell curls and preacher curls. This is a great strategy for overloading both the long head and the short head of the biceps in one go.
The incline dumbbell curls are performed with a supinating grip so you will still recruit the short head of the biceps on both exercises.
After performing 5 rounds of this superset you are going to perform 3 sets of eccentric one-arm barbell preacher curls.
As we discussed earlier this is THE best exercise you can do to train the short head of the biceps. This exercise is used to eccentrically overload your biceps after they are already fatigued from the superset.
This is a ridiculously effective way to add inches to your biceps.
Hypertrophy Method #2: Tri-sets
Tri-sets are another fantastic training method for building bigger biceps. The idea is to perform 3 different exercises in a row for the same muscle group.
Tri-sets work for a lot of the same reasons as supersets: they force your muscles to work harder by increasing the time under tension of the set. Tri-sets create a ton of muscular damage and give you an incredible pump.
Many old-school bodybuilders like the first-ever Mr. Olympia winner Larry Scott used tri-sets almost exclusively to build their arms.
Here is the exact tri-set routine that Larry Scott used to build his 20-inch arms in the 1960s. Check it out:
The Larry Scott Bicep Workout
- A1: Dumbbell preacher curls (supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8**, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: Barbell preacher curls (supinated grip), 3-5 x 6-8**, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: Barbell preacher curls (pronated grip), 3-5 x 6-8**, 2/0/1/0, 180 seconds rest
**Perform 6-8 full range of motion reps then 4-6 partial reps out of the bottom position.
Here is a great training video for this workout:
Larry Scott was a huge fan of preacher curls for training the biceps. He used this exercise so much that many strength coaches actually call them “Scott curls!”
Larry does something very interesting with this routine: he performs 4-6 partial range of motion reps in the bottom position of each exercise at the end of his set.
For example he would perform 6-8 reps of preacher dumbbell curls just shy of failure and then he would immediately perform 4-6 partial reps using a 2-3 inch range of motion.
This is a brutal way to train your biceps. You can expect some serious delayed onset muscle soreness after this routine!
Here is a great “omni-rep” biceps routine that Josh Bryant designed for one of his bodybuilding clients. Check it out:
Josh Bryant Biceps Tri-Set Routine
- A1: Chin ups (narrow / supinated grip), 5 x 5, 8/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- B1: 45 degree incline DB curls (supinated grip)**, 5 x 10-12, 2/0/1/0, 10 seconds rest
- C1: 45 degree spider curl****, 5 x 20-25, 1/0/1/0, 3 minutes rest
**Performed as 1.25 reps. Lower the weight all the way down, curl the weight a quarter of the way up, lower the weight all the way down, the curl the weight all the way up. That counts as 1 rep. Perform 10-12 of these reps per set.
****Loop a towel through a kettlebell and hold the ends of the towel as you curl. Perform the top 70% of the range of motion only.
Here is the training video:
Josh Bryant is a very creative coach and it really shows in this routine. You are going to use 3 completely different exercises, rep ranges and tempos to thrash all of the muscle fibers in your biceps.
The chin ups and spider curls are great for overloading the short head of your biceps.
I am sure some of you are wondering why Josh would have his client perform spider curls with a towel wrapped through a kettlebell. This technique actually lowers the center of gravity of the exercise which gives it a completely different feel.
It almost feels like the hanging band method like I talked about in my article “The Hanging Band Method: The Ultimate Guide!”
Other strength coaches like Christian Thibadeau have correctly pointed out that exercises with a center of gravity significantly below your hands tend to give you a stronger contraction in your muscles.
Hypertrophy Method #3: Forced reps
Forced reps are one of the most popular high-intensity training methods in the world.
To perform a set with forced reps you train to failure and then perform 1-5 extra reps with the help of a training partner. Your partner helps you lift the weight through the concentric range and then you lower the weight back down on your own through the eccentric range.
Forced reps are a great tool for increasing the time under tension of your set and for overloading the eccentric range of the exercise. The goal is to go until you cannot lower the weight under control any more.
Many modern-day bodybuilders like IFBB pro Chris Bumstead use forced reps to blow up the short head of their biceps. Here is Chris performing a forced reps biceps workout:
As you can see Chris Bumstead is performing forced reps on the preacher ez-bar curl. He performs 10-15 reps on his own and then performs an extra 3-5 forced reps with the help of his training partner.
