The Critical Body logo

The best long head bicep exercises (outer bicep workouts)

These long head bicep exercises will drastically improve your upper arm aesthetics.
Written By  James Jackson
Last Updated on 9th August 2021
A man demonstrating some long head bicep exercises

Knowing that the biceps has two heads means that you need to target both regions of the muscle for optimal development. The long head of the biceps is also called the outer head and can really enhance your bicep peaks.

However, it's crucial to choose the best long head bicep exercises for hypertrophy if you truly want to maximize your results. While you can't completely isolate heads of the biceps, you can certainly emphasize each head by varying your grip and shoulder position.

7 best long head bicep exercises

These outer bicep exercises make an excellent addition to your short head bicep exercises because by targeting both heads, you'll achieve the best possible bicep development.

Many lifters have good-sized biceps from the front (especially when they flex), but when their arms are hanging by their sides or when they flex from the back, their biceps effectively disappear.

And that's because they have a lagging long head.

1. Incline dumbbell curl

Man performing a seated incline dumbbell curl for his biceps

The incline bench dumbbell curl is one of those biceps long head exercises that no lifter should skip. Incline curls place the biceps under a tremendous stretch and break down vast amounts of muscle fibers so that your bis can grow back bigger and stronger. So in this regard, they're one of the most effective movements for building overall arm mass.

But for our purposes, incline curls are especially useful because by curling with your hands behind your body, you're naturally shifting a greater amount of the tension onto the long head of your biceps. So if the outer region of your biceps is lagging behind the inner part, you'd do a good job to make incline curls your primary bicep exercise.

  1. Set the backrest of an adjustable bench to between 45 and 60 degrees.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells with an underhand grip and then sit on the bench.
  3. Let the weights hang over either side of the bench and slightly behind your body.
  4. Curl the dumbbells toward your shoulders while keeping your elbows still.
  5. Keep lifting until the undersides of your forearms press right up against your biceps.
  6. Hold the peak contraction for a moment and then lower the weights under control until your elbows reach full extension.
  7. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps.

2. Drag curl

A man performing a barbell drag curl for his biceps

Knowing how to do drag curls with the proper form means that you can bring up your long head by putting more tension on the outer part of your biceps.

This is because drag curls are one of the best outside bicep exercises for building muscle since they have you curl with your elbows behind your body and with a close grip.

In other words, the barbell and drag dumbbell curl are the most optimal of all the long head biceps exercises on paper. And the peak contraction that they produce is eye-wateringly intense. So be sure to lift the weight as high as possible (without shrugging it up) to enjoy the best effects of your drag curl efforts.

You can also do reverse drag curls to train your brachialis and brachioradialis, both of which can help to accentuate your biceps.

  1. Grab a barbell with an underhand grip just inside shoulder width.
  2. Pin your elbows to your sides and let the bar rest against your thighs.
  3. Drag the barbell up your body by moving your elbows backward and your hands toward your shoulders.
  4. Keep lifting until your forearms and biceps make firm contact.
  5. Squeeze your biceps forcefully at the top of the rep.
  6. Lower the bar under control until your elbows are locked out.
  7. Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps.

3. Behind the back cable curl

Image showing how to perform a behind the back cable curl correctly

Doing cable curls behind the body shifts the emphasis of the exercise onto the outer biceps and minimizes the chance of you developing unsightly muscular imbalances. This is because, by training each arm separately, you can ensure that each bicep is receiving roughly equal work and thus growing more or less in proportion.

Behind the back cable curls also make a great addition to your outer bicep workouts because they provide constant tension. As such, your biceps have to work harder on a per rep basis when you use cables as opposed to free weights.

  1. Connect a single handle to a low pulley.
  2. Grab the handle with an underhand grip and face away from the cable machine.
  3. Take a step away from the low pulley and let your arm travel behind your body.
  4. Curl the handle toward your shoulder by flexing your biceps.
  5. Squeeze your bicep forcefully as it makes firm contact with your lower arm.
  6. Lower the handle under control until your elbow reaches full extension.
  7. Repeat the movement with your other arm and do 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps per side.

4. Close-grip barbell curl

A man performing close grip barbell curls

If you don't have access to cables or a bench, then you'll definitely want to include close-grip barbell curls in your long head bicep workout.

But you have to be very careful with the execution.

If you let the bar drift too far in front of your body—even when you're using a close grip—then the short head will take over the reins and rob the long head of tension. So make sure to keep the bar close to your body during narrow grip curls (now you know why drag curls are so effective!).

  1. Load some weight onto a barbell, or, for more convenience, grab a preloaded bar with an underhand grip.
  2. Let the bar rest against your thighs and then curl it toward your chest while keeping your elbows stationary.
  3. Keep curling until your lower arms press up against your biceps.
  4. Hold the contraction for a second, and then slowly lower the bar until your arms are locked out.
  5. Perform 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps in total.

