Published On: Mon, May 22nd, 2017

Building Biceps With Wide, Shoulder or Close Grip?

For the first time since getting our weight bench, I hooked up the preacher curl padding to do some preacher curls.  I’ve neglected my biceps [for 40+ years!] so I wanted to add some bicep work into my routine.  I started with using the EZ curl bar and promptly almost ripped my shoulder out on the eccentric contraction!

I use JEFit mobile app to track my routines and there are two options for preacher curls.  The normal preacher curls and the close grip.  Because I was using the EZ bar, I logged my reps as close grip, but then started wondering what’s really the difference.

I started pushing weight last year, but half of the reason is to get in better shape.  The other half is because of my fascination with how the body works, the anatomy, the way muscles function and how little tweaks in how you lift have such a impact on what muscles get worked.

The biceps, obviously, consists of two heads that form the muscle.  The long head and the short head.  They both come together to form one muscle mass on the humerus bone and connect to the radius bone in the forearm, but they connect to the scapula in two different locations.  More specifically, the long head originates from the supraglenoid tubercle just above the shoulder joint; the short head originates from the coracoid process at the top of the scapula.

Because of these different starting points, the way you hold the bar works one head more than the other:

  • When you hold the bar with a shoulder-width grip, your arms are in what is called the anatomical position–straight down and not rotated.
  • When you hold the bar with a wider-than-shoulder-width grip, your arms turn out at the shoulder joint, which is known as external rotation. The wider you go on the bar, the more external rotation you have and the more involvement you have from the inner (short) biceps head. This grip also shortens the path the barbell takes during the curl, allowing you to use slightly more weight on barbell curls.
  • When you hold the bar with a narrower-than-shoulder-width grip, your arms turn in, which is known as internal rotation. The narrower your grip, the more internal rotation you have and the more involvement you have from the outer (long) head, which is important for building up the peak.

Because my biceps [both heads!] are in dire need of some attention, I’m going to have to work all three of the grips into my routine. And that’s in combination with cross body hammer curls to get some work in for the brachialis, the muscle that sits beneath the biceps. As it gets stronger, it pushes whatever biceps you have up, and I could use all the help I can get.

Though I finally broke out the preacher curl padding, I know I’m going to have to change it up from time to time, doing standing curls, cable curls, spider curls and whatever other curls there are. And I’ll be using the EZ bar, a barbell, dumbbells, maybe even kettle bells. Arm work is not my favorite exercise, but understanding how these different grips change what results to expect, I’m curious to add it to the routine and see what happens.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.


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