Arm-Training: Common Biceps / Triceps Exercise Myths & Fallacies

Arm Training Mistakes

Use Common Sense Techniques for Serious Arm-Training Results

I've gotten in plenty of trouble in my life because I've always wanted to know why thing were done, not just how. Fortunately, I've learned quite a bit along the way. When it comes to training, many myths and mistakes are still so commonplace as to boggle the mind. It's not enough to know how in our arm training - we must also know why. The reasons will alter traditional methods to make them more efficient and more productive.


Mistake Many trainers are hyped up in supination when performing dumbbell curls. The biceps are defiantly assisters in supination because of their attachment on the forearm bone (radius). There are three problems with this technique: 1) the biceps have poor mechanical leverage for supination when the elbow is straight. 2) There is no resistance against supination with dumbbells as each side has weight. 3) When lowering the weight to the start position, you must pronate on the way down. This adjustment disengages the biceps and shifts the stress to the brachioradialis.

Mistake Movement of the elbow forward at the top of the movement shifts the stress away from the biceps. The thought is that since the biceps cross the shoulder joint, they are active as shoulder flexors. (You mean if I do enough front raises and military presses my biceps will grow?) There are two problems with this thinking: 1) The biceps is rendered ineffective as a shoulder flexor because of the bend in the elbow. The muscle is shortened at the elbow while trying to shorten at the shoulder. Physiologically this is impossible. 2) When the elbow is moved forward, the stress falls onto the anterior deltoid and off the biceps.

Myth Some people believe that you can work the inner versus the outer head. In order for this to be possible, one head of the biceps would have to stretch while the other went slack. More problems: 1) There are no positions that accomplish this division of stress to a significant enough degree to influence one head over the other . Moving the hands closer on a bar does nothing to stretch the short (outer) head, nor does it slacken the long (inner) head. What it does is stress the wrist and throw the alignment of the elbow joints away from each other. 2) The same applies for moving the hands wide. 3) When you're doing preacher curls, both heads are put into a more slack position, not giving either head the advantage. 4) Incline dumbbell curls place both heads into more of a stretch position. What's the point? You can't change genetics, only improve upon them. Ready for the biggest argument? Why don't Eddie Robinson, Paul Dillet, Sonny Schmidt and Achim Albrecht have great peak to their biceps? Surely if there were a way to stress one head more than another, they would have done so by now. Why can't we all have arms like Ronnie Coleman's or Robby Robinson's? When it comes to training, many myths and mistakes are still so common place as to boggle the mind.

How should you train your biceps? When using dumbbells, stay in the supinated position through the entire movement, keeping the back erect and the elbows pointed down. When using a bar, face the bar with the arms straight, supinate the forearms, and grab the bar. In this way you align your elbow joints with each other for more efficient leverage. If you have the hands too far out or in. the elbow joints aren't lined up. It's like trying to close your car door while hanging from the side of it. The hinge works most efficiently when there is no external stress on it as it flexes. As with dumbbells, don't move your back or elbows as you curl. When using a preacher bench, don't let the weight come so far up that the stress falls off the biceps and rests on or through the forearms.


Myth Why does everyone think that you can pick pushdown exercises that stress the lateral head of the triceps? Muscle-function studies have shown that the lateral head is most active during the last 15 degrees of elbow extension. If you perform pushdowns correctly, locking out on every rep, never allowing the stress to leave the triceps, you will hit the lateral head every time. If you fail to lock out during some reps of your pushdowns or allow the stress to fall off the triceps and go through the shoulder, you will feel it less in the lateral head. This error is due to using too much weight or just poor form. The cramping sensation you get at the top of a kickback is the feeling you should get at the bottom of a pushdown if you are performing it correctly. Bottom line: Keep the stress on the triceps through-out the entire movement and lock out fully.

Mistake Moving the elbows towards the body during triceps exercises i.e. (push down and lying extensions) has long been justified by explaining that the long bead of the triceps attaches at the shoulder and thus assists in shoulder extension. This is partially true. The triceps assists one of the most powerful muscles in the body - the lat. In order for the long head to receive adequate stimulation from this strategy, the weight would have to be heavy enough that the prime mover (the lat) was overloaded and needed the assistance. The weight would have to be so great that the second half of the intended movement, the pushdown, would be impossible to complete - that is, unless the lats give you momentum enough to perform the movement, but then you wouldn't get proper triceps stimulation.

Mistake Placing the hands anywhere but shoulder width will activate muscles in the shoulder that we don't want to involve. If the hands are too close or too far apart, the shoulder rotators come into play at the bottom of the movement, limiting the work of the triceps again. Bottom line: Keep the elbows and hands at shoulder width to isolate the triceps.


There are many ways to make exercises less effective, but only a few ways to make them more effective. Try to ask why when training your body, instead of just how. The quest for improvement should never end, and this maxim applies to your body as well as your techniques.

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