What exercises work the long head of the bicep?

Looking to build bigger long head biceps? To understand what exercises work the long head of the biceps the best, we need to understand what’s going on with the anatomy first, then we can see what exercises will work best to get them growing.

The Biceps Anatomy:

Long Head of the Biceps

You’ll notice the long head is on the outer side of the arm, and the short head is on the inside of the arm. So you can also think of it like this:

Long head biceps = outer biceps

Short head biceps = inner biceps

Both the long head and short head work together to give your body fluid movement as it curls. So it’s impossible to fully isolate one or the other, but you can influence the size and strength of them by doing a wide variety of bicep movements and grip positions and whatnot.

The biceps can:

  • help curl up (flex the elbow joint)
  • turn your palms up to the ceiling (supinate)
  • help you to move your arms away from your body (abducting the shoulders)

In a 2009 study titled “Effect of the shoulder position on the biceps brachii EMG in different dumbbell curls,” researchers looked at what types of dumbbell curls exercises worked the long head biceps the best.

What they found was that the incline dumbbell curl stretched out the long head the most, making it not fire very well with the electromyography (EMG) tests. The preacher curls, by contrast, allowed the long head to fire optimally because the fibres were shorter and able to contract better.

Keep in mind that recent research has found that the stretch on a muscle can also cause muscle growth. So even if a muscle isn’t able to fire optimally, if it is stretched enough, that can still cause muscle growth.

So it may be that incline dumbbell curls work the long head the best because it is the exercise that stretches the long head biceps the most.

Either way, you’re going to want to do many different types of variations of curling to make sure that you hit the biceps fully—including the long head.

What exercises work the long head of the bicep?

All of the curls studied worked the long head. But to try and hit the long head specifically, you will want to work the long head biceps in both a stretched and contracted position.

Stretched Long Head Biceps—Incline Dumbbell Curl

Here’s Marco demonstrating the incline dumbbell curl:

Contracted Long Head Biceps—Preachers Curl

Here’s Marco demonstrating the Preachers Curl with the concentration curl alternative:

Vince Gironda And The Long Head Biceps

The late Vince Gironda, the famous trainer from the golden era in California (previously trained Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, and Larry Scott), believed in putting the hands wider than the body but keeping the elbows tucked to work the long/outer bicep head. You can see him coaching this form with the Gironda Wide Grip Barbell Body Drag Curl here:

Vince had a lot of great ideas when it came to training the arms. He’d put people on programs where you train the arms first in the workout. He would start them with a standing preacher barbell curl, then move onto the Gironda Wide Grip Barbell Body Drag Curl for the long head, and then do some tricep and forearm work. He would do this three times a week to get enough volume and frequency to make the biceps grow fast.

How do I get bigger biceps on the long head?

To get bigger biceps on the long head, you’ll want to work the long head biceps in both stretched and contracted positions and then use progressive overload principles to cause muscle growth.

For example, you might want to start by using one set of 12–16 reps on the incline curl. If you can’t do 12 reps, lighten the weight. For each workout, you should try and add a few more reps. Once you can get to 16 reps, add a few pounds to your dumbbells, and start the process over again as you’ll be back down to 12 reps. Keep doing this, and you’ll be getting stronger, and you’ll get bigger long head biceps. Remember, keep the form strict, and don’t cheat, contract as fast as you can, and lower the weight slowly and under control.

How do you train biceps long head at home?

If you have access to adjustable dumbbells at home, you can still easily hit the long head in both the stretched and contracted positions.

To simulate an incline bench, you can stand with your back pressed against the wall, move your feet out away from the wall, and let your arms hang to the side with the dumbbells. This will help stretch out the long head biceps. Curl up the dumbbells with your palms by your body, and as you clear your hips, turn your palms up to the ceiling (supinate) and curl all the way up. Another way you could do this, is to lean back, as Shane Duquette coined with the Sissy Dumbbell Curl.

You can also do a preacher curl at home by leaning over something so that you’re mainly training the top motion of the curl. On Youtube, you can find people trying all sorts of things to do this at home, like laying over an ottoman, or a padded chair, or even just sitting on a hard surface, and then bending the upper body over and then curling.

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