The biceps brachii is one of the most trained and sought after muscles among those who perform resistance training. But which exercise is the best to strengthen the biceps? The best exercise would elicit contraction of the greatest amount of muscle fibers.
The standard test to determine muscle activity is the electromyography (EMG). EMG studies conducted on eight of the most common bicep exercises reveal one clear choice. Exercises studied were the preacher curl, cable curl, incline curl, concentration curl, chin up and wide and narrow grip EZ curl. The exercise which elicited significantly higher biceps activation than the others was the concentration curl. This means that you use more of your biceps performing this exercise than you do with any of the others tested. Finishing with the least amount of muscle fibers recruited was the preacher curl.
So while the concentration curl targets the biceps most effectively, consider that isolating muscles during strengthening may not be the most functional way to train. Human movement is achieved not with one muscle at a time but with many muscles working in conjunction, therefore we may better improve our functional strength with a variety of multi-joint exercises and activities. If your goal is body building or simply to increase the size of your biceps, then the concentration curl will accomplish this for you.
Gary Fuschini, PTA