Biceps Aren't Just for Show
When I was younger coming up through the rugby league ranks if anyone caught you doing bicep curls in the gym they would start yelling out “beach weights, beach weights!” I know this because I turned into one of them yelling it out. We thought only bodybuilders needed big biceps and that if you done curls you were just trying to look pretty. My opinion on this has changed since I started studying and understanding more about training and not just being a young kid listening to the myths that get passed down.
The biceps actually do help increase sports performance as they prevent the elbow from hyperextending. Sports that involve throwing or punching require strong biceps for the above reason and they also help protect the shoulder from dislocating. At the end of a punch the biceps fire to protect the elbow and shoulder, the stronger your biceps, the later they fire, which means increased punch power.
The same thing goes when you want to improve your bench press. While the triceps are one of the prime movers needed to lock the weight out, the biceps are the antagonist (opposing) muscle group that works to prevent elbow hyperextension. If the biceps are too weak they will fire early and inhibit the prime movers so that the elbow joint is protected, limiting force production. The biceps also help stabilize the weight and the forearms help you squeeze the bar tightly, making the weight feel lighter in your hands.
Josh Bryant actually says that “sore biceps following bench pressing means you have reached a new realm of explosive power.” He uses Compensatory Acceleration style training to improve the bench press and says that this style also helps inhibit the biceps from firing too early in the press.
I like to think of this mechanism as two fast cars racing each other. If they both have the same skilled driver and same speed car but one has better brakes and they are coming into a turn, the car with the better brakes will win as he can decelerate later then the car with poor brakes.
Wrestling, BJJ, and even the rugby codes require strong biceps. If you have ever done a wrestling session or gone to a BJJ class you will notice how sore your biceps and forearms get. This is because the biceps are constantly under isometric tension while you are trying to squeeze and control your opponent on the floor.
When training the biceps you want to ensure you train all the muscle groups. Many people think of biceps and just think barbell curls or maybe even Scott curls (preacher curls), which train the long and short head of the biceps but they neglect to work the brachialis which is trained whilst performing reverse curls. This will limit growth and all round strength of the biceps. Also as I have spoken about in the past it is important to train the forearms as they contribute to elbow flexion and help to prevent tendonitis of the elbow.
So although the biceps may not be the most important muscle group when trying to enhance sports performance they certainly do play a big role and aren’t just for show or looking good when you go out with your tight shirts on.
For those of you unfamiliar with reverse curls here is a video and explanation for you:
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