Including this diary on your biceps, I have three diaries left on the series that I began last fall. Today, we will focus on your biceps. Next month, I will cover the hamstrings. I had actually planned to cover the hamstrings this month but once I got this month's issue of Men's Health I decided to change. So in August, we will discuss the Hamstrings and then in September we discuss the abs. Besides, I couldn't conclude the series on two "trophy" muscles. At the end of the diary, I will include links to all the "muscle diaries", but I did want to highlight the very first diary on the Triceps since they are so closely aligned with the biceps.
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First a little anatomy
The picture quality is not great but the descriptions of the three muscles and their origin and insertion are great. Please notice the importance of the biceps on the supination and pronation of the forearm. In strengthening the biceps completely, it is very important to adopt several hand positions on the dumbbell in order to stress one muscle more than another. For a better understanding of these terms, please visit one of my favorite sites at exrx.net.
OK, the video was a little long and Doug is a little unusual for some people, but he helps me to understand better the physiology of the exercise. Again, if someone is interested in developing more functional and better looking arms, I would suggest looking again at the first diary on triceps. The triceps are a larger muscle and give more definition to the arm than a strong bicep. It is just that many guys can flex their biceps and show their girlfriends the "pop". Women may not always have this ability but they can be just as strong if they fully develop the strength and conditioning of the triceps.
In the introduction, I mentioned an article in Men's health that convinced me to move biceps up to July rather than the hamstrings. This article is just a couple of pages of a fairly new book, Big Book Of Execises by Adam Campbell. My wife told me once that she can certainly tell which exercises books I most often read simply by looking at how the paperback cover tends to curl up when I lay it down. Well, the cover to this book is curled and slightly soiled from all its use since I got it a few months ago. I saw a few weeks ago where they also have the same version for women from Rodale's latest magazine on Women's Health.
If out of all the diaries I write on exercises, you take away just a few points, one should be that very subtle changes to hand positions can make a huge difference in the impact on the effected muscles. The same can be said of feet positions, tilt of the body, depth of dip on squats or lunges, and a myriad of other factors.
Please notice that the article offers 5 different positions for the hands when gripping a dumbbell. The standard grip shows the hand centered on the bar equal distance from each end with the palm facing away from your body. All together now, that means that the forearm is in the supination position. Many exercise books will show this grip starting as a hammer style lift and then supinating as the arm lifts upward. Either is fine unless the lift involves very heavy weights and the smaller forearm and elbow tendons are not fully developed for this much weight.
The next position is the thumb offset away from the body and shifted to the outside weight. Because the weight is not balanced any longer, it requires more effort from the biceps brachii to keep the palm facing directly away from your body in a full supine position. I use this lift with my left hand more often because of a severe wrist injury I received over 30 years ago when I was building my home. I have yet to recover fully the ability to supinate my left arm because of the many breaks in the wrist area.
The opposite of this position is the pinky offset where the hand is shifted closer to the body and the little finger is actually touching the dumbbell weight nearest the body. As you lift the dumbbell, there is a pull to the outside that forces you to keep the face of the palm square as you lift. Again, with very heavy weights, this may produce some pain in the elbow a few days after the exercises.
The reverse grip is just that. The face of the palm is now facing behind you. As you lift in this position, you may want to drop down in weight because this is a more difficult lift. Keep your wrists locked in position as you lift. This is not a wrist exercise. Again, your upper arm stays in the same position as you make the lift. It is not a front arm lift like we saw in the diary on the delts where the arm holds the same position and does not flex at the elbow.
Finally, the hammer position, which refers to the arm movement as if you were driving a nail. The palm stays locked in the same position facing your body. I find this to be the easiest lift but it can place more stress on the shoulder joint if the weight is heavy or your delts and smaller muscles around the shoulder are not strong. There is a tendency with this lift to move the weights to the top of the shoulders at the very end. Try to avoid this because this takes pressure off the biceps and places more emphasis on the shoulder. Let the butt of the dumbbell hit at the shoulder and not be above the shoulder.
So how do we get to 25 different bicep exercises
We have discussed the 5 hand positions. The article also discusses 5 different body positions. I'll let you page through the different positions but I'll just make a few comments where I see many lifting errors in gyms and on youtube videos.
First, in the standing position, it is important to keep great posture. The upper arms should stay close to the body and not shift upward. Keep your shoulder over your hips. With heavier weights, you see even more experienced lifters trying to get that last pound lifted by rocking the hips forward and the upper body backwards. Gaining momentum in this way can hurt your lower back and defeats the purpose of the exercise. The bicep curl is just that. Try to isolate the movement such that only the three muscles in the video discussed above are incorporated. Any other muscles that support this lift only take away from completely strengthening the biceps.
In the split stance, try to find a bench or platform that allows you to keep the upper thigh at almost parallel position. If the bench is too high, it allows your back to shift backwards and again places more stress than needed on this area. The idea behind this move is to force you to stabilize your core. I think this is very important. If you lift a young child off the floor, you incorporate the biceps with legs and core. Even more unstable is to place a foot onto a smaller swiss ball and do the lifts. To keep the ball in place, you have to press downward slightly to keep the ball stable and this forces the core to brace. Just make sure that the ball is not too high and the thigh remains close to level.
Finally, the last two bench curls should be noted because it is important to keep the head and neck neutral when doing these lifts. Especially, in the incline position, guys have a tendency to tilt their heads forward as they lift. I recommend keeping your head on the bench upright as you lift. One, it is safer on the upper spine and two, it allows you to focus only on the bicep. I find that I can actually isolate the bicep much better in this position than any other. However, I do need to drop the weights by 5# in each hand.
So there we have it. 5 different major hand positions and 5 different body positions gives you 25 different exercises. The Big Book of Exercises is just chocked full of variations for all lifts. I like variation. In fact, you can add one more simple variation and make it 50 different exercises. You have two arms, right? Do you always lift with both arms at the same time. Probably not! Simply by alternating the lifts from right to left occasionally gives a different emphasis. Again, the key is to maintain great posture. Many people tend to lean to the right or left to help curl the weight slightly. Keep your body upright at all times and shoulders over hips.
OK, I'm almost out of time this morning. Thanks for reading. I hope all had a great July 4th and enjoyed the food, family and fireworks.