You came here because you want to know how to feel your biceps more when you curl. And as much as I want to tell you dope facts about kangaroos and their biceps, you didn’t come here for marsupial biology.
All you care about is finding out how to grow your biceps so you can have shirt-splitting arms.
So suck it kangaroos. And enough with this long-winded intro, let’s hop to it, shall we?
The Function of Your Biceps
Alright, so I lied. I am going to tell you about kangaroos. But it’s essential to my set-up. Did you know that male kangaroos flex their muscles to attract a mate? It’s true.
Guess humans aren’t the only species that pop a mean flex to attract potential mates. Outside of acting as an advertising device for sexcapades with a mate, your biceps have far more important functions.
Without biceps, you wouldn’t be able to open doors, drink whiskey, or rotate your forearm.
Scientifically, your biceps are known as the biceps brachii. Which comes from the Latin for “two-headed [muscle] of the arm.” The heads are simply known as the short head and the long head.
What does all that mean in layman’s terms? Your biceps serve the purpose of bringing your hand towards your face. Which is super important when it comes to eating food or facepalming yourself after you searched the house for your keys that were in your pocket the entire time.
Common mistakes in training biceps
Bicep curls are, technically speaking, not that difficult of an exercise. Grab a dumbbell with your hand, hold the dumbbell with your palms facing the sky, and bend your elbow, bringing the dumbbell towards your shoulder.
And “technically speaking,” driving a car is easy. But holy Tony Stark there are a lot of people who are terrible behind the wheel. Ever driven in Georgia? Yea, terrible with a capital T.
Training your biceps is easy, too. But like people behind the wheel in Georgia, biceps curls can be done wrong. Okay, wrong is harsh. You’re not doing curls wrong, but you could be doing them better.
And that’s kind of par for the course with humans. We take simple actions and look for a way to overcomplicate them by adding complexity that isn’t needed. Kind of like those last two sentences.
So let’s get cracking on that whole how to feel your biceps thing.
Problem: Lacking mind-muscle connection and feeling the contraction
You came to this article because you want to know how to feel your biceps while curling. And one of the reasons why you don’t feel your biceps is because your mind isn’t connected to your muscle.
The mind-muscle connection is real. You can read more about it here. And if you’ve never focused on what you’re doing in a bicep curl, and felt every fiber of your biceps working, then you’ve never truly felt your biceps.
Solution: Touch your biceps as you work them
I was at a karaoke bar in Nowheresville, Michigan in 2008 when a patron, clearly four sheets to the wind, offered to buy the rest of my drinks for the evening if I sang “I Touch Myself” by Divinyls. And since I had graduated college two months prior, and was still broke as all get out, I took him up on his offer.
Besides being an odd anecdote from my life, there is a reason why I mention this story. Touching yourself is the best way to feel your muscles working.
And when it comes to feeling your biceps, you need to take a page from the Divinyls and touch yourself.
That means dropping the barbell curls and sticking with dumbbells or cables for a bit. Take your non-curling hand and press it into your working bicep, it’s that simple.
Doing this creates a proprioceptive response that’ll help you feel your biceps more. Press hard with your free hand by grasping your bicep or press your index and middle fingers into your bicep. Then try and squeeze those fingers with your working bicep as you curl.
Problem: You’re using too much weight
Yea. I said it. And I’ll repeat it: You. Are. Using. Too. Much. Damn. Weight.
Your biceps are small muscles, compared to muscles like your glutes, quads, or lats. And smaller muscles aren’t great at handling heavyweight in isolation. Plus, your biceps operate as secondary support muscles for your lats. Any time you do a chin-up/pull-up or barbell row, your biceps act as stabilizers for your arm and shoulder.
Opting to hit your biceps with heavyweight after you’ve hammered your lats with heavy rows or (weighted) chin-ups is, well, it’s kind of not the smartest. Unless you want to put yourself in the hospital and have surgery on your bicep tendon.
Solution: Use lighter weight
Put the 40s, 50s, or 60-pound dumbbells down. Try creating earth-shattering tension in your biceps with 15 or 20-pound dumbbells first. Once you can do that, then see if you can keep or gain even more bicep activation with heavier weight.
Again, there is a time and a place for you to rep out heavy curls. But until you can master feeling every inch of your biceps with a 15-pound dumbbell, leave the heavy hoisting for later.
Problem: Control, Control, You Must Learn Control
Pick things up and put them down. That’s how it’s done, right? I mean, it is. And it isn’t. More often than not, I watch people in the gym curl heavy dumbbells up to their shoulders and then watch them drop the weight arm with no control
Forceful, eccentric contractions of the bicep muscle while lifting can lead to a bicep tendon injury. And that’s not something you want happening. So, stop doing that.
But if you want to lift weights and not get hurt, learn to control the eccentric.
Solution: Use slow eccentrics with pauses
Fight gravity. That’s what weight lifting is all about. It’s a fight against Nature and the laws of physics. Now that sounds like something a superhero would do. Um yeah, you’re basically being superhuman while you lift weights.
