It’s not a secret that most powerlifters don’t train biceps.
Powerlifters don’t care about their bicep peak and arm size; they worry about getting stronger.
PSA: Training biceps helps tremendously with bench press stability, and increased rowing strength. Trust me, I’ve learned from experience.
I went from doing direct arm work and noticing a direct increase in my bench stability and row ability… let alone bigger arms.
Bench Press Stability
The bench press is by far the most popular lift. “What do you bench” seems to be the question asked whenever a fellow meathead hears that someone lifts.
The bench press is an extremely technical lift; there is no muscling through it.
Hand placement, wrists not staying straight, arms flaring, losing back tightness, loss of full body tightness, weak upper back, and hell even weak biceps will throw the bar off your path and will make you get pinned under the bar.
Cutty’s Note: I will be writing an article on biceps and shoulder stability in another article. After some research I’ve found statements that back up the claims of stronger biceps = stable shoulders.
I talk with a lot of really strong and elite lifters. I pick their brains as much as I can and I actually try out their advice.
When I lived in Oregon a few years ago, I did not directly hit arms. I talked with a few people who bench over 400 raw and 700+ shirted and they all told me direct arm work, especially bicep work will help with bench press stability.
I started hitting biceps with heavy hammer curls and machine curls and I’ll be damned if my bench felt more stable and started to go up. Thinking back to it, I had the strongest bench with reps back then.
Speed up to now (3/5/2015) and I haven’t done direct arm work in at least a year or two and my bench is suffering terribly. Cutting weight, being out of the gym for a few months, and inactivity has wrecked my bench. My squat and deadlift is back to what it was believe it or not.
So I am starting to incorporate direct arm work into my routine and I expect that my bench will go up, my stability will increase, and I won’t have these issues with my shoulder from trying to use them to keep the bar stable.
Biceps and Rows
As you’ve seen in other powerlifting articles, rows are great for building biceps. What I don’t mention is that building your bicep strength will help with your rows.
If you’ve ever had a big back day and you came out with your biceps being the breaking point in your workout, you understand where I am.
While you (shouldn’t) use your biceps directly with your rows and pulls, you do use them and they need to get stronger.
Best Bicep Exercises
It’s somewhat unanimous that hammer curls are indeed the most beneficial to powerlifters. Here are a list of exercises I would incorporate into your routine (many of which you will see in my workouts I create after this article).
- Dumbbell Hammer Curls – Heavy weight
- Rope Hammer Curls – Lots of volume
- Machine Supinated Curls – Lots of volume
- Reverse curls – Heavy
- Alternating curls – Heavy
- EZ Curl Bar – Heavy
Any bicep work is better than none so if there is an exercise that I didn’t list, it doesn’t mean that it is not useful, it just didn’t make the list on what many advanced and elite lifters recommend using.
Biceps and Deadlifts?
Distal bicep tendon tear; aka popping a bicep. One of those things that make me cringe thinking about and make me scream out loud watching one pop on video.
If you’ve never heard of it or seen it happen, here’s a video. It will make your skin crawl. There’s no blood or screaming or anything, just a bicep curling up into itself since the tendon broke.
I am thankful it hasn’t happened to me so I do not know what it feels like. I could only imagine it is a nasty pain; you can see the kid did not even know what happened until after the lift.
What causes a bicep tear?
So out of curiosity while I was writing this, I decided to check out what exactly causes a bicep tear. I found some orthopedic websites and here’s what I learned.
Injuries to the biceps tendon at the elbow usually occur when the elbow is forced straight against resistance. It is less common to injure this tendon when the elbow is forcibly bent against a heavy load.
Lifting a heavy box is a good example. Perhaps you grab it without realizing how much it weighs. You strain your biceps muscles and tendons trying to keep your arms bent, but the weight is too much and forces your arms straight. As you struggle, the stress on your biceps increases and the tendon tears away from the bone.
So here is where pulling the slack out of the bar and ensuring that you do not bend your arms when deadlifting comes into effect. It’s important to keep your arms as straight as possible when deadlifting, especially supinated (mixed grip).
The supinated palm puts extra strain on your bicep tendon and this is what causes the injury.
This is why a lot of lifters prefer hook grip and why I personally train with straps. I have no problem with grip and my biceps are really tight as it is, putting unnecessary strain on the tendon is not part of my game plan.
What does popping a bicep feel like?
When the distal biceps tendon ruptures, it usually sounds and feels like a pop directly in front of the elbow. At first the pain is intense. The pain often subsides quickly after a complete rupture because tension is immediately taken off the pain sensors in the tendon. Swelling and bruising in front of the elbow usually develop shortly after the pop. The biceps may appear to have balled up near the elbow. The arm often feels weak with attempts to bend the elbow, lift the shoulder, or twist the forearm into supination (palm up).
I’ve heard other lifters mention that popping a bicep sounds a lot like a velcro wallet opening as well. If that doesn’t make you cringe, I don’t know what does.
How do you fix a popped bicep?
There are two types of surgical treatments that reattach the tendon and 1 non surgical way with the preferred method is surgery.
Going without surgery is going to limit your recovery, your arm strength, and just does not seem to be a smart thing to not get surgically fixed.
Powerlifters must train their biceps for maximal performance. There is no way around it that you need to make every part of your body as strong as possible.
If you have limited time and energy to train anything else, I recommend using hammer curls as your go-to exercise. Do these for 3-4 sets with heavy weight 6-8 reps per set.
Popping a bicep is not fun and there are a few ways to practice safety to keep from tearing your tendon; pull the slack out of your arms before you pull, pull with a hook grip, pull with double overhand grip, pull with double overhand grip with straps. All of these will help lower the risk of tearing your distal bicep tendon and keep you healthy.
This article grew into something much larger than what I imagined it to be and I plan on diving further into a few of the topics I covered here. If you have any comments or suggestions on what you’ve found work, leave them below!