Today we’re going to look at 6 old-school bicep exercises that are effective muscle-builders. Including a variation that Arnold Schwarzenegger did to help develop those famous peaks.
First, we’ll look at incline curls and compare them to drag curls as both work the biceps in the stretched position.
Both Arnold and Steve Reeves were fans of the incline curl, but it’s not Arnold’s forgotten exercise that comes later in the video.
Steve worked off a homemade wooden structure to achieve the correct working angle. In his second book, “dynamic muscle building,” he said 45 degrees is the best angle.
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This position creates a stretch on not only the long head of the biceps, which is responsible for the peak, but also the tendon that attaches it to the shoulder. And this is where we need to be careful to not overstretch this tendon, as it could cause an injury.
I do this exercise at 45 degrees, but if you’re new to it, you might want to set the bench a little higher, say at 60 degrees, especially if you’ve had shoulder issues.
This is where the drag curl has an advantage, you’re in that fully stretched position at the top, but you don’t have a continual stretch on that tendon through the whole set.
There’s more and more evidence coming out that stretched position exercises build more muscle. So it makes sense to add these to your program.
If your shoulders are healthy, I would make incline curls my main stretched position exercise, either at 60 or 45 degrees and occasionally rotate drag curls in for variety to give that tendon a break.
I’m not sure what exercise I should compare this next one to. It’s one I’m currently doing in my training, and it’s a tough one. It was invented by an 1800s strongman named George Zottman.
This curl works the brachioradialis in the negative part of the movement, and by the last few reps, it’s all I can do to control the weight on the way down.
You curl the weight up like a traditional curl. Then once you reach the top, you pronate your hands, engaging the brachioradialis and reducing the amount of work your biceps are doing.
The advantage of this exercise over, say, reverse grip curls is you can use heavier weight, and it really overloads the forearms on the negative.
Anyone who’s watched pumping iron will have seen this exercise. There’s only a brief clip of Arnold doing it in the movie, and that’s the standing concentration curl.
I like this movement better than the seated version, but both have pros and cons. In theory, one of the great things about the seated concentration curl is it’s hard to cheat the move. This isn’t really true, and I’ll showcase another old-school exercise that’s much harder to cheat in a bit.
When we have our elbow pushed into our thigh, it helps to keep from swinging our arm, but it also creates a lever making the exercise easier, and you can cheat it with a slight rocking motion of the upper body.
In the standing variation, you have your hips back like when doing a bent-over row. You can still cheat the move with your legs, so we should be aware of this and resist the temptation.
Arnold does something interesting on his last repetitions with this forgotten variation. Once he goes to failure, he pauses, sets the weight down for a second to recover, which allows him to get in a couple more reps.
Next up is lying cable curls, another exercise Steve Reeves liked to do, and we’ll compare it to spider curls. Both of these exercises have your arms in front and allow you to contract the biceps fully, making it a perfect complement to incline curls which work the muscle in the fully stretched position.
If you only have dumbbells to work with, spider curls make an excellent option even over preacher curls which puts your arm at an extreme leverage disadvantage in the fully extended position and increases the risk of injury.