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The 9 Best Short Head Bicep Exercises You Can Do in the Gym

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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The biceps are a two-headed muscle located in the upper arm. The short head of the biceps is responsible for flexing the elbow and supinating the forearm (turning the palm upwards). It is also involved in shoulder adduction (bringing the arm across the body).

In this article we’re going to look at exercises to specifically target the short head of the biceps. We’ll discuss physiology, training methods and sports science to help you build bigger, stronger and healthier biceps.

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By the end of the article your bicep workout game will be changed forever…

What is the short head of the bicep?

The bicep muscle actually has two ‘heads’. The long head runs down the outside of the bicep, and the short head runs down the inside of the muscle. Although they are collectively the biceps muscle, they are targeted by different exercises.

Although they are the same overall muscle, anatomically speaking they respond differently to exercises, grips and training approaches. 

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How to activate the short head of the bicep

There are a few ways to activate the short head of the biceps…

One way is to use a wider grip when doing bicep curls.

The wide grip barbell curl shortens the range of motion and puts more emphasis on the short head. Another way to activate the short head is to do exercises that involve shoulder adduction. This can be done with exercises like chin-ups, inverted rows, and concentration curls. 

We know this from research by Coratella et al in their 2023 paper titled ‘Biceps Brachii and Brachioradialis Excitation in Biceps Curl Exercise: Different Handgrips, Different Synergy’. They showed that…

‘Changing the hand grips when performing biceps curl induces specific variations in biceps brachii and brachioradialis excitation and requires different anterior deltoid interventions for stabilizing the humeral head. Practitioners should consider including different hand grips in the biceps curl routine to vary the neural and mechanical stimuli.’

In plain English, it means that adjusting the position of the hands, arms and shoulder height during different exercises hits the different bicep heads in a variety of ways. These variations make for a more effective arm workout than repeating set after set of the regular curl.

This is why when we perform different exercises for the bicep, we have to use a variety of starting positions, range of motion, elbow positions, grip width, arm positions and weights. By challenging the biceps in different ways we stimulate more muscle activation, which leads to more muscle growth.

What are the benefits of training the short head of the biceps?

There are a few benefits to training the short head of the biceps…

One benefit is that it can help to increase muscle size. The short head is responsible for creating the ‘bicep peak’ of the biceps, so training it can help to make your arms look bigger and more defined.

Another benefit of training the short head is that it can improve your upper arm strength, allowing you to lift heavier weights. The short head is involved in a variety of exercises, so training it can help you to perform these exercises more effectively.

Finally, it can help to support the shoulder. 

The short head of the bicep is responsible in part for pulling the elbow back towards the body. This retraction movement activates the upper back muscles that help improve shoulder stability, so strong biceps can help with shoulder health too. 

Muscle size increase

As we’ve discussed, training the short head of the biceps helps to build bigger biceps peaks. The combination of the curl variations, constant tension in the muscles, the full range of motion and the training volume combine to build the biceps. 

We could all pretend that it isn’t important to us, but show me a guy who claims to not be bothered about his arm size, and I’ll show you a liar! It may not be your primary training goal to grow your biceps, but it’s a pretty great secondary outcome of your training.

Benefits to strength and fitness

Outside of the aesthetic benefits of training your upper arms, there’s a number of other benefits from the movements…

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Injury prevention benefits

Training the short head can also help to prevent injuries. The short head helps to stabilise the elbow joint, so training it can help to reduce the risk of injuries such as tennis elbow.

If you are performing a sport where there’s a lot of bicep activation (gymnastics, climbing, rowing, judo, wrestling etc), then this is a great way to protect the joint. Using proper form and a variety of short head bicep exercises, you’ll build enough strength in the muscle heads that in practical terms, will build grip strength, improve the forearm muscles and make you more injury resistant

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Exercises to target the short head of the biceps

There are a number of exercises that can be used to target the short head of the biceps. Some of the most effective exercises include:

Rotating Bicep Curl

The rotating bicep curl is a perfect way to hit the short head of the bicep, because it rotates and pulls the weight outwards – both movements the short head is responsible for. The exercise should be performed with dumbbells because the movement is free and easier to control. 

