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Fitness & Health

20th Mar 2019

These are the best bicep and tricep exercises, according to science

Stuck in a rut with your training plan? Go all-out for greater guns with this guide to the most effective bicep and tricep exercises

Alex Roberts

Go all-out for greater guns with this guide to the most effective arm builders

What are the best bicep and tricep exercises according to science? If you’re trying to build your arms up, you should probably start by prioritising compound exercises. Lifts such as pull-ups and barbell rows will build your biceps, and the bench press and dips will test your triceps.

However, you’ll still need a solid basis of other exercises to work from, including bodyweight and isolation movements. All exercises mentioned in this guide were proven by an EMG scan to recruit the most muscle.

EMG (electromyography) assesses how much electrical activity a muscle produces when placed under the stress of an exercise.

These are the best bicep and tricep exercises – as proven by science:

The best tricep exercises

The tricep muscle is made up of three heads (hence ‘tri’) and actually makes up two-thirds of your upper arm. For that reason, tricep training should arguably take precedence.

Tricep Kickbacks

  • Your torso should almost be parallel to the floor
  • Grip a dumbbell with one hand and press that arm in against your side
  • Take a 90 degree bend in the elbows
  • Then straighten your arm until it is parallel with the floor
  • Hold the stretch for 1-2 seconds and then lower the dumbbell back to the start position
  • These can also be done on cables

Overhead Extension

  • These can be performed seated with a dumbbell or using a rope attachment like The Rock does
  • The dumbbell version is fine, as is the cable supported rope version
  • All heads of the tricep feel it from this angle, but the long head will experience the most activation
  • The trick is to keep your elbows tucked in as close as possible to your ears. Flaring out takes the stress off the tricep

Diamond Push-Ups

  • This variation of the press-up was found to stimulate the most muscle
  • Take up a normal press-up position, but instead of having your hands shoulder-width apart, place them just a few inches apart in a diamond position
  • While keeping your abs engaged and your back straight, lower your body by bending at the elbows
  • Pause and hold for 1-2 seconds when your chest is brushing the back of your hands

The best bicep exercises

Your biceps are comprised of two heads – hence ‘bi’ – the long and short heads. Beneath the bicep you will find the brachialis, a smaller muscle that adds to the width and thickness of the upper arm.

You’ll need to work from a variety of joint angles to get the most out of your bicep training.

Preacher Curls

  • These are most effective for stimulating the bicep muscle at the bottom part of the curl
  • With your arms planted firmly into the pad, curl the bar or attachment up towards your shoulders
  • Pause at the top for 1-2 seconds, squeezing the bicep muscle while doing so
  • Slowly lower to the beginning

Seated Incline Curls

  • Exercise physiologist Dr. Jim Stoppani demonstrates the incline curl above
  • This is best for your bis in the mid-range portion of the lift
  • Allow your arms to first hang down by your sides
  • Using an underhand grip on the dumbbells, curl up to form a 90 degree angle
  • Again, squeeze the bicep at the top and then lower

Standing Bicep Curl

Bicep and Tricep Exercises

  • With a slight bend in your knees, take a pair of dumbbells with an underhand grip
  • Curl the dumbbell up while keeping your arm pressed in to your side
  • Form a right angle and squeeze the bicep muscle at the top
  • This variation of the curl is best for the top portion of the bicep muscle

How often should you train biceps and triceps?

Allow your arms ample recovery time in between workouts. They are relatively small muscles when compared to your chest and back so you’ll need to programme these bicep and tricep exercises carefully.

Creating your own training plan is not too difficult a task. Read our guide on building your own workout routine here.

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