September 14, 2015 | John Paul Catanzaro
Don’t you just hate those stubborn body parts that never seem to grow? Often it’s a result of underlying issues, or more accurately, underlying muscles.
You can improve certain body parts by training deep muscles that you can’t see. If trained properly, muscles like the pec minor, brachialis and soleus can help “pop out” your chest, arms
Earlier this year we took a look at how to train the pec minor. Today, we’ll target the brachialis.
The brachialis is a large muscle beneath the biceps brachii originating on the lower half of the humerus and inserting onto the coronoid process of the ulna. It functions to flex the forearm in all positions as well as stabilize and reinforce the anterior surface of the elbow joint.
The brachialis is often a weak link in arm development. Many bodybuilders have found that adding specific brachialis exercises to their workouts can increase their arm size significantly.
Enter the Reverse Curl
During an arm curl, the biceps brachii and the brachialis share almost equal work in elbow flexion, yet as soon as you reverse the grip, the brachialis carries most of the load and is thus isolated, although the brachioradialis will receive some stress as well.
Pronation reduces biomechanical efficiency. You need to use a load that’s 66-82% of what you could curl with your palms facing up to get the same number of reps out with your palms facing down.
Speed also plays a role. Research has shown that velocity can influence elbow flexor recruitment. The biceps brachii is found to be preferentially recruited during fast contractions while the brachialis is found to be preferentially recruited during slow contractions. Also, eccentric training influences the recruitment of fast twitch fibers, which have the greatest potential for hypertrophy. This suggests that a fairly slow tempo should be used when training the brachialis, particularly during the eccentric action.
When performing a reverse curl, I recommend that you use a preacher bench to maintain strict form and reduce cheating. Position your elbows shoulder-width apart about midway down on the pad. It’s not necessary to jam your armpits against the preacher bench as this position promotes rounding of the spine and could cause you to strain your upper back. Make sure to sit as tall as possible with your chest held high and start with your arms fully extended.
Grab an EZ-curl bar with the hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing down. Curl the weight upward until the forearms reach a position that is perpendicular to the floor. Then, lower the bar back down to the start position. Repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.
The mid-incline dumbbell curl is a great movement to stress the biceps brachii. It’s a nice complement to the preacher reverse curl since the palms are facing up (not down) and the elbows are behind the body (not in front of it). That should help boost the size of your upper arms and contribute to a more balanced development.
To perform the mid-incline dumbbell curl, simply lay back on an incline bench set at a 45-degree angle. Use a supinated (palms up) grip and curl the dumbbells upward from a straight arm position (i.e., full elbow extension) to as far as you can go (i.e., full elbow flexion). It’s crucial to keep the shoulders back and the elbows pointed down as long as possible – they’ll naturally rotate upward near the top of the movement. Also, keep the head back and neck straight. Bending your head forward to check out your form in the mirror may compromise strength, so don’t do it!
Try the 10 sets of 10 reps method with reverse curls and alternate sets with an antagonistic movement like skull crushers. Follow that pair of exercises with a stretch-position exercise for the biceps and a stretch-position exercise for the triceps, like an incline curl coupled with a French press. Here’s what the routine would look like:
A1. Seated Preacher EZ-Bar Reverse Curl: 10 x 10 @ 4010, 90s
A2. Flat EZ-Bar Triceps Extension to Forehead: 10 x 10 @ 4010, 90s
B1. Mid-Incline Dumbbell Curl: 3 x 12 @ 3010, 60s
B2. Kneeling Rope French Press: 3 x 12 @ 3010, 60s
Do that routine once every five days for a month. After six exposures, it’s time for a new program. A good option at that point would be the Modern Isometronics method featured in Mass Explosion.
Tomorrow we’ll look at how to target the soleus muscle for bigger calves.