Don’t be fooled by the name; the short head of the bicep is big.
It’s one of the biggest factors in the width of your upper arm. Big short-head biceps make you look thicker and more impressive, even in a shirt.
Today, we’re focusing on short head bicep exercises for wider arms so you can finally fill those sleeves. It’s time to look like you lift, even fully dressed.
We’ll be building bigger biceps and girthier guns, so stick with us for the 7 bicep exercises you need to train.
Important anatomy: What is the short head
The short head of the bicep is the one closest to your body – the medial head – and has a different bias to the other (long) head. It does the majority of the heavy lifting when:
- Your shoulder is externally rotated
- Your elbows are close to your torso
- The shoulder is stable, and you’re bending the elbow.
This means there are some different exercises and techniques you need to focus on. Most people miss out because they only use a few exercises.
[image of the short head anatomy]
This is even more important in non-stretched positions, with a strong focus on holding the top of elbow flexion. You need to focus on squeezing in the top of these exercises and supinated (palm-up) movements.
What Does The Short Head Bicep Do?
The short head of the bicep is a minor shoulder adductor. It wants to bring the arms closer to the body while you’re bending the elbow. It’s also less reliant on a full stretch than other muscles. It enters passive insufficiency during shoulder extension. Focus on a stable, ‘closed’ shoulder angle.
You also need to focus on supinated (palm up) exercises for the short head. The biceps are more active in this role, especially when you’re also moving the wrists through the motion. This is particularly important at the top of a curl, so get ready to hold the ‘closed’ squeeze position!
The combination of ‘close elbows’ and ‘supinated grip’ is the sweet spot. We’ll look at heavy and lighter options for the short head. This means there’s always an exercise perfect for your bicep training session.
Best Short Head Bicep Exercises For Wider Arms
1. Chin Ups
Chin-ups hit everything you need for great short-head bicep gains. It’s supinated, you’re pulling your elbows into your body, and you’re loading the biceps with big weight. This only gets better as you improve your ability to perform reps over time.
The loading for chin-ups is simple and effective: if you can do more reps, you have gotten stronger. The range of motion matches up perfectly with the role of the short head of the biceps. It’s even better than the normal pull-up.
Getting a big chin up with reps and extra weight will give you huge arms. There’s no way around it.
- Grab an overhead bar or handles with a supinated or 45-degree grip, with the palms facing toward you.
- Lower yourself as low as possible, lifting the legs and feeling the stretch in the lats
- Begin pulling yourself up by bending the elbows and pulling the shoulder blades back, down, and together.
- Continue pulling until your chin is above the bar or, ideally, when your chest reaches the handles.
- Hold briefly before lowering yourself back down slowly and under control.
Train chin-ups to add reps per set and reps in total. You can’t do much about your bodyweight, so you need to use reps as your main progression system. Once you can perform a set of 12 chin-ups, it’s time to add weight and drop the reps back down.
You can keep using this system of reaching 12+ reps and then adding weight as you grow stronger.
If you’re struggling with your first few chin-ups, you can use ring rows to build the proper arm and back strength. This will – of course – also build your arms. You’re building bigger biceps while you build gymnastic strength.
2. Zottman Curls
Zottman curls are a great choice because they work through the bicep range of motion but also rotate the forearms. They’re perfect for getting the best of both heads in one exercise.
Replacing your normal curls with Zottman curls can improve the size of your biceps and forearms. It will also build the brachioradialis, which means even more arm width.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells and stand or sit up straight.
- Begin curling the dumbbells as normal, with the palms up and elbows tight to the body.
- At the top position, turn the hands around and slowly lower the dumbbells back down with a pronated grip.
- Control the lowering phase, and return the grip to supinated at the bottom to finish the rep.
Zottman curls should go at the end of a workout, either by themselves or in a superset. They’re a tiring exercise for the smaller muscles around the elbows and the forearms. You’ll really feel them in the following exercises.
Keep your arms fresh for heavy lifting, then use Zottman curls to get a full-arm pump before you clock out. Perfect for a good arm pump on the way out of the gym, too!
3. Yates’ Row
The Yates row is like a mix of the chin-up and the barbell row. It’s a supinated row with the elbows close to the body. You can use any amount of weight or reps, giving you plenty of options to fit it into your workout.
This is a fantastic short head exercise for heavy load, just like the chin up. They’re a great replacement for chin-ups or simply as a follow-up.
The eccentric load is perfect. Add pauses or slow down your lowering phase. Plus, when you’re exhausted, you can add a little hip action to push through the fatigue and add even more reps.
- Take a barbell in a supinated grip, with your back flat and chest ‘out.’
- Lift the bar off the floor with the hips and legs until it’s just off the floor.
- Begin the row by retracting and depressing the shoulder blades and bending the elbows.
- Pull your elbows as far back as possible, and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
- Hold the top position of the row (with the bar touching the lower chest or upper stomach area) for a moment before lowering back to arms’ length.
Use Yates’ rows wherever you would normally use a barbell or dumbbell row variation. They should be heavy, either strict or with a bit of momentum from the hips. You can add momentum as you get tired to help keep up the reps, as long as you’re lowering the bar slowly and under control.
You can also use Yates rows in supersets or tri-sets with bicep curls. I’m a big fan of the Yates row, hammer curl, and spider curl tri-set. Horrid.
4. Seal Rows
The dumbbell seal row is an excellent choice for building the short head of the bicep. This is perfect for building the biceps and back together, and the dumbbell variation lets you use a narrower grip.
This biases the short head more, stopping you from leaning on your stronger long-head bicep to get a better workout.