Slowing down the lowering portion of the curl vs. letting gravity win, creates more muscle damage and growth, but it’s also safer on your joints. And stronger and more stable joints will keep you lifting for years to come.
Problem: Using Too Much Assistance from Your Shoulders
Lock your elbows at your side, and imagine that you have a pin going from one elbow to the next, passing through your body. And use this imagery to keep your shoulders from swinging. This will require a few things from you:
- Lower the weight (see point 1 above)
- Paying close attention to what your elbows are doing on each rep
- Read point 1 again
Solution 1: Give your elbows support
How different would Rush sound if Geddy Lee wasn’t slappin da bass? Think about that for a minute. Take the bass out of any rock band, and that music feels lacking, unsupported.
The same is true with bicep curls. If you want to feel your biceps more, and build some guns that shine in the limelight, try giving your elbow extra support.
The best way to do this is to use a preacher curl bench. If you don’t have one, you can set a regular bench to an incline instead. What’s great about a preacher bench is that you’re restricting the movement(s) of the two joints that your bicep crosses, your shoulder and elbow.
So you can’t use your hips or front delts to heave heavy weight up. And, since a preacher curl puts your arm at a 45-degree declining angle, it changes where the most challenging aspect of the exercise is: the beginning.
Solution 2: Cut out the top and bottom half of the curl and stick to the mid-range
Ryan Humiston has some Captain America-esque biceps. Besides his bodacious biceps, Ryan makes a ton of salient points about bicep training in the video below.
Most specifically, he touches on the fact that one of the best ways to stimulate your biceps is to stay in the mid-range of the range of motion.
By leaving a small bend in your elbow at the bottom of the movement, you’ll keep more tension on the two heads of your biceps. Same for cutting off the top of the movement where once the dumbbell reaches your shoulder, there’s no tension on your biceps.
Cutting the top and bottom out keeps constant tension on your biceps. If you’re doing standing or even seated (standard) dumbbell curls, this is a great strategy to use.
Problem: Too Much Wrist Flexion at the top
At the top of your bicep curl, what do your wrists do? Do they look like the picture on the left or the right?
If your wrists look like the left picture, then you’re losing a significant amount of tension in your biceps. Your forearms, however, are taking on that tension. They’re stealing the gains from your biceps, brah.
You have two solutions here that will decrease wrist flexion and help you grow your biceps. First, lower the weight. God, I know, right? How many times can I say that to you? And as much as it sucks to read that for the sixth time, it’s true. So I’ll hammer it home as much as I need.
Too heavy of a weight will force your body to recruit more muscle fibers from areas up or down your kinetic chain (a fancy word for the connected points in your body). So if your biceps can’t contract, two things are going to happen:
- You’re either going to swing the weight up using your shoulders; or,
- Your wrist will flex to assist.
Solution 1: Place the dumbbells in the crook of your fingers
This small tweak challenges your biceps because it moves the dumbbell farther away from your elbow joint. And since the weight is in your fingers, your wrist goes into extension vs. flexion. This tweak requires your biceps to work harder to bring your wrist towards your shoulder.
Oh, and if you do this finger tweak: use less weight. Because it’s going to challenge you more than you think.
Solution 2: Fat Gripz
Men today have less grip strength than their fathers and grandfathers. How do you fix that? Answer: bear wrestling.
Okay, wrestling bears is a terrible idea. Unless you have a death wish. But you can improve grip strength by carrying heavy weight over a distance. Or you can do things like barbell rows with fat bars.
But fat bars actually have another advantage: they reduce stress on your joints, placing more of it onto your muscles. And when it comes to getting more stress on your biceps, there’s nothing better than using a thicker bar.
Fat bars aren’t tools you see in many gyms, though. But there is a tool you can grab that costs less than $40 that allows you to turn any dumbbell or barbell into a fat bar.
And if you want to feel your biceps more, and pretty much every other muscle in your arms, then invest in a pair of Fat Gripz.
Hold up, I’ve got to say it once more with feeling: if you use Fat Gripz, you will have to lift less weight. You can try and hoist up that 40-pound dumbbell, but it ain’t happening.
Why? Fat Gripz change the diameter of the dumbbell or barbell you lift. This diameter change takes the pressure off of your joints and puts more of it on your muscles.
Because of the change in diameter, you’ll activate more muscles in your biceps, forearms, and hands. And the more muscle you activate, the more muscle you stimulate. This means you’ll build bigger and better biceps while using lighter, more joint-friendly loads.
The diameter change also prevents you from flexing your wrist and taking tension away from your biceps.
Now Go Feel Your Biceps, Brah
There ya go. You made it all the way to the end of this article and now know how you feel your biceps more at the gym. And like the intro, I ain’t typing some long outro because the meat above is all you care about.
And if you want more dope fitness content like this, plus an arm workout that’ll leave you feeling like you injected Viagra straight into your biceps, leave your email below. I’ll send you a wicked bicep and tricep workout.