In case you were curious here is the full routine:
Chris Bumstead’s Forced Reps Biceps Routine
- A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (narrow / supinated grip), 3 x 10-15**, 2/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
- B1: Seated DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 10-15, 2/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
- C1: Standing DB curl (hammer grip), 3 x 10-15, 2/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
**Perform 3-5 extra forced reps after reaching failure on all 3 sets.
After three sets with forced reps on the preacher ez-bar curl the short head of your biceps will be completely destroyed. The last 2 exercises are really just there to finish off whatever strength is left in your biceps and brachioradialis.
One of the most common questions I get is how to rotate through different workouts over long periods of time. In other words, what do you do when you stop making progress on a specific routine?
In my experience one of the best strategies for most bodybuilders is to alternate between high-volume and high-intensity bodybuilding routines.
I first learned this strategy from Marc “The Machine” Lobliner back in 2008.
For example here is how you could rotate your workouts:
- Weeks 1-3: Supersets
- Weeks 4-6: Forced Reps
- Weeks 7-9: Tri-Sets
- Weeks 10-12: Rest-Pause Sets
The superset and tri-set routines would be your high-volume routines and the forced reps and rest-pause sets routines would be your high-intensity routines.
This is basically a modified version of the accumulation / intensification periodization model that Charles Poliquin likes to use and it works ridiculously well for intermediate to advanced bodybuilders.
If you are truly determined to blow up the short head of your biceps then you have to give this type of programming a shot!
Part 3: The Best Short Head Strength Routines
If you want to get as strong as possible then it is important to train your biceps hard.
I know many famous powerlifters say that biceps are like “ornaments on a Christmas tree” but the truth is a strong pair of biceps is very important.
If your biceps are über-week then they can prevent you from producing maximum force in your triceps during exercises like the bench press. A weak pair of biceps can also be the cause of a plateau in arm size.
I know many bodybuilding coaches say that your biceps strength doesn’t matter for building muscle. To that I say: oh c’mon, don’t bullshit me!
Let’s say you can perform 1-arm preacher curls with the 30 pound dumbbells with perfect form. OK, not bad. Now let’s say you spend 1 year doing every high-volume biceps routine under the sun.
You get a huge pump every workout so you tell yourself you must be making progress.
A year later you try the one-arm preacher curl again and you still only lift the 30 pound dumbbells with perfect form. Did you *really* make any progress? If you are not on performance enhancing drugs then the answer is probably “no.”
If you are serious about blasting through a strength plateau in the biceps then you may want to use some lower-rep routines for a while. Here are 3 excellent choices:
- Method #1: Cluster Sets
- Method #2: Step Loading
- Method #3: The 4+2 Method
Now let’s take a closer look at each of these options.
Strength Method #1: Cluster Sets
Cluster sets are one of the oldest and most effective training methods for building strength. They were invented in the 1950’s by Olympic Weightlifting champions and many modern coaches like Christian Thibadeau call them the #1 method for breaking strength plateaus.
Cluster sets are a training method where you take short rest periods in between the reps of your sets.
For example one of the most common ways to perform cluster sets is to perform sets of 5 reps with 10 seconds rest in between each rep.
Here is an athlete giving a perfect demonstration of cluster sets on the preacher ez-bar curl:
As you can see the athlete drops the weight and rests 10 seconds in between each rep.
These short intra-set rest periods give your muscles a chance to flush away different waste products and partially recover between reps. This lets you produce more force and recruit more muscle fibers in the short head of your biceps.
Here is a sample cluster sets biceps routine that you may want to try. Check it out:
Cluster Sets Biceps Routine
- A1: Preacher ez-bar curl (wide / supinated grip), 5 x 5**, 3/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
- B1: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinating grip), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/2/0, 2 minutes rest
**Performed as a Poliquin-style cluster sets routine. Perform sets of 5 reps with 10 seconds rest in between each rep.
If you perform this routine correctly then you should be able to perform 5 total reps with your 3-rep max. That is a powerful way to stimulate strength gains!
For even better results you can use an ez-curl bar with a thick 2.5 inch grip like the one used in the video.
Research has shown over and over that the thick handles help you recruit more muscle fibers in the biceps, brachioradialis and brachialis depending on which grip you use.
Strength Method #2: Step Loading
Another awesome training method for building maximum strength is called “step loading.” The basic idea is to perform several different rep ranges on an exercise with 2-3 sets at each rep range.