- Take a dumbbell in either hand with your chest supported on a bench.
- Keep your weight in the chest, contacting the bench, and don’t “pull” away.
- Begin rowing by pulling the elbows back, bending them, and retracting the shoulder blades.
- Continue pulling as far as possible, or until the weight contacts the bench, with the arms close to the body.
- Squeeze the shoulder blades and biceps in the top position, holding for 1-2 seconds.
Seal rows are very versatile. You should use them after your heavy lifts but before your ‘finisher’ exercises.
You want to focus on high-quality reps in the 8-12 rep range, but no more. Make sure you’re using the heaviest weight you can for each set, even if that means dropping down as you get more tired.
Drop sets, pyramid sets, and supersets are all perfect for the seal row. Seal rows and spider curls (discussed below) are a great 2-exercise combo.
5. Gorilla Rows
Somewhere between the Yates row and the Pendlay row, you’ve got the kettlebell gorilla row. This is a perfect way to build short-head biceps with high reps. It reduces back loading – making it a perfect bicep and back ‘finisher’.
Kettlebells let you keep the elbow close to the body. If you really want to pump your biceps, you can even add a pause at the top, so you’re always holding one kettlebell on a fully flexed elbow!
- Place two kettlebells of equal weight on the floor in front of you, about 1.5 feet away
- Bend over at the hips so that your shoulders are above the kettlebells.
- Grip the kettlebells and begin rowing one of them, pulling it towards your body by bending the elbow and retracting the shoulder blade.
- Keep the torso in place, supporting your weight on the other kettlebell, and pulling until the kettlebell reaches the body, or you can’t pull further.
- Hold the top position while actively squeezing the bicep lower trap, bringing the elbow ‘around’ the body.
- Lower back to the start and repeat this process on the other arm to complete one rep.
Gorilla rows are another mid-weight exercise, just like the seal row, and should fit into your workouts in the same way. However, because they’re working from the floor, they’re slightly less taxing on the back. This makes them easier to perform with higher reps – and in supersets or circuits.
Use the gorilla row as your transition exercise between heavier rows and lighter curls or other finishers. It’s a perfect option for 12-20 rep sets since you can easily take a break and then keep going.
6. Spider Curls
Spider curls use a narrower grip with an EZ curl bar and a constantly active bicep, providing a ridiculous muscle growth stimulus. They also reduce the time that the short head spends in passive insufficiency- keeping it active.
You can train this exercise with dumbbells or an EZ bar; proper supinated grips will offer extra benefits.
- Take an inclined position with your chest ‘over’ the bench and the weight in your hands (directly underneath your shoulders). You can use dumbbells, a straight bar, or an EZ curl bar.
- Begin curling the weight by bending the elbows, allowing them to move forwards slightly, but emphasizing closing the elbow.
- Continue curling, keeping the elbows close to the body and bench, until you are at the end of your range.
- Hold the top position for 1-2 seconds while you squeeze the bicep as hard as possible.
- Slowly lower the weight back to the starting position, completing the repetition
Spider curls are one of the more challenging variations; you shouldn’t rely on them for more than 1-2 sessions per week. They’re perfect for throwing into your supersets or the final few exercises to build width.
Spider curls are great anywhere from 10 to 20 repetitions. They’re one of the best bicep isolation exercises for high reps. Try combining them with a dumbbell row for lower reps, then 15-20 spider curls with very light weight.
7. Cable Curls
You can use a narrow grip cable curl with the elbows ‘pinned’ to the body to activate the short head. The constant tension is perfect for the active range. This gives you a great pump even with lighter weights.
The single-arm cable curl lets you keep the short head active while still getting a stretch reflex for better growth. This is a rare pairing, and it makes the cable curl one of our favorite short-head bicep exercises for wider arms.
Plus, you can throw it at the end of any workout, perfect for topping up your arms every session!
- Take a cable with a straight bar, with the pulley as low as possible so there’s tension from the start position. Lean slightly toward the cable machine.
- Keep the elbows in front of the body, keeping them pinched into your body.
- Begin curling by bending the elbows, bracing them into the body, and bringing the hands up towards your face.
- Hold the top position, actively squeezing the biceps and keeping the elbows pulled in close together.
- Slowly lower the cable back to the start position, keeping tension on the biceps
Single-arm cable curls are good anywhere in an arms session. They’re a good warm-up to build a better mind-muscle connection, but you’ll typically use them at the end of the workout. If you’re keeping your arm pinned in close, they’re going to get your biceps filled with blood.
They’re perfect in cable supersets. You’re already at a cable machine! A perfect mix with tricep pushdowns, face pulls, cable rows, and other bicep or tricep exercises.
The constant tension is safe but effective, perfect for going ‘to failure’ for 3-4 sets with short rest periods. Drop sets work well, too, since the stack is so easy to adjust.
Do normal bicep curls work the short head?
Yes – all bicep curls will work both heads of the bicep. The difference between normal curls and the short head bicep exercises we’ve looked at is bias. They relatively focus on the short head, but you’re still building the whole bicep.
You will always be able to build wider arms with curls, but you can specialize your workouts to your weak parts.
You build bigger arms by focusing on balance between all the muscles and movements. The exercises on this list all contribute to the full bicep development and specifically target the short head of the biceps.
By adding one or more to your workout routine, you’ll grow bigger arms with a focus on adding width. Make sure your whole training plan is solid – with plenty of volume and rest – and eat to build muscle.
Take your time, focus on moving well in these exercises, and you’ll be rewarded with bigger arms!
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