5. Incline hammer curl

A man performing seated incline hammer curls

If you want complete outer arm development, then you need to work your brachialis and brachioradialis in addition to your biceps.

That's where incline bench hammer curls come in.

By curling with your arms behind your body, you are, of course, shifting a large majority of the tension onto the long head of the biceps. But by using a neutral grip, you also involve your brachialis and brachioradialis muscles to a much higher degree than if you were lifting with a supinated grip.

Building the brachialis, since it's a deep muscle, can actually push your biceps out and make them look more peaked. So make sure to include some kind of hammer curl in your outer bicep workout if you want to maximize your long head development.

  1. Position the backrest of an adjustable bench to between 45 and 60 degrees.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip and then lie back on the bench.
  3. Let the weights hang over either side of the bench and slightly behind your body.
  4. Lift the dumbbells toward your shoulders.
  5. Keep lifting until your forearms and biceps make firm contact.
  6. Hold the contraction for a brief moment, and then lower the weights under control until your arms reach full extension.
  7. Repeat for 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps.

6. Cross body hammer curl

A man doing cross body dumbbell curls for his biceps

Cross body hammer curls, also called pinwheel curls, are one of the most convenient bicep long head exercises because you literally just need a pair of dumbbells and nothing more.

By lifting the weight across your body, you immediately place the long head of your biceps under more tension, which naturally makes it an excellent outer bicep curl if your long head is lagging.

Also, because you're training unilaterally, you'll be able to lift heavier weights because the core stability requirement is lower. As such, the cross body curl lets you focus on the fast-twitch muscle fibers (the fibers that grow the biggest) by better overloading your biceps.

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides with a neutral grip.
  2. Lift one weight across your body toward your opposite shoulder.
  3. Squeeze your biceps as they come into contact with your forearms.
  4. Lower the dumbbell slowly until it's back by your side.
  5. Do the same with your other arm and perform 3-5 sets of 6-15 reps per side.

7. Close-grip EZ bar curl

A man performing a close grip EZ bar curl for his biceps

Close-grip EZ bar curls are one of the best outer head bicep exercises because they enable you to emphasize the long head without straining your wrists.

The straight bar version of this exercise is excellent too. However, it can cause wrist and forearm discomfort for many lifters due to the need to use a fully supinated grip.

So by using an EZ bar and its semi-supinated grips, you'll naturally put your wrists in a more comfortable position while still keeping the majority of the tension on the long head of the biceps.

  1. Hold an EZ bar with a narrow grip and let the bar rest on your thighs.
  2. Curl the weight toward your chest by flexing your biceps.
  3. Squeeze your biceps at the top of the rep and then lower the bar slowly until your elbows reach full extension.
  4. Perform 3-5 sets of 8-15 reps.

Long head bicep workout routines

Each long head bicep workout prioritizes the outer biceps but still includes exercises for the inner head so that you can achieve complete arm development.

Novice lifters should focus on building overall mass and are best off sticking with the first workout.

But if you're more advanced and want to do everything in your power to bring up your long head, then you can do the second, higher-volume workout instead. [1]

Starter outer bicep workout

A man doing an outer bicep workout

1: Incline dumbbell curl — 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

2: Behind the body cable curl — 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps

3: Reverse drag curl — 3-5 sets of 12-20 reps

This is the best outer bicep workout for those who need more overall bicep size. The first two exercises prioritize the long head but still place significant amounts of tension on the short head as well, so you won't be leaving any muscle fibers understimulated.

The reverse drag curl places your biceps at a mechanical disadvantage in order to better recruit your brachialis and brachioradialis, which, as we established earlier, are critical muscle groups for making your arms look thicker and more peaked.

Although it only contains three movements, this outer biceps workout still provides plenty of training volume (between 9 and 15 sets!) to stimulate robust hypertrophy. You could even split the sets into two separate workouts if you're a relative novice so that you don't perform any junk volume. [2]

Try and rest 2-3 minutes between sets so that you can perform more total work.

Advanced bicep long head workout

A man performing a long head bicep workout

1: Behind the back cable curl — 3-5 sets of 6-12 reps

2: Cross body hammer curl — 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps

3: Drag curl — 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps

4A: Spider curl — 2-3 sets to failure

4B: Incline curl — 2-3 sets to failure

This workout includes all of the best bicep long head exercises so that you can maximize your outer arm muscle growth. It's the perfect routine for advanced lifters seeking to take their bicep development to the next level because it contains plenty of volume and variety.