One of the best step loading protocols is the 2/4/6 step loading method. Here is what it looks like in practice:
- Set #1: 2 reps
- Set #2: 2 reps
- Set #3: 4 reps
- Set #4: 4 reps
- Set #5: 6 reps
- Set #6: 6 reps
Step loading is great because it lets you flirt with lower rep ranges without burning out your central nervous system. Here is a step loading routine that Milos Sarcev once performed to strengthen his elbow flexors. Check it out:
Milos Sarcev Step Loading Elbow Flexors Routine
- A1: Standing ez-bar reverse curls, 6 x 2/2/4/4/6/6, 4/2/1/0**, 3 minutes rest
- B1: One-arm preacher DB curl (offset grip), 3-4 x 5-6, 4/0/4/0, 2 minutes rest
**Take the 2-second pause at 45 degrees elbow flexion during the concentric range. Research shows that this isometric pause increases recruitment of the brachialis muscle.
This routine uses some very creative exercise tempos to increase the time under tension of the sets. This is important because Milos Sarcev is a bodybuilder and is primarily interested in boosting the size of his arms.
For example here is what the time under tension is for each exercise:
- Exercise #1: 14-42 seconds of time under tension
- Exercise #2: 40-48 seconds of time under tension
This is right where a bodybuilder wants their time under tension to be when they are training for strength.
Performing one-arm preacher curls with a 4/0/4/0 tempo is an especially interesting way to overload the short head of your biceps.
When you use an explosive concentric tempo you are always creating more muscle tension at one part of the range of motion and less at others. When you use a slower concentric tempo you create a more even distribution of muscle tension throughout the entire range of motion.
Explosive concentric tempos are usually more effective for building muscle but there is definitely a time and place for using slower tempos like the 4/0/4/0 tempo used in this routine.
If you want to learn more about tempo training or time under tension then check it out the following articles:
Anyone who skips these articles will be stuck with their “eleventeen-inch arms” for all eternity!
Strength Method #3: The 4+2 Method
The 4+2 method is an absolutely brutal training method invented by the strength coach Charles Poliquin.
The 4+2 method is almost like a modified version of forced reps. You are going to perform 4 reps with your 4-rep max, then *increase* the weight by 5-10% and perform 2 eccentric-only reps with an 8-second lowering phase.
Here is a great video on the 4+2 method:
He should lower the dumbbell much more slowly on the 2 eccentric-only reps but otherwise this is a perfect demonstration. The 4+2 method is basically a way to overload your eccentric strength after fully taxing your concentric strength.
In my experience the 4+2 method works especially well for training the biceps.
The biceps respond better to somewhat higher rep ranges so training in the 4-rep range is perfect when you want to build maximum strength.
It is also very easy to perform the 4+2 method for the biceps. For example you could use this method on preacher curls to really overload the short head of your biceps.
Here is a sample training routine you may want to try. Check it out:
4+2 Method Biceps Routine
- A1: One-arm barbell preacher curl (supinated grip), 3-5 x 4**, 3/0/X/0, 3 minutes rest
- B1: 60 degree incline cable curl, 3 x 6-8, 5/0/1/0, 2 minutes rest
**Perform 4 reps with your 4-rep max, then increase the weight by 5-10% and perform 2 eccentric-only reps with an 8-second lowering phase. You can use your non-working arm to help lift the weight up and skip the concentric range on your last 2 reps.
This workout is absolutely brutal! After your 4th rep you put the weight down and add some 2.5, 5 or 10 pound plates to either side of the barbell and perform your eccentric-only reps.
This is easily one of the fastest ways to jack up your biceps strength.
Training the short head of the biceps can be a little bit tricky. By far the most important thing is to use the best exercises like preacher curls, spider curls and 90 degree preacher curls.
You can also use a supinating or offset grip with dumbbells or a wide grip with an ez-curl bar to further overload the short head of the biceps.
If you are already using the best exercises then you have to think about how to design your overall routine.
The biceps respond best to slightly higher rep ranges than other muscle groups like the triceps. This is true when you are training for muscular hypertrophy and when you are training for strength.
In my experience methods that increase the time under tension of your sets like tri-sets and forced reps are great during a hypertrophy phase.
On the other hand routines that use sets in the 3-5 rep range like cluster sets and the 4+2 method are great options for building strength.
Just make sure you are executing all of your exercises with perfect form. The biceps is one of those muscle groups where proper form is absolutely critical.
This is one of the reasons exercises like preacher curls and spider curls are so effective – they make it almost impossible to cheat the weight up using your shoulders or lower back.
Congratulations – you are now armed with all the information you need to blast through training plateaus for the short head of your biceps. Now get back in the gym and put that knowledge to work!
“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential…these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!