Spider Curls

This exercise is done by sitting on a bench with your feet flat on the floor and your arms extended in front of you. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with a supinated grip (palms facing up). Curl the dumbbells up towards your shoulders, keeping your elbows close to your sides.

Preacher Curl

This exercise is done by sitting on a preacher bench with your arms resting on the pads. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with a supinated grip. Alternatively an EZ bar works too. Curl the weight up towards your shoulders, keeping your elbows on the pads.

Wide Grip EZ Bar Curls

This exercise is done by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and holding an EZ bar in front of you with a wide grip. Slowly curl the bar up towards your shoulders, keeping your elbows close to your sides. 

Dumbbell Drag Curls

The dumbbell drag curl combines a row action with a curl action. The idea is that you ‘pull’ the dumbbells back towards you as you perform the curl. The movement is done in a standing position, and I prefer dumbbells over a bar because of the additional range of motion. 

Chin Ups

This exercise is done by hanging from a pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart. Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar. Chin ups are ALWAYS done with an underhand grip and your starting position should be a dead hang. This increases the time under tension for the muscles. 

Underhand Grip Barbell Rows

The underhand grip barbell row is a great exercise for hitting the short head of the bicep. It’s also a way to lift a heavy weight with your biceps. The fact that it also recruits the upper back means it helps to maintain shoulder joint health as well.

Inverted Rows

This exercise is done by hanging from an inverted row bar with your hands underhand (palms facing down). Pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar. It’s similar to the barbell row, but an easier exercise in many ways. User a wider grip for better short head activation. 

Concentration Curls

This exercise is done by sitting on a bench with your feet flat on the floor and your right arm resting on your thigh. Hold a dumbbell in your hand with a supinated grip. Curl the dumbbell up towards your shoulder, keeping your elbow on your thigh. Repeat on the other side.

Simple tips to hit the short head with ‘standard’ exercises…

There are ways you can tweak standard bicep exercises to make them more short head bicep specific…

Use a wider grip 

If your starting position of an exercise has a wider grip, you’ll activate the short head of the biceps naturally. It doesn’t matter if these are cable curls, barbell curls or using a machine. A wider grip targets the lateral aspect of the bicep more.

Reverse the grip

Reverse curls (where you hold the bar or dumbbells with an overhand grip) are a great way of taking the standard dumbbell curl and making it more short-head specific. This supinated position hits the outer biceps, helps to counteract muscle imbalance in the forearm and makes a lightweight curl very effective. When using a reverse grip, always start with lighter weights and use strict form.

Throw in new training variables

New challenges help to build bicep strength. Adjusting the amount of sets per week, reducing the rest between sets, throwing in from sets etc all help to kick start muscle hypertrophy. When your body is used to the same bicep workouts week after week, you’re going to stall your progress. Mix it up!

Short Head Bicep Workout Considerations

Don’t overdo it

When working out the short head of the biceps, it is important to not overdo it. The short head is a small area of a single muscle, so it can be easily overtrained. It is also important to mix up the exercises that you do. This will help to prevent overtraining and will also help to target all of the different parts of the biceps.

Mix the exercises up – prevent overtraining

The short head of the biceps can be effectively targeted with a variety of exercises, as we’ve shown here. By following the tips in this article, you can develop strong, defined biceps that will make you look and feel your best. You’ll also balance the workload so you won’t end up injured

Short head bicep exercises final thoughts…

You only need to focus on such a specific area if you’ve been hitting your biceps for a long time, and you’ve built a serious amount of muscle mass there. 

If you’re new to training (less than a year in), don’t worry about getting too granular with your biceps workouts – just focus on hitting the muscles with a healthy mix of cable exercises, dumbbell exercises and barbell exercises. Build strength and size first, THEN focus on the details.

Mix things up – perform sets in the 6-10 reps range, 10-20 rep range and 20-30 rep range. They all have their place and will help build strong, functional and healthy arms

Follow these tips and you’ll have great guns!

About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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