By training with multiple rep ranges, you'll also ensure that you're recruiting the full spectrum of muscle fibers and thus creating the optimal environment within your biceps for hypertrophy to take place. [3]

The A and B letters on the last two exercises indicate a superset. To perform it, do a set of spider curls and then immediately do some incline curls, but make sure to rest 2-3 minutes between sets of each exercise.

You can also see our bicep definition workout guide if you want to learn how to improve the appearance of your biceps.

How to work your outer bicep

Learning how to build the outer bicep optimally requires a few technique adjustments and mind shifts.

Of course, you also need to consume an appropriate diet and get good recovery if you want to grow your long head, or any other muscular region, for that matter. But most people who're seeking to build their long head (i.e., those who already have a solid foundation of muscle mass) should understand these bodybuilding fundamentals already.

Curl with a narrow grip

A man demonstrating how to work the outer bicep

Curl with a narrow grip to work the bicep outer head. This doesn't mean that you should curl with your hands together; instead, you should move your hands a few inches inside shoulder width.

The problem with excessively narrow grips is that they can put a lot of pressure on your wrists and thus cause injuries.

But the other issue that most lifters don't consider is that even moderately close grips can cause your shoulders to come forward, which actually takes the tension off the outside bicep and puts it on the inner head instead.

So when you're doing close grip curls, make sure to keep the bar close to your body. You don't have to drag it up your torso (that's a different exercise), but just make sure that the weight doesn't drift too far forward.

Curl with your arms behind your body

A man performing some outer bicep exercises

During both your inner and outer bicep workouts, it's essential to include at least one exercise that has you curl with your arms behind your body if you want to maximize your long head development.

Curling with your shoulders in this extended position places the biceps at a greater stretch and shifts more of the tension onto the outer head. This is because only the long head of the biceps crosses the shoulder joint.

Incline curls are my long head bicep exercise of choice, but you can also mimic this movement with cables and even bands if you don't want to use free weights (or if all the benches are taken).

Use a full range of motion

A man performing some long head bicep exercises

Let's go back to basics for a moment.

When you're doing any kind of outside bicep curl to work the long head, it's imperative to use a full range of motion so that you can recruit the broadest possible spectrum of muscle fibers and get your hands on that hypertrophy.

In practice, you need to lift the weight—while keeping your elbows and shoulders relatively still—until the undersides of your forearms press up forcefully against your biceps. That's what you call a complete contraction and a proper concentric and a good lower bicep workout.

But the eccentric phase of the rep is even more critical for muscle growth. So make sure to lower the weight all the way down—under complete control—until your elbows reach full extension.

That's right, don't just drop the bar once you've lifted it. Your muscles should resist the weight—not gravity.

Bicep long head vs short head

The long and short head of the biceps brachii

The main difference between the long (outer) head of the biceps and the short (inner) head is that only the long head crosses the shoulder joint.

This means that you can emphasize the long head by curling with a close grip and with your shoulders in extension (i.e., with your arms behind your body). On the contrary, you can bias your curls toward the short head by widening your grip and curling with the bar out in front of you. Movements like incline bench spider curls are a good example of this.

The long head of the biceps is the head that’s responsible for creating most of the bicep peak. The short head, on the other hand, is most visible when you do a front double bicep pose because it’s the inner part of your biceps.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now know the most effective long head bicep exercises for bringing up the outer head.

Any movement that has you curl with a close grip or with your elbows/hands behind your body will build outer bicep mass that you can be proud of. It's just that certain exercises, like incline curls, make targeting the long head easier because the bench angle necessitates that you lift the weights with your shoulders slightly extended.

You can use the list of exercises to create your own custom long head bicep workout. Or, if you just want to get on with building your outer arms, then you can also follow one of our pre-made routines.

References

  1. Krzysztofik, Wilk, Wojdała, & Gołaś. (2019b). Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(24), 4897. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16244897
  2. Wernbom, M., Augustsson, J., & Thome??, R. (2007). The Influence of Frequency, Intensity, Volume and Mode of Strength Training on Whole Muscle Cross-Sectional Area in Humans. Sports Medicine, 37(3), 225–264. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200737030-00004
  3. Schoenfeld, B., Contreras, B., Ogborn, D., Galpin, A., Krieger, J., & Sonmez, G. (2016). Effects of Varied Versus Constant Loading Zones on Muscular Adaptations in Trained Men. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 37(06), 442–447. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0035-1569369

James Jackson
James Jackson is a personal trainer who uses his expertise in strength and conditioning to create helpful workout tutorials that show fitness enthusiasts how to build muscle while staying safe in the gym. He draws on the latest sports science data as well as tried and tested training techniques to get the best results for his clients without them having to live in the gym.
chevron-upmenu-circlecross-circle linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram