Actually that’s not true – your biceps are just peachy. I just, you know, care about other stuff a lot more.
I did a complimentary session with a perspective client today. We had gotten together once already, so I could get her health/exercise history and check out how her body moved, and so she could decide whether or not she could a) trust me with her well-being and b) tolerate my company enough to spend money on my time (she decided she could, on both counts). We were about two thirds of the way through her work out when she suddenly grabbed my arm. “When are we doing bicep curls?” she asked. “Aren’t we doing any of those today?”
This is a question I get a lot. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the majority of personal training advertising features a smiling, well-coiffed trainer with bulging biceps SPOTTING a smiling, well-coiffed client doing bicep curls. Never mind that NO ONE EVER needed a spotter to do bicep curls – that’s ridiculous – but in my humble opinion, bicep curls are not usually a necessity in a beginning exercise program.
Now, I realize that there are lots of people out there who will heartily and loudly disagree with me and that’s fine. I’d also like to qualify my position here by saying that I think bicep curls are great and I do include them in lots of my clients’ programming…just not everyone’s. And I almost never put them in a program for someone who is just beginning to exercise, or who is returning after a long hiatus, unless of course growing big guns was near the top of their list of objectives. Everyone is different.
So. Since the noted absence of bicep curls is a matter of concern, let’s talk about why they aren’t really a necessity when you’re getting started with strength training. In order to do that it’s important to understand what the bicep’s job is.
The bicep is actually a pair of muscles (hence the prefix bi-) that crosses both the shoulder and the elbow. When it you ‘flex’ your bicep, it shortens, either bending your arm at the elbow (the more commonly known function) or raising your arm in front of you from the shoulder. Therefore, any exercise that requires bending of your elbow or lifting your arm in front of you engages the bicep.
Now let’s consider where *most* (not all) people are starting from. As a society, we spend waaaay too much time in a sitting position, shoulders rounded, neck craned forward so that we can see the computer screen/road/plate/phone in front of us. Weakened rhomboids, tight trapezii and associated pain/stiffness between the shoulder blades, neck and mid-back are all common complaints. The good news is, all of these problems can be solved in the gym – in surprisingly little time, given the right exercise program. Next we have to consider the level of conditioning in the new exerciser, which is usually not stellar…so when I’m designing their program I am going to be as efficient as possible so that we can complete the workout in the prescribed amount of time (50-55min), leaving the client feeling challenged but successful at the end. What all of this boils down to is, that first program is *usually* (again, not always) going to include a variety of pulling exercises which will not only increase circulation and build strength in the areas where it’s needed most (the back), but ALSO get those biceps fired up and working. Remember how bending your elbow requires the bicep to work? The bicep is the secondary mover for almost all pulling exercises:
In a nutshell, your arms will get their workout, I promise. But we’re not spending valuable workout time on bicep curls when you’ll get more bang for your buck doing something more efficient. Bicep curls can wait until your back is healthy and your conditioning is such that we can get more exercises into less time. And at that point I’d bet you’ll need a license to carry those guns anyway!