Diagram illustration of a bodybuilder showing the short head of his biceps.

The Best Short Head Biceps Exercises

The short head of your biceps is the simple head. Unlike the long head of your biceps, it doesn’t cross the shoulder joint. Well, it might, but it seems to be less significant than with the long head (study). Regardless, the short head is primarily responsible for flexing your arms, with a secondary function of supinating your hands. That means:

  • You can train the short head perfectly well with regular biceps curls.
  • You can also train it with pulling movements like chin-ups, pull-ups, and lat pulldowns. Rows won’t challenge your biceps very much, though.
  • Exercises that are hard at the bottom are better for building muscle than exercises that are harder at the top (full explanation).
  • You don’t need to worry about your shoulder position.

If you want to keep it simple, keep doing chin-ups, pulldowns, and regular biceps curls. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

But you could do better. You can choose exercises that are hardest at the bottom of the range of motion. That exercise is called the preacher curl. It’s easily the best exercise for the short head of your biceps, and the difference is big enough that I’d expect noticeably better gains. I’ll explain why.

If you don’t have a preacher curl station, I’ll cover some alternatives that should be similarly effective.

The Anatomy of Biceps Training

Your biceps are made of two heads. The short head sits on the inside, and the long head sits on the outside. The short head is known for giving your biceps width, whereas the long head is known for giving it a higher peak. Or at least that’s what the bodybuilders say.

Diagram showing the biceps short head and long head of a bodybuilder.

The main function of your biceps is to flex your arms. If you were trying to work both heads, you’d probably choose an exercise that lets you flex your arms while your arms are back behind your body. Maybe a lying biceps curl (tutorial video). But the short head doesn’t care about your shoulder position. You can train it with chin-ups, pull-ups, pulldowns, and any sort of biceps curl (study).

More controversially, you might hear that your biceps work hardest when you use an underhand (supinated) grip, whereas your brachialis and brachioradialis work harder when you use a neutral or overhand (pronated) grip. There’s actually very little evidence of that. The short head of your biceps might be able to work similarly well whether you’re doing overhand pull-ups or underhand chin-ups.

How to Emphasize the Biceps Short Head

The best way to emphasize the short head is to choose an exercise that works your biceps hardest at the bottom of the range of motion, where the long head of your biceps is fully stretched out (full explanation).

We also want to make sure that your strength isn’t limited by some other muscle. That means we probably aren’t doing pulling movements like chin-ups, pull-ups, and lat pulldowns. Those exercises will work the short head of your biceps, but if you really want to emphasize the short head, then we want to make sure it’s the limiting factor. That means we want a biceps curl exercise.

Finally, we want to make sure that the biceps curl is comfortable on your elbows. For a lot of people, that means choosing dumbbells, cables, or an angled “curl-bar” instead of a straight barbell.

Best: Preacher Curls

Preacher curls are the best exercise for the short head of your biceps. They’re hardest near the bottom of the range of motion, they’re a pure biceps exercise, and they’re stable.

Here’s Marco teaching the exercise:

If you don’t have a curl bar, you can use dumbbells or a regular barbell. If you’re using a barbell, just make sure it feels good on your elbows.

If you don’t have a preacher curl station, you can do concentration curls, where you brace your arm against your knee instead. Marco teaches it at the end of the tutorial video.

Alternative: Explosive Biceps Curls

The short head of your biceps is perfectly happy to grow with regular biceps curls. The trick is to lift the weight more forcefully at the beginning of the range of motion, accelerating it, exploding it up, imagining that you’re throwing it through the ceiling. I’ll show you:

I like using the angled curl bar. It’s stable, heavy, and feels good on my elbows. But barbells and dumbbells are just as effective. You can use whatever you want. Just focus on exploding the weight up, and then lowering it back down under control.

For more, we have an article with a few different biceps workouts in it.

Cover illustration of the Outlift intermediate bulking program for naturally skinny guys.

Alright, that’s it for now. If you’re eager to gain your first 20–30 pounds of muscle, check out our Bony to Beastly (men’s) program or Bony to Bombshell (women’s) program. Both use full-

Shane Duquette is the co-founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell. He's a certified conditioning coach with a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained 70 pounds and has over a decade of experience helping over 10,000 skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

How to build 20 to 30 pounds of muscle in 30 days. Even if you have failed before


  1. Joel on June 16, 2024 at 1:20 am

    Hi Shane,

    For the majority of gym goers, is this something we have to worry about? I would think that simply focusing on a few key lifts (chin ups, barbell curls) and progressively overloading would account for the vast majority of our gains.

    • Shane Duquette on June 16, 2024 at 4:18 pm

      That’s right, yep! You don’t need to intentionally target the short head of your biceps. They get plenty of work from pulling exercises and biceps curls.

      This is really only for people trying to maximize their biceps growth. I’m updating our arm specialization program. That’s why I’m going down these rabbit holes.

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